Sometimes when we release an expectation and open to the unknown (something new), magic happens. The following is a recent adventure in France that just might remind you of the magic that waits.
A couple of weeks ago, I returned from an 8-day river cruise from Avignon to Lyon in the south of France. There were 5 stops on our itinerary and an included walking or bus tour in each port. On day two, instead of the free tour of Arles (“Arl”), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I planned to participate in one of the extra fee-based excursions - a 9 hour activity that included one of Europe’s major wetlands called the Camargue, home to thousands of pink flamingos. The Camargue stretches across 360 square miles south of Arles to the Mediterranean coast and is historically known for its white horses, one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. Today the breed is strictly protected. In 2011, there were 160 stallions and about 950 mares registered in this breed. Pink flamingos and wild horses? This would be a truly memorable picture taking experience.
When the day came, and for various reasons, I decided not to go. I was disappointed, but it was my decision and I blew it off with an I’ll-be-back blast of optimism. So off we went on our guided walking tour of Arles. We climbed sloping narrow cobblestone streets as our guide pointed out some highlights and history of the city. Up ahead, we could see the two-tiered Roman amphitheater dating back to the 1st century AD and built to hold over 20,000 spectators. Very impressive! We couldn’t go inside, our guide explained, because it was being prepared for events later in the day, one of which was bull fighting with bulls from the Camargue. (Hmmm… the Camargue, I thought.) But, in this version, the bull is not harmed. The honor and bravery is reflected in the razeteur's (bullfighter) ability to retrieve a rosette, ribbons or other decoration attached between the bull’s horns. In fact, stated our guide, it’s the bull that gets top billing in these events and is celebrated for its ability to keep its ribbons. Dangerously thrilling for one and all, and all very interesting for sure, but, for just a moment, I wondered what I was missing in the Camargue.
Our guide led us around the amphitheater where we paused to watch an endless procession of men and women in traditional attire beginning a day filled with highly anticipated events that included a blessing of the animals and games of horsemanship. Our guide told us we were lucky to be in Arles on this day, May 1, because not only was it the Labour Day holiday in France, but in Arles, this was the annual celebration of the gardians, riders that guard the lifestyle and traditions of the Camargue. (Hmmm, again with the Camargue.) We continued slowly through the increasing crowds toward the back of the amphitheatre and stopped as hundreds of riders – women, men, and children – in ancestral dress paraded through the streets on the white horses from the Camargue!
We learned that these horses are lively, agile, and even-tempered making them particularly suited for riding. They are used to manage the bull herds and provide tourists an opportunity to experience the Camargue on horseback. Although trained at the age of three, these horses live freely on the Camargue. They are neither stabled or shod. Those that can be caught will be ridden in the day’s events and returned to the wetlands. Lucky us to be here on this day.
I looked down the street that snaked around a couple of corners, filled with horses and riders as far as the eye could see, and wondered if there would have been any horses to see in the Camargue... and smiled. Funny how things have a way of working out.
And that is the moral of this story. =)