domingo, 30 de octubre de 2011

Halloween - Mediterranean Style

This week I sought out my umbrella and coat, shook the dust off both, and set out for work under heavy leaden skies. Rain, intense rain, has ushered in the autumn in Spain. For the first time since leaving Ireland, I have sidestepped puddles and strode widely across angry torrents overflowing the gutters. The sun has most definitely gone, leaving behind a bereft and melancholic Mediterranean. There is the distinct feeling that the cheerful upbeat occupant of this house has abandoned us, depriving us of the joy, the sparkle and, of course, the warmth of their presence. The sea, ultramarine in summer, has turned gunmetal grey and coastal villages of summer homes huddle closer to the landscape, seeking shelter from the deluge. Regarding them, I am struck by their vulnerability. Blessed by golden light and they are the stuff of dreams, the white hot place in the sun we fantasise about. Without it these villages are a pallid, ghostly grey, a dull disappointment. 
            Initially the downpour was welcomed. This is the first time that rain has fallen in Tarragona, and elsewhere in Catalonia, since May. The land is thirsty. Now it has had its fill, and more, too much more. As the days have gone by the delight with the novelty of abundant water has turned to dismay and I have heard grumblings about the damage being done to crops and the danger of flooding. I’m peeved too, but for different, selfish, reasons, I feel hard done by, short changed. Not even the ten weeks of unbroken sunshine since my arrival in Tarragona compensates for this. This is Belfast weather with a vengeance, except for one major difference: it’s raining but it’s not cold. This presents something of a challenge for my limited wardrobe. There’s nothing in my collection that caters for such a combination. It’s either jumpers and boots or sandals and skirts.  I opt for jeans and boots. By lunchtime of Day 1 my feet have been crucified. By early afternoon they are bruised and bloody. Drenched and sweaty, I hobble home and retreat back into sandals. On Day 2, I cosset my feet in Band Aid but they still refuse to be coaxed into the boots. When I step out into the rain that morning I muse that I am, in all likelihood, the only person in Tarragona wearing open-toe footwear today.
            This puts me at a painful disadvantage in the supermarket. I deftly sidestep a pair of brown platform boots advancing toward the check out at the same time as me, only to find myself in the fast lane of the shopping trolleys. It’s too late. I groan audibly but the ram-raider has ploughed on oblivious, heading for an opening she’s seen in the check out queue. A minute later a scuffle breaks out when a further check out is opened. Those at the back of the line break rank and thunder toward the cashier, the last is first to arrive and the first is last, and the last is deeply disgruntled. A squabble ensues and I meander over just as the cashier intervenes to request that the customers regroup to respect their original place in the queue. A purple rinse sashays her way to the front with a triumphant smirk, her rivals mutter darkly. The rain, it seems, has eroded whatever civilities any of them might have had.
            Watching fat heavy raindrops fall day after day onto the cobble-stoned street beneath my balcony has made me surprisingly homesick. My thoughts circle momentarily above the scene, get their bearings, and – like homing pigeons – head north. I sniff the air instinctively, seeking the aroma of damp earth and decaying leaves. There is nothing. The oak, pine, birch and sycamore of Belfast’s City Cemetery are over a thousand kilometres away. Tonight, when the bonfires are ablaze back in Ireland, I’ll miss the sombre silhouettes of the tombs of my ancestors, the backdrop to my own musings about whether the veil between this world and the next really does fade at Halloween, this very Gaelic of festivals. It’s just not the same in Tarragona. I haven’t heard a single firework or seen a sparkler. Instead, chestnuts and sweet potatoes are roasted on open fires at street corners.
The rain has stopped and queues have formed in front of the braziers of tee-shirted and sunglass-wearing Catalans eager for a portion. In the background palm trees sway gently in the breeze. As I said, Halloween, Mediterranean style, is just not the same.

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