Saturday, 26 August 2017

Cowpats and conviviality

Pretty much no matter how small your community is in Spain, you can usually be reasonably confident that there's somewhere even smaller not too far away. I've seen news items here which have featured a single, usually elderly, person being the last remaining inhabitant of some minuscule settlement. Everybody else has either left or died, the population slowly eroding to one last man or woman, who has no reason to leave their lifelong home.

Castiñeira is not quite that, but it's much smaller than Viana. This tiny hamlet sits near the very top of the local mountains - the drive there is uphill absolutely all the way. There are no shops, nowhere to drink other than the local residents' association bar in the room of a house, and no pubic transport there. Its small size has not stopped it holding its own fiesta, though, and we were invited yesterday to attend this celebration and have a bit of lunch at the house of a friend who comes from there but, fairly typically, has moved away - in his case to London.

Its altitude gives it some stunning views over the valleys below. It's quite a pretty place itself, with stone houses on steeply angled and narrow streets, all sitting right in the middle of the land which the people who live there farm for their living. Sheep and cattle regard you with cool indifference from behind dry-stone walls as you pick your way around, and the cows have left the usual tell-tale signs of their presence pretty much everywhere.

The event comprised a 20-litre tub of sangria and a visiting three-piece laid on to provide the music. 'Style', led by a chap who looked quite startlingly like Armando Iannucci, and evidently used to entertaining small gatherings like this, were taking no chances; they'd brought their own applause, cleverly hiding hundreds of fans within the speakers to reliably mark the end of each song. Their stage was quite literally the back of a van, the side dropped down to reveal the entire set. Our man Armando was quite a musician, somehow managing to play piano, drums, bagpipes, castanets and violin despite appearing to have only a digital keyboard in front of him.

However, what they lacked in spectacle they more than made up for with volume and an absolute certainty as to which music was required. At first, everybody just stood there under a hot sun and looked at them, and I thought it was going to be a bit awkward to be honest. However, just a couple of songs in, two things started to work their magic. First, the free sangria. Second, much more importantly, the Spaniards' almost compulsive desire to dance. Soon much of the crowd, which numbered the majority of the population of the village, was doing the Paso Doble to a string of what I've already seen during multiple visits to Galicia, are old favourites.

Slowly, though, the crowd started to drift away in twos and threes - past 3pm, lunchtime was at hand. A few non-verbal signals essentially told the band to knock it on the head for now, and we went to our friend's family's house for the standard four-course, far-too-much-food, stuff-yourself-to-the-gunnels-and-then-burn-it-off-with-home-brewed-fire-water lunch which marks these August holidays.

I frankly have no idea if Estilo came back for a second part of their set - we were so full of food that we didn't move for some time, sitting around the dining table to talk and have coffee. This ritual, known as sobremesa, is almost as important as the food itself here and deserving of its own entry some day. Casiñeira may be home to only around 70 souls, but the warmth of their welcome and hospitality would stand for ten times that number.

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