It was a noisy week, between the fiestas from our village, starting at 11.30pm the other Friday and running through to the Sunday evening, and those celebrated in the town next door, which managed to raise five nights of music and party-time from the Saturday until the final bonfires of San Juan the following Wednesday, whence, I must add, our village returned to the fray, hung-over but defiant.
We had undergone the Moors and Christians bash, an annual tradition stretching back all the way to 1988 when someone thought of a merry way to attract some extra tourism, and to loose off the town-hall’s collection of fireworks while getting everyone to dress up as Moors (granny’s night-shirt), or Christians (old army clothes).
Or rather, it was the time to rent some expensive and amazing costumes from those places in Alicante that stock the different outfits and to try not to get beer or pinchito-juice all over them. It was a chance to remember, or indeed to re-invent, the story of Mojácar’s fall to the invaders in 1488.
The town was taken by the idea and enthusiastically divided itself up into supporters of the two faiths. The socialists donned Moorish garb and the conservatives went with the Christian outfits. The town’s under-employed pyro-technician, who until then had scampered about on the church’s roof on New Year’s Eve, blasting powder off to celebrate the occasion, or during the fiestas in August blowing tens of thousands of euros in thunder-flashes and other delights of the ancient art of keeping everyone awake, was naturally ecstatic. Moors and Christians means flashes, crashes, explosions, bombs, booms and bangs. Powder under the fingernails as he and his acolytes fire great chains of fireworks that will light up the sky (traditionally from the glowing nub of a cigar), or launch those ear-splitting rockets so beloved by fiesta-goers in Andalucía.
There are six bands or record-thumping lunatic DJs in the six barracks plus another band in the main square during this particular fiesta, together with the disco-bars with their terraces and open windows. More explosions. In all, a cacophony of sound that shrivels the soul. In Andalucía – or probably for that matter in the rest of Spain – a party that begins at 10.30pm, or half past one in the morning, won’t stop until ‘late’ – which usually means ‘sometime the following afternoon’.
That was on the right hand. On the left, Garrucha was enjoying its five-day run up to San Juan (the fireworks and bonfire on the beach with a sandy and agreeably raw sardine as the excuse - another modern festival designed, once again, more for the visitors and their fat purses than for the residents). Five days of ‘battle of the DJs’. Our house is located somewhere equidistant between these two towns, in an area described by the previous owner as ‘quiet and bucolic’.
So, I had to stay in with the windows closed and a clattering fan from that strange shop on the beach attempting to cool things down, tormented by some erratic but persistent explosions and the bass-beat from a hundred discos passing easily through the doors and down the chimney; the dogs going nuts, barking and throwing themselves at the door or whimpering under the bed as I curled up on the soaking mattress munching sleeping pills, or then there was the Plan B: a breathless walk up to the main square following the ‘if you can’t beat them’ philosophy. What's a person going to do?
The idea of Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ must have come from a fiesta. It’s to keep the spirits away. Or, if your spirits come in a bottle, then judiciously mixed and drained repeatedly. Only the Spanish can claim a ‘hangover’ as a reasonable excuse to miss the following day’s work.
Down in the Bar
Now, I’m the type who can normally hear a pin drop – well, a fairly large pin, a rolling pin for example – but once there at the bar having pantomimed for a beer, with music coming from one side, a specially loud coffee grinder in action on the other, several televisions with different football matches going on, or a bullfight, together with a dozen different conversations typically held in high bellows, roars of motorbikes outside and a few explosions across the street to help wash things down, I find that my directional hearing is starting to falter, either that or I always end up having my drink with someone like Whispering Dave.
Have you ever grinned, nodded, grimaced and twitched at somebody in a loud bar without having a clue as to what is being said? This is, in fact, a popular pastime (despite the raised voices) and, to encourage this, bars have tile floors, hard surfaces, and walls and ceiling with as little decoration (which might in some way ‘eat’ or deflect the sound) as possible. Since everyone knows that the only interesting person in a bar is oneself, it’s not worth wasting too much time attempting to listen to other people’s views. Anyway, there’s a really good show about fireworks just started up on one of the tellies.
It is said that Spain is the second noisiest country in the world, after Japan. The only reason that Japan manages to be noisier, and this is something which Spain feels is a bit unfair, is because of the paper walls used in construction by Japanese builders and promoters. An intriguing idea indeed: the Murcians are said to be making tests. That and people shouting ‘banzai’ at odd hours. It all adds up.
But we have much to be proud of. The children here are encouraged to stay up late and really let rip with their lungs. Most of the people dancing in the square the other night at three in the morning when I got there were under nine. A small child’s bellow, given full and frank encouragement, is a wonder to behold and it is here, as the kids attempt to accompany the over-dressed singer’s stellar version of ‘Pajaritos por aquí’, that the citizens of the world’s second noisiest country begin to lose their hearing – and, come to think of it, their taste in music.
Which is why, to truly communicate in Spain, one needs to gesticulate heavily. It helps the flow.
The cinemas – especially the summer open-air ones with their open bars and loud conversation – are good places for guests to this country to learn the language and catch up with incipient hearing loss. Lip-reading doesn’t work, since the characters on the screen have been dubbed. They’re also probably saying something more interesting than the original script-writers ever imagined anyway.
I’m not complaining, having now lost most of my hearing from living here so long, I suppose that I would feel completely isolated in Switzerland, where everybody whispers.
To really get the best out of Spain, you must speak up!