Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Las Casetas

As I said earlier, once in a while you get an offer to do something and you want to but you’re too tired or too something and you choose not to. Then, somewhere down the road wish you had, but you can’t because that thing was a once only offer.
This morning we got a text from our agent Macarena gently suggesting we come and visit with her at her caseta at La Feria. Now this is our last night and we have stuff to do and it’s not like we didn’t walk down there twice yesterday. But she was so kind about her offer, even including a little smiley face, that we decided we’d just make it work. In addition to the getting there, we also have a pretty big language barrier, and we really don’t have the right clothes. This event is fancy, and all we have (by design) are traveling duds. However, that nagging “once in a lifetime” thing kept at us and so at 5:45 we went downstairs and looked for a cab at the taxi stand. Of course there were none. So we high-tailed it over to the taxi stand by the cathedral and missed one as it pulled away.
Neither of us relished the thought of another walk all the way down to the Feria, so I suggested we head over towards Arenal and perhaps Paseo de Colon, figuring busy streets might mean better luck. A cab with a fare went by us and stopped, we walked ahead and the minute the guy got out I flagged him down. We were on our way.
Due to the nature of the street closures we had to take a long way around and we were stopped by police barriers well before the entrance. Didn’t matter to me - I told him that 90% there was better than walking the whole way, paid him and we got out into a massive crowd, knowing full well we now had to travel the entire length of the fair to get where we were going.
Walking was next to impossible. While it had been busy last night, all the horses had been put to bed so the streets were open. Not so at 6PM - the streets were choked with wagons, carriages, single riders and garbage trucks. It was mayhem. The areas devoted to walking were even worse, with people spilling out of the casetas and talking, smoking and drinking. It was hard to tell who was moving and who wasn’t. We bobbed and weaved and even sometimes went out amidst the horse traffic just to keep moving. Eventually we got to where I thought we were supposed to be, but checking again I discovered we had to go back about ½ of the way. Once we discovered the proper address we stood outside and texted her. Twenty minutes or so later, out she came with a pitcher of the traditional Feria drink – white wine and 7-Up, and we were finally together.
We talked for a while outside until her husband Ignazio showed up, dapper in his blue suit and tie, a nice match to Macarena’s white flamenca dress. Some of her friends came over, introductions were made all around, two cheek kisses for the women, hearty handshakes for the men. Lots of joking around in Spanglish about trying to separate two talking women. We may have been woefully underdressed and looked completely out of place, but everyone was so friendly and gracious that I was very glad we’d made the choice to come.
She took us inside her caseta and promised that there were no smokers, a humorous gesture since smoking seemed to be mandatory. Ignazio brought us some wonderful Manchego cheese and crackers, Macarena disappeared for a while and came back with a traditional Spanish tortilla, a potato and egg frittata. People came and went, lots more introductions, more wine and more off the wall conversations about the world, language and adobe construction. I taught Ignazio the traditional Chinese toast, “gang bei” and from then on, every toast was given that way. A bottle of palomino sherry made an appearance and didn’t last long.
The din was just indescribable as was the crush of people. It was nearing 8PM and they were going to have a Flamenca performance which Ignazio insisted we stay for. But the noise and the heat and the smoke were just overpowering. We made our farewells, shook lots of hands and tried to get out of the caseta which by now was filled to 120% capacity. It was almost impossible to keep moving forward - there were so many stationary people blocking the way that the simultaneously flow in and out ground to a halt every 15 second. Eventually MLW cut a path down the stairs and even though she was forced right and I was forced left, we finally reunited out front in neutral space.
Getting out of the fairgrounds was as hard as getting in, and we were in a big stop and go crowd well past the exit, in fact all the way around past the parking and to the bridge, probably ¼ mile. I’ll mention here that if there is one single thing that will lead to the ultimate collapse of civilization, it is the cell phone. While these crowds were fluid enough to keep moving, they couldn’t because every single person had their phone and would stop unexpectedly to read it or answer it or just see if anyone cared about them. It was maddening.

Once across the bridge it was an easy, almost people-less walk home. The sun was just going down and it was cooling off and for once it wasn’t raining. All in all, a nice counterpoint to the crush we’d just left. But what an experience. New friends, new things and new toasts. The result of taking the time to do something you might have chosen not to do.






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