Friday, June 29, 2012
Smooth Getaway Postcard From Sedella Spain
There was once a battle here of such proportions that the great barranco below the village is still known as The Valley of the Slaughter. Legend has it this was mentioned to Queen Isabela and she replied with the immortal words: "Sé de ella" (I know of it). Thus, the town acquired its name.
Structurally, the village hasn't changed for hundreds of years. There was considerable rebuilding and refurbishment in recent times, but it has been carried out with taste and consideration for local tradition. We lost the old bakery, but the washhouse and fountain near the village entrance remain in perfect working order. Old men still gather every day on the opposite wall to chew the fat and watch the world go by.
Nets are spread under the trees, which the old men thrash with poles and little children clamber up to get the last stubborn fruit. Meanwhile, women pack the olives and almonds into sacks then load them onto a mule or the ubiquitous white van.
Will this generation be satisfied with subsistence farming and goat-herding? Almost certainly not. Already, the young go to Málaga or even further afield to live and work. The demographic structure is changing and we may be seeing the last of the old ways. Nothing illustrates this dichotomy so plainly as the village festival of San Anton. This takes place mid-January and kicks off on Saturday evening, when the band turns up in immaculate uniform to play a few numbers in the plaza.
There is fierce competition for the privilege of bearing the throne, even though it's tremendously heavy work. (Except for one memorable year, when the procession was delayed so long that everyone was too drunk to carry anything. According to one seditious source, the statue was seen to totter alarmingly and peep round corners at disturbing angles. The merry band then makes its way back to the square, where the saint is installed in the church. Then, the real party begins. Loud music thumps from the bandstand, while dancing and carousing go on until the small hours.
In the morning, there is a mass held where the priest comes out to bless the animals. This is when you realise just how many mules and horses are still around. The plaza is packed with horseflesh, many of them beautifully caparisoned with their manes and tails plaited and ribboned.
Some of the riders are resplendent in traditional riding outfits, hard-brimmed hats, boleros and high leather boots. There is something strangely moving about this ceremony, as one by one the animals are brought to the church steps and sprinkled with holy water.
This fiesta, with its fascinating swings from ancient to modern, seems to me a microcosm of today's Spanish rural society, balanced between the old ways and the new. I feel privileged to witness it. We may be the last generation to enjoy the old Spain, before mobile phones and satellite TVs inevitably shoulder it aside.