Friday, 3 August 2012

Village contrasts

We went to the railway station this morning to book seats to travel to Barcelona on Monday, when Clare returns home. To our surprise, the booking office was closed. A notice explained that station staff were on strike over proposals to privatize the network. Trains were still running apparently, and people were waiting for the next arrival. There was nothing we could do, so we went off to Carrefour to do the weekend shopping, and plan a car journey instead. We had no additional detail about the strike, its duration, or frequency of other days when stoppages are planned. With a flight to catch, the risk cannot be entertained.

After shopping, a visit to the beach and a siesta, we went for a drive, following the N232 main road west towards the mountains towards Morello. The road is good and not too busy, winding gently uphill up a river valley, revealing lovely mountain scenery perspectives with endless neatly laid out groves of orange and olive trees in every direction, and the occasional hill village perched above the main road, with buildings which, if not white painted display their pale honey coloured stone fabric, reminiscent of Britain's Bath stone. In each village, above the houses, the outline of the church rises, with interesting tower and baroque parapet giving a distinctive feature to the place.

After only ten miles, curiosity compelled us to stop in La Jana, as it was just about to awaken from siesta at half past five. It was cool and still in among the tall buildings in narrow streets. Once more we were struck by the lack of commercial advertising hoardings around the village. It was big enough to have a modest variety of shops and cafes, a bank, a town band, and this huge church, dominating the central square, with two finely crafted sets of burnished bronze doors. They were clearly new, but executed in a simple traditional style with images of Christ and the saints.

Opposite in the square was the stylish new-build ajuntamento. When the clock struck six, the fountains between the two resumed playing. We had a good humoured chat in basic Spanish with three old people sitting in chairs on the pavement in the shade outside their house, enjoying the evening hour. We attracted their curiosity as, it was explained to us, they had few tourists there. Indeed, to judge from vehicle traffic we saw, it's a normal agricultural village, still earning its keep from its traditional way of life healthily preserved. Modernity was there, but not allowed to degrade the quality of the public domain - apart from the inescapable multitude of parked cars. I noticed how few traffic control sign posts there were around the place. Did they feel they didn't need them, as they could rely on mutual good will, care and common sense? It reminded me of the world I grew up in, albeit a lot more colourful.

After drink in the main cafe on the square, we started our return trip, and on impulse we left the N232 for a brief look at the hill village of San Jorge or Sant Jordi in Catalonian. Again the restraint on public advertising was noticeble, even if there was more traffic signage, and a car park at the bottom of town. We walked up the main street in search of the main square and church we could see from the N232, and discovered more than we had imagined at this evening hour. The square had been transformed into an arena with viewing platforms above and barred safety cages at ground level for spectators and participants in a bull-baiting fiesta. It was crammed with people, and at one end, the local town band was installed on high, providing live music for the occasion.

It's impossible to see any value in cruelty to animals. An event like this gives a few young athletic men an opportunity to flirt with danger and show off in public - proving what? Many greater risks are taken daily by reckless driving, or carelessness at industrial work places, also due to showing off. But making a sport out of being cruel, just doesn't connect with me. The tradition goes back millennia, but when you look at ancient images, these are of - yeah OK - men performing gymnastic feats, vaulting over the beast's horns or hind quarters. All I saw and recorded these young men doing was taunting an animal, arousing its fears and self defence reactions. A huge section of this village community, people of all ages merely watched them with some measure of approval. How will explain how this adds value and dignity to life together?

I walked around the edge of the main square to get to the church square. Each street exit was blocked with safety barriers, as the truck transporting the beasts was parked there, also the ambulance. I'd only just begun to take pictures of this square when hubbub from the arena died to a hush. Within minutes, the ambulance was no longer on stand-by, but taking off with lights flashing. I don't know what happened, who got hurt or how, nor whether the spectacle would continue. For us it was already time to head back home.

The photos I took are posted here

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