October 21, 2008


Arrived at Spanish conversation class yesterday, late as usual and clutching in my sweaty hand last week’s homework, to find the whole building - the local town hall - closed. No sign of explanation anywhere. It was as I was leaving, despondently and somewhat puzzled, that the euro dropped. The fiesta taking place in a nearby town has been ‘adopted’ by this one and celebrated as a municipal event. Or rather, all the local municipal buildings close down and it’s yet another public holiday!

Jesús, our teacher, must have forgotten to mention it last week but then, he did seem a bit distracted, rushing off at the end to see his ‘abogado’ (lawyer) about some flat he’d bought off-plan. But judging by the dismal look on his usually cheerful face, it wasn't just the plan that was beginning to look off but the flat too. No doubt, it won’t be long before we hear all the details. Jesús likes to use any conceivable current event as a topic of conversation and, apart from the frequent fiestas which he naturally adores, his on-going house-hunting problems must take pride of place in the top ten we’ve discussed to date.

Speaking about records, Spain must occupy a place in the top ten countries of the world for the number of its official national public holidays - 18. Of these, the main ones are Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week) which is celebrated with huge religious fervour here in Andalucia; Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings) on 6th January, a favourite with children because that’s the day they get their second helping of Christmas presents; and 25th July, the festival of Santiago (St James), Spain’s patron saint.

Then there are, in addition, the regional fiestas. Of these, the most important are the processions and bonfires of the Fallas of Valencia in March; the bonfires in Alicante and elsewhere on St John’s Day, 24th June; the festival of Moors and Christians in April in Alcoy, province of Alicante and the infamous bull-running in Pamplona, northern Spain, in the first week of July.

But the overall winner of the title of pseudo-Barbara Cartland-lookalike gaudiness of all regional fiestas is without doubt Seville’s Feria de Abril. Women enveloped in the most outrageously and hideously dayglo, skin-tight flamenco dresses vie with each other in flouncing up and down Seville’s beautiful avenues often to the accompaniment of snapping castanets. Or are driven around town in family-owned, horse-drawn open carriages flicking their fans in disdain at those not in possession of such luxury and battling their way through the seething, wine-drinking crowds. And, given that the average Spanish woman is not exactly petite, those skin-tight frocks don’t do any of them any favours - neither the average-looking woman flirting on a Feria street nor the immaculately-coiffed aristocrat in her private entertainment enclosure.

And last, but by no means least, are the local fiestas. In fact, every town and every village throughout Spain, however large or small, will have its own fiesta mayor, when their inhabitants let their hair down with processions, fairs, competitions, music, dancing and consumption of food and alcohol in much the same way as their ancestors have done for centuries. Madrid, for instance, celebrates the festival of San Isidro, the city’s patron saint, on 15th May. And on this single day, the sophisticated metropolis that is modern-day Madrid, turns into a collection of mini fiestas, each with its own village-like atmosphere, the residents celebrating the holiday just as their parents and grandparents before them.

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