Living in Spain, warts and all

Posts tagged ‘Fiesta’

The Magic Mountain

Yeah, I know, I know – I’m so bad at this.

I have been reminded repeatedly that I haven’t posted anything for several weeks now, lest it should perchance have slipped my mind, and further that my avid readership awaits daily and disconsolately for a wee sign that I have at last dribbled something into my keyboard again. Yeah, right.

The trouble is that despite my best intentions to blog weekly, somehow I am almost always prevented from doing so by mundane intervention. And tiredness. You know – so much to do, so little sleep, or something along those lines.

But lo! Today I have just returned from my demi-weekly slog up and down the motorway to deposit John at t’airport, and have managed to squeeze a sliverlet of time between feeding the dogs, feeding and showering the parrots and (possibly) feeding me, and so feel an urgent need to tell you in timely fashion about one of the stranger Bullas festivals that occurs annually on 23/24 June (the magical Noche de San Juan).

By the way, I think I invented the term “demi-weekly”, since Google doesn’t recognise it, but I have a fancy to stick with it regardless. Remember where you read it first when it makes its way into the chunkier dictionaries.

But I digress. For a change.

I have spoken of our Bullas “fiesta de la Mora” before now, although I was until last year under the misconception that it was a summer solstice thing, as those of you who remember the book may recall. I was disabused of that notion when at Loli’s insistence we actually made it to the El Salto waterfall basin to take part in the ritual in an up-close and personal fashion for the first time last year.

We set off at around 11pm to walk the couple of miles or so from home along the camino towards town and then back out along the El Salto road towards the waterfall. All attendees were of necessity traversing the same route, which  resembled a mini laser show as torch beams bobbed and danced along on their merry way, punctuated regularly by the orange flare of a match and the subsequent red glow of a cigarette, all combining to create shadowy outlines of the perambulating groups.

The police, displaying an unprecedented degree of forethought, had blocked the road to prevent motor access, a remarkably wise move given the general state of Spanish driving and the fact that many Bulleros (especially the older and more toothless among them) wear spectacles with lenses in them that were possibly refashioned from an old glass-bottomed boat found in a breaker’s yard, and who therefore would not notice a pedestrian in the dark, with or without a torch, until he climbed out of his Atos to see what the “crunch” was.

Arriving therefore intact at the basin, we found that a huge TV screen had been erected, along with the scaffolding bearing the vast speakers hitherto heard but not seen. Camera crews were buzzing about checking angles and lighting, and the sound crew were going through the usual overloud and fuzzy “uno…dos….uno…dos” ritual. (How tedious, by the way, is that? Wouldn’t it be great if they recited some Edward Lear instead?)

It was by this time around 11:50pm and there was a tangible sense of rising anticipation. Loli broke out a bottle of her best home-made chocolate aniseed liqueur, along with a tube of plastic shot glasses which I regarded dubiously, since having tasted her liqueurs previously I was unconvinced that they would not merely become a gloopy mess on contact. They did not, though, and the contents were downed far too rapidly to test their onward durability.

Then, at the stroke of midnight (well, maybe not the stroke – more like the twenty-minute massage, in truth) the music rang out loud and clear, exactly as I so distinctly recall hearing it for the first time four years before as it bounced from side to side of the valley cut to arrive undiminished at our caravan 500 metres downstream. Beautiful stirring”earth” music, throbbing and melodious – stuff like Lisa Gerrard’s Gladiator theme “Now We Are Free” and the like, played at a volume sufficient to feel it vibrating up through the rocks below our feet and into our very souls. A moving sensory communion with a place of natural beauty in the balmy midnight air.

This signalled the commencement of the torchlight procession from the old castle ruins atop El Castellar, the bare-faced rock high above on the south side of the valley, up to which we look directly from the house. The cameras sought and found their targets and the procession, in actuality small figures way up on the hill picking their way through the pine forest, suddenly loomed large on the giant screen so that all could watch their descent. The music became mesmeric and the atmosphere almost reverent.

The lead figure of the procession, adorned in the rich robes of a Mora (north african) princess, sashayed her way downwards at the head of a column of her courtiers, also garbed in traditional arab costume. The story runs thus:

Legend has it that in times of Arab settlement in the lands bathed by the River Mula there was, on the El Castellar mountain, on a rock bluff, a castle famous for having been the scene of great and memorable battles, with men having fought bravely to try to raise the banner of the cross on its battlements.

In this castle lived a Sultan with his court and with his beautiful daughter, who was in love with a young Christian. This young man, renowned as much for his piety as for his bravery, had been wounded and taken prisoner by the Arabs in fierce battle.
During his captivity, the Christian knight managed to catch sight of the Sultan’s daughter, with whose beauty and charm he fell madly in love.

The Sultan, seeing the mutual love of his daughter and the young Christian gentleman, sternly prohibited them from ever meeting.
Ignoring her father’s commands, the beautiful girl met her young Christian each night at the Salto del Usero when everyone was asleep.

 During one of these trysts, the Christian knight turned his eyes to heaven, took up some of the running water from the falls and asked his beautiful lady, “Would you like to be a Christian? Do you want to live within my religion and be saved with me?”
The Princess dipped her head forward, and the young Christian poured the baptismal water over her while invoking the name of God.

Then the young Christian gentleman dived into the pool to swim, but tragically his body disappeared into the crystal waters.

From that moment, the beautiful Moorish Princess who had willingly disobeyed the orders of her father, fell under a spell: that she would stay young and beautiful over the years, and that her soul would wander forever in the forests of El Castellar.

They say that on the Night of San Juan the beautiful soul of La Mora appears at midnight to descend from the mountain to the spot where she was baptised, to bathe her beauty again and to look for her beloved –  and that she collects water which bears his singing, leaving the river Mula totally magical for the night.   *

So the column of courtiers, who have by now obviously muscled in on the eternal life thing, followed their Princess down the footpath to El Salto, and further on down the winding steps into the cold water in the basin below the falls. Here, they all immersed themselves fully in the waters and concurrently filled the large pitchers they were all carrying with the now-magical waters of the Río Mula.

A narrative of the story is running with the music, which, still weaving its enchantment under the cloak of the night sky, climbs to a crescendo as La Mora dips under the water.

When the icy mountain stream has found its way into the thick arabic costumes, the players in this tableau hoist themselves fairly hastily out of the waters and then commence their squelchy way back up the steps from the basin. Their progress is slow on two counts – the first being that their costumes are now waterlogged and heavy, rendering their ascent less than flight-footed, and the second that their way is lined by people clamouring to be splashed by the magical waters borne in the pitchers, so that they may have luck, beauty and longevity.

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When they finally made it back up to the top of the waterfall, the Princess passed very close to us and I realised that, for all her very impressive sashaying, she was in fact extremely hirsute and I exclaimed involuntarily something to the effect that it was a drag show. Obviously armed with a smattering of english, the Princess turned to face me, smiling broadly and showing his nicotine-stained teeth.

“I bless you,” s/he said, and promptly poured the water left in his ewer over my head.

Loli shrieked. “Muy buena suerte!!” she announced. Very good luck. She went on to say that now I would stay young and beautiful forever.

Huh! Too late on both counts, mate. Try wet and cold for the walk home instead.

* (Roughly) translated by me from the Spanish narrative from “Bullas, Leyenda y Misterio” by José Luis García Caballero.

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Falling rain

I’m beginning to understand how Noah felt.

Last weekend was fiesta weekend for Bullas. The fiesta de San Marcos. The saint for whom our overgrown yak puppy was named, given that he (the dog, not the saint) was foisted upon me four years ago at the very same fiesta.

On Saturday the rain proved to be one of those uninvited and unwelcome thick-skinned guests that refuse to take the hint and leave. It fell relentlessly throughout the afternoon, soaking through the canopy of pine branches at the La Rafa camping centre (the focus of fiesta activity) to fall heavily onto the ground below and all things set upon it. During the San Marcos celebrations, this includes many groups of people (peñas) all laboriously stoking bonfires under huge paella pans for a communal rice-and-unmentionable-things fest.

This year the pathetic wisps of smoke bore witness to the dampness of spirit and body of the participants – a sad contrast to the buzz and colour, the aromas and, well, the warmth we experienced at this same event last year.

The evening proved little better at the outset and downright unpleasant at its close. I met up with some friends in town for a fiesta drink, but alas many people had eschewed further outings for the day given the general air of sogginess that pervaded all things, so the evening was fairly subdued. We called it a day fairly early on, given that we would be up early-ish for the Sunday parade, and I drove home.

To a blacked-out finca.

The incessant rain had obviously found its way into some connection or other, probably in the outside lighting circuit, and had thrown the circuit breaker for all external power.

Now I may have mentioned before that John is a gadget merchant. If there is a gismo to be had for this, or a widget to be had for that, then John’s the man to want it. We therefore have electric gates.

Which don’t work when the power is summarily cut.

So I am parked up in the car on the outside of the finca with no other illumination than the headlights shining upon the pair of staunchly immovable six-foot wrought iron gates (with spikes on top and no pedestrian entrance) which sit across the top of a steep drive down to the house level from the camino.

Along the left-hand edge of the descending drive there is a wall that supports the camino – starting at about two foot high at the top of the drive, this grows to a good eleven foot high at the bottom of the drive. And it is topped by a six-foot chain link fence which extends along its length from the gates, ending at a metal post that coincides with the end of the wall.

As I sat there gazing helplessly upon the scene, the dogs below realised that I had returned home and that, further, they could in all probability play the sympathy card and thus elicit a morsel of extra grub, and so began to howl. I had at that point reached the conclusion that my only way in was to make my way along the bank on the outside of the chain-link fence to the end of the wall, swing round the end post and then proceed back again on the inside of the fence along the top of the wall to the gates and thence to the top of the drive.

Good plan, Stan. Except that I was undertaking this venture with glaring headlights behind me, which rendered me unable to see much given that I was casting a hulking great shadow across my own path. Oh, and also except that I was shod with the most ridiculous pair of stilleto-heeled ankle boots. So by the time I’d got to the end of the fence on the outbound leg of the journey, my feet were totally caked in thick mud such that my boots were giving a fair impression of concrete wellies, and my heels looked like the orders spike in an exceedingly busy restaurant.

So as I executed stage two of my brilliant plan and swung round the post at the end of the fence with my left foot, I couldn’t actually feel the bank below my right one. Probably, in fact, because it wasn’t there and my right foot therefore dropped into nothingness.

This gave rise to two things: one, the inside of my right knee scraped painfully down the end of the wall (and I am sitting nursing a five-inch bruise as a result as I write this); and two, the only way I could stop myself from plummeting backwards down the eleven-foot drop onto the (concrete) drive was to grab the chain-link fence and swing.

As I was clinging to the fence, the end post groaned. And moved.

I still just about have my left foot on the top of the wall, but my chin is almost resting on my knee. My right leg is dangling into the pitch-black void being no help whatsoever. The fence, with its end post no longer fully vertical, has slackened. And flashing through my mind is the fact that John is likely either to kill me for breaking the fence or for breaking my neck.

Suffice it to say that I did manage to haul myself back up again without further movement of the fence post, although I did have to sacrifice all the nails on my left hand. I then had to make my way slowly back atop the wall towards the gate on the inside of the flapping chain-link, shaking like a jelly in an earthquake. The clamour from the dogs, indignant that they were apparently being ignored, was climbing in direct proportion to my lack of muscle control, and to add insult to injury I was being blinded by the headlights that were by then in front of me. But I did, I’m pleased to report, remain somehow on top of the wall for the rest of the venture.

Once I’d managed to achieve the gate end of the wall, I dropped the last two foot onto the drive, and promptly slid down the slope as the mud-encrusted boots hit the wet concrete surface. The downward movement was arrested only when contact was made between the surface of the drive and my left bum cheek, upon which has subsequently flourished yet another bruise.

The rest needs no further description, and, having gained entry to the house and reset the circuit breaker, the car and I were safely back where we belonged in no time at all.

The dogs were placated with cheese and I consoled myself with chocolate.

And yes, John is prematurely grey, bless him.

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