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Published: April 28th 2013
I mentioned last time out about the food culture when it comes to socialising in Spain. Nowhere is this reflected better and more obviously than in the festivals that crop up in the small towns and villages around the place. In Britain, a street party of almost any description will be pretty much entirely about alcohol, here with just about the same percentages, it’s about food.
And so it was proved in Baiona, a small town 14 kilometres south of Vigo, which was the first landing place of the members of Columbus’s crew who were sent back to announce the discovery of the new world in 1493 and as such it’s perhaps unsurprising that the festival of choice in Baiona on the first weekend of March is Medieval themed, giving an insight into the brighter parts of life around the 1400s (jousting, archery and dressing funny) without the disadvantage of having to put up with the black death and cholera on a daily basis.
The first event we saw after the half hour bus ride, and a very medieval coffee in a bar near the sea, were the birds of prey. Somehow, to me at least, birds of prey
seem very much of this time. I’m fully aware that they weren’t kept as pets by families, or that old crones didn’t walk the streets talking in riddles with vultures on their shoulders, but there is something about them that seems in keeping with all this stuff.
Clearly, the handlers of the birds agreed with me as they were all fully medievaled-up for the show, as were probably 75% of the people in the town. The birds, in contrast, had attitudes much more in line with modern, stroppy teenagers, much to everyone’s amusement. For all of the effort that the handlers were clearly putting into their ‘hip’ hup’ commands, most of the birds, in particular the owls, couldn’t have given less of a crap and sat there pretending to ignore pretty much everyone. If you’ve never seen an owl give a withering look, it’s a slightly wiser, more patronising version of the look you get from a cat if you try and get it to do anything other than sit in the warm and eat. It’s also very funny when three or four guys dressed as extras from Knightmare, are getting increasingly embarrassed at the fact that most of
their birds were clearly having a hungover day on what, presumably, is one of their biggest days of the year.
As we walked around the streets in the beautiful old town, amongst all of the food stalls serving empanadas, paella, various traditional Galician cakes and puddings and also the most beautiful chorizo I have ever eaten, there were more medieval type activities, of a more industrial nature. Sculpting (which was mesmerising just to stand and watch for a while) and shoe/boot making (which was not) were the two that stood out. There were demonstrations and explanations of the history and the art of them, and then you could have a go at it yourself if the mood took you and while it was great to see so many kids lining up and enjoying it, it did seem a little strange that here in the twenty-first century, excitable kids who presumably have ipads and super-nintendos at home are eager to try out a job that, in the case of shoe making, was probably not some kind of glamour occupation in the 1400s. I guess it’s rather the same as people getting a kick out of scanning their food in the
self-service checkouts in supermarkets, while the cashiers are looking on wondering how you can possibly be enjoying a series of beeps as much as you are.
Towards the end of the day we ventured back to the beach for the archery and afterwards decided to watch the jousting from the to-scale model of La Pinta, which has been parked/moored/left a hundred or so yards from the beach. The jousting became much less of a must-see thing after we were told that there was no actual fighting or potential for injury or blood, and it was just showboating guys in armour on horseback, hooking rings onto the end of the joust at speed rather than actually fighting, as we’d been led to believe. Not that this isn’t impressive in its way, it’s just not so much of a spectator sport - rather like going to watch Barcelona play but just winding up seeing 11 guys in the centre circle playing one bounce.
And that was more or less that, there were plenty of things that we missed and plenty of things I’d like to have another go at – learning how to shoot a crossbow and also an odd
relative of ‘push the pint’ to name two – all of which can hopefully be rectified at some point in years to come, by which time they may even have got those owls to move from one perch to another.
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