Soon after moving to Switzerland last year I was thumbing through my new copy of The Know-It-All Passport for Geneva, checking out local annual events that might be fun to go to. There were concerts and festivals, markets, etc, all pretty standard stuff.
Then I came across an event that I had to read over a few times to actually believe it: cow fights. Cow fights? Seriously, cow fights.
Apparently this is a Swiss tradition, dating back to the beginning of the century, that has become quite the spectator sport. There is a local cow bree called Herens that are naturally some what aggressive, and have a social hierarchy much like dogs do where the re is one dominant female in the herd (la reine, or queen). Each summer the herd travel up to higher pastures in the mountains and many herds will come together, and thus the queens will have to fight amongst themselves to establish who is the new dominant cow. The "fights" are fairly tame, really, they basically butt heads until one of the cows turns away, signifying defeat (equivalent to a dog showing its neck), and the cows are not hurt in any way. This happens mainly in the Valais canton of Switzerland, and at the end of the season there's a festival at which the top reines fight and one single Reine des Reines is established.
I told Zach about this, and it was decided that we HAD to see one of these cow fights while here in Switzerland. Unfortunately we had a hard time finding info online on when and where the fights took place, and basically out of poor planning and laziness we never got around to seeing one last summer. Then we had Donovan, and we kinda had given up on the idea of driving the 2-3 hours out to the Valais to see one.
Which is why we were BEYOND PSYCHED when we got a flyer in the mail a couple weeks ago announcing a festival in our village to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the little chapel down the road, and what would be the highlight of the festival? A COW FIGHT! We couldn't go to the cows, the cows instead came to us.
The weather's been crappy and rainy here the past week or 2 so we were kinda worried about how that would go. Luckily the rain held off, even if it was still cloudy and slightly chilly. We took the kid down the road with us and first enjoyed some of the food and wine being served as part of the festivities, listened to some Swiss Alpine horn playing, and talked with some of our local friends/acquaintances. D started getting tired so I brought him back to the house for a quick nap, then at around 3pm (when the fights were to commence) I took him back down to meet Zach and watch the fighting.
There were 13 cows in all, each with a number painted on the side. Each cow was sponsored by someone in the village. The first round (which I missed) consisted of having all the cows in the round pen they'd made using metal gates, and pitting 2 cows at a time up against each other. Some fights were very quick-- a short scuffle, then one gave way pretty easily. Others are longer, taking several minutes before one of the cows gave up. Other times the cows seemed completely uninterested in each other and scratched at the dirt.
The top cows from the first round went on to the 2nd round, and then 4 were selected for the final championship round. The entire thing took a little over an hour to complete. The sponsor of the winning cow (along with a lucky spectator who correctly guessed the top 3 winners) won a special commemorative cowbell and collar. Zach said the first round was pretty tame, though there was some good fighting in the 2nd round. At one point one of the cows jumped over the (waist-high) fence into the crowd-- no one was hurt. However I noticed later that the cow (who had been disqualified for the jump) was hanging out on the side of the pasture, with nothing restraining it or keeping it away from the crowd. Another time or 2 a pair of fighting cows knocked into one of the fences and either knocked it down or pushed 2 linked fences open and passed through. Again, no one seemed to get hurt, though the organizers finally decided it might be a good idea to have the crowds stand a good several feet away from the fenced area...
Although D did not seem too impressed by it all, Zach and I were most definitely not disappointed. I'm really, really glad we got to see this-- it was pretty darn cool. One of Zach's coworkers told him a while back about a friend who makes the giant cowbells and can have them engraved for you, and we're now more convinced that ever that, if we're going to make one big purchase of a souvenir to represent our stay here in Switzerland, it should be a giant engraved cowbell. ; )
(See the rest of the cowfight pics here and a short video here)