Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Pied Pipers of Punxeiro

I was warned, when I bought our tickets for the Festa da Vendima at the ironmongers from where they're sold, "Cuidado, eh." Be careful - an Ingles at Punxeiro's annual harvest festival? Did I know what I was letting myself in for?

This is pretty standard ribbing, of course, but later, when another friend told me that he no longer goes because it's a little bit full on, I confess I did wonder what was coming. Punxeiro is a very small village higher up the mountains. So small that, much like CastiƱeira of an earlier entry, no shop or even bar is in evidence. (It's possible I simply missed them in the revelry described below, of course. But I don't think so.)

Now my memory of harvest festivals doesn't go beyond those dull affairs at school where you had to bring in some non-perishable food item, which would be gathered together in some kind of display at the front of assembly, later to be distributed to some undefined and, to my childish brain mysterious, deserving and needy recipients. This was not that.

You're picked up, if you're going from Viana, by a free bus which drives you the twenty minutes or so uphill to the starting point, at which your ticket is exchanged for a neck tie and a small ceramic cup;

These are yours to keep, and you can immediately discern the regulars at this affair, as they quickly tie the two together through the cup handle and then round their necks, so they're wearing the cup as a sort of pendant. Only a stupid English person would put the neck tie on but keep the cup in hand all night because he's too worried he won't tie it well enough and it'll drop to the floor, breaking and curtailing the evening's drinking. (I'd argue though that the above photo is triumphant validation of my approach, but all the other cups seem to have reached people's homes undamaged anyway.)

'Never mind the cup. How are you supposed to spend the evening drinking in a village with no bars?' I'm glad you asked. A lack of bars has not stopped the generous inhabitants of Punxeiro putting on a hell of a party by opening their bodegas. The bodega is a typical feature of many Spanish homes. A sort of designated entertaining space, often below the house but occasionally on the ground floor, they usually include a large dining table, storage for wine and space to cure meats, and often feature a fireplace to do a bit of open-flame cooking.

How do you find them in the dark? You follow the band. Known as charangas, these are usually groups of locals who'll act as guides for the evening. They strike up a tune and lead you, behind a sort of wheel cart light show, to the next bodega to open. People, filling the narrow streets of the village so thickly that it can become impassable if you happen to want to go against the tide, follow happily behind it and wait for the doors to open.

When they do, out comes apparently unlimited supplies of wine and tapas of myriad variety. The locals work their way through the throng with large jugs of red in one hand, white in the other, followed by tray after tray of tapas of every kind, both savoury and sweet. It comes in no particular order so you find yourself eating chorizo followed by chocolate brownie followed by favada followed by rice pudding, and so on in little mouthfuls. They move through the densely packed crowds, hundreds of arms reaching over them, round them, across them to pick at the trays like so many octopuses (octopi? octopodes?) which have somehow managed to live past market day. It seems impossible that there would be enough for so many people.

It now becomes clear, though, why I was warned when I bought the tickets. The little cups hanging from everybody's neck ties are refilled constantly, so you have no idea how much you've drunk. The wine, to be charitable, isn't the finest stuff - it's all home-made and very young. But what it lacks in quality, they make up for with generosity. The wine, and the food, just keep coming.

Eventually the bodega runs dry of both, the band strikes up and moves on to the next one, followed by the increasingly 'cheerful' throng, and the next bodega repeats the process. And so on. Locals, clearly identifiable in bright yellow T-shirts, run hither and thither keeping things as organised as they ever can be at such things in Spain. The ironmonger who sold me the tickets must have run past me at least three times himself. I think there were about half a dozen stops during the whole thing, but can't clearly remember, as this mobile shindig made its way round the village towards the after-party at the end.

This comprises two large stages set up in a clearing after the last bodega. It's a considerably larger affair than the three-in-a-van party at CastiƱeiro. The first band Los Player's, twelve artistes dressed like a cult of Butlins red-coat worshipers, boasted a giant, dazzling light show to go with their wildly superfluous apostrophe. We sat and watched them for half an hour or so, and then headed home. Way, way too many people for the bus, so we walked down an unlit track, through pitch-black countryside, only mobile phone lights, drunks and mysterious noises from left and right to accompany us. At one point a fellow shambled out of the dark going uphill, against all logic, looking for all the world like a zombie as he appeared in our little pool of light for just a few moments, lumbering past us towards a piss-up he was extremely late for with no light whatsoever to show him the way.

Good people of Punxeiro, I'll be back next year - it was a blast. I'll bring a few beers, though, as do some of the more experienced visitors, because it's entirely absent. Oh and I'l be tying that cup around my neck in the approved manner so I don't look like quite such a bewildered newbie.

1 comment:

  1. Feeling again the warmth of that night at Punxeiro while reading this lines. They fairly match the essence of the party. Hope you don’t mind I share it with my Irish friends so that they can have a proper approach, beyond my explanations.
    Looking forward to the next one!