Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Moors and Christians

There are so many Moors and Christians parades in the province that we rather take them for granted. But, with having a houseguest last week we roused ourselves from in front of the telly and went to watch the entry of the Moors in the town of Novelda.

Novelda has around 25,000 inhabitants and with that number they mounted a parade that lasted over three hours. The events celebrate the defeat of the Moors, the Muslim invader, by the home grown Christiams but it always seems to us that the Moorish groups have more members and better costumes. Each year the comparsas, that's the names for each group, prepare for the festival from one event to the next. Each comparsa has several sub groups that wear the same or a similar costume; these subgroups traditionally walk shoulder to shoulder through the streets. The costumes are incredibly detailed and must cost a fortune to produce - in fact there must be a whole industry built on pointed shoes, scimitars and bejewelled turbans. Moorish men used to black up but that is no longer politically correct and the cigars that they used to smoke seem to have gone too. Nonetheless the beards, fake or grown for the occasion, and the pot bellies remain. Women used to be an embellishment, usually dancing girls, but nowadays they often walk shoulder to shoulder with the men dressed in similar costumes or they form separate lines carrying weaponary of one sort or another.

Each comparsa hires a band for the parades. The bands come from all over the province. The noteworthy feature is the percussion section with huge "kettle drums" mounted on trollies and the music has a similar quality whatever the tune.

As well as the bands and the lines there are any number of variations. Horses canter and gallop in the spaces between lines often rearing up or doing that strange stepping walk, fire eaters do their thing and there are lots of dance troupes. In Novelda we had a group of maybe thirty people going by with hawks on their hands with the hawks flying to lures from time to time. There are several floats too, Often just with tiered seating for the "Carnival Queens" and their courtiers but with an infinite variety from gigantic mechanical beasts through to fantastic constructions and mobile platforms for living statues and other performances.

It was hard work just watching them go by for so long, tough on the feet and legs and with the temperature at midnight still at 36ºC. We thought our vantage point in the doorway of a bar had important strategic advantages! If it was hard work watching imagine what it must have been like for the men and women walking in heavy costumes, dancing the whole route orfilling their mouths with kerosene to blow fire time after time after time.

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