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Life In Old Spain - Part 8

LIFE IN OLD SPAIN - PART 8Fiesta time comes to an end. The appropriate protocols having been adhered to, I was filled up with more paint stripper in the guise of wine. I was sure it would take the enamel off my teeth.

The girls did a dance as a group, and many of the matrons joined in. This was followed by what looked like a courting dance, where the man at one stage bent down and lifted the hem of the woman's skirt, and the woman brushed his hand away, and shook her head. It was all rather sweet.

The sun set, and the shadows turned to gloom. The people were chatting in little groups. Some of the men were playing home-made guitars. Two teenagers got up and started playing some numbers by Los Brincos, and soon everybody was singing the latest hit song.

I walked to the edge of the clearing and looked back at half a village spread out in the dust on tattered sheets. Some of the girls were dancing. A couple of the old men had stopped playing old fashioned guitar tunes and were banging out a Brincos tune with the rest of the young lads. The noise was scrappy, but jolly, and I stood leaning against a tree trunk watching the homely little jamboree, and realising that I was one of these villagers, even if only for a day.

They had not just taken me in and shared their food. They had shared their fiesta and made me feel as if I'd grown up with them all. I wanted that scene to go on and on forever, but there was a touch on my sleeve, and I turned to see one of the girls behind me. She flicked her head, and walked back under the trees.

Once again, I wanted to talk, but whenever I started to say something she put a finger on my lips. “You mustn't speak,” she whispered. “This is for today. You mustn't remember.”

I reached up and kissed her. “I will remember when I've gone.”

She shook her head. “No. You must never remember.” And she buried her head in my shoulder, and a great sheaf of her black hair crashed all around me.

The sound from the revelry was dimmed. The voices sounded thin and cracked. The guitars that sounded so robust in the clearing could hardly be heard deep in the palm grove, while the thumping of this girl's heart was loud against my body.

I wished I could speak, but perhaps this was some other protocol that no-one would explain. This country and its people are so difficult to understand. I wish I could share the secret they carry around with them. The people are all so puzzling in their manners; so formal, yet in a sense, aggressive; so timid, and yet at the same time so keen to kick over the traces; and so full of contradictions. They are a people with a cruel streak, and yet so kind and gentle. I sometimes look at the people sitting beside me and wonder who they really are.

I try to see through the forest of thick black hair shaking around my face. She is making a snorting sound, like a pig digging under a tree. I mustn't call her a pig. What's the matter with me? She is lovely.

Suddenly she sits up and stares at me. “You must go tomorrow. You cannot stay here.”

I don't think she is waiting for a reply, but I think I understand what she is saying.

She stares at me for a long time. “My friend will be here in a minute. You must not talk to her.” There is another long silence. “I will meet you here again tomorrow morning to say goodbye.”

She gets up in a rush, and hastens off into the night. I am left lying on the ground with my clothes half on, half off.

When I get back to the party things have changed. The children are still racing around, and playing games. Many of the older folk are gently dozing. The working men are chatting amiably but almost in slow motion. They talk almost dreamily. They are drinking in small sips. Several of the older boys are playing their guitars.

The party has split into groups, and the mood is quiet and contemplative. It is as if each group has turned slightly inwards.

The stars are particularly bright, and there is a small moon just rising over the trees to the south. It is as bright as crystal. The shadows are sharp, as if the landscape is cut from card. Nothing moves, and the trees look artificial. The talk from the group of men sounds like a murmuring of bees somewhere in the distance, while the guitar melodies weave around the shadows.

It is some time before I notice that the older teenagers and the younger women have all apparently gone home. I wish I could walk to the top of a hill and survey the night-scape, but there are no hills. Something has changed. I now feel alone. The small groups emphasise that feeling. I am standing at the edge of the clearing as a stranger after all. It is probably after midnight anyway, and my reign as the seventh Juan is over.

There is something else. My experiences in the further reaches of the palm grove have unsettled me. I have not had a relationship with a Spanish girl before. I didn't think that was possible, but I have experienced yet another side to the modes of life in these villages, and the strange patterns and undercurrents in the way life is regulated. Before, all I could see was the strict pattern of behaviour, but more and more I am beginning to see how those patterns can move and stretch, and I can begin to understand the significance of so many of the apparently pompous ways life is ordered.

Walking westwards down the dusty track the next day I started thinking about what I'd been told concerning Spaniards; their views on life, the restrictions in their social activities, the proscriptions from the church, and in particular, the way Spanish women behaved or were supposed to behave. I came to the conclusion that there was very much a double standard in operation throughout the whole country. Although, was this the right way to look at things? If I followed through their rituals, and the little things they said and did, I could follow a particular kind of morality which in a sense reminded me of the strange points of honour which were strewn across those plays by Lope de Vega.

For the men, the church was a nuisance, irrelevant, and something invented to give them a hard time. They also resented the fact that the priest led an indolent life and never went short, and never had to do a day's work in his life.

The women were supposed to be shy, nervous, and told to treat sex as a nasty though necessary adjunct to life. The odd thing is that the mothers seemed to insist that their daughters were brought up that way, and to see sex as a part of pain. On the other hand, the average young woman was as keen as the boys to take part in sexual repartee, although of a rather specialist kind. The girls from mid teens to mid twenties were usually keen to flirt, although from my own experience, the further from the main cities, the more the girls led a less rigid life. This was probably because they worked outside, often unchaperoned in any case.

Fiesta time was also a time when all the rules seemed to be relaxed. On midsummer's day it was as if there were no rules. There seemed to be concessions for whatever happened on one's saints' day. And when, as on this occasion, we Juans had the two days combined, it seemed not only could we do no wrong, but that we were fair game to be insulted, de-bagged, and held up both to ridicule, and blessed and waited on, all at the same time.

And yet, under all the horseplay, and the blatant cuckolding that was going on, I sensed that everything still had its immutable patterns. The rigid rules were flexible so long as certain rites were maintained. One just had to know what those rites were, and make sure they were observed.


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