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Bullfighting Sans Death in Southern France

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Bullfighting Sans Death in Southern France

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Bullfighting Sans Death in Southern France

Bullfighting Sans Death in Southern France

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A young bullfighter scrambles to avoid the horns of his opponent. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eleanor Beardsley, NPR

A young bullfighter scrambles to avoid the horns of his opponent.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR

Bullfight fans in Southern France celebrate a centuries-old version of the sport that is not meant to be a battle to the death. Proponents hope to keep younger people interested and involved.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

In the southern French region of the Camargue, bullfighting has been a favorite sport for centuries. While the Spanish-style corrida is widely practiced, the most popular version of this sport is that traditional Camargue bullfight, where man and bull match wits and both live to fight another day. Eleanor Beardsley has sent us this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:

Pascal Myon(ph), like his brother and his father before him, is a rancher. He breeds black long-horned Camargue bulls for the traditional bullfight known as la corse Camargues.

(Soundbite of ranching operations)

BEARDSLEY: Myon's 400 bulls are raised in the open on hundreds of acres of flat Camargue scrub and marshland. Fences, he says, would curb the bulls' wild instincts. On this morning, Myon is rounding some of his best young fighting bulls to compete in a neighboring village.

Mr. PASCAL MYON (Rancher): (Through Translator) Our goal is to make fighters that are well-known and that the big arenas will ask for. Unlike Spanish bull, which have to be aggressive, a Camargue bull has to have lots of intuition to anticipate what the men are going to do. A good one learns every trick and it becomes a game for him, too.

(Soundbite of music)

BEARDSLEY: Everyone seems to have shown up for the afternoon's entertainment in Ro Des San(ph), which like many small towns in the Camargue has its own bullring.

(Soundbite of music)

BEARDSLEY: Today's match will pit eight of Myon's young bulls against a group of up-and-coming corse Camargues bullfighters known as Raviteurs(ph). Myon says the survival of the sport depends on finding talented bulls and keeping the young people interested.

Mr. MYON: (Through Translator) If we don't try to get the young people to participate, there will only be old people at the bullfights. So we go into the schools and teach them about the bulls and we bring them to the corse Camargues. In this way, we keep up the tradition with the young and get them to love the bulls.

BEARDSLEY: Myon's bulls start in the small ring and the best ones go on to fight in front of crowds of thousands in the grand Roman arenas of Arles and Mean(ph). After years of successful fights, they'll earn a reputation and their own name.

(Soundbite of gate opening; trumpet)

BEARDSLEY: As a metal gate slides back, trumpets announce the first bull. Out runs a massive black creature, who seems stunned to find himself alone in the middle of a ring surrounded by all of these people. Just like a cartoon bull, the beast paws the ground and snorts. Immediately, the nimble, young Raviteurs, all dressed in white, jump into the ring to join him.

Unidentified Man #1: Hey!

BEARDSLEY: The Raviteurs begin to call out to the bull, trying to coax him their way. The goal is to get close enough to the animal to remove a series of small ribbons tied to his lethal-looking horns. The bull rushes one Raviteur after another as they crisscross the ring in front of him.

Unidentified Man #2: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Half gymnastics, half daring do, many of the Raviteurs narrowly escape being gored by leaping over the sides of the bullring, and sometimes the bull follows them.

(Soundbite of bullfight; applause)

BEARDSLEY: During the intermission, several local boys climb into the ring with a fake set of horns to act out their own version of the sport. Nine-year-old Marcaonton Charmasont(ph) says he wants to be a professional Raviteur.

MARCAONTON CHARMASONT (Bullfighting Spectator): (Through Translator) You can't be scared when you find yourself in a difficult situation. You have to know how to get away from the bulls, and if you don't, you're going to get gored. But if you want to have a big career one day or another, you have to take a bit of horn. If you don't, you're not a real Raviteur.

BEARDSLEY: Rancher Myon says he is pleased with several of his bulls and thinks a few have the chance of a big future. But he says he's equally happy about the enthusiastic attitude of the young people in the crowd. He says that's the most positive sign for the future of the corse Camargues.

(Soundbite of music; clapping)

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley.

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