Thursday 13 April 2017

Easter letter from Spain 2017

As I write this my feet are tapping uncontrollably to the beat of some thirty drums: three or four big bass ones, the rest much smaller snare drums : bombos and tambores in Spanish. And during the pauses as the drum leader picks out one amateur drummer or another for helpful instruction my village is alive with the sounds of chattering children, barking dogs and parking cars. Yes, my village of La Fresneda, so quiet for the past two weeks that you could hear the house martin chicks demanding their dinners from the nests below the eaves, so peaceful that arrival of the refuse collection lorry is an event, so deserted that it is a shock to see someone emerge from one of the upper houses - my village has been invaded! It is Semana Santa –the week of the saints – Easter.

Tomorrow, at exactly midday on Good Friday, that drum troupe, swollen to one hundred or more will ‘break the hour’ with a thunderous and ecstatic roll, then continue to drum and parade for a few hours in the village square. Then after a deserved rest they will gather at the main church near my home and lead a procession through the narrow, winding streets to finish at the smaller church on the lower level of the village. There is no let up in the drumming. There are only two practice sessions, but in between these drumming can be heard from a house here, another there. Little boys and girls bang on tiny and tinny drums in the streets. Knots of people will form at street corners and shout joyfully at each other.  And all of this will also be taking place in most of the villages, towns and cities of our area – the major event being held at Calanda where film crews temporarily removed from the border with contested Gibraltar will capture the breaking of the hour by a thousand drums.

On Saturday our village will be invaded again as the streets fill with stalls for the annual antiques fair and on Sunday for its arts and crafts follow on. There will be nowhere left to park and the staff of the two bars will be driven to near exhaustion serving food and drink to the many visitors. Then the village will slowly empty, the drums will be stored away until next year, the blinds of the houses will be lowered and the families will leave their hereditary homes and head back to their real residences in Barcelona. The stray cats will emerge timidly from their homes in deserted houses, the martins and swallows will continue ridding the sky of insects and the long term residents will stroll along to the two village shops hoping that the shelves will not be entirely swept bare of goods. Then silence will descend on the sinuous streets of sleepy La Fresneda, broken only by the bells signalling the slowly passing hours from the church and town hall and the occasional passage of a tractor on its way to the surrounding olive groves and almond plantations.

Which do I like best? Well, the quiet periods need to be shattered at times, and the shattering should quickly return to peacefulness. This is the Spain I love: its vibrancy and variability, the way it has plucked the fun part out of the old religious festivals leaving the church going to the church goers, the inherent friendliness and inquisitiveness of its rural folk, the love of the city folk for their villages. Long live the difference between this and my home country, though not the difference over Gibraltar where the folks who live there clearly wish to remain British – in or out of the EU.

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