Return to Sant Carles

Yesterday we arrived back in Spain to settle Lyra down for winter. Unlike last autumns’ return to Lagos, the weather here was not dissimilar to what we had left behind in Manchester. The sky was grey and threatening, rain showers fell intermittently and there was even a chill in the air. It was a far cry from when we first arrived in St Carles in July at the end of our summer holiday with the girls. Then we had been grateful to head straight for the pool to cool off after docking. St Carles is a British run marina and has the atmosphere of an English enclave in the midst of a very traditional part of Spain. As we swam we had the novel experience of understanding the voices calling to each other all around in familiar accents. We were sitting having a drink in the bar afterwards and over came Alan, who had originally sold us Lyra. He and Sheila are also overwintering Beebok here, on a berth not a stones throw from our own. We introduced the pair of them to the girls and they insisted we join them for drinks, later in the week.

The town itself has a very authentic feel, though when we arrived in July it was packed with Spanish tourists on account of the month long festival, which was just starting. We had only one evening with all three girls and the pavement cafes were overflowing with people. We walked up into the main square through another open public space on which a stage had been set up. Milling around it were young girls in the spangles and glossy blue eye shadow of dance classes the world over, while their mums sat chatting in rows of seats facing the stage. The square itself seethed with folk. We made a slow circuit looking for somewhere to eat and arrived back at the start in time to see an open topped lorry, with high sides, padded inside with silver cladding, arrive to much cheering. Lara was sure this was the arrival of the bulls, which were due to run through the streets. This promised to wreak carnage of epic proportion. A confab was underway between the driver and a group of policemen, which seemed to have reached an impasse, so after a while we headed off up the side streets in search of dinner. We think the bulls did run, with fire spilling from their horns, but did not hang around to witness it.

The bulls were running again early next morning at around the time we were up saying goodbye to Emma and Katie as they headed off to the airport in a huge taxi. The time with them had ended too soon and they had been unable to stay for the weekend highlights of the festival – the procession of the Giganticas and Big Heads and the building of the human towers.

First up were the Giganticas, huge puppets animated on the shoulders of men. At noon, Lara, John and I wandered up to the junction where the bull lorry had pulled up the previous night, with no real idea where else to go. We joined a small crowd lining the street in time to see the Giganticas lifted carefully from the back of a big van and lined up facing us across the road. There were four of them, a fisherman, his wife, a farmer and a distinguished looking woman with graying hair. Around them a group of people in matching blue T-shirts had gathered. One by one the puppets were hefted onto the shoulders of four men. They had decided it was too hot to process with the Big Heads as well, as this would allow those under the puppets to be substituted as they tired. The heads were left ranked on the floor in the bay window of the building behind the van, gazing forward with fixed smiles.

We had been expecting the same sort of solemn procession given the plaster saints, but this was nothing of the sort. A band of fife and drum struck up and we were off, audience and Giganticas moving off together up the hill, but with the Giganticas tripping to and fro, dipping and bowing to one another and on occasionally spinning to the repeating tune. Every so often we would all come to a halt, so that a puppet could be held aloft while one ruddy faced man emerged from beneath its skirts, to be replaced by a fresh pair of shoulders. We went up the hill, along a street running parallel to the main square, back down the hill, with views of the sea in the distance and then along another street leading into the square. At this point the three of us peeled off into the nearest open bar for what turned into a modest session. The puppets themselves carried on to stand outside the Town Hall, there was a barrage of staccato noise as electric white fireworks erupted at either side of the doorway and sweets were thrown in the air for children.

Next day we headed to the same café and were drinking our morning coffees when a band in red kerchiefs went round the square gathering people Pied Piper fashion for the human towers. This took place in the open area where the dance troupes had performed. There were two competing groups. We watched as they wound each other into long black cummerbunds before setting about building their respective towers.

This involved forming a dense round huddle, with arms lifting and interweaving until finally three or four sturdy individuals climbed up and were supported on the shoulders of the cluster. More adjustment took place until suddenly the horns sounded and girls swarmed up the structure from all sides, quickly forming a third and fourth tier at which point a small child wearing a riding helmet crested the pinnacle and stuck an arm in the air. The moment at the top was fleeting after which the whole structure melted to earth, accompanied by thunderous applause. One such disintegration left a trio of people balanced on top of each other’s shoulders supported by the huddle, the girl on top blowing kisses to the crowd. After that structure unraveled there was much high fiving amongst the participants. Most of the audience for all of this was Spanish and we felt very privileged to be there.

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Now we are back, just the two of us. The boat looks lovely, a time capsule from the summer. We keep discovering things the girls left behind, books for us to read, toiletries to use up, sandals left by accident. As we walk up into town, (which is much easier out of the oppressive heat,) we pass places we all visited together and the many barred windows remind me of Katie’s illustration job, at which she worked so hard. We have had a fantastic summer and now can plan next year’s adventure.

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