As the sun dips in the sky the town of Carrión de los Condes prepares for the Feast of Santiago.
As I make my way towards the plaza the players emerge from their houses: the Queen of Navarre jumps in her car to drive to the church, the Prince of Aragon runs back into his house to fetch the camcorder.
The procession has already started at the end of the street, where the massed bands of the Ponferrada Bridge Club are marching into the plaza dressed as Moors.
They are playing the theme tune from Titanic.
From another street I hear the sound of bagpipes. It’s the King of Castile’s pipe and drum band, dressed exactly as they were in fourteenth-century Spain, in black kilts and Nike joggers. The king runs behind them while talking to his wife on his mobile phone, telling her he won’t be late home.
The King of Castile is a liar.
The action soon removes to the park by the river, where a battle whose name I can’t spellnever mind pronounce is recreated for a crowd of Spanish tourists and wet kids who have run over from the local swimming pool to watch. There are horses, flags, and pretend knights with pretend swords flirting with pretend virgins.
After the battle—which ends with the King of the Moors giving the King of Castile what looks like a large stuffed budgerigar—the bagpipes lead the procession out of the square playing a tune that sounds suspiciously like Britney Spears’ ‘Do It to Me One More Time’.
The whole shooting match moves back up to the plaza where another battle is re-enacted.
A man dressed as Santiago appears in the nick of time to frighten away the Moors and save the day. In this instance, Santiago acts like the homeless nutbag who once shouted at me under Waterloo Bridge. He is dressed like him too, except he isn’t holding a dog tied to a bit of old rope and his parts are not hanging out of his trouser fly.
There is more talking and proselytizing. The King of Castile starts reading from a script, holding the reins of his horse with one hand and droning on into a microphone held in the other.
By this stage the crowd and some of the participants are getting antsy.
It has all been going on a little too long and the adults need a drink and the kids want the ice-cream they were promised if they were good.
One of the Moors rushes over to the bar to get four more beers for the infidels. Two of the more youthful warriors—they are about four and dressed like they have just stepped off a Star Wars’ set in silver lamé and sequins—try to decapitate each other with swords. Mummy Moor has to step in and separate them.
It is then time for the Moors to attack the Christians again, and win, which is surprising, as two of them are pushing prams with small children.
The two four-year-olds don’t really care that they have vanquished an army of Christians, they’re just happy that their side won. They run across the square with their swords, beat up a little girl in pigtails and steal her bag of lollies.
Meanwhile two of the women stand over a fallen Christian warrior and take this opportunity, while the bishop isn’t looking, to stick their swords in his bits.
That’s for sleeping with my sister!
That’s for standing me up last week!
We then all move on to the Catedral de Santa María while the Moorish band plays something suitably Moorish: ‘Alice the Camel’.
Another battle. Some of the Moors fight with bottles of San Miguel tucked into their armour.
The festival is over. It’s time to head to the bodega for a beer and a smoke.
History. Tradition. Beer. Moors pushing prams.
That’s why I love Spain.
(from The Year We Seized the Day, by someone who is sometimes Colin Falconer and written with Elizabeth Best. Two People Who Have Lost the Way on The Way.)
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