It’s 5 o’clock in the afternoon and I stagger across the roman bridge into Allariz in the south of Galicia in the North West of Spain. I have been walking since that morning. It is the hottest day of the year so far in this part of Spain. 40 degrees centigrade in the town of Orense where I started the walk. A real baptism of fire, it is my first full day of walking.
“las heridas quemaban los soles, a las cinco de la tarde.” “the wounds were burning the soles of my feet at 5 o’clock in the afternoon”
I think of the line above from Lorca’s poem “El llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias.”
I rest for 2 days in a lovely shady restored farmhouse two miles outside the village. A Palleira, the name of my farmhouse, like much of Allariz, has been beautifully conserved. Much of it, no doubt, with public money. Money well spent because much of Galicia is now quite poor and suffering again from the emigration of its young, seeking work, much as they did centuries ago when they went off to find the New World and their fortune. Much is made of the reckless spending of the autonomous Spanish regions in the press and media but Galicia, much like many English northern areas,has no natural industry bases and no large conurbations. It needs support and investment in its tourism infrastructure.
Allariz is celebrating its annual festival “Festa da Bois”, a festival of bull running. 90 years ago,Hemingway went to Pamplona ,to the San Fermin festival and ran with the bulls and wrote about it in his book “The Sun Also Rises”. I read this book as a young man. I had recently heard an old BBC radio recording of Laurie Lee , talking of attending a similar small village bullfight festival in the Basque country. The tale he told was one of the English visitor, Lee, taking on the experienced and wily bulls, that the locals would not touch with a “bandillero”, and emerging as a much feted hero. Like much of Lee’s tales, it is possibly best taken with a large pinch of salt.
As the excitement builds , waiting for the first bull to be released into the small winding streets of the old town, I shelter in a tiny packed bar in the main square. I am there hiding,not just from the bulls,but from the incessant downpour that has followed the heat wave. Everyone is wearing their “fiesta” bright red “panuelos” (neckerchiefs) tied around their necks in what Lee would have called “cravat style”. The stylish young women were back home in their “pueblo” for the Corpus Chrsti holiday , escaping from their professional careers in Madrid. They mix with their brothers,sisters and nieces and nephews. The chatter is a mix of Castellano-purely spoken Spanish-and Gallego, the Galician language. Gallego has Celtic cousins like Welsh, Cornish, Breton.
Gallego Is the first Spanish language that Lee would have heard following his arrival in North West Spain. The large country of Spain is home to a rich melting pot of languages, Catalan, Basque, Andaluz and many people have died over the years to protect their right to speak them. Many were executed in the Civil War for their allegiance to their region rather than to the centre. Ironically , Franco himself was born in Galicia. When in Orense, the day of 40 degrees plus, I came upon a plaque and a trail commemorating a local activist,singer and writer, Alexandre Boveda He was executed by Franco troops on the 17 August 1936, for simply being a local patriot. The date is now designated as a “Dia da Galiza Martir.” A salutary reminder that you did not have to be a cultural icon like Lorca to be hunted down. In those desperate times it was sufficient to be a simple man with values who believed in something.
Six loud blasts are heard, the signal for the first bull to be released. We all rush outside. The bull appears, disappointingly but sensibly, not running totally loose but tethered to ropes, skillfully managed by a team of men in white outfits. The crowds scream and the bull is chased by a posse of young men, high on alcohol, adrenalin and machismo. I experience a fleeting sense of fear and awe and then almost immediately, complete empathy with the bull which is clearly scared out of its wits.
I return to my rural escape. My taxi-driver, a corpulent gruff fellow appropriately enough called “Macho”, spent the short journey singing the praises of the bull.
I guess I am no Hemingway and retire to my bed consoled by this thought.