Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Summer Begins on May the Fortieth

The Municipal Swimming Pool is open for business in Algodonales, though school only broke up a few days ago. Lines have been strung up in the street outside, and rows of ancient bath-towels flap in the breeze like the flags of a particularly muddy crusade. Older children roam the street in small swarms like flip-flopped bees, to and from the miniscule pool in their bathing costumes and last year's swim-school t-shirts, their hair glittering and frizzy with the new chlorine. It's going to be the greatest summer ever (just like last year, and the year before, and the year before that...) There will be swimming, of course, and sitting in doorways at siesta time, gossiping in the shade (sleep is for Old People), cracking sackfuls of almonds with a rock on the marble step - an afternoon's work - staying up all night dancing and drinking "tinto verano", the wine punch that is nearly all lemonade anyway, and gabbing and flirting, and, for the very brave, still being the first to the pool or the river in the morning. Considered the most "Macho" are those lads who can claim that in summer time, they never go to bed at all. On midsummer's eve, in every pueblecito the fires of St John's Night burn away the Bad of the year now past (there's Mari with a hosepipe and a face of thunder, diligently watering the perimeter of the bonfire in a slow, dripping circle - a very necessary precaution in a land where a forest blaze can reduce hectares of imported Eucalyptus and native Pine to scented ashes in an hour). At the coast, at midnight, they wash their faces, hands, and feet in the sea, for luck. Once, two strangers, a mother and daughter from Granada, stranded like myself at the airport (the last buses inland leave before eight o'clock in the evening), offered to share their hotel room with me, for nobody should be alone on Noche San Juan. But before we slept, we had to file down to the shore in the still-warm dark, our way lit only by the glow off the horizon towards Morocco, and the embers from the remains of the last Sardine feasts, and solemnly wash away a year's sins and sadnesses with the cool salt water.
   And all summer long, there will be Feria - a thousand little Ferias in a thousand little villages, all different, uniquely the site of pilgrimage for the Pueblo's scattered sons, and all, inevitably, precisely, just the same. Each town hall will hire one of the same hard-working three- or four-man bands that, every summer, work their way tirelessly around the length and breadth of Andalucia, playing each night an identical repertoire with as much enthusiasm and verve as if they hadn't performed the self-same set already a hundred times this month. There will be old standards, pasadobles that everyone over thirty knows how to dance, and by the end of the evening, the Mayor's wife and the other Matrons will be tipsy enough to dance the Dance of the Little Frogs, as they do every year. There will be a new summer Pop Hit, complete with ridiculous movements, which every eight-year-old in town will know how to dance already, and they will be invited on stage with the band to perform it, one girl lugubriously incanting the words with Serious Eyebrows and a high, quavering flamenco soprano copied off the Saturday evening Talent Show on Canal Dos Andalucia. Everyone will drink "tinto" and horrible Cruzcampo beer in sticky plastic cups from a makeshift outdoor bar, and they will eat Pinchos and charred Chorizo, and quail's eggs cracked straight onto the Plancha, all served with small, hard chunks of stale, dry village bread, and pronounce it the best and finest food in the world ever, "sin duda alguna". The younger children will wander about interminably sucking the frostbite inducing tubes of "polofla" in all the colours of no earthly rainbow that ever was, consuming, it seems from the evidence of their livid green, blue, and orange cheeks and lips, very little else. Everything will be just as it always has been, just as it always will be - and just as it always should be.
    Little people of tomorrow, the summers that will come will never again be as long, as glorious as this one. The freedom you now enjoy will be a dimly remembered garden closed off behind a rusting, padlocked gate. Nevertheless, keep Summer in your hearts, that returns each year whether you want it, or need it, or notice it at all. Remember the world when it was flung wide open and full of light, and however dusty the road, it always lay ahead of you.

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