France’s boy bullfighters
Nimes, south of France
By Jean-Paul Pelissier
Ask a young boy what he wants to be when he gets older and the reply is the usual “a fireman, soccer player, doctor or astronaut”. However, ask two young boys from southern France, Solal, aged 12 and Nimo, aged 10, and you’ll hear, “a bullfighter”.
At the start of the story, bullfighting was familiar to me, but full of unknowns. Familiar because living in southern France, the traditional Ferias of Nimes and Arles are well-known yearly popular festivals, attracting revellers for two or three days to the Roman arenas and parades with many dressed in local costumes. On occasion I attended bullfights with friends, followed by partying in the streets at the outdoor bars or “bodegas”.
Following the two boys I learned the language of the bullfighter, mostly Spanish in origin, that the “aficionados”, the dedicated fans use. The studied cape movements by the toreador, and the charges by the fighting bull, make for a charged confrontation between man and animal where spectators react with animated emotions.
Through the eyes of Solal and Nino, I discovered their world and the passion they feel for bullfighting. The boys dream of becoming bullfighters, the day when they are professional toreadors. Still attending class in French public school, their dreams are about facing the bull in the arena. While other boys have posters of their favorite music group or football players, the walls of their bedrooms are decorated with posters of famous toreadors or bulls’ horns.
I watched the two boys as they trained in small arenas, repeating gestures to execute the perfect “muleta pass” or thrusting “banderillas”, training with facsimile bulls on a bicycle. I see them preparing for “becerradas,” practice bullfights with calves where the animal is not harmed. The boys, apprentice toreadors, imitate the glorious actions of their idols, which leads me to think that perhaps in a few years, if their passion continues and if their dreams become reality, they will participate in their “alternative”, the ceremony where the “novillero” becomes a true “matador de toro”.