Sunday, 9 January 2011

The King on the Via de la Plata

From the bitter cold of London I headed to Sevilla in the South of Spain to celebrate New Year. When the aeroplane doors opened after the short 2.5 hour flight the change in the weather was obvious. I turned on my phone and a text from my daughter in Scotland read, “Better weather today Dad, only minus10 degrees”
But all things are relative and although I found the 20 degree Sevillan weather almost like summer, the locals were dressed as if to ward off an arctic cold. Women wore real fur coats and large Russian style hats and men wore long scarves wrapped around their necks on top of winter jackets and coats. Just like London the cold weather brings out street vendors selling hot chestnuts but there was something very incongruous to my eyes with the “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” under trees still laden with oranges.
Sevilla is one of the most beautiful cities of Spain. The gigantic Plaza España has been completely refurbished and the air is filled with laughter and the clip clop of the horse drawn carriages taking tourists around the town. After a couple of days there I headed further South to bring in the New Year with friends in Gibraltar. Crossing the border into this British Protectorate I showed my passport, passed through customs, walked past a British red telephone box and nodded to a policeman dressed as if he was in central London. The policeman was on the telephone to someone – speaking fluent Spanish. This small place of 20,000 permanent residents is a bit disorientating.They speak Spanish to each other and enjoy Andalucian style cooking but, being fiercely proud of their British citizenship, they speak English to outsiders. As a tax haven the streets are lined with shops selling discounted luxury goods, cigarettes and booze. So, armed with a bottle of Bells I set off up the hill to my friend’s house overlooking the Straights of Gibraltar. The view in daylight was beautiful with many ships parked in the bay awaiting further orders and ferries dotting back and forth to Tangiers and Morocco. As midnight on Hogmanay or the Noche Vieja approached, the ships turned on all of their lights and at the stroke of midnight their fog horns pierced the air as fireworks flew into the sky for as far as the eye can see. Happy New Year.
The television in the corner of this Gibraltar house of course also broadcast the BBC and the horns sounded again an hour later when Big Ben struck 12 in London. Gibraltarians manage to live in both worlds quite comfortably. There then followed TV reports of the massive street parties in Scotland where the Scots have made New Year their own.

In Spain although New Year is marked with smiles and handshakes what they have made their own is the Feast of the Epiphany when the Three Kings arrived to pay homage to the baby Jesus. For Spaniards this is the real Christmas and I arrived back in Seville in time to feel the excitement mounting. All day on the 5th of January, the eve of the feast, a festival atmosphere developed. Crowds drank cold sherry in the street. Tapas bars were overflowing. In the square in front of the church of Sal Salvador several hundred people assembled to chat and drink. The evening of the 5th is when the children would put out their shoes to be filled with presents in the same way as the children in other countries would hang up their stockings. But before the Christmas presents there would be the Cabalgata, the Procession of the Kings, a marvellous cavalcade depicting not only the Kings but scenes from fairy tales and childrens’ stories. This year in Sevilla 41 mobile scenes were to pass through the city during a procession lasting 6 hours. The start time was 4.15 but by 3pm the crowds were forming. By 4pm 250,000 people lined the streets creating a vast avenue of people through which the procession would pass. To symbolise the gifts to come everyone taking part in the procession throws candies to the crowd. Literally millions and millions of caramelos rain down.
Children waited expectantly with their empty plastic bags. Adults carried umbrellas which later they would open and hold upside down to collect the airborne candy. People appeared on balconies overlooking the route. In the distance the first of many marching bands struck up a tune. The Procession was underway. Scenes from Narnia, pirates, elves and fairies, Raiders of the Lost Ark and many more passed through a jubilant, cheering crowd. It was raining candy and both adults and children scrambled to fill bags for the sugar-fest to come. All too soon it was over and the bars and terazzas were again heaving with people with the adults drinking beer and the children munching merrily from bulging bags. Their big presents were still to come.
The Feast of the Kings is celebrated throughout Spain and I remember whilst walking the Via de la Plata on exactly this day 5 years ago I stopped in a small town where they were very proud of their procession of 14 tractors and trailers. This year other pilgrims would witness the sight as this epic route from Sevilla is growing in popularity. I decided to follow the arrows from the Cathedral and I was soon over in Triana, the artists’ barrio which lines the river. Almost exactly on the route is the Office of the Amigos of the Via de la Plata and right next door the Taberna Miami whose owner Juan has completed the Camino on horseback several times and is President of the Amigos. Don Juan is older now but he maintains the dress and swagger of a caballero. His hat is adorned with pilgrimage badges and he regales everyone he meets with pilgrimage folklore. He met me on the street shouting to everyone at the top of his voice that the Scottish pilgrim had come to see him. In that instant I could imagine Juan the pilgrim setting out on pilgrimage on top of his horse. Just like a King on the Via de la Plata.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely to read on a very cold and snowy morning. The pic of the two little boys at the end was absolutely darling! Happy New Year!!