The poster for
Carnaval 2001 shows a band of revellers outside Cádiz central market,
led by our two oldest residents, the Phoenician anthropoid sarcophagi. It also informs us
that the Carnival of Cádiz is of "international tourist interest" and runs from February 22
to March 4. Less than a month to go then.
So we've started already.
About a week ago, the bars around la casucha sprouted a companion poster, showing a
fetching couple sporting coordinated fig leaves. The snake entwining the pillar behind them
enhances the Adam and Eve motif, while the sea and the lighthouse transport them from the
Garden of Eden to the present-day Paradise of la Caleta beach. And, in place of an
apple, Eve's hand is cradling a bizarre green spiky object.
This is the poster for the 21st "Eriza" Popular.
At first, this was a tad confusing. Looking up erizo in the trusty dick'n'harry,
it seems to mean "hedgehog" and I'd never been clear why the street next to mine was home to
the Hedgehog Club (Peña el Erizo).
But, on more careful reading, an erizo del mar, a "hedgehog of the sea", is what we
Limeys would call a sea urchin. And probably push politely to the side of our plate.
So the party which "opens the doors to the most famous Carnival in Spain" was the sea urchin
festival (and its oyster companion in Plaza San Antonio) on Sunday January 21st, when,
according to ¿Que Hacer? ("What's On?"), "hundreds of dozens of oysters and urchins are
given away free and washed down with the good local wine."
This fiesta supposedly "begins on the 20th with a cake party". Though the streets
were filled with nascent bars and pregnant stages as I strolled round La Viña that
night, there was no sign of cakes or ale but, having embarked on a compensatory sherry-crawl,
I was informed by mine host, Jose that a party was taking place very soon, way over in
San Francisco Square.
How right he was. By the church, which is all that remains of a once-extensive convent, was
another of those stages that keep getting thrown up all over town. This stage was already
graced by a coro, giving it large.
The cafés opposite the Hotel were fitted with external bars, festooned with bottles
and beer taps, while, along Rosario, beginning at a counter outside O'Donnell's Irish Bar,
there stretched a cola — literally a tail, obviously a queue.
I strolled along it - it ended somewhere in the next province. I stood at the back. A woman
asked me if this was the queue for los pestiños?
"I don't know," I replied, adding, "I assume so," despite having no idea what she was talking
about. "When we English see a queue, we join it. We don't ask what it's for."
The queue moved forward steadily, people chatting as they went, quite happy to spend half the
evening crawling along a narrow street. Eventually we reached the counter, behind which
women were wrapping napkins round twists of fried pastry soaked in honey and handing them
to the revellers.
"Gracias," I said, taking one.
"Er ... Gracias." Someone else thrust another one into my hand.
This went on along the row until my refusals became firmer, my gestures indicating the number
I already had and the size of my post-Yuletide stomach. But then the B-team swung into action,
as a señora handed me a plastic shot glass of sweet (and powerful) anis liqueur.
This left me struggling to accept the plastic cup of coffee and obligatory sachet of sugar,
from the chicas dressed like airline cabin crew, which I was nonetheless obliged to do
before I could leave the line in search of a window ledge or other surface for my booty.
I ate my pestiños, delicious with their delicate hint of aniseed, washing them down
with my two small but powerful draughts. As it was now past midnight and but twelve hours
to the ostreal orgy, it seemed sensible to head for home and an early night.
A wise move... click on an urchin to read about it.