We crouched down together; pressed tight. Rows of shoulders and backs in front of me. Hats pulled down, scarves wrapped around faces. A whiff of singed hair; slightly metallic. The hot rocks rained down with a gentle hiss- we all squealed. I saw a few land on a shoulder next to me; I watched in fascination as the small reddish bead of ash ate its way through the thin material until it touched pink flesh. We squatted deeper into our huddle. The smell of of gunpowder hung in the air and clung to our clothes, filtered through our hair in wisps of pale blue smoke. We all edged closer like a collective of crabs. Through the smog I saw the Devils horns: arched and ominous, dark and powerful. A beating drum thundered, bringing a heartbeat of doom and fear that echoed and bounced off the buildings and down along the narrow streets. There was a shrill piercing sound as the flashes of fire crackers smacked the walls and then escaped upwards like curly pigs tails, into the balconies above. Again we squealed and moved forward. I squeezed my way sideways between bodies and bags and slipped out into a doorway, where with inches of space, I took a gasp of air and wiped the sweat off my face. Then like a free diver I slipped back into the mass of moving bodies towards the noise. A cry went up, we raised our heads in unison. In my vertical strip of vision the narrow alleyway framed the side of the 6 metre Moorish King, gliding by in all his glory, resplendent in his turban. His wife just behind him. Another cry… another King, this time Christian and wearing a golden crown. We all cheered and tagged along behind the drummers and a huge spitting blue and orange dragon, like children following the pied piper. The kings and their dutiful wives went to the 17th century church of St. Bartomew and Santa Tecle on the hill, also called The Point, overlooking the bay and coast of Sitges, Spain. There the promenade opens out looking over the Mediterranean sea. The salty breeze licking the palm trees and the old stone walls of the church and white washed museum of Cau Ferret and Maricel. The church with it different height towers changes colour in the afternoon light, from soft tangerine to fuzzy peach.
Later as the morning heat and the firecrackers had subsided we ventured to the main modern square, Espana Plaza, to watch a different type of tradition. This time the throng of people was structured and deliberate. A circle of castellers dressed in white trousers and top with a sash of red or black. In the centre a tower of human beings was constructed with a network of hands over hands reaching and stretching, supporting. Like roots and branches of a living tree reaching for the sky. Then from the crowd a young child clambers up the tower, carefully, precisely, to stand trembling at the very top. The crowds cheer. What a view that child must have, the whole of the town literally at their feet. Then steadily down and down the tower melts away. The child somersaulting over the carpet of outstretched hands and into the tangle of bodies. The afternoon gives way to the evening, to fireworks over the sea and music like strong wine thumping through our bodies, through our souls.
Oh how I’d love to go back, to go back to that human contact, that collective feeling of being alive, of sharing an experience. To be next to others that you don’t know: you are just happy to exist together, shoulder to sweaty shoulder. After Covid it will be a simple pleasure to be back within the embrace of the human spirit.