Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Las Verbenas de la verana

We are currently based in central, older Madrid, where dozens of churches - and palaces and you name it! - date from the 17/18/19th centuries. Church and State are now separate in Spain, and with Franco long dead, there’s religious tolerance and freedom of worship, so although I’ve seen no mosques, temples or synagogues here in the centre, I’ve passed Hindus and Muslims in the street, heard Arabic and Hindi, seen a halal butcher, and heard the call to prayer over the radio in Iraqi shops, coffee shops and import businesses. No doubt there are mosques and temples in the more recently built suburbs. In the centre, though, I’ve seen streams of perfectly groomed middle-aged and elderly Madrileños going to and from mass each Sunday.

Arriving at the beginning of August, we have been here for the verbenas de verano. I was puzzled when I got here, because I knew lemon verbena as a herb, and why were they celebrating summer (verano) herbs? Here, a verbena is a local religious festival for the patron saint of a particular area, and August is Madrid’s verbena month, with masses, processions and streets decked in bunting in honour of San Cayetano, San Lorenzo, and the Virgen de la Paloma.

San Cayetano is the patron of Lavapiés, the old Jewish (and then Jewish convert) barrio, now with a largely student and foreign population. It’s cheap, laid back, and we like it, especially the pay-as-you-go locutorios, the ever-open Argumosa Librería (new & secondhand bookshop), the handy Carrefour supermarket, and the Economico café, where you can sit out, eat excellent food served by friendly staff, and watch the world go by over a caña of beer or a vaso of good Spanish wine. We also like the sidrería across the road, where they demonstrated how to pour a bottle of Asturian cider. Never seen anything like it! More on that another day, when they get back from their holidays, and I can take some photos: they’ve been ‘cerrado por vacaciones’ since the end of the street party for the San Cayetano verbena, around August 7th.

On August 11th (San Lorenzo) we had just moved into our flat and were in recovery mode after a week’s sight-seeing and flat-hunting in Spanish at 36°C, so we missed that one. All I know is that it started as a celebration for a naval victory a few hundred years ago.

However, I picked August 15th to try the public library next to Puerta de Toledo, and arrived there at 8.30, opening time. No sign of life – no problem. After a café sólo and tostada con aceite (toast and olive oil – Butter is not common here, except, I suppose, in green, wet Galicia with its dairy herds.) I pitched up at the library again, this time at 9 o’clock. Nada! It turned out that this was the actual Verbena de la Paloma; the Virgen was the patron of the neighborhood, and of firemen. Her church, and the local fire station, were both just across the way; and everything was shut for the fiesta. The library would be open the next day. I phoned Habibi, and he came down with camera, and we went over to the Plaza de la Virgen de la Paloma.

La Virgen de la Paloma. This painting had been hung above the entrance to a cervecería.

The base of the float. Later on, the massive, gilded altarpiece will be brought out of the church, mounted on this base, banked with flowers, and with its (newly checked) electric lamps blazing, carried through the streets in procession at 8 p.m.

The rear of the float

And another piece in raw wrought iron. Perhaps to do with the fire service?

Perhaps a fireman created this personal display on his balcony, in honour of the patron of the fire service. 'Patrona de los Bomberos. Muchos Salvar'

The fire station is just around the corner from here.

Creating flower panels. The church had been open since the previous evening for offerings of cut flowers, and people continued to arrive with sprays of flowers. All through the first mass of the day, these two Madrileños in traditional dress, and a changing team of helpers, tucked the flowers into the mesh panels, ready for the evening procession

A reminder of the 'dons' of Spanish history. Deacons, perhaps? Police are a familiar and reassuring sight here. They're all very relaxed, just always around.

An entire building dressed for the occasion. These balconies are draped in green satin, overlaid with white gauze, with an arrangement of flowers on each one. Devotion.

Fiesta time. The apartment building on the left is being restored and modernised, as are many such buildings, making coloured tarpaulin our all-year-round bunting. Round the corner, the street is lined with food and drink stalls that stay open far into the night during the fiesta. When I walked down that morning, unaware of the fiesta - and all-night street parties - I was appalled at the litter-strewn streets, and abruptly crossed this neighborhood off my list for permanent-flat-hunting. The next thing I knew, the Medio Ambiente guys had swung into action with brooms, hoses, trolleys and trucks, and there was water running down pavements and roads. And everything was back to normal. Very impressive.

Local dress is not merely fancy dress, or only worn by the middle-aged and elderly.

I was intrigued by this man's pipe, which has a hinged lid! He was phlegmatic about being photographed. There was another man, in a rather battered black top hat and black tailcoat, whose sideburns struck me as rather improbable - yup - glued on for the occasion!

This gypsy woman and her barrel organ are usually parked in one of the shopping streets off Puerta del Sol, but she was down here early, if not bright.

There was a big tent outside the church, with chairs and tables laid out. This man is squirting closed horseshoes of dough into hot oil to make churros, an Andalucian doughnut. The doughnuts - the blandest thing I have ever tasted - are dipped in Andalucian hot chocolate - hot, liquid chocolate, not to be confused with drinking chocolate. Alright if you like that sort of thing.....

Variations on a theme.

And this, gratefully borrowed from another blog , is the actual float of La Virgen de la Paloma, being carried through the streets of Madrid on August 15th. She stopped traffic for a couple of hours.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Litle Yellow Duck, I've been watching Keef's blog for some sign of life and this morning I clicked the link to you (and bookmarked you! Good to see that you are indeed still alive - only got time to read the first piece but will read the rest later on - it sounds as though you are beginning to settle in!

Got to go to work now - I will read more when I get home.

Lots of love Dubaibilly and Mrs Dubaibilly xxx