She fought her first cow at 12, killed her first bull at 16 and now this shy, young Frenchwomen is set on facing another adversary — the very macho, closed, ritualized world of bullfighting.
This Easter weekend, 19-year-old Marie Barcelo will walk into a top-class arena to fight a bull, on foot, in her first major holiday corrida.
"In the arena you come alive," said Barcelo, who readily admits to a moment of panic before the bull — which can weigh 480kg to 600kg — enters the ring. But when it does, all fear evaporates.
"It's a pure moment, you shed all pretense and face the truth," she said ahead of what will be a closely watched performance in the Roman amphitheatre in Arles, the southern town that hosts some of France's most spectacular bullfights.
"To become a matador, you must overcome enormous difficulties," bullfighting specialist and chaplain for the amphitheatre in nearby Nimes, Jacques Teissier, said.
"For a woman, entering this still very male chauvinist world is even more difficult."
But Barcelo, whose fine features are framed by shoulder-length chestnut hair, is not fazed.
"This is a man's world but there are women who have proven that we are capable of bullfighting, like Cristina Sanchez," she said.
Sanchez, the most famous female matador in Spain, enjoyed a high profile career in the 1990s before dropping out to retire, mainly over her frustration at some of her male colleagues' refusal to fight alongside a woman.
In France, no woman has yet passed, on foot like Sanchez, the critical "alternative" — a rite of passage that separates amateurs from professionals.
France's best-know female matador, Marie Sara, made it past the test in 1991, but on horseback.
"So far I haven't had any trouble at my level. Afterwards, if I take the 'alternative,' it will be more difficult, but I'm ready to face all that," Barcelo said.
In the classic bullfight, six beasts are successively battled then put to death by the matadors, with the help of mounted lancers or picadors and pages.
The duel as a show of male force and virility is embodied in the Spanish phrase to describe the moment a matador dons his costly "suit of lights": apretarse los machos, which literally means "squeeze the testicles."
But Barcelo's trainer Paquito Leal, himself a former bullfighter, insists "the corrida has begun to evolve," noting that more and more women were entering the sport in Spain.
His protege's passion was sparked at a young age on the farm of her bullfight-loving parents, who make goat's cheese and breed bulls for the Provencal-style bull runs known as the courses camarguaises, in the Herault department west of Arles.
"One day, I was having fun fighting the cows during a branding when Marie told me, 'I want to try.' She was 12 years old," recalled her father Michel.
"She wasn't afraid," he said, showing a picture he still carries in his wallet capturing that moment.
By the end of 2003, Barcelo was enrolled in the bullfighting school in Nimes, where she killed her first bull. It was "impressive," she said.
Corrida opponents claim the practice is barbaric and amounts to animal torture. They doubt matadors' claims that they "love" the bulls they fight. But Barcelo, who is transformed when she enters the ring, eyes blazing and body radiating confidence as she struts through the passes, insists it is true.
"You love the bull so much that you want to help them show off their courage and their grandeur in battle. It is painful for us to send them off anonymously, without glory, to die at the slaughter house," she said.
Unlike many other bullfighters, Barcelo holds a high school diploma but dropped out of university to concentrate on bullfighting. Today, she is enrolled in the corrida school in Arles, has fought several bullfights in Spain, limits her social life and conducts rigorous daily training.
"She is raising the bar for the boys," her trainer said.
She takes on odd jobs to survive financially, mindful that only the world's top 50 bullfighters actually make a living at their trade. And she has the wholehearted support of her parents who, with relatives, offered Barcelo her first "suit of lights" on her 18th birthday.
They admit they fear for her every time she enters the ring but accept that "this is her passion."
Barcelo knows she must "do the best possible" at this weekend's novillada de la feria, a holiday bullfight using animals under four years old, to land future engagements.
Her mantra when she steps into the ring, she said, will be comments from two of today's most famous matadors, Morante de la Puebla and Sebastian Castella, applauding her bravery during a recent training session in Spain.
Taiwan’s rapid economic development between the 1950s and the 1980s is often attributed to rational planning by highly-educated and impartial technocrats. Those who look at history through blue-tinted spectacles argue that, for much of the post-war period, the government was staffed by Chinese who fled China after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the civil war “who had no property interests in Taiwan and no connections with a landlord class,” leaving “the KMT party-state more autonomous from societal influences than governments [elsewhere in East Asia],” writes Gaye Christoffersen in Market Economics and Political Change: Comparing China and Mexico. At the same
It’s impossible to write a book entirely in the Taokas language. There are only about 500 recorded words in the Aboriginal tongue, whose speakers shifted to Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) generations ago while preserving certain Taokas phrases in their speech. “When I first started recording the language around 1997, I really had to jog the memories of the elders to find anything,” says Liu Chiu-yun (劉秋雲) a member of the Taokas community and a language researcher. The Taokas last month unveiled a picture book, Osubalaki, Balalong Ramut the community’s first-ever commercial publication using the language. The lavishly illustrated book
In his 1958 book, A Nation of Immigrants, then US senator from Massachusetts John F Kennedy wrote the following words: “Little is more extraordinary than the decision to migrate, little more extraordinary than the accumulation of emotions and thoughts which finally lead a family to say farewell to a community where it has lived for centuries, to abandon old ties and familiar landmarks, and to sail across dark seas to a strange land.” As an epithet, the book’s title is commonly associated with America and, in the face of the xenophobic rhetoric that has marked US President Donald Trump’s tenure,
Every time Chen Ding-shinn (陳定信) saw a liver cancer patient in his ward, it reminded him of his father, who died from the disease at the age of 49. Historically, Taiwanese suffered from an unusually high prevalence of liver ailments as well as cancer, and Chen was troubled by the number of terminal patients. After decades of research, Chen and other experts found that Taiwan had the highest percentage of hepatitis B carriers in the world, which often developed into cirrhosis and cancer. In the early 1980s, he served as a key member of the Hepatitis Prevention Council (肝炎防治委員會), which