So, another public holiday has passed when everything, or at least, most things, were firmly shut. Shops and banks shut; boutiques and bars open. Of course, it wasn’t a public holiday, but since that particular celebration – in this case the ‘Día de Andalucía’ – fell on a Sunday, we got to take the next working day, the Monday, off. Spain has a considerable number of public holidays, saint’s days, patron saint days, town fiestas, long week-ends, six-week holidays (stipulated by law), extensive maternal and now paternal leave and other reasons to put the ‘shut’ sign up on the door, including a small bank I know in the sierras which shuts for fifteen minutes each morning around eleven when the entire staff (Diego) goes next door to the bar for a coffee and a fag.
I forgot once again, and missed seeing any announcement of the Día de Andalucía and its satellite, and got caught out as I do every year. It’s a bit like trying to meet someone important. Either they are not there, or you are not there, or the place where you were to meet was not there. We shall have to reschedule again.
Since we are known – us foreigners – as ‘los ingleses’, and as always my apologies to the lone Icelandic citizen who is reading this, I shall note here that England has a saint, a chap called George, who had some trouble with a dragon. George (or Jorge) is also the saint for Catalonia (where on his saint’s day, it is traditional to give a present to the loved one; red roses for women and books for men). Apart from putting on a blazer and buying the dragon a sherry, I don’t know what else they do in England.
This hard-working and patient blessèd one also finds time to stand in for Ethiopia (not a word to Leaky Lee), Greece, Germany, Portugal, Malta, and, as I learn from the trusty Internet, he is also the patron saint of skin-disease sufferers and syphilitics. Not bad for a chap generally considered to have never existed or if he did, to have kept his head down as far as possible.
The Arabs believe that St. George can restore mad people to their senses; and to say a person has been sent to St. George's, is equivalent to saying he has been sent to a lunatic asylum. I think there’s one in Huercal Overa.
The Saint George’s Cross, a red cross on a white flag, is much in evidence at England football matches and is also seen around here a fair bit, since it is also the flag for Almería, although with San Indalecio – the fellow who started up as Almería’s first bishop (and martyr in 721) and ended up as a cast iron wall-hanging - as the patron saint for the province (May 15th).
According to my calendar, a Catholic number with Jesus and the Bleeding Heart which the seed-shop kindly gave me a couple of months ago, George’s big day falls this year on a Friday; and April 23rd is a fiesta in León and Aragon, two communities both in the north of Spain, but, oddly, and despite the flag, it’s that rarest of days here in Almería – an absolutely normal working day.
Not celebrated by the ‘almerienses’, nor indeed by the ‘ingleses’.
Oh, I know that a couple of restaurants have a ‘do’, bangers and mash and a pint of ‘Old Villanous’, perhaps a quick chorus of ‘aaahm one of the ruins that Cromwell knocked abaht a bit’, but the heart isn’t really in it and it’s not a patch on the Robbie Burns deal back in January with haggis, whisky and the ever-mournful ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
In fact, we don’t really have our own day to celebrate. Other ‘tourist towns’ in Spain have a special ‘foreigners day’, like in Torremolinos, and Mijas and San Fulgencio and Calpe. Why are there none of these celebrated in Almería? I’m thinking a bit beyond just marmalade stalls and guess the weight of the vicar, we need a full breakfast here. A steam band, morris dancers and a proper sangría (as only we Brits know how to make it, nudge nudge). I think the Spanish and expat community would come together, especially after a couple of glasses of the killer cocktail (one of those few rare local things I like to think we have improved upon), as they do so harmoniously in those other towns mentioned above.
We need a little pride: some repletion. After all, it was a good idea coming here to live, wasn’t it? That’s right, let’s celebrate the fact!
As things stand, our towns in Eastern Almería go back to the beginning of time. We have had settlements of the Argar, the Icini, the Phoenicians, the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Spaniards and now us. However, unless we want to end up like the Visigoths, forgotten two years after they left (or were killed - I’ve forgotten which), we expats need to leave our mark. In my town, Mojácar, despite being about 60% British, there is almost no evidence of our presence there. You won’t find a ‘Calle Inglés’ or ‘Avenida de Londres’ or perhaps even ‘La Casa de los Británicos’. Before you start on me, we do have a Calle Rumanía, Grecia, Italia, Dinamarca and Francia and, in the pueblo, an Avenida de Paris. I’m saying, what’s wrong with us lot? I’m not talking about ‘taking over’, but just ‘joining in’.
Well, that and ‘how many Greeks live here anyway?’
So perhaps it’s time to have a ‘Foreigners’ Day’. There are more foreigners than locals in a number of towns in Eastern Almería, and it would be nice to celebrate something together. I mean, it’s not like we muck in as a rule, or vote in the local elections or help to choose the ‘damas del honor’ in the town’s summer bash.
The Spanish are always in favour of a fiesta so the idea really isn’t all that foreign after all. In fact, I’ve been to a few foreign fêtes – in Cabrera and El Pinar – but what I’m talking about here is a full-blooded act of integration. A huge and merry street party going on until late. We’ll take the following day off as well. Bunting and fireworks! Our Spanish neighbours may not catch the point of singing all eighteen verses of ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’, or care for the taste of shepherds pie, but at least they should try it (trust me, they’ll love my killer sangría).
So let’s meet halfway across the street on this one, take the best part of our various cultures and turn it into something better.
By the way, the Patron Saint of Europe is Saint Benito (21st March); he founded the Benedictine Order, could mix a mean Brandy Alexander and is said to have invented the Scotch Egg.
Now you’re talking.