The Spanish are no strangers to a party, or ‘fiesta’ rather. They do things very differently to us in the UK, where people either go to Revs on a saturday night, spend £40 on alcohol and ironically dance to Flo Rida, or the ‘cool cats’ who go to some sort of rave and dance until the early hours on a bag of cheap class As. In Spain, fiestas are part of the fabric of society, a way of life that everybody subscribes to. I’ll take you to one and show you what they’re all about..
It’s Saturday and this week the fiesta is in a place called Azanuay, which sounds very Welsh when pronounced, like it’s the kind of village Daffyd Thomas would live in. You find a bus that goes to the fiesta, whack your plastic bag full of booze in a plastic crate in the bottom compartment of the coach, then join the kids on board. You wanna leave this relatively late, about one o’clock would be ideal. In Spain, it starts late and ends late. We’re talking about 8-10 o’clock AM late. Because what kind of crazy party ends at a perfectly reasonable four, say o’clock?
From about midnight onwards, the streets will be adorned with gangs of teenagers sitting on the pavements, drinking a concoction of alcohol and pop from a giant plastic bottle they prepared earlier. They’re all wearing silly bright T-Shirts with skyscrapers on them and American City names in massive letters. They’re either very skinny or very fat. Many of them park up their cars, pop the boot open and play some of the most repulsive music you could possibly imagine, slowly bopping and laughing hysterically at something. Go a bit further through the winding streets, towards louder music, and you will find a stage where the real entertainment is. A band will play all of the Spanish school disco classics, which nobody seems to be getting tired of. If they don’t actually play Cotton Eyed Joe, they’ll play some Spanish equivalent to get the crowd moving. You don’t need to pay to go in, there’s no gate, no staff. You will, however need to buy some bingo tickets, and grab hold of the nearest translator you can find.
Now any accomplished Dionysian like you and I will understand that the essentials of proper party- alcohol, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and bingo. The lead singer of the band, a quirky young girl in a cowboy hat and vest, calls the numbers while the crowd are silent.
Unlucky. Someone gets a line almost immediately, and the house takes a while longer, too long. It’s like when the rickety old rope bridge you needed to get across the chasm and escape the monster is about to break, the rope fibres are slowly snapping. You have two numbers left to go. It’s only a matter of time before some crazed yob at the front makes the call and subsequently gets lifted up by his friends like a manager whose team have just won the Champions league. It finally happens, you sigh with disappointment, dream of what could have been. Then it’s back to business as usual.
At about two o’clock, the fourteen year olds’ mums turn up to pick up their disgraced little kids, who are still absolutely bingo’d off their faces. So what remains are a bunch of hardened party goers, the regs. The ‘DJs’ turn up, the family band goes home, and the music transitions into something a bit more adult. Near the stage area, there is a ring reserved for young bulls. There is seating all round, and professionals wind up the bulls, provoking them into a charge, then backing away at the last minute. The crowd is well into this of course, and occasionally pissed up people go into the ring and play around with the young toros themselves. The real mavericks get the baby bulls pissed first, pouring beer into their mouths. I heard from a lady that there has been a person who has ended up in a wheelchair from this in every town. This kind of stuff could only be normalised at a party in Spain. Have a go if you want, Jose says it’s definitely a good idea.
So the next few hours, until about five o’clock involve more drinking, and are therefore difficult to recall. For us it will involve asking a lot of people if they speak English, and being asked a lot about Brexit if they do, agreeing to go separate ways, receiving a grimace if they don’t. The music never really changes, it’s all just cheap Spanish crap like that Pitbull freak. One of the only songs I remember was that ‘Gasolina’ song. I remember listening to that on Now 62, when I was eleven years old along side ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Westlife, and thinking it was okay, in a jokey way. It’s not like they’re playing it at these fiestas as a one off either, I’d bet my left arse that it gets played every single week. Besides from being bad taste, to play the same old track week in, week out is nothing less than a sign of insanity.
When the sun starts to come out above the dancefloor, you begin to notice what you’re walking on, which resembles the garbage shoot in A New Hope. You are treading on all manner of rubbish and filth. Everyone is smoking, you, The DJs, your parents, your kids, the bulls. The personal space, which has slowly atrophied throughout the night, becomes almost non-existent. The environment is a bit like a rave, only the people there are one big family, there’s no drugs, and there was no DJ available so they went ahead and booked DJ Spanner, the forty year old with the baseball cap from down the pub, who ‘does the odd party’ when he’s not doing his normal job, which is plastering.
Before you know it it’s eight o’clock in the morning and you’re getting bored of it all. Everyone’s done with the bars now, and it’s onto the hot dog counters. They don’t have brown sauce in Spain, so you have to settle for loads of Mustard, or worse- ketchup. The bread is stale. There are some dodgy looking people around. You want to avoid Bethan as well. The night is over- it’s time to wait for that ten o’clock bus to take you home, get to bed, and then wake up at three o’clock on the day of rest, ready to eat paella, snails and rabbit.
So overall they’ve got the idea right with these fiestas. If I went when I was 16 I would have considered it to be paradise. It was what I was desperately looking for for most of my teenage years but rarely captured, a solid form of community with other kids. The kind that you achieve in holiday resorts, playing on the pool tables with new friends, drinking by the swimming pool together at night. The fiestas provided that. But you realise as you grow up, there are very few communities that one can truly belong to at all.
In Spain breakfast isn’t the norm. You might have a little something, like a peach or a coffee, but that’s it for the morning. What you’re waiting for is three o’clock, when it’s lunch time. Now I’ve stated before, it’s all about the meat with these guys. If it’s got flesh, eat it. They’d eat the stray cats off the streets if they had any meat on them.
As you might guess, rabbit tastes exactly like chicken, and is therefore nothing to write home about. Snails on the other hand, are the most pointless food on the planet. They come sizzling on a tray, and look exactly like the snails you’d find in your garden, not the giant ones from foreign lands. You get one, and find that it’s body has shrank almost entirely into its shell, then with your cocktail stick you are faced with a further challenge. That of scooping out the correct part of the snail, ignoring it’s digestive organs, which take up about fifty per cent of the pathetic little lump of mollusc flesh that remains. It’s then completely necessary to smother this all over in aleoli to mask the taste of it (which you should probably avoid at all costs) then shove it in your mouth and eat it, for some apparent reason. I had one and soon ruled out the possibility of tackling another.
The best thing about Spanish food is the watermelon, or ‘sandía’ en espanol. The family I lived with were provided with fresh sandías every week, the massive ones, with dark green skin, and perfect vermilion insides. You eat sandía for breakfast, after breakfast, before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, for dinner, after dinner, before bedtime. It’s so hydrating it’s crazy, and as someone who immediately after eating a meal– in spite of how full I am– has an insuperable craving for a dessert, it provided a very reliable, healthy, and delicious alternative to whatever shit I’d normally eat. I’ve taken my love for this fruit back home with me, and now try and ensure that my fridge is always stocked up with a nice big juicy sandía. It’s made my life all the better for it.
Why did I come to Tamarite? Something to do, mostly. But there are other underlying motives. I want to go to the quiet places, I want to go to my own places. A couple of years ago I went to Rome for a day. I walked on the streets that Julius Caesar once walked upon. I looked at the mighty Colosseum, and felt absolutely nothing.
Armies of tourists have murdered these cities, they are everywhere, inescapable, unavoidable, stealing it all for themselves and their camera phones. I’d sooner go to somewhere else nobody else is interested in, and see that culture, naked, free to be whatever it is natural for it to be, and blend in or stand out as much as I choose. Then the experience is my own, and what’s more I am not a mere cog in the tourist machine, but for a short while, a part of the system itself. Tamarite wasn’t Barcelona, or Madrid, Paris, Berlin or Rome, but you can’t say it wasn’t completely unique. For better or worse.