Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How Can We Have Fun, Let Me Count the Ways

The Holy Week processions of Spanish cities and towns are quite well known around the world- capes and pointed hats, dozens of strong men moving great platforms with statues on, step by step, drumbeats, brass bands, chains clanking, crowds falling silent, ‘saetas’ sung to the Virgin from the roadside or from balconies- the details are not so familiar, perhaps, but the idea is not new to anyone who has travelled or read a little.

There are other festival activities which are known anecdotally- in Buñol, in Valencia, the people throw hundreds of tons of tomatoes at each other every August. Others are barely known outside the areas where they happen- in Bilbao rotting geese are strung across the river and competitors in boats try to leap up and pull their heads off as they pass, sometimes being pulled into the air by and dropped into the water by the tension in the rope.

Here in Ciudad Real we celebrate the Pandorga at the end of each July. The Pandorgo is a jolly, fat chap who represents the spirit of fun, and a local character, known for being jolly and fat, is chosen to play the role every year. The central part of the festival consists of a competition between groups to make the best ‘zurra’, an individualist take on the theme of wine with cordials. This happens in the gardens in front of the cathedral. The idea is that the best ‘zurra’ is offered to the Pandorgo when he turns up. In practice it is an excuse to get the youth of the town together to drink cheap wine and throw the rest of it over each other. It is utter chaos, the result is several thousand drunk, purple people crushed together, passing out in the afternoon sun. The town centre stinks for days, even though they hose it all down (it seeps into the earth of the gardens).

Nearby, in Almagro, at this time of year the Council gets a piglet which lives in the town for a month being fed by the townspeople. Then it is raffled off and becomes bacon, I imagine. This year's pig is called Obama. I can’t vouch for any of this, I speak from hearsay.

In Calzada, also nearby, people come from all over the province on Good Friday to play ‘cruces’, a simple coin-tossing game on which enormous sums are staked. It becomes, for one day, the biggest casino in Spain. Thousands of pounds are staked on a single toss. Last Friday, they tell me, one man bet his lorry, and another his house, and a pro who tried to milk the bank with a system was run out of town.

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