Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Fiesta de la Virgen de la Paloma

I was aware that the 15th August was an especially holy day in the Spanish calendar, and, thanks to our new friend at the cheese-and-meat counter, knew that it was a public holiday and a lot of supermarkets, shops, etc would be closed for the day. With this in mind, we thought we would perhaps venture out in the early evening to see if we might stumble across some evidence of this fiesta. As we emerged from the metro station at La Latina we were immediately met by crowds lining the street all around us. A member of said crowd informed me that a procession was due to pass by soon, and so (my boyfriend's German efficiency starkly contrasted against the mañana approach of the unhurried Spaniards) we walked in the direction that the procession would come from, and continued to do so as the procession passed us, thus cutting the time it took to see the entire thing in half. This was in fact a smart move, as Spanish processions (just as I had witnessed during the Semana Santa processions in Málaga) when in full swing appear to be a grand, ceremonial march, accompanied by a full band, various important-looking flags and ornamented maces, but will suddenly, and often after only a few metres physical progression, grind to a halt, at which point the previously impressive mass of robed, bejewelled, uniformed processors end up looking like a bunch of disorganised costume fanatics stopping for a chat in the middle of the road.

Procession stops for a quick gossip

One man's voice would rise up from the procession, '¡Viva la Virgen de la Paloma!', and the crowd, as obedient as a church congregation but with more fiesta enthusiasm, would reply loudly, '¡Viva!'. This chant was altered only by one woman who began bellowing '¡Don Alfonso!' at least 20 times over. Err, sorry love, La Fiesta de Don Alfonso was last week. Anyway, as this hubbub rose and fell around me, I was struck with a sudden, profound realisation: Spanish people are tiny!! To be more precise, old Spanish people are tiny, and suddenly here they were in their hundreds, dressed up in their Sunday best, milling around my knees, pushing past the giant-sized tourists to get a better view of the proceedings.

Once the entire procession had been duly regarded and photographed, we went in search of food. Unfortunately, my boyfriend and I are not the most decisive people, and even less fortunately he had chosen this particular night, when my hunger pangs were threatening to evolve into grumpiness, to be extra picky. After nearly an hour I found myself sitting, incredulous, in an American-style diner about to choose between a root-beer and a coke float. There we were, just off the Calle Baja Alta, renowned for its excellent tapas or pintxos and traditional tabernas, and we were about to tuck into a good old American hamburger. In this moment of clarity we made a dash for the door, and ten minutes later were happily munching on some tasty, typical tapas at a nearby taberna. Phew.

Tempers flare at the fairground...
This area of town was absolutely buzzing with activity. Long after the procession had been and gone, crowds filled the streets drinking enormous plastic cup-fulls of mojitos and cerveza served from numerous makeshift outdoor bars. The music was loud, the drinks were flowing, and madrileños and tourists alike were revelling in this modern celebration of a very traditional fiesta. One street was filled with fairground attractions - not actual rides, but countless food stalls and brightly-lit stands promising great prizes (giant Papa Smurf, or some such treasure) if you could pop three balloons with as many darts. This simple deal was too much for one (elderly, female) punter, who launched into a blazing row with the stall owner about why she could not have a stuffed Spongebob-Square-Pants after bursting two balloons. I scoured the surrounding area for some snivelling toddler - perhaps she was simply being Super Gran and defending her poor Spongebob-less grandson - but alas, there was none, and several of us on-lookers rolled our eyes at eachother as if to say 'Keep your hair on, it's just a game!' Ah, pride comes before a fall; my boyfriend steps forward to take his go, adamant that if he fails, we will leave immediately. 18 darts and 15 euros later, we walk away content with my new stuffed dog (named Pimiento after our favourite tapa) under my arm.
...But I didn't leave empty handed!
TG xx

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