After three weeks of the grey-green UK “summer”, I returned to the dusty yellows of Spain and found the village in the throes of fiestas.
Las fiestas del veraneante, to be precise – the annual celebration during the last week of August which is put on for the benefit of those who spend summer in the pueblo. Veranear – “to summer”. Not a verb that exists in English, though we do talk of birds wintering in warmer climes.
It’s the trailing end of the summer, and like most village celebrations, the fiestas tend to be dry and dusty and slight tawdry with small fairground rides for kids and stalls selling tat. Underfoot is the debris of Spanish take-away foods: scattered olive stones and sunflower seed shells, bread crusts, the greying smears of squashed chips, the exoskeletons of shrimps and daubs of ketchup.
This year the Shetland pony carousel wasn’t in evidence among the rides. A couple of summers back, when the poor animals were tethered overnight in a tiny pen at the back of the owner’s caravan, a neighbour told me he’d offered to put them in the field with Rosa, his own pony. The ride owner refused: he didn’t want them getting ideas above their usual station.
One ride that was there as usual this year was the dodgem cars; in Spanish they’re called coches de choque. What does what say of the two cultures? That English-speakers try to avoid conflict, where the hispanohablantes race head on into the crash?
It reminds me of an incident cited by John Hooper in his book The Spaniards. Back in the 70s a schoolbus was sliced in two on a level crossing in Salamanca and thirty people died. There was no equipment failure or anything. When they questioned him, the driver admitted he’d seen the train coming but thought he’d try and get over the level crossing before the train reached it.
The figures are now in for this year’s summer death toll on the Spanish roads, and it’s the lowest since 1964 when there were only a fraction of the number of cars. Could it be that the Spaniards are learning caution?