10 June 2012

Unwanted fame in Spain

The band is playing "Smoke on the water", badly. I don’t care I am jumping up and down like an idiot and laughing. The sound echoes of the stones walls of the houses around the cobbled square, I notice Phil appear from the brightly lit bar in the corner carrying another round of ridiculously over sized and under priced gin-y-tonica’s. This is another fiesta in another mountain village in the Spanish Pyrenees where we are celebrating the life of some obscure saint by dancing to bad cover versions of 70’s rock music. As always we are having a blast. We have been around the region long enough that some of the locals recognise us and smile when we show up. This is the summer of 1986 and we are working in the area making geological maps. This is in a time before fast, EU funded motorways will bring these rural communities within 3 hours of Barcelona, making them perfect for holiday homes, superficially tidying them up but ripping away a thousand years of tradition and spirit. For the time being, these villages are truly rural, water and electric are not ubiquitous, people work the land with their hands and there is a real sense of community. The annual fiesta is a big event in the village. For three days everyone parties, the very old dance with the very young, obscure games are played and the people celebrate being a community it which everyone knows and respects each other. That makes our welcome even more of a privilege that we appreciate.

For the last six weeks we have been hanging out with the local police. Four young guys, at least two of whom, Martin and Carey, signed up to avoid conscription in to the army. They are our age and always up for a party. Their jobs mean that they have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the villages and towns within a 100 km radius, including, most importantly where and when the fiestas are happening. So every evening we sit in the local bar, exhausted from a long day and they appear
"Hola, que tal?" (Hi, how are you doing?)
"Bien, que pasa?" (Good, whats happening?)
“Fiesta esta noche en Bialo?” (Fiesta tonight in Bialo?)
Where the fuck is Bailo – “Donde Bailo?”

Not that it really matters because we will cram four or five people into a Fiat 126 bubble car and go anyway and we will pretend we want to come home at 2am and then crawl back into our tents at 5 or 6, only to be woken by a baking sun at 9; get up and then go to work, because we have a ridiculous protestant work ethic. And then the next evening the process will start all over again.

Only tonight, in Bailo there is a minor annoyance. A small mean-looking guy, about 50, who is very drunk keeps barging into Carey, from time to time punching and pushing him. Carey is a small, hyperactive and utterly lovable guy. Totally unsuited to being a policeman. Nobody should ever be mean to Carey.  I have no idea who this guy is but he is really starting to piss me off and I am probably a bit too drunk to ask why Carey is not trying to stop this really obnoxious behaviour. I try to ignore it as well and go back to dancing.

A short while later the guy reappears and grabs Carey around the neck in an arm lock and starts to drag him around the square.He seems to thing this is funny but nobody else does. I have had enough, so I step forward and grab him by the throat. He looks extremely surprised and releases my friend immediately. I am a lot bigger than him and its fairly easy to pick him up by the scruff of the neck and toss him backwards
“vete a la mierda, maricon!”

He stumbles and falls on his arse, I turn to Carey to ask him if he is ok and he looks genuinely terrified. That is my firsy incline that maybe that was not such a good thing to do.

The mean guy is straight back, purple with rage and screaming at me. I stand my ground.

I realise that things are probably not so great when the bands stops playing and people gather around. The arsehole takes a swing and I step back and avoid it, he flails wildly and almost ends on his arse again. I look around and there are a lot of people just watching us and I wander what the hell is going on. The entire atmosphere has changed and I am sobering up very quickly. I try to reason with the guy…
Los siento pero Carey es me amigo y…
(I am sorry but Carey is my friend and..)
He is too angry to listen and just screams in my face

Carey is talking to him in very fast Spanish, I can only follow about half of it, but the gist is "he is English he doesn’t understand…"

This annoys me, I do understand. I understand that is guy is a cunt and he is rapidly heading for a my fist in his ugly fuckin face. I am starting to get very angry and figure the quickest way to end this is to lamp the bastard very hard and be done with it.

Carey skilfully maneuverers himself between the two of us and keeps talking, everyone else looks on and there is a real air of fear and menace. How did it change so fast and why do so many people care if two drunk people swing hand bags?

Then almost as quickly as things flared up, they dissipate. The angry man steps back, points to me and says something that I take to be a warning to watch my back and he stomps off out of the square. Before there is time for anything else to kick off the band start up again and people go back to dancing.

Carey takes me by the arm and leads me into the bar at the side of the square. There he hands me a drink and in a very over excited and clearly freaked out way explains that Snr Angry is the local police chief and a real nasty bastard. A hang up from the Franco era who has never had anyone stand up to him since he was the school bully, 40 years earlier. He is genuinely concerned for my well being and things start to fall in to place but I am still drunk enough to be brave so I shrug my shoulders and in my poor Spanish I try to explain to Carey that he is my friend and friends don't let friends get pushed around, but he is too worried to take it in, so I down my beer and we go back to dancing.

Nothing happens that night, although I stop drinking and like the man suggested, I watch my back.

The next day, news of the nights events has spread rapidly. My friends who own the local bar next to our unofficial campsite think this is the greatest thing they have ever heard. It seems that Angry man is well known and not very popular in the region. At subsequent fiestas, people I do not know pat me on the back and buy my drinks. I never see the guy again but I am never fully relaxed and my new found fame sits uncomfortably, its only a couple of weeks until I leave but all I wanted to do was drink and dance badly until the small hours.

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