In Algorfa, Fiesta Week fits around Dia De Virgen del Carmen on 16th July. Normally, we’re in England then, but because of my accident – which loyal readers know about and the rest probably don’t care about – we’re later going over this year. We’ve lived here 7 years, and this is the first time we’ve been to Fiesta Week, so we were really looking forward to it.
There are activities on all week, but for the village, the Romeria is important, and only exceeded on the ‘need to go there’ scale by the Dia De Virgen del Carmen, so we resigned ourselves to an early start, in order to muster in the village square at 8.30 for the beginning of the proceedings. If you’re wondering what a Romeria is, it’s a short pilgrimage, usually to a rural or mountain retreat. In Algorfa’s case, the Romeria is to take the Virgen ‘home’ to La Ermita Chapel from the church in the square. While she’s there, there’s a Mass and celebrations, and then she’s returned to the village in the evening.
It wasn’t a good start – we didn’t wake up till 8.15, but we weren’t worried. This is Spain after all – the procession will never get off on time, will it? Well, yesterday it did, for once, and when we got to the village we had to do an unseemly sprint to catch up with the procession. Apparently the Virgen doesn’t like to be kept hanging about when there’s an Away Day in the offing.
It seemed like the whole village had turned out to accompany the Virgen to her home. There was even a horse and cart and another, beautiful black horse who was a right show off. Almost all of the pilgrims were carrying long bamboo staffs, which were about 9 feet long, at a guess, with blue neckerchiefs and Panama hats. As we were so late, we were at the back of the procession, so it was quite a sight to see all the staffs waving in the air as the procession made its way through the village and along the CV920 Benejuzar road.
At the front, the Costaleros proudly carried the statue of the Virgen, and there were several rest periods as they set down the heavy paso to take a well-earned rest. It’s a great honour to get the opportunity to carry the representation of Algorfa’s patron saint, and the Costaleros have a great social life too, so they’re happy to do that important task.
The frequent breaks gave the rest of us time to whizz up and down the procession, taking photos, and I got so carried away one of the local policemen called out ‘Sandra, cuidado!’ I’d strayed into the right hand carriageway, which was still carrying traffic. The ‘Cuidado!’ was to warn me of the approach of about 30 cyclists. Now, seeing those pert lycra covered backsides moving around does bowl me over, but I didn’t fancy being literally bowled over, and ending up like a flattened rabbit on the road, so I shifted sharpish, I can tell you. Then I spent the next five minutes wondering how he knew my name, because I didn’t recognise him, and I haven’t had a run in with the police since the unfortunate musunderstanding about the roundabout thing. I couldn’t come up with anything, unless Sam Biddles had introduced me to him, and I’d forgotten, although I couldn’t imagine I’d have forgotten those dark haired good looks and fit body. Cold shower time, I think! But I digress.
Anyway, we arrived at La Ermita safely, and the Virgen was parked reverently in the marquee for the duration of the Mass in her honour. No way would all those people have fitted into the chapel – in fact, they couldn’t all get into the marquee either. We could have done with a Spanish equivalent of the big screen on Henman Hill at Wimbledon, but we all managed to catch most of it.
I’m not religious, but I do respect those who are, and I really didn’t expect the service to get to me, but it did. There was an atmosphere of reverence, combined with the Spanish default setting of enjoying every moment of every occasion, and it was a joy to see. And when it was time to take the Virgen ‘home’ into the chapel, and the Costaleros swayed with her as the musicians and choir sang, before the whole crowd began to clap, I got very tearful. It was one of the most moving moments I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing.
As the choir sang in the chapel, in front of the Virgen, the sardines were cooked by the hombres of the village who had been tirelessly working away all through the service. Everyone was treated to a breakfast of sardines with lemon and bread, and beer to wash it down, and it was fascinating to watch the men at work, laying the sardines out between two grids, placing them on the barbecues, and expertly turning them. Although Spain is still a very macho society, when it comes to the big events, the men take over the cooking, allowing the mujeres to relax and catch up with their friends and family – at least until it’s time to serve the food, anyway.
We left after the sardines, although everyone was settled in for the day, because we were returning for the paella competition in the afternoon. We couldn’t leave Paddy alone for all that time, and in any case, we needed to freshen up.
On the way back to the village, we talked about what we’d just experienced, and two things were foremost in our thoughts. The first one was, if they did anything like this in England, no way would the sardines and beer be provided for nothing. In fact, they’d probably do like they do with the strawberries at Wimbledon, and hike up the prices for the occasion. And Health and Safety would worry about the open fires, and that the men were lifting too much and didn’t have oven gloves and safety goggles, so breakfast would be cancelled.
The other thing that got to both of us was that we seemed to be just about the only foreigners there. Now, Algorfa is very big on integration, and there were plenty of sardines, so they’d catered for everyone who wanted to come along. It seemed a bit sad that more of the people who have made Algorfa their home didn’t come along and share in the celebrations of the second most important day of Fiesta Week. I can honestly say that it was a great privilege to be there, and you don’t even need to understand Spanish to be welcomed and to appreciate the atmosphere. So, why not go along to your local Romeria? You will have a great time, and make a lot of new friends.