My sister of course. A week of drinking, catching up and being a foreigner, what more could you ask for.
Chasing the sun and wet weather, though of course I will quickly learn to regret this decision, in my sun burnt water logged agony.
Long drives, hot weather, serial killers and dust, dust and more dust. hopefully somewhere a large red rock.
After far too long travelling, I am now somewhere that I want to be, and more importantly wants me to be here too.
Firstly a bit of an apology, most of us have an internal and external dialogue, the thoughts that you keep inside and those that you express, I seem to have three, the middle one being where the content of my writing springs from and is neither one nor the other, but a fine combination of the two. However, during this, shall we say, transitional period for me, it has had want to occasionally get confused with the internal one, which is what you got a bit of in the first post. I meant to express, that I don't feel that it is right that I continue writing in Tash's name or on the Taooftash any longer and I hope that you can all understand the reasons why this has to be, but instead I outpoured a lot of other stuff around the edges of that statement without actually managing to write it. To be honest, the months crossing over leaving the flat and the beginning of finding where my feet will eventually stand, have been enormously introspective and now contain as much perspective gathering and the "fitting of things into place" as it does dealing with the simple mechanics of loss. I hope that I have written enough in the past to have brought me a little leeway with you, to allow the occasional boggy detour.
Still it could have been worse, that was the most inoffensive, if not most public, internal/external mishap that has happened, I have stopped more than one conversation in the last four months with a unedited comment carrying the mark "For Internal Use Only".
Chía is small village perched on the side of the Benasque Valley in the central Pyrenees, forty kilometres inside Spain on the French border (in case you are not familiar where the Pyrenees mountain range is), over an hour away from the nearest decent sized town and nearly three hours driving from the closest airport. Valley living is by its nature extremely self referential and obviously closed in, still at least you are not the town on the valley bottom, bigger and better, but always overlooked by the four similar Chía like villages that equally sit perched high on the surrounding mountains.
Pete, you remember, is from Swindon and met Tash when they were both traveling in the US in 1996, it is his family that she would always spend Boxing Day with. Pete and Lucy have been in and out of Chía for almost four years renovating a small house (most certainly small and very compact, but now I have seen it, beautiful), Casa Llusia, and generally making themselves part of this small village and its community. Chía is one of those towns that only has one road in, technically it has one out as well, but as we drove it on the first day I can attest that it is more track than road and climbs goat like up over the mountain behind the village, called, unsurprisingly, the Sierra de Chía, it should continue off into France but apparently just stops dead a couple of kilometres further along, the Spanish are not keen on the French having such a shortcut to their skiing resorts.
Pete is a highly social sort and every villager knows of the blond Englishman, I met his friends Pepe and Jesús (pronounced HeyZeus, so called because he was born on Christmas day; as Pete told me, "I bought Casa Llusia from a man called Jesús and then found my next door neighbour was also called Jesús and I thought Jesus!") within minutes of arrival (this place really is small), one the neighbours and the other a local character who has adopted Pete. Both these gentlemen more often than not congregate outside the village bar, sitting and shooting the breeze with the other town septuagenarians. In a village as compact as this one, friends of your own age are hard to come by.
The town fiesta is important stuff, as you would expect for a village of sixty people and falls on the weekend around the 8th September, my feeling now I have seen all the other posters advertising similar festivals plastered around the valley is that these are end of the harvest events or just the patron Saint of the village. This year Chía's festival commenced on the Friday, they even had a professional looking brochure; the first event, wine and ham, oh yes there can be nothing in this part of spain that doesn't revolve around pork product, was scheduled for 1pm, we missed it, turning up at 1:30. Pete got a light hearted rollicking from Jesus for our tardyness, we thought, being Spain, that they would start late, apparently not when a Fiesta is on.
Knowing full well that there were three days and nights of partying to come, it is the only time of the year that all the old people stay up past ten in the evening, Pete commented to me. We decided to pace ourselves in the proper English way, by drinking heavily on the first night and feeling very rotten the next day. There was a lot of ham eating, card playing, very bad wine to drink and dancing to be had over the four days. The dancing was of particular concern to Lucy as in this part of the world the Paso Doble rules, a simple rhythmic hip based dance that will confound a rigid Englishman, but will serve a Spanish hill farmer long in to his 80's. There aren't many young women in Chía, but a lot of old men who would be very keen to show a young auburn-haired English girl a step or two, you can readily understand her predicament. We lay low for most of Friday's activities, surfacing after much wine and card playing in Casa Llusia, just past midnight to check out the first of the bands playing in the square that weekend, "Bronze". I have little experience of the local Spanish music scene, but my first impression of the eight piece ensemble that stood on stage, two extra singers and a brass section added to the standard four piece, was pleasant surprise, particularly, and I am sorry as this is a comment for UK readers only, as popular soap star Will Mellor appeared to be the lead vocalist. Bronze and it's interchangeable singers, appearing on and off the stage like some musical wrestling tag team, played a good set of Spanish language and Spanglish Tom Jones covers until 3am when inexplicably the whole town played bingo. Bronze, or what was left of it returned soon after this break and had metamorphosied into a heavy metal band, starting with a cover of Europe's Final Countdown (always a crowd pleaser) and then slipping rather to quickly into speed metal. I thought of Piero, the Italian, Laura's husband, at this point. Musical men of our advancing age, it seems, like to play a bit of thrash occasionally and I decided that these guys had willingly waded through all the evenings MOR rock just to get here. Mind you we were all pissed by this point, I blame the free pouring of the rum at the bar myself, so they could equally have been shit.
There were a few things we knew we needed to be careful of, Pete and Lucy had discovered in previous years that a certain amount of attendance is required at key points of the festival, most notably during the two circuits of the town that take place, first for money called the Charanga, which happens on Saturday afternoon and the second more important, Ball dels Mayordomos that takes place on the Sunday at (thank god) 11am. The town has a band, yes I know, odd, but strangely useful at times such as these (and interestingly in their repertoire is a tune with a melody suspiciously like the English pub sing a long, "Roll out the Barrel") and they lead the precession around the interconnecting windy streets that lead off of the main square stopping at key points, one of which is outside Casa Llusia, both picking up and if they do not appear, as apparently happened a few years previously to Pete and Lucy, waking up the occupants inside to come out and, on Saturday, to dance a little before making a monetary donation. We followed the band around the town for the afternoon, feeling rather rough and as soon as Pete had put his hand in his pocket for village pride disappeared inside the house until the next big event.
This may take some explaining, the pictures to be fair may say more accurately what I am about to ramble. All the male youths in town, of which I guess there are 12 or so, are eligible to be one of the four arrangers of the festival. Historically it may well be a position celebrating youth, vitality and new blood to work in the fields, now it seems a position of civic responsibility, a town branded polo shirt and scarf combo and a requirement to dance and skip around a lot in front of everyone like a bit of an idiot. The handover from the departing set of the Mayordomos, as they are called, to the new, well I say new, it looks to be rotating on a three yearly basis accounting for the numbers involved here, was the start of the Saturday night festivities (which has a dinner break from 10pm until midnight, we are in Spain after all). The boys skipped into the village square, all Chía polo shirts and scarfs, and for reasons that were not explained to me, holding flowers aloft in their hands, one after another, before making another circuit on which, I deduced, they bestowed the honour of being next years Mayordomos on a contemporary, who was also dressed in the town regalia, so this was hardly a surprise it seems (see numbers again) but the manly whack across the head with the flora seemed to be announcing "your it". There was one surprise this year, they included women for the first time, dwindling population due to the draw of the big cities, these ladies were certainly not expecting it. The boys, and now girls, actually women, danced around some more, out of the square and then after some public addressing by the town spokesman (christened by Pete and Lucy Mr Stretchy Pants, he is a gentleman of a certain age who should let his youth go, nicknames are abound in Chía, there is also Mr Chainsaw man, Inspector Gadget and Airwolf, so called because he bares an uncanny resemblance to an actor in this 80's TV program) back in again for an obviously unrehearsed free style skip, twirl and jump session, before hoisting the lead Mayordomos on their shoulders. Perfectly confusing to the non Spanish speaker.
The town band then piped up to the now unmistakable rhythm of another Paso Doble beat, we scarpered to reappear after midnight again, to be greeted by the real evening band playing a slightly more upbeat, but still very a Paso Doble influenced song. Taxman, surely the most ill-advised name for a band I have ever known, was another eight piece, but unlike Bronze, were no thrashers at heart, I think the most upbeat tune we heard (as we were leaving actually) was a B52's cover of "Love Shack", again saddled low with the latin beat. Of the three singers in this band, the two girls were pleasant enough, the male singer though, had the decided air of a hairdresser by day. Pete and Lucy mingled a bit and I mostly got addressed from the other side of the square with "hey Marrk, ow are you" which I took with all the friendliness that it was meant, choosing to reply in Italian for the most part, and they reported back that no one really thought that Taxman were as good as Bronze, so we left just as "Love Shack" started.
Just outside the square I noted that someone else had made a comment on Taxman. Pants indeed!
Thankfully the dismal set by the band meant that we were tired, but not hungover on the Sunday morning as the day's requirement was to follow the rest of the town, including the dancing men, this time castanets in hand, out to Chía's church, perched out of town on the most beautiful mountain top location for mass, or as it is for us non catholics, chocolate and watching the children amuse themselves outside. There were other activities, but some how we found reasons to avoid them, mostly being Paso Doble ham eating events for members of the village over sixty as they were.
The rest of the week was mostly taken up purveying the excellent scenery, avoiding thunderstorms, the weather really does change quickly up here, accidentally blundering upon the Tour de Espana and using my time to design Pete and Lucy's friends Leo and Tessa a new website for their hostel Albergue Pajaro Loco. I believe in Karma (mind you so did Tash, but as I remember it only as a replacement for the now sadly out of fashion evil eye curse, I use it in a more positive sense); Leo and Tessa looked after Pete and Lucy when they first came to the valley, Pete and Lucy have looked after me in the last four months, so it is right that I should do something for them, and anyway, Leo makes the best milkshakes.
Pete and Lucy have some considerable experience of entertaining, looking after, chaperoning, or spoon feeding, dependant on the person visiting, many different nationalities of guest, he is very similar to Tash in that his friends are from all over and not just the town he grew up in. The valley they have chosen to live in is very popular for paragliding, Pete, and now Lucy's main recreational activity, so there is always a influx of international visitors. I mention this because they are big UNO players and this is how we finished most evenings. I have found that UNO is possibly a superior game to my own favoured social pastime, Top Trumps, though before you leap to the card cupboard in advance of my arrival, it seems that the game is improved considerably with the addition of often very stupid forfeits; no teeth to be shown when a one is laid down, close one eye when you lay down a seven and my personal favourite, devastatingly effective when presented surreptitiously alongside an earnest question, something like "what are we doing tomorrow Pete", laying a five means no talking, or like all the above forfeits, you get another card. Childish I know, but they don't have a TV.
We have decided that I must take UNO traveling with me, including new rules, so prepare yourself future hosts.