It is so dry here that all is dust and dusty. The snakes are sufficiently emboldened to seek any droplets of moisture that people might spil,and walking on the terraces of our huerto is like walking on potato crisps – sharp, sticky crisps. It has not rained in our lonely corner of Spain for at least six months and the country itself has been ungoverned for at least twice that time. Not that the two are connected necessarily. The drought means that we will have no olives this year, but better governed holdings have irrigated their trees and will have a harvest.
On the brighter side we are still eating our olives from two years ago, have a bumper crop of delicious purple-bloomed grapes, most of the trees in our little orchard have survived, and the Spanish continue to enjoy life in their festive tradition.
Recently we went along to the first night of partying at the fiesta of our second most favourite village in this country. On offer was a fully fledged fairground plus a dance to a live band starting at midnight (yes starting). We chose the more traditional tour of the bodegas (wine cellars) led by a large cohort of local musicians and singers. They play jota, a distinctive local music featuring guitars and mandolins together with solo or duet singers who stand in a special way and give it full belt – not a microphone or amplifier in sight. The stance is important: the singer stand proud and thrusting with hands on hips and elbows extended (or, for the more casual men, thumbs in jean pockets cowboy style). The songs have a fixed pattern. There is quite a lengthy instrumental introduction during which the singer waits patiently for a musical signal. The music slows to a near halt then, as the musicians move into the main body of the song, the singing begins. My Spanish is not good enough to understand the lyrics but most seem to be concern the village or its surroundings. Some are clearly amusing, especially those sung by a short man with a white beard tied like a pony tail with a red elastic band and wearing a strangely tied bandana shockingly exposing one side of his balding head.
The evening started in the beautiful main square of Cretas when a small group of young ladies from the village set off a rocket at nine o’clock precisely (9.30ish Spanish time). Then, nothing. The crowd continued chattering animatedly unril, at long last, the joteras climbed onto the stage. There were roughly twenty-five of them and so the show began with a few short songs. Following that, the troupe began their musical meander through the narrow maze of streets which make up the old town. First stop was outside the church so no wine there, yet the waiting and their singing was making me thirsty. After a few songs the players led us on a long walk through the newer part of the village, singing and playing as they went.
“Oh no,” I said half-jokingly to Margaret, “they’re heading straight for our camper van.”
“And we only have one bottle of wine,” she replied dryly.
Fortunately they turned into a nearby restaurant and we piled in after them. It was a large place where one long table had been spread with plates of ham, olives and bread together with bottles of red and white wine. The musicians sat down at the table and began to tuck in so I grabbed a glass and made for a bottle. Margaret restrained me, hissing that the stuff was solely for the musicians. I watched carefully as the rest of the audience descended like locusts on the food and drink, then joined in. Soon the music began again with the owner of the restaurant doing a solo and to my amazemnet she was followed by a young girl. I had noticed this teenager at the church: an attractive girl with thick black hair and a pretty but elongated pale face. She wore that sullen, teen-style expression and displayed the body language of someone who clearly did not want to be there. Yet she sang so clearly, so strongly, so convincingly that the experience went straight to the heart and brought the greatest applause of the whole evening.
After this a melodious walk back into the old city for more food and wine in a large garage. More again in a dead end street where there was cake, sweet wine and, of course, always the jota. We ended a memorable night at about two in the morning in another garage, this one, strangely enough, dedicated to bull fighting. Finally, that seemingly recalcitrant, but actually rather shy, young lady sang a magical last song and we wandered happily back to our van.
Despite the lack of government the main bar in our own village, our favourite bar, has changed hands yet again. At first we thought that our friends Miguel and Anna had left and handed the business over to their cook Vincente. We were told that they had gone to Barcelona or maybe Adalusia, yet one day Margaret met Miguel in the local shop – they still live here, they have merely given up the bar. Vincente is very fat, just as cooks are supposed to be. He says little beyond an initial greeting and final goodbye. His wife is from South America and looks it. Margaret thinks her exoticism may prove a retainer for the old men who are the bar’s main clientele (though not income). We will have to wait and see. Meanwhile we have decided to share our alcoholic largess between Vincente and Ramon. Yes, he of the bar next door. He who almost drove us from the village when he ran the, then only, bar. Earlier blogs relate his rapid demise from enthusiastic greeter to resentful barman, followed by his re-emergence as the owner of a new, bigger, and perhaps better, bar next door.
Think of us then in England as the pound falls to near parity with the euro. Then, think again when I tell you that Vincente’s beer is a little over two euros a pint! Meanwhile we think of our recent escape from a two week traverse of France where six euros a pint was not unusual!