M is for Moros y Cristianos

My friend Fidel comes from Alcoy, a beautiful small town on the Mediterranean coast. It is through him that I learnt properly about Moros y Cristianos. Well, through him and his son Alvaro, who very kindly shared with me the school presentation he did on this fiesta.

This Moros y Cristianos tradition recreates a very specific battle that took place in 1276 in Alcoy. On the 23 April, having lost the city to the Kingdom of Valencia (Spain has quite a tradition of division, it was made up of lots of separate kingdoms until 1492) the Moors tried to conquer the city once more under the leadership of “el azul”, (the blue one), Al-Azraq – blue due to the colour of his eyes. A bloody battle ensued between Muslim and Christian troops.

When it seemed inevitable that the Arabs were going to win the battle, a mysterious male figure appeared, riding a white horse and displaying a red cross on his chest. With one blow, the warrior, identified by the Christian troops as St Jordi (patron saint on that day), took the life of the Arab leader, causing the rest of his troops to disperse.

The result of such an important day (the Spanish got their city back) is celebrated in Alcoy over three days no less. This trilogía runs from 22 to 24 April. The first day features different music bands playing through the streets of Alcoy and it ends with the whole town eating an olleta alcoyana, a caserol-type dish including pork, beef, potatoes, beans and morcilla, a kind of sausage made of pig’s blood and meat.

The following day starts early. At 6am, the trumpet sounds and both sets of troops parade through the city as the sun begins to rise. (My friend Fidel has impersonated a Moor for ages.) A beautiful reconstruction of medieval times ensues, with the Christian side parading in the morning and the Moorish side taking over the streets in the afternoon.

The second day is dedicated to St Jordi. It consists mainly of procesiones similar to those seen during Easter, but featuring an image of St Jordi which is carried from church to church.

On the last day, the whole thing explodes. Literally. Gunpowder features heavily on this day as the battle between Moros and Cristianos is reconstructed, showing the Moors victorious in the morning while in the afternoon, the Christians are able to take the city back.

Plenty of noise and celebratory behaviour then, but not nearly as much as that which you can see in Las Fallas in Valencia.

For more information on Moros y Cristianos, visit the web www.associaciosantjordi.org/

G is for Golpe de Estado 23-F 1981

I don’t know how it happened.

This year I missed the anniversary – maybe I was out for most of the day and busy all afternoon, but I missed the anniversary of one of the scariest days of Spanish democracy and just when I was getting to writing about the event for the AtoZ book, I realised. It’s gone, I missed it.

Adolfo Suarez, who had been at the head of Spain’s new democracy since 1976, resigned in 1981 feeling like he was losing the support of the people. He was passing on the role of president on 23rd February 1981 to Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, when suddenly, there was some noise outside the Congress building. Some commotion, a bit of noise and then this guy with a mustache and a military hat oh wait, and a gun in his hand, came into the hall and said

Todos al suelo.

Nobody knew what was going on – was it a stunt? Indeed, if you look now at the footage, he looks like a clown but then it was really scary. I can tell you, cause I was 9 and I was watching it on TV. (In his book, Calvo Sotelo says that he actually thought it was a group of terrorists dressed up as guardias civiles that had entered the building.)T is also for Tejero, he was “that guy”. The sense of parody increases Gutierrez Mellado (part of the military himself and Minister of Defense at the time), stands up against them and you can see they don’t have a clue about how to react. Luckily they just pushed him around a bit, instead of shooting him in the head.

This military coup kept Spain breathless for one day. The mother of one of my school friends, who was foreign, called my house to ask for advice. What should she do? Send the kids to school the next day? Keep them at home? What was going on?

Luckily, the King stepped up. He asked the Spanish population to back democracy. Luckily, the military did too.

Do watch the videos: the first one has about 30 seconds of normality, making it all ever so powerful. The second one has the commentary of the journalist – even if you don’t understand what he’s saying, you’ll hear the panic in his voice as he sees the machine-guns come out.