We, tourists, usually choose known places in Spain like Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, maybe Valencia. And there is nothing wrong; it does not prove that your cultural knowledge is lower. No matter what are your choices, today I am inviting you to broaden your horizons and look closer to the map, so you could pay attention to a s
mall town named Jaca in Northwestern part of Spain. The town, which incorporates part of Camino de Santiago (St. James Way or Route of Santiago de Compostela) distinguishes in one special celebration on a first Friday of May. Don’t forget that “J” in Spanish is pronounced like “H” and “C” like “K”, so the name of the town sounds H-A-K-A.
Killed by curiosity, I am starting to pack in order to see with my own eyes what’s so special about that celebration.
We get into the train heading to Zaragoza and, the rest of the trip continues by car. Another option could have been by bus. In general the trip takes around 4 hours and excitedly I promise to myself not to miss any detail of the trip.
One begins to understand that he is getting closer to the town, when spectacular mountain arise in front of the eyes. It is “Monte Oroel” greeting you and welcoming to enter beautiful medieval town Jaca. The mountain is one of the first natural reservations that the Governments started to protect in 1920. The height of the mountain reaches 1.770 meters and is visible practically from why point in the town. I am being drawn by the form of the mountain which reminds me rectangle layed down horizontally, meanwhile the local people tell that the form reflects the upside down boat. Of course, all depends on the personal point of view and there are no limits for imagination.
Image by Jorge A. Pousa on www.mapio.net
I am convinced that “Monte Oroel” just has to have a legend and after searching for a while in internet I discover a story about the dragon that lived in a cave located in the northern part of the mountain. The dragon was killed by the brave warrior from Jaca, who by showing the mirror to the beast, created false impression that there is another dragon in front of him. Possessed by the instincts, the monster opened his jaws, so he could kill the enemy and, meanwhile, the brave warrior pierced his throat with the spear. This is how ungracefully the dragon died and I started to contemplate that people from Jaca must be really brave and smart.
We reach Jaca when it is already dark, I fall asleep immediately and dream about fearless steal plated warriors, flying dragons, wild nature and this is how comes the first Friday of May. The alarm clock rings at 7am and I am unwillingly getting out of bed in order to understand why I have to suffer this torture. Homefolks are insisting on wearing the worse clothes because whole morning I will be sinking in the smoke of the fires, it will be something like barbeque a la Jaca. Well, well, well…barbeque at 7am? Worse clothes? This does not sound promising. Probably my worst clothes are too good for this adventure, because I am given additional sweater.
We get into a van like refugees and my attention is being drawn by a green little baby bathtub full of sangria. I am explained that a baby is not yet born and there was no other container to carry this amount of liquid. The bathtub is not covered, so the driver arms himself with patience and thanks to the good driving skills we successfully reaching the barbecue place next to the cemetery. Cemetery?
According to the legend, in 758 armed Muslim forces were trying (emphasis on “only trying”) to conquer Jaca. Locals, led by count Aznar Galíndez, were fighting fiercely and was about to lose hope and surrender. At that moment, when men wanted to give up, women from Jaca appeared dressed like warriors and armed with kitchen appliances. When Muslims saw additional army they got scared and ran away. This fight took place in Victoria’s plain next to the cemetery and that is why Jaca people gather here every first Friday of May to honor this fight (www.jaca.es).
In addition to baby bathtub full of sangria, beer and wine is delivered as well – the feast begins. Special table is built, electric cooker appears on it – eggs are fried and I am eating them with bread, it is been a while since I last time ate something more delicious. Meanwhile, enormous frying pan is placed on fire and “migas” (small pieces of dry bread) are being prepared. Also ribs, sausage called “butifarra”. Everything drowns in a bitter smoke and I am starting to realize why there was so much talk about necessity to wear the worst clothes.
Eventually, earl arrives; solemn salutation is given by shooting from the guns, which are mastered by men wearing flower hats. This is something unique and incredible.
After few hours, the celebration moves to the city center (people must in approximately one hour to pack, come back home, have a shower and change). I am rushing so much that I do not even drink coffee and my friends already waiting for me impatiently in a corridor and I understand from their eyes that they forgive my “slowness”. Of course, they have been practicing this marathon for years and for me it is just a first try.
I pull myself together only in a crowd of people waiting for solemn parade which imitates people from Jaca coming back from the fight with Muslims. Earl marches the first, followed by warriors and women who “participated” in a battle. Curious thing is that if for a woman any warrior appears attractive, she gives him a carnation flower, which he carries in a mouth. If by the end of the parade, the man gives back the flower to the woman who gave it, that means that the attraction is reciprocal. Isn’t it a perfect way to find out the feelings? I am starting to like the originality of Jaca people.
The parade is finalized by astonishing hymn sang by the little ones and the big ones, some of them even jumping. The melody of the hymn is joyful, uplifting, it does not remind the sad moments which are inevitable in a field of the battle. I notice that the people are proud and love their city. For one moment, I start missing Lithuania, I would like that Lithuanians could be as joyful about their country as people here.
Here is a short excerpt:
¡Viva España! ¡Viva Aragón!
Marchad alegres sin desmayo;
celebrad el Viernes de Mayo;
One of the most interesting traditions, which I have never seen before is “jotas” procession. In its nature “la jota” is traditional Spanish dance with castanets, however here people meet in agreed place, normally a square, few men with stringed instruments similar to mandolinas start creating the melodies and people around starts singing. Women voices are dominant. Like this was not enough, the people starts moving through the streets of old town, stopping next to the bars and the women bring beer, wine, snacks so that the singers could relax and improve their voices. This procession lasts more than one hour and some people stays celebrating till the dawn.
On my way home I feel that part of my heart stays in Jaca. I was impressed by the strong sense of community and solidarity, the people there are brave, positive, loyal and hospitable.
I am happy to find this little pearl in the North Western part of Spain.