Log in

Login to your account

Username *
Password *
Remember Me

Create an account

Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required.
Name *
Username *
Password *
Verify password *
Email *
Verify email *
Captcha *

Life In Old Spain - Part 6

LIFE IN OLD SPAIN - PART 6Fiesta time. I turned a bend in the road. The flat plain dropped down to a gulley, and there in front of me was a whole village of people dressed in bright clothes walking off into the trees.

I was entranced. What was going on? It was much too early for the evening paseo. In fact, the time was probably not yet noon.

Some small boys spotted me and waved, then rushed up to ask me who I was. This in itself was unusual.

“Where is everybody going?” I asked.

“We are going to eat in the dell.”

“What...?” I looked at the press of people. “The whole village?”

“Yes, it is fiesta. Come.” They turned and ran back to the group, and I followed. After all, why not?

Fiesta? It's a brief time for some laughter; a day without work. The girls and younger women were wearing coloured scarfs. The men looked poor-smart, and they stopped to shake my hand and ask me where I was going.

Of course, I didn't know. I just pointed down the road, and shrugged.

They clapped me on the back and introduced themselves.

After I'd shaken about ten hands I admitted to being Juan. They gave a great shout, my bag was taken from me, and I was hoisted onto two shoulders and carried down the line of people.

“But, what is going on?”

“You must walk with all the other Juans.”

“But... why do the Juans walk together?”

“Don't you know what day it is?”

I wasn't sure. I tried to think back to when I last knew what day of the week it was. When you walk the dusty highways, but mostly the dusty low-ways of life, it matters not what day of the week it is. You still need to walk on, and eat, and sleep.

“Today is the feast of San Juan. It is your name-day. You must celebrate with all the other Juans.”

So that was it. Being a Juan is rather useful in Spain. You get two main saint's days, conveniently one in January and one in June, and the one in June is usually celebrated on midsummer's day, so that one is extra special.

At the front of the line of villagers was a cart decorated with strands of old clothes to make it look pretty. The clothes were torn, and the colours faded, but it was a nice gesture. There were six Juans already aboard, and I joined them.

Everybody stood up and we all introduced ourselves with much jollity. There were seven of us all introducing ourselves as Juan. It was a great joke.

“And now we are seven,” shouted one Juan. He turned to me. “You will bring us much luck.” And they all cheered.

The cart bumped, leaned and jolted its way along the road, pulled by a pair of oxen. Apparently, as it was a special day, things had to be done differently. Carts in this part of the world were usually pulled by donkeys.

“Mules?” I asked. My new companions shook their heads. “We have no mules here.”

Once again I was reminded of the stories in Lorca's poems where the carts are pulled by oxen. I wasn't really sure what an ox was. These things looked like bulky cows. As far as I could tell from the discussion,  an ox was simply a docile castrated bull that was used for its strength.

Clearly these beasts were not remotely like the bulls that are bred for the corrida, but my Spanish was not good enough to understand the intricacies of breeding and selection. In any case, I was much more interested in the festivities, and vaguely wondered who was going to offer me a room for the night. Clearly I was not going to be allowed to leave the community before midnight, after all, I was the seventh, and therefore lucky, Juan.

We bumped and swayed our way to a small clearing in the forest of palms. The older girls and the matrons collected boxes from one of the carts and started to set out a meal which was laid out on various mats and what looked like faded curtains. Meanwhile the men were tying scarves, items of cast-off clothing, and lengths of rope to the trunks of the trees. They also tied further bits of coloured cloth to the horns of the oxen.

All the Juans had to sit in the middle. Before I joined the little group I emptied my pockets and nervously added my poor remnants of food to the boxes of goodies.

The ladies smiled but didn't say anything, which was a relief, as I would have felt embarrassed by my small contribution, but two of the girls, who looked about my age, kept looking at me and smiling. They each were wearing white shirts, and wide black dresses which came down to their shins. They had scarves over their heads which covered just one side of the face, and they looked fabulous. Every time I looked in their direction they fiddled with their scarves, sliding them to cover more of the face, then giggling.

The Juans were not allowed to do anything. We were served glasses of wine by the girls. We all had to stand up, and the others started singing. I recognised the tune, so at least I could make a noise, even if I didn't know the words. It was one of the songs the lorry drivers used to sing after their lunch. Then we all embraced and sat down again.

The glasses were re-filled and some of the men started dancing to an orchestra of clapping. Some of the women had castanets, but most simply clapped their hands in a slow but interesting pattern, that at one point started to speed up, and ended with a series of shouts.

A couple of the older men sang a few songs. I recognised the song about the drunken campesino. This was rather sweet, as one of the women, probably his wife, got up and joined him, and they acted out the drama, with the woman cuffing the man on the ear at one point, at which all the other women screamed and clapped their hands.

More wine was passed round, and it even began to taste drinkable, although it was a virulent red colour and initially tasted like paint remover.

The men collected palm fronds. They had brought with them a home-made ladder which they used to climb up the trees and yank off the dead branches. These were cut up and fires started, which were tended by the women, who got out pots, and so the garbanzos and pieces of sausage meat were soon bubbling away.

Sadly, I was a bit out of the stream of things because my new friends talked so quickly I could not keep up with my translation. Also, they spoke using Valencian, which shortened the syllables, and sharpened up various consonants, making sentences sound a bit of a mess to my untutored ears.

Eventually the garbanzos were served with rather tough bread, which we used to mop them up together with the juices, and everything was washed down with more paint stripper.

Finally, came the specialities, the convent sweets. I got much ribbing combined with a whole deluge of ribald remarks from the other Juans as my two favourite girls served me. The sweets were made out of almond paste, dates and figs.

There was more singing. Four of the girls did a very convoluted square dance, to the accompaniment of two guitarists playing a seemingly endless fandango. Nobody had any fans, but the ends of their scarves were used as if they were fans.

The dances started off very rigid and staid, but as the afternoon wore on, they became more and more wily and smoochy, with long rallentandos strung out, almost painfully on the guitars.

By the end of the afternoon most of us were too sozzled to know what we were doing, but I was not allowed to get away without being shown up for a good laugh by the assembled company.

To be continued...

Pin It

You must be a registered user to make comments.
Please register here to post your comments.