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Though November arrived in the pueblo some weeks ago, summer stayed put. Like an old friend overstaying his welcome he wouldn’t budge. Despite all the hints. We were still fond of him, but we longed for the autumn rains to come and wash him away. He’ll be very welcome to come back next year. Preferably, following spring. The dusty trails he kept leaving all over our flat had started to annoy. And then there was the stink. That was the last straw. The drains in the bathroom had begun to smell awful. We knew it had something to do with him hanging around them all the time.
When a weekend storm blew halfway through the month, we thought we’d seen the back of him, but his beaming face was back by Tuesday, as though nothing had happened. He must’ve sensed the chill that had developed over the breakfast table each morning. A frosty atmosphere that lasted long after the breakfast things had been cleared away. But he just wouldn’t go. Something told us summer wasn’t going to leave without putting up a struggle.
And then the first cruel cold snap came. We woke one morning to find summer had left without so much as a goodbye. Though the winds began to bite, I can’t say I wasn’t relieved to be able stash my shorts, T-shirt and sandals away till next year. Nevertheless, I have to admit, I began to miss the glowing smile of summer greeting me each morning not long after he disappeared out the door. We had to remember to close it again, in case winter tried to slip in. You don’t want to invite winter back into the house; he can be even harder to evict.
Since summer left, we still haven’t seen enough rain to encourage the beautiful display of wildflowers we usually see in the run-up to Christmas. And with most shops restaurants and bars closed for the winter, the narrow lanes and alleyways of the old barrios of the pueblo seem amost deserted. Takes some getting used to after all the hustle and bustle of the tourist season. Things weren’t always that way.
When I first came to Conil, more than fifteen years ago, the festive season used to bring groups of singers into to the bars and restaurants of the old town. Back then, most evenings would find them packed with fishermen and other locals. The singers regaled the throngs with Andalucian Christmas carols, or villancicos. These are accompanied by instruments fashioned from stuff you’d find in most Spanish kitchens. An earthenware kitchen pot, piece of muslin and a thin cane are assembled to form a zambomba. Like something in between a percussion and string instrument, the vibration of the stick caused by stroking it up and down with a wet hand produces a haunting sound that is hard to describe. An even more simple instrument is the empty anis bottle with its mock cut glass surface which is played by running a metal spoon down its sides. More often than not, the audience will join the villancicos with the rhythmic clapping common to flamenco.
But the communities of the cramped alleys and lanes of fishermen’s barrio, where we used to live, are swiftly fragmenting, as more and more families sell up to wealthier city dwellers as weekend retreats. They usually move to the outskirts, as we had to. But along with the former inhabitants of the barrio, go the ancient cultures and traditions that have evolved over countless centuries.
Already, the Reyes Magos, or Three Kings, are gradually being shifted aside by Coca Cola’s version of Santa Claus, as bearers of Christmas gifts. Only the other morning, while buying a loaf in a local grocers I frequent, I heard a man ask a small child if he was looking forward to Los Reyes Magos bringing gifts on Twelfth Night. The boy answered quickly: “Y Papá Noel”. He seemed far more excited by the arrival of one old man in the guise of Father Christmas carrying a sack bulging with plastic toys and nicknacks than he was by three old men bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh. Where’s the excitement in that? What modern child wants boring old gold, frankincense and myrrh for Christmas? What? gold, frankincense and myrrh? Again?
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