Sunday, 19 August 2007

Moratinos Gets Down! Fiesta Part 1

The explosions started Friday night. The party didn´t start till Saturday. Why wait?

Years are long here, and when the Feast of St. Thomas comes around, Moratinos is way ready to party. St. Thomas is the village patron, and the weekend that falls nearest his annual feast day means Fiesta Time in the Tiny Pueblo.

Times are good here. The harvest was good (but for the grapes), and the first new mayor in 12 years is a Moratinos man (we share a mayor with St. Nicholas de Real Camino, the next town over.) This means the town got a real sprucing-up in the last couple of weeks, and the annual fiesta got an unprecedented number of cohetes, all from the community chest.

The Spanish ´cohete,´what we´d call a skyrocket or petard, is a wondrous thing indeed, and Spanish men seem to have a passion for them. (anyone who´s been to Spain knows about the national passion for racket, but so far I´ve not seen women lighting explosives in the streets.) They require a specially constructed ´cohete-holding´device that keeps the rocket pointed up and away from the person lighting it, and allowing for a somewhat safe distance from the sparks. Apparently cohete-lighting technique requires each fuse be lit from a cigarette. Pin (short for ´Seraphim´), one of the town´s many bachelor farmers, seems to be the unofficial Cohetero for Moratinos. Over the weekend, whenever the mood strikes him or some scheduled event is set to happen soon, he´ll set off a couple of these bad boys. The rocket heads skyward on a trail of sparks and explodes a good 100 feet up. The bang shakes the windows all over town. Every dog, cat, pigeon, and partridge dives for cover and stays there, shivering. Even Roldan, the Milagro Family´s very nasty watchdog, has spent the last 30 hours in hiding.

Cars, tractors, and SUVs from the cities rolled up all through Friday afternoon and Saturday morning -- even a Madrid taxicab was parked on the corner where the Camino passes through. Leandra´s house on the corner had ¨20-something¨ people crammed inside and out. Babies where wheeled out and cooed-over, and teenage cousins lurked under the trees in the plaza mayor, peering at mobile phones and sharing IPod headphones, their numbers bolstered by more cousins who biked over from Terradillos and St. Nicholas.

The church bell rang and the cohetes banged for the 1 o´clock Mass, and even the coolest teens joined the crowd. With the usual hymns, the St. Thomas statue was carried out and marched ´round the church, a rite that´s becoming familiar now. The usual number of lucky passing pilgrims got some nice photos, and a couple of them stopped, took off their hats, and made the sign of the cross as the Doubting Thomas statue marched by. Mass was celebrated by Don Gaspar, the priest who fills in when Don Santiago can´t be there. He stayed around after, for the annual Orujo Sampling.

Aside from unregulated fireworks, several other aspects to Moratinos´village festival would shock, dismay, and horrify many Americans. A similar fiesta held in an American town would bring down simultaneous raids from the liquor control board, sanitation authority, family services, animal cruelty officers, child labor enforcement, not to mention the fashion police.

I´ll start with the bar.

It´s a plywood counter that´s stored throughout the year in the pumphouse over the town well, and on Friday it was set up in the corner of the church porch, facing the plaza. It´s apparently been used there for generations, judging from the bracket-marks on the brickwork and names and dates scratched and scrawled on the surfaces. The selection and prices are posted on a chunk of cardboard overhead. A bar, at the church. Okay. (Can Bingo be far behind??)

And after church everyone spilled into the plaza. A nice shot of vermouth is an after-church staple for the men of this town, but usually they have to go all the way to St. Nicholas to get one -- there´s no bar in Moratinos. But on fiesta weekend they just have to stroll around the corner and... et voila! Angelín and Sara are there behind the nicely-stocked bar, ready to serve.

Angelín and Sara come to our house in the winter for help with their English homework. He is a baby-faced 14 year old. She´s 16, maybe. They tend the bar all the way through the fiesta, with breaks from cousins of similar age. They get all the Coca Cola and potato chips they can put away, and any money they make above a certain margin they get to keep. They seem to enjoy their work. No one wonders at what this experience is doing to their tender moral consciousnesses. No one counts his change, even. They´re village kids, learning the value of a 14-hour day´s work. (You got a problem widdat?)

The lawn chairs and tables soon appeared beneath the plaza plane trees, and pleasant hours of Mus ensued. Mus involves no bets or money, but it enflames tempers like high-stakes poker. Over by the newly whitewashed wall the children threw stones into the mouth of a battered iron frog, and rolled an ancient wooden ball at ninepins. We wandered home, and wisely had a nap. Between explosions. Until Tomas and Raimunda showed up.

Tomas and Raimunda sold us our house. It had been in her family since time out of mind, and she cried when we signed the papers. She cried some more when we showed her through it. Tears of joy at its imminent resurrection, or shock at its present condition, or perhaps pity for us... I am not sure. God knows the place makes me cry enough. I think they miss this place, if only for a free place to hang out during fiesta weekend. That´s about all the use it´s had over the past 25 years. They didn´t ask what we´d done with the black laquer and chrome and mirror bar they left in the salon. I was glad they didnt decide they wanted their taxidermy guinea pig back. He´s a keeper.

At 4 p.m. we were asked to come for coffee at Leandra´s place on the corner, a real beehive of activity. ¨Coffee¨on fiesta weekend means everyone brings over a bottle of this year´s home brew for a sampling. (We brought some Jim Beam in a plain liter bottle, and just told them it was whiskey made from grain.) Round the table were relatives and friends and Father Gaspar, most of them already pink-cheeked and singing. Victor, an in-law from Basque Country, was holding forth in a strong and unsteady baritone, belting out one folk song after another. He´d brought clear, rough aguardiente from Vittoria. Jose had some bright yellow orujo, made from the leavings of last year´s wine grapes. The yellow color comes from saffron, he said. It looked like a lab sample to me. But it was very smooth indeed. Someone else had ´licor de uvas,´a purple grape distillate that prickled my nose.

I didn´t drink much. I didn´t have to. An hour later I was singing "Barroom Girls" and "Raindrops Keep Fallin´On My Head." Paddy did "As Time Goes By." Victor and the lads sang about the Boatmen on the River Carrion, floating downstream with a load of drunks from Moratinos, and the Rosebud at the balcony window, whose brown eyes light up the night... that sort of thing. There are several Castillian folk songs that mention local towns by name. I didn´t know that. And my little MP3 recorder refused to work, or I´d have posted a couple of sound files for you.

Paddy, being a male among men, was given way too much to drink, and in his usual accomodating way he managed to choke it down. We went home at 8 p.m. dinner. He fell asleep in his chair. The night hadn´t even begun yet.

No comments: