The hooded man walked towards me looking through the eyelets in his hood. The glint in his eye was easy to make out but was he looking at me? It was slightly disturbing not being able to make direct eye contact but when I saw him carrying a box of broad beans his sinister look took on a more friendly and familiar one.
This really set the tone for the morning. The celebration of Holy Week in Moratalla(a small mountain town in the NW of Murcia with streets that climb and weave throughout the old part of town) is totally different to what you will find in the rest of Spain.
It’s common knowledge, that in many parts of Spain during Holy Week, dark hooded Semana Santa type figures walk in organized holy, solemn and traditional processions in old dark streets following the same route they have done for centuries celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ. The hooded figure, therefore, is no stranger to those of us who live in Spain, especially in the south of Spain and you get accustomed to seeing them even though you never fully feel comfortable with “the look”.
But when you go to Moratalla, you can hear the difference before you see it. The noise of the drums (los Tambores) as you step out of your car pervades from all parts of the town and at a volume which impresses even from a distance. You immediately start seeing robed figures (no surprise as it is Holy Week!) but these robed figures are different. They are wearing colourful robes with all kinds of patterns. They are robes that look like your grandma’s quilt or even a harlequin’s outfit. There are even Spiderman ones. Above all they are all very colourful, strikingly so. Each robed figure carries a drum and we see that they are walking to the old centre of the town in groups of three or four or in couples or in family units with the kids cloned with their parents outfit on.
Cacophony, passion, the art of drum playing, great tapas, colour, beer and broad beans are what this fiesta is about. We moved along streets, in and out of bars. We consumed some interesting local tapas including the famous empanadilla (tuna and tomato pie). We stood in bars listening to the drum playing which reverberated round the interior preventing normal communication.
For some this noise would be a problem because it is all-invasive and constant wherever you go. It follows you around. The drum beaters play everywhere and all the time. The feverish drum playing goes on all day(24 hours). Liberal drinking and eating is part of the event. People are enjoying themselves and laughing. Something on Maundy Thursday that is unthinkable in most organized processions in Spain.
Seeing what looked like a small old style bar, as we wandered through the drumbeating crowd, we dived in there to partake of some local fayre. On entering, I noticed there was only one drum being played inside so the noise level wasn’t too loud. On getting served our drinks, by a tall robed gentleman, he placed some broad beans next to the beers (Raw broad beans are eaten as a snack with your beer in this part of Spain). When I asked him the price for everything he said, ”Oh no, it’s free. This is a “peña” not a bar. This is our invitation to you.”
A “peña” is a group of people who band together for the fiestas and pool money and energy to organize fun, drink and food for the fiestas. This kind of spontaneous generosity is always nice and gives you the feeling that people are really very proud of their traditions. It is done on the spur of the moment and with no ulterior motive. They just wanted us to enjoy their fiestas.
And ,of course we enjoyed them very much. However ,their hospitality became a little embarrassing as they continued serving us beers, tapas of all kinds, including tomato with anchovy, Manchego cheese, “Cordonices” (little gem lettuces cut in half with olive oil and vinegar), and Cured/Dried Tuna.
Every time we tried to say good bye one of the kind gents just put down some more food on the bar in front of us.
Maybe I should have called this post Beer, Beans, Tapas and Drums!
If by chance anyone from the Peña Ahuajehmennah reads this we would love you to pass on our heartfelt thanks to the gentlemen who served us in your peña bar!
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