Sunday, 23 September 2007

Running bull

We’re on our last little cruise of the season – a jaunt to Terceira, 90 miles from Sao Miguel. The marina at Angra do Heroismo where we are staying must be one of the most scenic marinas around. It’s right in the heart of Angra, a UNESCO World Heritage site that has served as the Portuguese capital on more than one occasion, overlooking a volcanic hill on one side and a beautiful Renaissance church (whose bells toll every quarter of an hour) on the other.

Terceira is the third island in the Azores that we’ve visited. It’s also the third largest -and the third one that was discovered by the Portuguese – hence the name. The island’s main claim to fame is its fighting bulls that are regularly run in the streets for sport and entertainment. The tradition, apparently, dates back to a memorable occasion some four centuries ago when a mass-release of bulls drove the invading Spaniards back into the sea, with much loss of life. We went to one such bull-running festival in a small village yesterday – what enjoyable madness.

It was quite a gala event, the main street through the village being blocked off for the occasion and all the householders along the road having boarded up their gates and fences to protect them from and keep out the maddened, rampaging bulls. There was a beer and a bifana (pork sandwich) in nearly every hand and pleasurable anticipation on every face lining the walls and balconies along the street, while the white-shirted, black-hatted bull handlers secured their long rope around the animal’s neck and prepared to release it from the box.

We arrived just in time for the first bull and hurried through the village, looking for a free spot on one of the stone walls along the thoroughfare. No sooner were we settled there than the mighty bang of a rocket announced the beginning of the fun.

We were around a bend in the road from the release site, so had to wait a short while for the action to reach us but it wasn’t long before the melting away of those still in the road announced the coming of the bull.

There were a small group of chief goaders, equipped with an umbrella or cape, who took turns tantalising the bull and directing the action back and forth from one end of the village to the other. In addition to these ‘official’, and rather skilled, operatives, there were others who would try their luck with the bull, shouting and stamping to draw its wrath before retreating hastily onto the nearest wall. A couple of times, these daredevils hopped up right next to us, with the bull charging up behind and once staring me right in the eye, clearly considering whether it would be worth the effort to jump the wall. He didn’t jump our wall but did, at one point, manage to break into one of the temporary food courts along the street.

The bull, for his part, looked alternately indignant and enraged. He would stand, pawing the ground, and look around to discover who might be responsible for this outrage. A willing volunteer would then present himself, shouting “Oi! Oi!” and waving his arms or umbrella. The bull would then charge, only to be led in circles behind his agile tormentor, who would sometimes grab ahold of the bull’s horn before spinning out of the way.

After nearly half an hour of this, the now exhausted and slavering bull was recaptured into his box and a new one prepared for release, following a short break for refreshments.

Following the retirement of the second bull, the young boys had their moment of glory with a similarly roped sheep running up and down the street and we slipped away amongst the hilarity, clutching our own beer and bifanas for the walk home.


Marc said...

Re: Foreground, Picture 3

Nice Neck hair! *shudder*

Madness, indeed. Seems a bit more calculated and less deadly (read "smarter") than Pamplona.

Gordon said...

Surprised that you didn't join in the fun Jim.Just for the experience of course.