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solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris
On a recent trip to Mallorca I quickly discovered we’d managed to catch the end of their festival season. What struck me was just how much more, how can I put this sensitively, insane their festivals are compared to ours in the UK. I’m dismissing Christmas and Easter as they’re not so much festivals as excuses for shopping. As nobody bothers with Saint George’s Day save a few advertisers, the only one people pay attention to are things like St. Patrick’s Day and music events (like Glastonbury). So our ideas of celebrating range from listening to live music 2 miles from the stage while knee deep in mud all the way to getting absolutely fucked off our faces for reasons somewhat connected to the Irish, but no-one really knows why or cares. Our attitudes then, are somewhat unimaginative.
Compare this with Spain. In Mallorca I managed to catch the last couple of hours of the celebration of, what I think is the battle between the Christians and the Moors. I say think because no Spanish person I spoke to, who could speak English, had the faintest idea what any of the celebration actually meant. Not that that was any barrier to celebration, mind. Half the males dressed in white and represented the Christian side (all the women wore white), and the other half of the males dressed up as the Moors, which meant they were covered in various tribal paints with an arabic-esque dress style. Imagine Aladdin after having watched Braveheart. They then take to the streets as a mob wielding huge wooden sticks, wooden swords, wooden pitchforks and shotguns. Real shotguns. Admittedly they only fired blanks but two things to note; they fired with a very real bang and at a close enough range, blanks can still quite easily kill. So, a population armed to the teeth in mob mode and all drinking pretty much the whole day. Imagine pitching this idea to government officials in the U.K.. Far as I can tell, it all went off without a hitch and great fun was had by all. The fact that Mallorcans can do something like this without it turning into a scene of Mad Max seems testament to just how shit British people are at holding off-the-wall events. We wouldn’t last an hour before several people had been shot at, things had been smashed and half our population was busy hurling their insides (in a celebratory fashion, of course), up the side of someone’s house.
That festival was actually the sanest one I witnessed. I didn’t get to visit this one (wish I had), but caught it on one of the Spanish channels covering it. It’s called the Festival of Sant Joan (Saint John to you or I), and the part I’m particularly referring to occurs in Ciutadella, Menorca. Imagine a road that has the width of more than a dual carriage way and then fill it with people (so they can barely move). Somewhere down the road, a rope hangs across the width of this road and a small white hoop is suspended off it, hovering just above the crowd. A guy with a whistle and a drum creates what sounds like weird X-Files music signalling the arrival of a horseman. A suited guy on a black ceremonial horse then charges through the crowd with a huge lance in his hand (I promise I’m not making this up – click here if you don’t believe me for a picture and a bit of an explanation) who tries to hook the lance through the little loop and pull it off the rope. I’m pretty sure I saw a guy get killed during one of the runs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing to watch. It’s just also utterly mad. If that wasn’t quite bizarre enough, during an interval (I think it was just after it looked like someone got killed -knocked down full on by a horse and trampled under), a full orchestra played an instrumental YMCA. I shit you not. YMCA.
This isn’t even touching upon the infamous bull runs (known as encierro).
I can’t help but feel somewhat cheated of culture. Our celebrations are watered down, corporate friendly buckets of piss. We don’t celebrate. We buy things and get drunk. We do that anyway, without prompt, reason or desire. Forget the statue of a bull at Birmingham’s Bull Ring shopping centre, which bizarrely now talks to passers by. Make it a real bull. Shopping would be a lot more interesting if there was a chance of getting gored by a bull. Not only would it keep dreary eyed commuters on the alert, it would also help keep obesity down, either through exercise or by being popped by the horn of a huge fuck-off bull. Everybody wins. Except perhaps the unlucky fatties.