Forty degrees and higher. Really, that is too much. The rhythm of the day changes to suit the temperature. At the hottest time, after a lazy late lunch, it’s time for a siesta. Late at night, after midnight and into the small hours, it is finally cool enough outside to sit on a kitchen chair on the slope of our little street and share some comfortable time with the neighbours, catching up with the minutiae of life.
Fifty of us from the village (49 Spaniards and me!) escaped the heat a week ago and went on the holiday organised by the town hall, travelling up north to Galicia where not only are the temperatures 12-15°C lower, but there is even that blissful possibility of a little light rain! As always, the town hall staff had organised a cracking programme covering all the sights of the area, but (also as always) every day was packed, from early breakfast in the hotel through three or even four different visits in a day, and ending with late nights and singing in the bar. Every village has a Pedro, and ours entertained us with songs and jokes long into the night. Even better (or maybe worse!), this year our hotel was in a pueblo celebrating its annual feria. Despite having celebrated our own feria the week before, some of our group sallied forth to participate; I felt my age and retreated to bed, the music and the fireworks close enough to enjoy but far enough away not to keep me awake.
We had excursions to Santiago de Compostela (bagpipe music in the streets!), Pontevedra, Combarro, Cambados, Monte de Santa Tecla, several bodegas, a river cruise, and innumerable castles and cathedrals. Galicia had a, well, an “uncomfortable” history with the English, and possibly a dozen times our tour guide made reference to the marauding English, the treasures stolen by the English and now in the British Museum, and the damage done by English pirates. I did a lot of apologising! Then, by way of a change, we crossed the border into Portugal and visited Oporto. The official city guide there had a much more positive view of Great Britain and spoke glowingly of the two countries’ relationship, the impact of various British people on the growth of the city, and finally led us to an ancient bookshop, Librería Lello, with twisting wooden staircases, that had been on the brink of failing fifteen years ago, until in a radio interview one day J K Rowling mentioned how this quirky bookshop had inspired elements of Hogwarts and of Diagon Alley, when she had worked in Oporto for a year teaching English. On the point of closure, within ten days of the interview the bookshop began to receive a trickle of visitors which rapidly turned into a flood. Within two months they had to institute a queuing system, and two more months later, a charging system – 5€ refundable against the purchase of any book. To this day, tickets need to be bought in advance, and the 200-strong queue is fenced on the other side of the road, as the bookshop’s success was threatening that of the neighbouring shops. The magic of Harry Potter pops up in extraordinary places!
On our final night the hotel organised a traditional Galician ritual, una queimada. A witch, a burning cauldron, scary Celtic music, atmospheric chanting, all to make the local fruited alcohol, la queimada, which is like a very strong mulled wine or punch. An unforgettable finish to the holiday.
Exploring the rest of this enormous, beautiful country is such a joy. I love my “escapadas”, whether on my own, visiting friends in other parts of Spain, travelling with friends, or these frenetic holidays with my village. Each style of travel has its charm and its advantages. The trips with this lively, noisy, kind bunch of people that I am delighted to call my neighbours, provide me with an intensive week-long language immersion. They might leave me exhausted and in need of another holiday in order to recover, but they further deepen my ties with this special little village which has embraced me as much as I have embraced it.
As the August heat continues (surely hotter even than last year?), I escape again and fly to Dorset for a week of visiting friends in more manageable temperatures. I messaged a friend asking what the weather was going to be like. Her reply pinged onto my phone: “The weather is going to be lovely over the Bank Holiday weekend”. A minute later the phone pinged again: “Well, lovely for Dorset”. It’s all relative.
© Tamara Essex 2019 http://www.twocampos.com