Celebration in the Plaza
“Fay was a Giri – a Giri is our Andaluz word for a foreigner” – said the Alcaldesa Rafi Crespin – our local Lady Mayor – in her eulogy to my late wife Fay in the memorial service held in Fay’s memory at Las Pinedas village church. “But Fay was the kind of Giri we would like to have more of!” To make the point, the Alcaldesa said, she intended to name a street after Fay.
Streets are not so easy to name – or rather to re-name - in Spain with its Civil War history. Plaza Andalucia, the central square in Las Pinedas where Casa Uno now stands, was once, like every other streetwise village square in Spain, Plaza del Caudillo. The Caudillo – the Leader – was Spain’s Dictator for some 35 years, Generalissimo Franco (note 1). The two main streets in Las Pinedas are nowadays named after two great poets of the pre-Civil War period: Federico Garcia Lorca and Antonio Machado – the one executed by the Nationalists early in the War, the other driven out of war-torn Spain to die of physical frailty and mortal grief on the escape-route to France. These were not names to be replaced. The names of the shorter cross-streets in the micro-Manhattan grid of Las Pinedas turned out to be equally deeply embedded in history.
In the end the decision was made to place a plaque in memory of Fay on Casa Uno in Plaza Andalucia, the village farm-house Fay and I had bought, taken down and rebuilt for Fay herself to run as an international rental house – since when more than 1000 visitors young and old from a dozen or so different nations have made Casa Uno their holiday home. Now a plaque is an object which by definition needs unveiling. And in Spain above all, an unveiling calls for a party.
No-one likes a party like the Spanish. Our village Las Pinedas annually hosts three major celebrations.
On Easter Sunday morning, the Risen Christ, mounted on a heavy wooden float with the white and gold flowers of spring, is carried out of the church on the shoulders of the young men and women of the village. His emergence is greeted by the singing of the Saeta – a centuries old flamenco paean of welcome – performed each year with wild, heart-stopping passion by Maribel Diaz, a great artist and long-standing family friend, whom many visitors to Las Pinedas from around the world will also know as house-keeper of Casa Uno.
His return to the world of the living thus recognized, the Christ-figure is carried through the streets in solemn procession, most of the rest of the village following in its train, many of the younger children arrayed in Las Pinedas’ particular penitential house-style - cloaks and pointed hats in a shimmering Cambridge blue. The whole column advances, chattering peaceably, to the threatening musical thumps, groans and shrieks of a Spanish marching band, sounding as though on its way to an auto-da-fe – a ceremonial burning of heretics by the Spanish Inquisition.
By the time the procession returns to the central square, the lines of chairs for the earlier Mass have been broken up, the chairs regrouped round tables, the bar has opened and paella is being ladled out for free from an immense gas-fired paella pan behind the bar.
In the month of May comes the Romeria: the annual festival of San Isidro, patron Saint of farmers. The local San Isidro comes all the way from La Carlota where he winters in the town church. Placed on cart packed with an elaborate arrangement of flowers and drawn by an immense green tractor, he leads a parade of decorated floats and smartly dressed horsemen across the fields to Las Pinedas, and then onwards to the festival ground that Las Pinedas shares with La Carlota – a hectare of rough grass, scattered with holm oaks for shade, and concrete picnic tables, which has been filling up with families since the evening before, headlights streaming through the night, bent on staking a claim for some shade the next day, chairs, tables and cooking implements towed in carts or crammed into cars. As the sun rises, gypsies are putting up stalls and soon afterwards the beer tent opens. It is outside the open door of the beer tent that San Isidro is positioned when he arrives in mid-morning. His treat is to snuffle the beery odours coming from the tent, and later the heavy saffron scents of scores of family paellas bubbling in their pans. By the time the day is over and the return journey to La Carlota begins, even San Isidro is looking quite woozy, his halo slipped to a more cheerful angle.
The first week-end in August comes the village Feria. Three continuous days and nights of music, dancing and feasting, interspersed with competitions for villagers of all genders and ages – last year the Women’s team beat the Men in the tug-of-war –an omen for a new female empowerment in a future Spain? Feria ends around 4am on its final morning with music in the square, alternately starting and stopping – as children dazed with sleep rub their eyes and wait to go to bed the grown-ups are playing - of all things – their own derivative of musical chairs –musical brooms – the winner was the last adult left holding the broom.
So Las Pinedas is well used to parties. That said, the party thrown to celebrate the unveiling of the memorial plaque to my late wife Fay was of the best vintage. In the course of one day, chairs and tables suddenly materialised in the Plaza Andalucia. A stage sprang up at one end of the paved central area, a bar at the other – and behind it the familiar giant gas-fired paella pan. Cheerful banners advertising the local beer fluttered above the tables. A small curtain protected the plaque from prying eyes. By the time dusk fell and the lights of the square came on augmented by floodlights, the Plaza was packed with people. From old men in well-worn cloth-caps to the tiniest children tottering between the tables, the entire village had come out to play. In addition there was a visiting contingent of Tresilian family, including our three children, all three of Fay’s sisters, a young cousin and some cherished friends.
Darkness had fully fallen by the time the Alcaldesa, raven-haired, smiling and looking thoroughly electable in a silver frock, arrived with her official police escort. The village had employed a professional presenter for the evening. The presenter introduced the Alcaldesa. She spoke most beautifully of Fay’s contribution to village life – the dedication on the plaque was for Fay’s ‘sympathy, love and dedication to the people and village of Las Pinedas’. I responded in less elegant but grateful Spanish. The Alcaldesa unveiled the plaque. And straightway the party began.
The presenter, it turned out, was also a professional flamenco dancer and gave a bravura display on the stage. The leading local flamenco group – Maribel, her husband Lolo and a group of their superbly talented friends under the resonant title El Makis de la Duende (untranslatably: ‘the resistance movement of poetic grief’) performed with all the Duende that Fay herself would have so enjoyed. The beer as advertised and the local fino wine from Montilla flowed. Paella on paper plates was distributed to all and sundry. Later our two soprano daughters, Arabella and Susannah joined by their baritone cousin Philip, took to the stage and sang Lloyd-Webber’s Pie Jesu and other gems as a threnody for Fay. Our son Alexander, in impeccable Spanish, made a speech of thanks on behalf of us all. The rest of the family party – for that night a true part of the local community – mingled and merged with the people of the village. The music and dancing, the drinking and talking, went on past midnight.
Yet the next morning when we family and friends came out blinking into the sunlight to find Fay’s commemorative plaque shining on the wall of Casa Uno, the square was already empty of chairs, tables, stage, paella-pan and other impedimenta. It had also been left immaculately clean. The cloud-capped palaces of the night before had been swept away – that broom had found a real purpose after all. And the ancient rural village which Fay had so loved had worked its special Spanish magic for her one final time.
(1) The Caudillo was an enthusiastic huntsman. One of his many hunting boxes – still owned by the Franco family - stands only 20km away from Las Pinedas - a palatial country house set in many hectares of prime wood-land with its own secluded railway station. In the year 1940 when for the only time in their respective violent lives Franco and Hitler met face-to-face at the station of La Hendaye on the border of France and Spain, the Caudillo’s slow and leaky private train was much sneered at by the Fuhrer’s glittering black-clad entourage. But some 30 years after Hitler died by his own hand, Franco, now a very old man, was still potting the occasional partridge, the odd wild boar.