Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Feria? I thought he said furrier!


When it’s feria time in Bas-Armagnac

Then I long to be back once again

In old Gascony

Where we lived for today

Never giving a thought to tomorrow

To the strumming of guitars

In a hundred grubby bars

I would whisper je t’aime

- with apologies to Tom Lehrer

It’s the last day of the Pentecost feria in Vic-Fezensac, and as I drive into town with Munson in a borrowed truck, it seems like a scene from the zombie apocalypse. Hundreds of hungover or still drunk people are staggering through streets strewn with streamers and the detritus of a weekend of binge-drinking, back to campsites and blanket lined cars dotting the edge of the town.

There’s a bunch of old traditions that are tied up with this event. Pentecost (itself a Greek word referring to the event being 50 days after Easter) – Whitsunday as it’s known in the Anglican tradition – is not a saint’s day and is thus classified by the Catholic church as a feria after the free days of Ancient Rome. It’s supposedly the day when Christians celebrate “the gift of the Holy Spirit” but most of the celebrants here are gifted with more earthly spirits. Originally it was 50 days after Passover and is the Jewish harvest festival Shavuot.

Vic-Fezensac arena Vic-Fezensac arena (interior)

In this part of the world, Pentecost is the time of the corrida or bullfights. There is a local style of bullfighting is the course landaise where the bulls are dodged and leapt over by écarteurs and sauteurs. The sport is still a dangerous one for the humans involved and they’re all featured professionals, much like the steer-wrestlers at American rodeos. The bulls themselves are drawn from featured breeders. That said, I’m told the Vic corridas are closer to the Spanish-style with bulls being skewered by their opponents, and the humans’ horses may also suffer and die from being gored.

There’s a series of ferias and corridas across Gascony and Aquitaine at this time of year. Did I mention that a lot of drinking goes on as tens of thousands of people descend on Vic? A score of makeshift tavernas and cantinas has sprung up around town, some like the “Ski Club Vicois” are prominent on the main street, others are behind old wooden doors in the back streets where I can glimpse and hear dozens of the older residents partying hard.

2011-06-13 Feria Vic-Fezensac-1
Jean has brought the Munsoneers into town costumed for an afternoon parade. The main street is much cleaner than the routes to the campgrounds, lined with stalls selling Nutella crepes, churros, novelty tee-shirts and bull-kitsch. There’s also an exhibition of bull-themed art in some rooms off one of the arena’s vomitoria.

After parking on the edge of town and walking into the centre, I sensed the revelries had died down for a while as everyone gathered their strength for the final corrida and night of partying. Still there was some life in the old town: two young Toulousains who’d stopped to admire Munson actually tried to pick me up not more than a minute after we arrived!
2011-06-13 Feria Vic-Fezensac

In the end, I only spent a couple of hours in town, not having appetite for drink or bull-baiting, enjoying the local colour more. Munson made his own contribution to that. It was his first day off the farm in over a month and he was rather intrigued by the smell of unseen bulls and ponies. Someone was careful to point out that il n’est pas “beau” – il est magnifique!


  1. The local colour looks fun but I'm not sure about the bulls!

  2. Sounds like it would be a lot of fun, minus the bull skewering. Yuck!

    I bet Munson was loving all the attention and adoration he was getting! I know I would!