August 27, 2007
Spain is a country teeming with pleasure seeking.
Having become a democracy only 30 years ago, this country exudes a type of national adolescence that is hell-bent on vices and enjoying the party as long as it lasts.
You can see it when you walk down any street on any evening around midnight and witness an entire family eating a meal well beyond midnight, the parents sipping on wine and smoking cigarettes while the kids thumb away at a Game boy; Or going to any random cafeteria or bar on any given morning around 10 am and you’ll see some variety of men, young to old, all propped up on the bar, working a grit while sipping some form of a spirit; Or especially in Madrid, if your body and wallet are able to endure, you can start the night at 10 pm for dinner and walk out of a discotheque on the other end of town at 7 am. In fact, it’s possible, to go out on Friday evening and not come back home until early Monday morning, if you want. I’ve never done this but have seen the ghosts and their wild, ringed eyes floating around on the metro early Monday morning while everyone else stands in silent horror at the five days forthcoming. This doesn’t even include Ibiza, the land of unadulterated drug use, never-ending house music and dance-floor orgies.
This penchant for pleasure is understatedly impressive and particularly widespread during the
summer when most cities, towns and pueblos have their yearly festivals.
Few things demonstrated this more than visiting Pontevedra’s “Fiesta de la Peregrina”on Saturday, August 10th.
It was their local yearly celebration of the saint “La Divina Peregrina”, who this sanctuary was named after:
I was visiting Faye, a good friend and fellow writer, who was visiting her father Colin, a permanent resident of Pontevedra.
Faye, Colin and I went into the old part of the city for a few drinks. We discussed the second paragraph of this phlog at length, this hedonism and how it related to their ability to shun any future worry.
To some extent, we wanted to be more like them, able to extract all the preciousness of time available to us while we are here. Yet we agreed that the side effect of it frustrates us sometimes: to truly live in the moment is to party like it’s Armageddon, but it’s also to walk down the street so lackadaisically and carefree, breathing it all in and unworried about where they are going, what time they should be there or who is right behind them trying to get through. And since we tend to walk quite fast in our rushed Anglo mindsets, we are unable to pass and are ultimately perturbed at their slowness.
Our cultures don’t normally have festivals quite like these, certainly nothing like the one that was raging all around us in the old part of Pontevedra.
This festival was largely centered around something I’d never seen before, Peñas.
Peñas are essentially drinking groups.
Groups of people, seen at least in pairs and sometimes in groups of 10 or more, who wear the same colored shirt.
Each shirt has the creative name of their Peña along with the first name of every person in the Peña.
The older groups get together to drink and see the bullfights.
And the younger groups get together to just drink.
As you can see in this picture above, these girls aren’t even close to being barely legally able to drink.
This festival was not only allowing underage drinking, it was encouraging and celebrating it, en masse.
The shopping cart you see there is most likely full of cheap box wine and cola, something they mix together to make a drink called Calimocho.
Calimocho, sometimes spelled Kalimotxo, is a drink that tastes like cheap wine and cola, mixed together.
When the night descended, we moved to see the fireworks in an area akin to an American county fair.
Portable rides, a fun house, food stands, stuffed animal toss-a-ball games, squirt gun shoot-a-hole car races and plenty of portable stands selling cheap Chinese-manufactured goods.
They had a french fry stand run by three men watching tennis, one of which was a grumpy fat old man with an eye patch covered by sunglasses and who actually denied us extra ketchup the first time we asked.
There was a tubby younger man selling balloons…
who looked like he had taken one too many hits from the tank.
Such is life at the fair.
The oddest, by far, was the man selling legs of ham in a lottery in a stand.
He chanted and sang like an stilted auctioneer to a crowd of people frenzying for a leg.
Buy a ticket for a few euros and scratch it off.
You could win a delicious leg of Jamón Serrano, one of the most delicious meats on the planet.
Or the biggest baguette in Spain.
But then again, in a country where pig legs are given as yearly Christmas bonuses or gifts and have museums dedicated to selling them, Museos de Jamón, it’s really not that surprising to see one of these at an annual festival.
Collin left for home and I challenged Faye to ride the Bomber.
The bomber was twice the height of any other ride at the festival, something like a ferris wheel except it only had one massive steel column turning around instead of the wheel.
The steel column had two 360º revolving carriages on each end. Each carriage held only four people, maxing out the ride at a total of eight people at once, and making the line about 45 minutes long.
She said she hadn’t ridden a ride like this in ages and that if we were going to ride it, I had to promise to hold her hand and not let go.
Honestly, I needed a hand to hold, too.
While we survived the bomber, it had shaken up every ounce of beer in our bellies and we marched back into the old quarter to see what was shaking with the Peñas insanity.
In one of the main squares, havens of people were drinking in a near-bacchanalian reverie.
We stepped over, around and on the remains of the debauchery in progress.
Spaniards, old and young alike, were singing and speaking loudly, smoking and dancing and drinking and acting as if the end was near and this was a decent showing for them to go out on.
Two guys pushed a girl in a grocery cart.
They saw me snapping photos of the bedlam and gladly posed for a photo.
A moment later, the girl leaned over the side of the grocery cart and vomited unrestrainedly.
People moved away, some covering their mouths, others merely shaking their heads and resuming party stances while I was trying my damnedest to get a shot of this girl in mid-puke. (This is TNB after all.)
But she laid back into the cart within seconds, head down and feeling as blurry as this picture.
Faye and I went to a bar and danced to some punk-funk and new wave for several hours.
Amidst the smoke and the smiles, the moment and the future that didn’t exist within that night, we joined in the hedonism of the Peñas and the Pontevedra festival that was named after a sacred saint.
The saint who no one in the bar even thought about, much less knew who she was.
Unless of course, she was a saint who enjoyed partaking in the drink and debauch.
Around 5 am, we decided to leave.
On our way I had to get some cash for the cab.
I saw a bank and withdrew some money out of it.
It was called “Holy Spirit Bank”.
Somehow, pulling colorful European money out of a bank named after one-third of the Holy Trinity completed the picture for me, connecting whatever dots were missing in the Pontevedran Peñas odyssey.
Kip recently ended his 3.3 week sojourn in Vigo, Spain where he wrote for hours on end, got blocked twice, drank delicious Albariño white wine, did some Thai-Chi, ate the most succulent squid he’s ever tasted (Pulpo a la Gallega) and visited many beautiful places in northwest Spain before he was ready to go back home to the maddening Madrid capital.