21 Jan Fiesta de Pan, Lubrin
On fiesta day, Lubrin is full of colour. Every first floor balcony is adorned with a flag in either green and white or red and yellow stripes, alternating in perfect harmony along the main streets, displaying a high degree of neighbourliness or an ironfisted local mayor with an eye for design. Red is the colour of St Seb, presumably relating to the frequent spilling of his blood. Triangular scarves of red are sold together with little brooches made of hardened dough, like tiny loaves with a piece of red ribbon attached. These are the symbols of the festival, and locals and visitors alike are all wearing them around their necks, a bit like boy scouts on a day out.
This selling of scarves and dough badges is about the only sign of a fiesta when we arrive in town about 11 am guessing, correctly as it turned out, that most of the action would be in the morning. Tables are set out across the plaza, empty apart from a name sellotaped to the paper cloth. I assumed this is where the produce (bread?) will appear. Like so often at these events, there’s a lot of standing around not being sure what’s going to happen and when. By 11.15 the place is starting to buzz. The whole community is out and about, converging on the Plaza de la Constitucion. The older people, a large proportion of them women, walk together in small groups, gradually making their way to the church for a Mass that starts at 11.30, announced by a great peel of the church bells. The younger ones, especially the young men, hang back in the Bar La Plaza getting thoroughly tanked up, it seems, judging by the San Miguel bottles and the shots of brandy lined up on the bar. We got here early enough to nab a great spot on the bar’s terrace and order a coffee.
The milling of people around, the selling of San Miguel and brandy continues apace and the terrace is filled with the sound of English voices – yes, I’m afraid the Ingleses are here in numbers; there’s just no escape. Seated here at a table for four, quietly sipping our coffee, sketching and writing, we are approached by a couple of women asking if the other two seats are free. Yes, we say, and they mutter to one another and then start to move furniture around, snatching chairs from elsewhere. “Do you mind if a couple of friends join us?” they say. This is a loose use of the term ‘couple’; one might say the generic rather than the specific form. And most irritating. The ‘couple’ turned out to be about 10 people who turn up and stand around us, kind of invasively and expectantly. Jim, being the well-mannered gent we all know and love was, of course, understanding and accommodating. I, on the other hand, was peeved, to put it mildly. I mean really, you’re sitting there quietly, happy to offer a couple of spare seats to a couple of old dames and then half the Midlands turns up, ample, vocal women with a couple of token men – not what I had in mind for today at all…. Thankfully, eventually they spotted another table with slightly more space – and possibly less grouchy company.
So, with the Midland squad banished to the back of the terrace, we are now surrounded by locals, filling in the spaces between the tables and chairs. Jim is sure one of them is giving him the evil eye, a Sierran bandito, perhaps, who used to ride a motorbike? Certainly the craggy, weathered face and slicked back hair would fit the bill. Just after midday, the brass band marched into the plaza, took up position, filled their lungs and struck up with gusto. They were a mere 15 metres from us so we could feel the beat coming up through the pavement. The band wore matching black jackets announcing that they were the Charanga Los Juaranguinos, a band of musicians from neighbouring Sorbas. They played ‘get-up-and-dance’ marching melodies, typically Spanish, the tunes ringing out through the pueblo, accompanied by tapping of feet and clapping of hands. And two blokes next to us did get up and dance a little waltz, two of a band of three fellows, whom I called the Three Musketeers. As they danced corpulently, rubbing generous bellies up against one another, they chuckled in a good-humoured embrace, full of camaraderie, the third Musketeer looking on from beneath the wide brim of a gaucho-style felt hat. One of the dancers, a dead-ringer for Pablo Escobar, sported a cap that says ‘Keep Walking’. He didn’t strike me as your average hiker. Then I read the text below – Johnnie Walker – haha!
And still we wait expectantly and still the tables on the plaza sit empty and still I wonder ‘Where’s the bread?”. We’ve moved on from coffee to beer – if you can’t beat ‘em and all that – but promise to stop short of the brandy chasers! The artist sketches; the blogger scribbles; the pueblo waits; the brass band have moved off along the street; the sun has finally arrived after a damp, chill start to the day. As we made to leave the bar, we ran into Pablo Escobar again on the plaza and I asked him what happens in the square with all those tables with names on but no produce. He said that it’s where the villagers all come together to have a massive outdoor meal after the procession. By the way, he also admitted to having relatives in Newcastle – hmmm, there’s a worry!
Aha, though, now we have it. The procession. The church bells ring out again and people start to move into the street leading from the plaza back up to the church. Things are happening. And as we make our way up that street ourselves, rings of bread are being thrown from balconies to the people below. A great throng of people laughing, pleading with the people throwing the bread, a race to see how much they can collect! This is the festival in full swing, all the generations together and a great colourful raucous energy spills into the street. We make it to the church, clutching our small booty of bread (just one). The brass band is gathering for its next set and we pop into the church just in time to see the massive effigy of St Sebastian, bedecked with bread of all shapes and sizes, ornate loaves draped all around him. The effigy is mounted on a cart and is about to be wheeled out of the church and paraded through the streets. This is the procession and we’re right there as the band strikes up again and the bread is thrown in torrents from the balconies and everyone is having a ball!
Quite a day for Lubrin and we leave them to finish their procession and share food and family in the plaza. The abiding memory for us is of the palpable sense of a community here, all the generations together, the noise and the joy, the sense that, as visitors, you were also welcome, the warmth of smiling faces. Truly memorable.