1/23/2006

Oysters, Fiestas, and Fun... Oh My! [JANUARY 22, 2006]

According to the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, Cádiz has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at over 30%. Property values here are also ridiculously over-priced (The average two bedroom apartment goes for about €180,000, or $220,000). As a result of these two factors, most young people throughout the city are forced to live with their parents well into their thirties. But it’s not only the budding adults that share that same roof... Often times Gran’Ma and Gran’Pa have no choice but to live there as well. This all implies, of course, that there are usually three generations of Gaditanos (as the people of Cádiz are called) crammed into the same stuffy apartment. The twenty-five year old male in the household definitely gets it the worst when it comes to these living arrangements. If he wants to call in some girlie action after a long night of bar-hopping and flirting, he has to wake up his kid sister and grandmother – whom he probably shares a bedroom with – and tell them to wait outside in the living room while he and his new romantic interest try to do the horizontal mambo as quickly and quietly as possible. That is, of course, if he hasn’t opted for the always popular dimly-lit park-bench or beach-side option. Poor bastard. I’d put a bullet through my head if I were him.

But pessimism doesn’t seem to be in the nature of a Gaditano. When life looks down on them and hands them yet another job application rejection, mortgage refusal, or denial by Granny to leave the bedroom at two in the morning, a Gaditano will just smile back at them all and do what comes most naturally... fiesta! That’s right. Party, party, party. The folks down here don’t seem to know how to do much else and seeing as most of them don’t have a job anyway, nothing seems to stop them from partying at all hours of the day. At night they fiesta until dawn with friends and colleagues while during the sunlit hours they do it with those nearest and dearest to them – Granny and that little kid sister. Fiesta, it appears to this foreign observer, is the Gaditano’s most prized panacea.


I know what'll solve our economic woes... FIESTA!!!

The King of all Fiestas, however, is none other than Carnaval. No other city on the Iberian Peninsula celebrates this ten-day bash with more bangs, ballads and booze. Some people take off from work (at least those that have a job do) during the entire period as others hardly step foot in their homes for an solid week. There’s always something to be celebrated, and drunk, in the streets. In fact, there is so much drinking and revelry going on during Carnaval that the first Monday after the weekend when it kicks off is a local public holiday – officially titled Lunes de Resaca, or Hangover Monday – when all banks, schools, and offices alike are legally closed for business. If there’s one thing a Gaditano is most fond of celebrating when it comes to his or her city, apart from perhaps a victory from the local football club C.F. Cádiz (see ¡óE, el Fútbol! [JUNE 26, 2005]), it’s Carnaval and they’re not ashamed to do it all out. There’s only one problem though. Carnaval only comes around once a year and, according to my calendar, is nearly a month and a half away.

But a little technicality like five weeks is nothing to fret about. The Gaditanos have it covered. Why wait for the official Carnaval at the end of February when the city can throw a pre-Carnaval fiesta in the middle of January? Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done this past weekend. On Saturday night there was a little warm-up fiesta called Pestiñada where the city gave away these little fried pastries called pestiñas (which, frankly, I find disgusting) and a shot of an anise-based liqueur. That fiesta was held in the same square as, and simultaneously to, the official welcoming of this year’s "Goddess of Carnaval" contestants. After they did their little stroll in the spotlight and each potential Goddess had been properly introduced, the judges packed up and the twenty- and thirty-somethings soon took over the square, as usual, with their weekly outdoor drinking fiesta Botellón. (I haven’t gotten around to writing an article about that local phenomenon yet but one is coming soon.) Either way, one square down the road, the city employees were busy setting up what would be the true pre-Carnaval fiesta of the weekend – Sunday’s day-long Ostionada, or Oyster Fest.


Preparing the stage for Oyster Fest 2006... It's gonna rock!


And the morning of...
"I've been waiting all day. I hope this year's bands don't SUCK."

By the time my girlfriend and I arrived at Ostionada on Sunday, the first chorus/band had already played and finished and the line leading to the official city stands – full of free beer, glasses of sherry, pickled peppers and, of course, plastic plates piled high with raw oysters and lemon wedges – was already as far as the eye could see. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. We decided to pass on the free oysters and booze this time and went over to a private stand where I bought a large cerveza for half the price they would normally be selling it. As for the oysters, we figured we would try them another day. There was a lot of cheap beer to drink and, as far as my girlfriend was concerned, loads of pictures to take. As she ducked in and out of the crowds happily snapping away, I stood in the middle of the square contently sipping from my cold cup and listening to the current chorus. I lifted my eyes and looked around. Loads of people (15,000 by today’s newspaper estimates) stood with their families and friends. Some were drinking from glasses while others were slurping from shells. The booze was ridiculously cheap – even free if you were willing to wait long enough in a queue – and the food was plentiful. Good cheer filled the jubilant atmosphere. It was just like Carnaval. I knew this was a true fiesta, if anything, because Granny and the little sister had tagged along too. A real fiesta in the spirit of Carnaval isn’t just for unemployed people in their twenties and thirties who still live at home, it’s for the whole family. Its’s a time for all generations and all loved ones, regardless of age or occupational status, to drink loads of cheap alcohol and slurp down tons of raw seafood to the point of vomiting from food-poising – and to do it together. It almost brought a tear to my eye as my girlfriend eventually found me in the crowd and said, "I got a great picture of this drunk guy at a stand trying to pry open some oysters!"


"That better be an oyster between your legs, mister."


This guy definitely isn't a Gaditano...
"Why the hell did I spend two hours in line for OYSTERS?!?"

We stayed at Oyster Fest for most of the afternoon and, as far as I can recall, it was the only time siesta didn’t seem to occur in the south of Spain. First 3 o’clock, then 4 and 5, all came and went without the slightest hint of the masses getting restless and heading home. I suppose when it comes to having to choose between siesta and fiesta – especially one where there’s free stuff to be had – the latter always wins out. We, however, had had our fill by then. My girlfriend took her last few shots of Gaditanos and their event as I ordered one last beer and drank it... soon to be homeward bound.


Everyone has the right to a little pre-CARNAVAL fun, even the good ol' room mates


"Hey guys, I hope we don't stay too long.
You know I DO have school tomorrow."

We only re-emerged from our cozy abode hours later, after the sun had set, in order to go and meet some friends for our traditional Sunday night game of Scrabble and chess. As we crossed the square where Ostionada had begun all those hours ago, we were surprised to see that there were still some fiesta-revelers – again mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings – going strong. (Who am I kidding? We weren’t surprised in the least to see them still there!) They were still slurping away and drinking merrily, and would most likely continue doing so well into the wee hours of the night. After all, they probably didn’t have any job to go to in the morning and Gran’Ma would happily be keeping the bedroom’s midnight oil burning. The only person they’d have to be careful not to wake while stumbling home drunk was the little sister – she’s one of the few people in the household who actually has to do something in the morning and go to school.


When there's free beer to be had, who knows how long the fiesta can last?

As for now, the only hard part for the Gaditanos is that they’ll have to wait until the end of February to experience Carnaval again. They actually have to wait for the real thing this time. That is, unless of course there’s another pre-Carnaval in the not too distant future... Anyone who knows the locals and knows how fiesta courses through their veins won’t be surprised to hear that there is. Next week’s city-sponsored weekend festival is Erizada, or Sea-Urchin Fest. As far as I’m concerned, a fiesta in honor of, and which serves, sea urchins is not something that deserves celebrating. But then again, when you haven’t worked in three years, can’t get your girlfriend past the bedroom door or Granny, and your kid sister wakes you up each and every morning as she gets ready for school – you need SOMETHING to occupy you from between now and Carnaval ...And a fiesta in honor of those thorny bottom-feeding invertebrates seems like just the thing to do it.

11 comments:

hippo_pepperpot said...

"That better be an oyster between your legs, mister."

ha ha ha ha ha... priceless pic!!!!

Chiri said...

Someone should tell the gaditanos about 'moteles' or 'hotelitos'. Most Latin American countries have these 'love hotels' renting rooms out by the hour, catering precisely to people who have nowhere else to go when they need, er, privacy. Maybe there's a business opportunity in there somewhere?!

euro-trac said...

Thats great! - I would love to live in Spain...
Oh Yes... I remember you now!! You're the one with 'THE'
T-Shirt!? Very Funny!!!!! :-)

Lisa said...

Mmmmm... Oysters! Great story!

J said...

I've been meaning to make it down there for a while for Carnival, but haven't yet. Please take photos so we can see what it's like. I go to Viareggio (Italy) for Carnival. Here in Germany, it's mainly a drinking holiday (as are most).

Ms Bees Knees said...

OMG... i could eat raw oysters [with lemon, salt, pepper and a shot of tabasco sauce]until i puked. soooo good. mm!

Angie said...

Ditto to Hippo's comment about the oyster photo!

And Gran'Ma's photo, also priceless.

I saw a really cheesy movie once about an American who moved to Spain and hooked up with a guy at a bar, and went back to his place to mambo. If I remember correctly, they were, ahem, underway when the woman realized one of the man's older female relatives was sleeping in the same room. Horror! Maybe he was Gaditano?

christina said...

Mmmmm...oysters. NOT. But any excuse for a party, eh? Granny looks just thrilled to be there.

BTW - in my mid-morning stupor I just read the last sentence of your post as "And a fiesta in honor of those horny bottom-feeding invertebrates..."

Better go get some more coffee!

Lori said...

Woow...free beer and parting in the streets!!!

FREE BEER??.....You might to keep that hush hush....LOL

Have a great day!!!!

Thomas Hewitt said...

wait wait wait WAIT.



free beer?

what's your address again?

GC PHILO said...

Hey Thomas, didn't I go to college with you? You drunken bastard, you!