I would be most pleased to have you as my guest,” Jean Le Gall, my bullfighting friend, had told me back in New York. But, Jean, being a lawyer, there was a proviso. “If you have a girlfriend, I recommend you do not bring her to Vic.”
Months later, as we muscled our way through the crowd, I could see where Jean’s warning had come from. The Feria de Pentecôte is a mind-blowing festival held every spring, a bullfighting Woodstock where 120,000 or so aficionados and partygoers crash the sleepy town of Vic-Fezensac in the Gers, a gastronomic wonderland in the Gascony region of southwestern France. Some may find it surprising that bullfights are held in France, but those who flock here are considered the most devout (and debauched) aficionados around.
In the bullfighting world, there are divisions. Toreristas are fans of matadors and can be found mostly in Spain. Toristas are fans of the bulls themselves, and they come to festivals like Vic, where the draw is not the man but the animals.
As a boy, Jean had come here with his father to see the big bulls. When he was old enough to drive, he came with his friends. As a sort of rite of passage, they drank heavily and, late in the night, pretended to be as drunk as possible to secure the only free beds in town: inside the medical tent. There are few hotels in Vic, and it is impossible to book a room during the feria unless you plan a decade in advance.
I could see traces of Vic madness on the way into town. Lost shoes. Cars crashed...