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Friday, 22 January 2010

Courida a Corda: Running from Bulls on Terceira Island, Azores - Page 2

Written by Andrea Calabretta
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Terceira Island sits in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, among the isolated archipelago of the Azores. Its origins are humble—Portuguese farmers and fishermen settled the island in the 14th century—and it’s still a place without pretension, where people rely on agriculture and artisanal traditions such as cheese-making for their livelihoods.



Courida a Corda: Running from Bulls on Terceira, courida a corda, bull-running, a tethered bull is let loose in the middle of a village, pastores, shepherds, the Black Mysteries, lava rock mountains of the interior, colorfully painted chapels, Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit, traditions of the Azores, Angra do Heroismo, Porto Judeu, Portuguese bull sport, Andrea Calabretta A single firecracker launched into the air signals the start of the run and alerts people that there is a bull loose in the streets. When we arrived, the first two bulls had already run. Bull number three was taking his time about making his way to my end of the street, where anticipation was building. Every now and then, I’d see a burst of men and boys running around a bend in the distance, and the black bull would emerge chasing behind them and butting his head against barricades as spectators waved their arms, whistling and hooting.

I wanted to be closer to the action, so I climbed down from the balcony, and following our nervous guide, made my way into the center of the village. I held my breath as we rounded each bend, expecting to be greeted by an angry bull. As we got closer, my adrenalin pumping and the noise of the crowd growing louder, it occurred to me that I was running in the wrong direction—toward the bull. Maybe this was why they didn’t want Americans to participate. But soon, with help from Mr. Borges, I vaulted over a fence into a garden where I could watch from behind a stone wall. I squeezed into a space between two men, kicking aside the empty beer bottles at my feet.

When the bull came into view, he was heading for a group of young men holding their hands clasped behind their backs in a gesture of defiance. Some of them were clearly drunk. But when the bull charged at them, they dropped the defiance and ran, laughing but looking over their shoulders with fear in their eyes. Some dove over barricades, or climbed street lamps and utility poles. (I never confirmed this, but it seemed to me that the poles had been purposely constructed with foot-holds.) Meanwhile, the crowd went crazy, shouting at the bull and both encouraging and jeering the boys. I watched two elderly ladies shout “Touro!” from their windows and wave colorful tablecloths.

The first time I saw postcards depicting Terceiran men waving open umbrellas against an enraged bull, I laughed. To me, it looked like a choreographed dance with props. But this maneuver, in which an umbrella is snapped open, startling the bull into a wild charge, is actually considered one of the bravest. And using everyday items like umbrellas and tablecloths to taunt the bull reflects the peasant origins of the tourada. The pastores who hold the rope dress in humble uniforms—billowing white peasant shirts, gray pants, and broad-rimmed black hats (and in some photos I’ve seen, they also wear matching black Converse sneakers).

The village pays the bulls’ owner a hefty sum to host a courida, and the bulls are contractually obligated to run to both ends of the street so that all the villagers and their guests have an equal opportunity to taunt the animal and take part in the festivities. The bulls used for street running in Terceira are raised to be lean and muscular animals that can maneuver themselves in the narrow streets of a village and can lift their heads to toss men in the air—unlike the heavy, unwieldy bull who charges in a straight line within the confines of a bullring.

I noticed that the pointy ends of the bull’s horns were covered in rounded bronze caps, perhaps to make them less deadly. But we had already heard the sirens of an ambulance taking away a boy who had been injured earlier that evening. Serious wounds and even death are not uncommon. Terceira has only one hospital, in its capital city of Angra do Heroismo, about a twenty-minute drive over winding roads from Porto Judeu. I had to wonder if there were specialists for stitching up bodies torn asunder by the horns of a bull.


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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