Fiestas del Norte: Vitoria

30 08 2011

Friend Iñaki invites us to his hometown of Vitoria for what’s known as el chupinazo, the first day of its week-long citywide fiesta. We are to cart a bottle each of bottom-of-the-barrel cava, along with standard kalimotxo provisions. Upon arrival to the Basque capital, we stash our backpacks and are ready to bolt out the door, bottles of bubbly in tow, when Iñaki stops us, incredulous. “¿De veras vais vestidos así?” What, in jeans and a t-shirt? Iñaki laughs, rummages through his drawers, and presents us with tacky sports shorts coupled with electric lime green t-shirts.

We show up to a local buddy’s house in high style; the rest of the group is sporting similar duds and furiously smoking cigarettes. Through the tobacco haze hanging in the loft apartment, I’m proffered tequila. “Tenemos prisa,” they tell me, “Ya casi son las seis.” Portable kalimotxo is splashed together in oversize plastic cups, and we take to the street, where absolutely everyone is heading in the same direction. A dull roar grows fur and fangs as we approach one of Vitoria’s central plazas.

Immediately we lose track of our new batch of Vitorian friends, but manage to hold on tight to Iñaki – quite literally, by his shirt sleeve. The crowd throbs in intoxicated anticipation, mouths already stained the royal purple of Don Simon. We claw our way through to where Iñaki thinks we’ll have a good view of the action, and we  form a three person shell around the nucleus of precious cava bottles. The shot of tequila is making its merry way through our systems, but even more infectious is the frenzied determination of the crowd to party, and party hard. Shortly we’re wildly whooping with the rest, and at the stroke of six the climactic sequence begins: a figure dressed in traditional Basque garb is hoisted to the top of the plaza’s clock tower, and the mass of humanity breaks out in song:

¡Ceeeeeledón ha hecho una casa nueva!
¡Ceeeeeledón con ventana y balcón!

Iñaki’s yelled explanation reveals that the lofted figure is the Celedón in question, that he’s been opening the fiestas of Vitoria for as long as anyone can remember, and that apparently he once built for himself a new house (with both window and balcony, even).

Cava explodes gleefully across the sea of ecstatic revelers, and it takes all of five seconds for everyone to be utterly drenched in effervescent booze. We violently agitate the bottles before popping the cork, proceeding to douse everyone within spraying radius. Undeterred by the alcoholic downpour, plenty of the crowd lights up fat cigars, and all continue warbling the ode to Celedón’s swank new pad.

Once the cava runs out, the festivities have truly begun, and the crowd disperses down the spiderweb of streets accordingly. As we tenaciously stumble towards our chosen meeting spot for the rest of our group, we beg water from observers residing in the top floors of the apartments lining the streets. “¡No seas rata! ¡Agua es barata!” They’re too happy to oblige, and cleansing redemption comes careening down in buckets.

We reunite with the rest of the band of heroes and seek merriment, which is to be found absolutely everywhere. Bars erect stalls in the streets vending enormous cups of kalimotxo and assortments of bocatas. Revelry spreads itself to each and every possible cobbled corner, marching in screeching brass bands parading from calle to calle, flowing off tongues to form excited proclamations amongst excitable new friends. The positive energy is palpable and immersive; it sucks you in, and it doesn’t stop, not for days – we end up staying an unexpected two more nights.

Advertisements




Fiestas del Norte: Azpeitia

29 08 2011

’round these parts, each city designates at minimum one day a year as its local day of fiesta – more frequently four days to a full week, from what I can tell. Being up north this summer has had me privy to three distinct city-wide celebrations:

AZPEITIA

The trusty Renault traipses across windy winding Basque coastline from our walking tour of Bosque de Oma all the way to Azpeitia, home-pueblo of friend Maider. It’s the final day of fiesta here, and the streets are spotty with refuse and revelers alike. We’re famished from the jaunt and gorge overflowing bocatas de albondigas – similar to cheese-less meatball subs.

The goal here is a concert that begins at 1.30 AM – and no, I didn’t forget a digit – so we spend the interim lollygagging, enjoying bottles of bitter-tart sidra and grooving to imported mariachi beats. About a quarter past, we mosey towards the stage, squeezed in-between apartments and streetside shops, currently surrounded by alternative-style stalls of beer hucksters. I spy everything from anarchist Basque nationalists to Palestinian solidarity, but we end up acquiring cañas from a feminist bunch just to the side of the stage. The group is Canteca de Macao, and they emerge with a roar. The act is flamenco inspired, but with elements of rock and circus thrown in; a dude with remarkably lengthy dreads swirls checkered fabric and natty hair in the background of each set. Our feet move to the point of pain and then some. The Basque sky characteristically opens up, drenching the dancers – and there’s no sign of stopping. Canteca de Macao continue for a good two hours into the night, ensuring well-earned calluses for the morning after.





Bidegorri de Oiartzun

14 08 2011

Sunny afternoon stroll along the Bidegorri of Oiartzun.

Old tunnels left by old mines.

Resonant statue atop a mountain’s ledge.

Summoning the handflute gods.

CLOK-clok-clok-clok-clok





((vamos lo mas de prisa posible))

7 06 2011

Back.

And yet, where, precisely? and for how long? Are these the most relevant questions, situated smack-dab in the middle of madrileña spring, two weeks left of classes, summer’s curly golden locks splayed free and beckoning at the window?

We’ll begin with the direct: what’s happened?

What hasn’t? In the previous month and a half – that’s mid-April through the beginning stirrings of June – I’ve been back and forth across the Atlantic in the name of Global Classrooms, which probably accounts for the most notable “event” as such. My work with the model United Nations program through Fulbright in Madrid afforded me a shot at one of the two available spots as designated representatives to the international conference in downtown Manhattan, and Lady Luck took a liking to the shine of my boots. As such, I accompanied the ten student delegates from each of the ten long-standing bilingual high schools in Madrid to New York City for a week-long stay, which included participation in the Global Classrooms conference along with a few days of US Embassy-sponsored sightseeing.

My own role was that of seemingly lowly Logistics staff, which meant my crew and I picked up slack wherever it was to be found – think setting up seriously bitchy A/V equipment, sprinting freshly copied resolutions across the hotel to the designated plenary, playing UN security guards, etcetera. It was actually a marvelous role for someone with zip experience with the model UN program; it meant I got a thorough behind-the-scenes examination of how such an enormous event is put together. In the process, I managed to meet a couple fun folks from all over the states, all a fascinating combination of UN geekery and serious party-beasts.

It was both an honor and a pleasure to have been able to kick it with the exceptional Spanish students in the States; I know it was completely perspective shifting for the lot. Working with colleagues David Hinojar, Hernán Jaén, and Rebecca Chadd was a total dream – our varying strengths played off each other to provide a solid experience for all involved. Perhaps the standout highlight of the trip was the 86-floor climb up the Empire State Building at midnight on our final full day in the US. After the requisite period of awed silence, floating high amongst the mystic hazy clouds emitted by the building’s own climatization system, David turned to me and said – “This is a gift.” I couldn’t agree more.

In the meanwhile – I’ve changed homes! After tumultuous times in the Palos piso, various turns of events led to me moving near metro Bilbao, in the cutest lil’ blue triangle-shaped room you ever did see. The place is sprawling, home to nine inhabitants total. I’m the youngest at 24; we range up to 36, meaning we’re workers on the whole rather than students. The place is lively without being party-hardy, and everyone asks me ¿qué tal? I’m enamored.

Other bits: recent bouillabaise house dinner involving entire hake a serious success, intimate friendships fostered/maintained with Fulbrights/ex-Fulbrights, Spanish success steadily steaming along, love of literature rediscovered through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, job at José Luis Sampedro up and down and up up up again, painting pursuits reinitiated on canvas rescued from Chueca dumpster, certain long-standing chapters finally, fondly, firmly closed, such that new adventures may have their proper due along the space-time continuum.

I have had the enormous luck to have seen so many friends, old and new – Andrew, Catherine, Alicia, Alex, and more – with visits to and from further just beyond the horizon – Isana, Aldo, Clara! Dearest readers, the Spanish summer promises to be bang-up. Stay tuned.