Prior to becoming somewhat familiar with Spain, we used to say that the Austrians would have a fest [festival] at the drop of hat. On our journey back from camping in Italy many years ago, we crossed the Dolomites into Austria, pitched up and stumbled, somewhat literally because of drink, into their local waldfest [forest festival]. Headaches and falling off bicycles aside, it was jolly good fun.
In a similar fashion, the Spanish are well known for being particular fond of a damn good fiesta. Last year, we suffered at the hands of our neighbouring village, Alcalalí, which chose to end its fiesta on the night before our 800km/500ml drive back to France. Fun though a fiesta might be, the problem with the Spanish approach to the celebrations is that a rock concert tends to wind up the proceedings, typically kicking off shortly before midnight. This one finally finished at 05:00. Most civilized nations would have noise-abatement laws kicking in just as the Spanish are getting warmed up to keep you awake all night and deprive you of the sleep required to do anything constructive on the following day. Well, given that it is now well past midnight, of course, it isn’t actually the following day, it’s today.
This weekend is filled with Xalónia, 2017, Xaló being the Valenciana name of our local Spanish town, Jalón.. I’m not sure whether Xalónia is regarded as a fiesta, as such, but it’s a local town celebration that shares much with fiestas, particularly a late night/early morning concert. The concert was last night. We were “treated” to an evening filled with what I think were sound checks, less than rehearsals, prior to the event proper finally kicking off.The speakers were all aimed at our hillside. Fed up with tuneless practice drums, amplification and and mic checks, Francine and I wandered down at 21:30 to have a squint. The town streets were absolutely heaving. Not wanting any more food or drink in a crush of people, we wandered back and waited for the aural assault to commence.
Commence it did at about 23:45. We tried our anti-Spanish-fiesta earplugs, specially purchased after last year’s Alcalalí experience, for the first time. Almost completely useless, I’d say; I could still hear our almost silent ceiling fan turning languidly above our heads. Furthermore, the ear[lugs are not the most comfortable contraption invented. This didn’t stop Francine who was soon in the land of nod. I unplugged myself. Actually, the concert was not so bad, certainly less intrusive than the closing concert of Alcalalí had been, and I did sleep.
Today we wandered down to take a more active part in day #2 of the festivities. Again, the town was very busy so we must award this event a high success rating. Approaching midday, many were taking advantage of the various local bodegas offering wine, a local butcher with enormous BBQs set up, vendors grilling squid, octopus and cuttlefish, others selling slices tortillas … you name it. Like the parting of the Red Sea, the throngs had to divide to allow a band through.
Whilst the food and drink was very welcome, what had really interested us was a demonstration of Muixeranga. We’d seen this on telly, as practised in Catalonia. This was the Valencian version and we were keen to witness it first hand. The most interesting component, maybe the main component, is groups of people building human pyramids or towers. A bunch of beefy folk form the base of the pyramid, then others climb up to form a second layer, and so on. I think the tallest we saw today was five layers.
It seems to be largely a family affair. Smaller children are used to top off the pyramid; sometimes these children are very small. Crash helmets on the smaller children give a nod to health and safety, though the ground beneath them is very hard should they not land on the human cushion provided by their base layer. The several teams moved around the town, starting in the main town square, where the towers seemed to be kept to a modest three layers.
Francine was snapping away as I watched. Something very unusual happened, where children are concerned: I was moved to tears as a tiny little girl began climbing up to top off a 5-layer tower when, about half-way up, it all got too much for her and she bottled out and climbed back down. I felt so sorry for her. At least mum consoled her with a cuddle. Doubtless, the stress of several public performances before large crowds became too much for the poor little mite.
The costumes for the beefy support folks included a sort of cummerbund, a lengthy chunk of woven material wrapped firmly around their middles. This, I imagine, is the direct equivalent of the leather belts worn by weightlifters, worn for precisely the same reason, namely to give additional core strength [very Strictly] and to stop your kidneys popping out under the pressure.
Music accompanies the building of the towers. Groups of musicians playing drums, I think called tabals, and wind instruments called dolçainas, fire up. The latter resembles a short oboe, in that it is a twin-reed instrument sounding akin to a the noise that might be made by a ruptured mallard. I remember such a description from schooldays being associated with an oboe when one of the two reeds split. Yes, I flirted (badly) with an orchestra, many years ago.
It was all very congenial rather than competitive, with teams helping each other out as necessary. Quite a spectacle.