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.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The smell of burning in the morning

A faint aroma of woodsmoke accompanied me to the shower this morning. Presumably a sensorial reminder of a short stroll along the beach in Alicante last night amongst the tens of impromptu mini bonfires, or hogueras, there. One of those essential, but detail, elements of celebrating San Juan, St John the Baptist, in any number of coastal Alicantino towns.

Strange stuff around midsummer; midsummer day on the 24th of June, the midsummer of Puck, Bottom, Oberon and Titania. How is it that summer begins, the summer solstice is on the 21st, and then a couple of days later it's midsummer? Lots of Spanish people say that Midsummer Night is the most special night of the year. I like it too. Something special about the long day, the short night and the promise of night-time warmth in the name alone. In Cartagena I remember that every street corner had some group of family and friends setting fire to something or hurling bangers around. In a slightly more restrained Lincolnshire I have this, possibly invented, memory of seeing The Dream at Tolethorpe on a balmy summer's evening - no rain, no wind, no chill in the air. Real or not it's the memory of Tolethorpe and their outside Shakespeare season that doesn't fade.

Maggie couldn't go to the San Juan shindig in Alicante yesterday. She'd agreed to work. She says that she's seen it anyway, that it's always the same. A few bigheads and giants here, a parade or two there, a bit of dancing, a lot of bangers - been there, seen that, done it. I agree, to a point. I was very uncertain about going for the physical effort of it and for the cost. I have similar thoughts about cities sometimes very similar to Maggie and her repeat fiestas. What was that cathedral in that city we went to with the yellow trams called? What was the name of that resort for rich people in Sardinia? Questions without answers. It's not quite the same when it's somewhere a tad more exotic. Not a lot of pyramids and desert tombs or monkeys running around Buddhist temples in Europe.

What I actually like about San Juan down, particularly the Alicante city version, doesn't have a lot to do with people dancing in the street. It's more the whole motion of it. Nice and warm, sunny, with all the bars and restaurants doing a lively trade and the whole city bedecked, with something going on at any moment everywhere, with people in traditional costume having a chat with someone in sports gear, with main roads reduced to litter strewn playgrounds for young and old alike. I met up with my sister and brother in law to do the things on the event list. As we left the mascletá, the fireworks that go boom boom, it took us ages to get out of Lucernos Square simply because of the weight of humanity trying to move. I left early in the evening around midnight. I'd been there for about twelve hours and my feet were aching and my contact lenses were beginning to play up. As I started to go home there was absolutely no doubt that the city was beginning to fill up. There were queues of cars all along the seafront, the huge car park underneath yet alongside the beach and port was completely full. Walking back to my car there were prams snapping at my heels and masses of people going in every direction. Amongst the trees of a seafront park, there were score and scores of family and friendship groups dotted about. When I finally arrived at the car park that I'd used (on price) a little way out of town it was a hive of activity with cars coming and going and a long queue of people at the, cash only, ticket machine (who weren't amused that my crumpled 5 euro note was repeatedly rejected). As I drove away, at around 12.30am, I passed one of the, soon to be burned, "monuments" maybe a couple of kilometres from the centre of the town and there must have been a thousand people eating grouped around it on hundreds of long tables.

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