|Paco and Edu and an out-of-town guy|
Here it is, just after midnight Fiesta Sunday, and we´ve just wound up the Big Feed. It is dozens of people, most of them related to one another, scattered over and around the Plaza Mayor, wolfing down fire-roasted pancetta (pork belly, sorta like unsmoked bacon) and chorizo sausages, melon slices, chunks of fresh bread, Santiago tart, pizza from Bruno´s oven, and raw new wine, served up under the plane trees, under the stars. It was crispy and hot and delicious, the best Big Feed of all the Big Feeds I´ve eaten since I started coming to Moratinos Fiestas back in August 2006.
|Panceta experts work in the dark!|
There was much to set this fiesta apart from the rest. This time we had two nights of music, and Friday things kicked off with a live rock band. Sure, it was a local garage band, the ten musicians shared six instruments among themselves. It was fine! They were nice boys! And after them came the mobile disco, which blasted Top-40 dance music til 3 a.m. We have a streak of Basque in our population, so the temporary bar on the church porch served xizpazos and kalimoxos as well as shandy and beer and Cuba Libres. We partied down. That was the warmup.
On Saturday at 11:15 the church bells rang to summon everyone to the Patronal Mass. ALL the bells rang -- bells we have not heard for years, as the stairs in the church tower had become too wood-wormy to safely climb, and only one bell has a rope that reaches the ground. This was a cause for consternation, as funerals cannot be properly announced without someone risking the climb up to the belfry -- you need at least two different bells to ring out the age and gender of the deceased. It was only a matter of time before somebody missed his final send-off.
We had a community meeting about what could be done, how to do it, and how to pay for it. I told about prefab steel spiral stairs with reinforced steel grid floors (worm-proof) at the top, to stabilize both the tower and the stairway. We´d seen similar in re-done church towers in Zamora and Medina de Rioseco. I was told that could not work, it would be too heavy and bulky. (what the hell would I know about these things?) Anyway, early this summer the money was found, and in June the diocese sent in a crew to re-do the bell tower, and voila! We have bells again! Atop a prefab spiral stair, with a grid floor.
Anyway, beneath the clanging bells a wooden Santo Tomas Apostal, the patron of Moratinos, stood on his palanquin surrounded by flowers. A fresh-faced priest from the Passionist order, a relation of our neighbor Pilar, was in town for the fiesta and offered to take over the Mass duties.
I love our parish priest, I deeply appreciate him coming to a village this size each week so we can worship. But this guy was a breath of summer air. He walked among us, and spoke the familiar phrases without looking at any books or notes. He was a little over-the-top, but he meant every word he said. We sang the songs out loud, José and Feliciano unfurled the Moratinos banner, the bells pealed and we marched Santo Tomas around the block. (A pair of French tourists chose that moment to set up their picnic table right in front of the church. We flowed around them, singing. They stood up and doffed their hats as the apostle passed.)
The Mass was standing-room only, and it was glorious. The town has much to be thankful for this year: the bells restored, the new restaurant, a good harvest, a crop of lovely grandbabies, a baptism and a wedding and no funerals. The world outside may be in crisis, but we were there together, big families of some of us, giving thanks on a sunny afternoon in August. We celebrated the little wonder that we are.
|This is how we roll|
To think I almost skipped the Mass, as we had not started work on our costumes yet! The big Saturday-night dance this year revived a custom dropped some 20 years ago -- a costume contest. We had an enormous cardboard box to work with, and lots of paint to hand. So we made ourselves into a pair of dice. Apparently this is unique here in Moratinos, and when we made our appearance at the 11 p.m. dance, several people busted a gut with jollity (and maybe kalimoxo.)
|Campesinas Maria Angeles and Flor|
Competition was stiff. We were up against a butterfly, a fairy, a dalmation dog, two each of Red Riding Hoods, hippies, and High Plains Drifters, some remarkably ugly drag queens and clowns, a cave-man wearing nothing under his leopard-skin, Che Guevara, Marie Antoinette, Carmen Miranda, Lord Nelson, and an artistic grouping of campesinos in local ethnic garb.
Everyone had come as characters. We were the only ones to come as things. Paddy was afraid we might actually win the prize. Until out of the darkness came, on four legs, the most awesome costume of all: a Bale of Straw, complete with a (plastic) pigeon on top. It settled down near the Palentino harvesters, and from inside emerged Leticia and Igor, our sometimes next-door neighbors. Brilliant.
|the winning bale|
The DJ played awful music at full volume, and we danced into the night. Fran, who often sings old folk songs around town, had his annual star turn with the microphone, singing along to an old paso doble. The customers at the bodega augmented our usual numbers, and vice versa. We shed our cardboard carapaces and danced in circles and lines, with the children leading the way. Children who were toddlers a couple of fiestas ago are now snaking their hips like Shakira. The skinny pre-teens we tutored in English are tending the bar.
|Luis, Christie, and singin´ Fran|
We grow up and out and get older, but the fiesta goes on. It´s an annual reunion of people intermarried and tangled together from time out of mind, with new additions here and there and a setting that´s changed little over the decades and centuries.
This is the best fiesta I have attended, the most joyful. Even though some of these people have lost much this year, some are facing ruin as the economy worsens, they are here this weekend, cutting loose with the cousins and in-laws.
I am told the pueblo is still the backbone of Spanish society, that these small-town fiestas draw generations from the cities every summer back to the village to sleep and eat crowded into musty rooms, to dance and feast and worship. Spain will stay strong long as the city-kids are smart enough to now and then re-connect and recollect what´s old but not obsolete. Long as they don´t forget what is theirs, from centuries ago, that is still so very much alive.