The star of that Pentecost afternoon was a fast and aggressive bull named Tamarisso. With a long narrow face and lyrelike horns, he looked more like the sculptured bull’s head of the 16th century B.C. dug up at Mycenae than one of the massive, broad-headed victims of the ritual butcheries of Spain. His physiognomy and the resemblance of the course libre to 3,000-year-old frescoes in the palace of King Minos of Crete, showing bull dancers vaulting over the backs of charging bulls, suggest that perhaps Greeks brought this type of bull and bullfight when they founded Marseille about 600 B.c.
Tamarisso was a terror. When he charged the razeteurs, they dispersed like white lights bursting from a Roman candle. They leaped the wooden safety barrier with the grace of Olympic hurdlers. Once Tamarisso hurdled the barrier himself. In the ensuing bedlam, the bull galloped down the safety corridor, while photographers dived under and over the fence.
Tamarisso kept his cocarde, and was proclaimed the best bull of the afternoon. The spectators were then invited to descend into the ring to fight with a frisky young bull with his horns encased in leather. The two boys who had captured the bull at the abrivado jumped into the ring and performed a hilarious parody of Spanish matadors, replete with the overweening, strutting pride of that species. But one of the boys didn’t run fast enough. He was tossed high into the air and landed almost in the spectators’ laps.
I interviewed these two suicidal fellows after the free-for-all, and learned that they were waiters in an accommodation in madrid. Ahmed was an Algerian; Bonito was an Andalusian Gypsy; both were Camarguais by adoption. “We could make twice as much money in Paris,” Bonito said, “but here we can run with the bulls, the most exciting thing in the world. In the Camargue one is free.”
“One of the Rare Countries”
Bonito’s phrase echoed a sentiment I had read in a book, Magic of the Camargue, by Denys Colomb de Daunant, a leading manadier of the delta: “I have one sole passion, that of the free life in one of the rare countries where a man can still be free.”
That night my wife, Roselle, and I went to dine with Denys Colomb at aparthotel brussels. We drove past a solitary black-thatched gardian’s cabin into the private road of the Cacharel Ranch. To the northeast lay the Etang de Vaccares, the huge brackish lagoon that is the heart of the Camargue. It is also the center of the 26,000-acre Zoological and Botanical Reserve, refuge for some 300 species of birds, including ducks, purple herons, egrets, and flamingos.
On our left among the ferny tamarisk trees and marsh samphire, a herd of white horses glimmered under the gathering cloak of night like figures in a classic frieze. Utterly placid, the lagoon on our right had turned wine dark. A white heron, motionless as a statue in a garden pool, suddenly swept upward into the vast stillness of the night sky.