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U3A Writing: Cactus

“Don’t look now”, I said ”but do you think that’s a cactus walking towards us?”

It's amazing what you see in the Basque region of France, as Derek McQueen reveals. For more of Derek's articles and stories type his name in the search box on this page.

We are unaccustomed to the 30 degree heat and are grateful to find seats on one of the many, temporary, park benches. A jamboree of marquees, swathed in bunting and garish regional flags of every colour, has been erected around a central green. Most are bars, tapas counters or makeshift restaurants and are filled to twice their designed capacity with clamouring customers. The festive area swarms with thirsty, noisy, excited people, attracted by the music and the enticing smells of alfresco cooking. Sparkling champagne glasses seem to be in every hand.

To the right of us, a balloon seller is still inflating the last of his huge pink and silver globes. Already, a giant bunch strain on multi-coloured strings, eager to fly.

Through the curtain of trees to our left is a massive, circular, arena. Dax Bullring is ten storeys high and a blaze of reflected white light in the mid-day sunshine - one of a handful where full-scale bullfights take place in France. This is the Basque region, more Spanish than French, and we have stumbled by chance on the Dax annual ‘Salsa and Toro’ Festival, an unlikely combination of programmed bull-fights and Salsa dancing displays, lasting three days. We have driven over from the Landes coast, near Biarritz, to visit the famous Roman hot springs. This unexpected spectacle is a bonus indeed.

It is half past twelve and we are hoping that the first of the salsa bands will start their session on time. The stage would do Wembley Stadium proud and all looks promising but the musicians walk backwards and forwards, scratch their heads and fidget with the equipment ad infinitum. The music blaring from the pyramid of loudspeakers is from a CD.

As we sit, looking towards the arena, a curiously dressed man emerges from the kaleidoscope of booths, selling everything remotely connected with bull fighting or salsa. Scarlet shirts, commemorative tiles, books, hats, CDs, dresses and more. The boisterous, excited crowd jostle and push, delighted to part with their Euros.

“Don’t look now”, I said ”but do you think that’s a cactus walking towards us?”

Sure enough, a man with bright green hands, a pale face, also green is approaching. The cloth of his green and beige outfit has been cleverly twisted and glued into sharp points in a dozen or so places. The points have been artfully darkened at the tips. This cactus fancy dress costume is as good as it gets.

“This is impressive.” I said.

“And original,” Anne said.

“There aren’t really very many people in fancy dress.” I said. ”Hundreds in folk costume and dressed as toreadors, but not fancy dress as such.”

The cactus has attracted the attention it deserves and is being admired and egged on by friends as they make their way across the grass towards our bench in the sunshine. The balloon seller is still inflating his last few helium balloons and is anxious to move off into the main crowd to begin a his afternoon trading.

At this point, onlookers and friends alike are reaching similar conclusions. The balloon seller is not as yet aware of the potential threat to his fifty or so magnificent, pink and silver helium globes. At five euros each, he should have been.

With a blood-curdling yell, Cactus makes a sudden upward leap of Olympic proportions and impales three pink balloons, which burst in unison with a deafening bang. Cactus has now lost the plot and urged on by the cheering crowd, hurls himself skywards once more. A further noise like a rifle shot sees the demise of three silver balloons and the crowd go wild. Not so of course the balloon seller who to date has been mesmerised into inactivity by the remarkable spectacle.

Given the difficulty of throwing oneself, in an enraged state, on a man dressed as a cactus, the balloon seller does well. He pins him, literally, to the ground.
The crowd see no reason to assist – they would have preferred that the Cactus leaps continue. However, a patrolling gendarme has been attracted by the bangs and has hurried across the arena to investigate.

Cactus decides to make a run for it, as the balloon seller makes his angry complaints to the policeman and disappears from view as the crowd reluctantly disperse.
Later in the afternoon after our fill of salsa and bullfighting, we crossed the green once more and made for the car park.

“I’m sure that’s him hiding in the Botanical Gardens,” Anne said.

“Good thinking,” I said. “I like his style.”

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