I’m back from Bordeaux! It was an epic adventure with a giant sand dune and what may or may not have been Roland’s grave, but that’s a story for another blog post. Here is the sheepherder protest post I promised. For a couple of weeks, I’d seen the above phrase spray painted around town. I thought it was an abstract statement, like the sheep are not alone because humans behave like sheep, or something like that. But no, it was more literal than I could ever have imagined.
I was walking back from the bus stop after teaching on Thursday when I saw a herd of 400 sheep in the middle of town. There was one sheep dog on a leash to control them all, who was let loose a couple of times to round up wandering sheep. Apparently, it was a protest of the status of sheepherder jobs in this region. So most of the people marching were sheepherders, looking every bit the stereotype I have of that in my head. There are actually some videos of the protest on La Dauphine’s website that show the sheep in action. I, however, decided to follow the protest as it winded through the cobblestones because I had nothing better to do, rather than for any news value. I’m a writer, not a reporter! Not in France, at least.
I found this all to be hilarious, but the French reaction seemed to be to just stare blankly. Or take a camera phone picture. However, the man in the black jacket in this picture is mirroring my reaction. You can see that the sheep were marked with paint to keep them identified for the later round-up. For now, though, they moved as one great sheep herd, blending their sheep races into an indistinguishable white mob of protest.
The sheep stopped cars, buses, and pedestrian traffic. They also devoured all plants and flowers in their path. And this being a “Ville Fleurie,” there was plenty to go around. The sheepherders made a half-hearted effort to stop them, but it seemed to just be for show for the police escorts (yes, the sheepherder protest had several police escorts). Good thing it’s freezing cold outside and the plants were going to be replaced anyway. There was one point where someone threw a leafy tree branch in front of the sheep and they all scrambled towards it, tearing it to shreds with their flat teeth. Like furry velociraptors.
After about 45 minutes of walking through town, the sheep were all herded into a corral that had been built in the Place Belat near where I live. The corral blocked one street, and I was amazed that people were just pulling back part of the gate and walking nonchalantly past the sheep to the other side rather than walking around. When they first got in the corral, the sheep kept circling the fountain while the sheep dog whimpered from outside the corral, probably seeing a need for some leadership. However, they eventually stopped and stood silently while the sheepherders made speeches that I couldn’t really understand.
So that is what I did with one of my afternoons here in France. Bordeaux posts soon!