On Sunday, our group had the great fortune to be in Cadiz for La Noche de San Juan (night of St. John), a holiday celebrated throughout Spain, with special emphasis given in coastal cities.
In Cadiz, the standard protocol is for every neighborhood to make an often eerily realistic papier mâché representation of the Saint (and sometimes other people), which is placed on a metal platform in the middle of a local plaza. The sculptures are decorated with signs often bearing political messages. In these tough economic times in Spain, the messages were pretty acerbic – one, atop a papier mâché coffin, read something like “Here lies John, who died when he found out he had gotten a job.” Another said something like “The surgeons of Andalucia are out of work because there are no more workplace accidents.”
After building and displaying these sculptures in a central square, the neighborhoods turn out in droves to witness the main event–the massive, fiery destruction of said sculptures. The flames are large and their heat is easily felt everywhere within the line of sight. Firefighters are on hand, spraying wide plumes of water into the air to try to extinguish the glittering, papery ash that floats up throughout the square.
It is all over in a few short minutes, and then the square immediately empties, with all either headed home or on to another burn. After all the “Juanillos” (“little Johns”) have been burned, the crowds head to the beach for the fireworks that mark an end to the fiery portion of the evening.
Our path to the beach, through crowded and festive streets, led us down La Calle de las Palmas, a beautiful palm-lined street. Along the way, we were stopped by a marching band whose bandleader was a man dressed in a slinky black dress, a platinum blonde wig, and sunglasses. Our students, international wizards of fun that they are, kicked off an impromptu street dance party before we headed off to check out the fireworks.
This week promises to be exciting as well. Today we are headed to the Torre Tavira, a well-known tower from which one can see nearly all of Cadiz. They even have a camera obscura there (like a big pinhole camera) that will allow us to see minute, detailed, real-time views of Cadiz streets and landmarks.
Tonight the students will compete in a tapas contest, in which we (the lucky staff) get to be the judges of who makes the most delicious tapas.
-Christopher Romero Bond