Saturday, January 23, 2010

Drumming the Day Away!

As you might remember from last year, January 20th is San Sebastián Day here. Last year it was quite a party and this year was the same, but this time around I looked into the history a little bit to figure out why I was having such a big party!

In 1597, a plague struck Donostia and the desperate townspeople prayed to Saint Sebastian to cure the illness. By some miracle, the plague ended and the people of the town promised to always honor the Saint on January 20th. During this time, Donostia was actually occupied by the French military and because at the time it was a walled city, the Basque and French lived side by side. Within the walls, there were only two fountains to get water from, Kanoletan and Koxkax, and to get water, you had to be either a Frenchman, a cook or a woman. As you can imagine, the lines became pretty long, and what do you do Basque people do when they are standing in a long line? Sing and make music. All they had were their water barrels and the chefs had their ladles, so there we have the music of Tamborrada! The French didn't appreciate the noise so much and would in turn play on their barrels, causing a sort of competition.

Nowadays the tradition lives on. At midnight on the night of the 19th, the izada takes place. This is the flag raising in the Plaza de la Constitución that is accompanied by Basque songs played on the drums. The majority of the stage are dressed in chef outfits and traditional Basque peasant dress and the rest wear costumes typical of the French army at the time. All of the songs, created by a Basque named Raimundo Sarriegui, are played at the ceremony and it seems every Basque person knows every word. The most important song is called the March of San Sebastián. For fun, to show you how incredibly different the Basque language is, I will show you some of the lyrics of this tune.

We are!
gu (e)re bai
We are here!
gu beti pozez, beti alai!
We are always happy, always cheerful!

Sebastian bat bada zeruan There is a Sebastian in the heavens
Donosti bat bakarra munduan
The only one San Sebastian in the world
hura da santua ta hau da herria
He is a Saint and this is his village
horra zer den gure Donostia! Here in our town of San Sebastian!

Gaurtandik gerora penak zokor
a From this day forward, all our worries go away
Festara! Dantzara!
It's time to party! It's time to dance!
rei oihu egitera gatoz Let's call all of the people of Donostia
Happy ones!
Inauteriak datoz
Come to the party!

Now, you can imagine that this is quite difficult to sing, but with every in the crowd singing and the drums pounding so hard you can feel it in your chest, you don't even care that you don't know the words. The party starts at midnight and for the next 24 hours, there is not a single moment that is not filled with drums. At some point during every second, there is a group parading around a neighborhood playing the songs of the day.

The most impressive drummers come out at noon the next day at the Tamborrada Infantil. More than 5,000 children, who have been practicing for months, line up and tocar los tambores - play the drums. The parade seems like a never-ending line of kids, each school wearing a different outfit, but playing united. My hat is off to the kids, who every year march for hours, last year in the rain, this year luckily with a sunny sky.

Shame as it is, I had to work on the 20th, because in Hondarribia it is not a festival day. Extremly tired from partying the night before til about 6:30am, I dragged myself to work and probably wasn't the most exciting teacher that day. Just when I thought I was too tired to do anything else, I decided I should finish the festival out the right way and go see the arriada, the flag-lowering. Just as big of a ceremony as the raising, I arrived early and got a place directly in front of the stage. As the clock struck 12, the entire Plaza was silent and after the ringing of the 12 bells, the music commenced with dancing, drumming, marching and of course the crowd singing! Even though I didn't know the words well, I knew some of them and knew when to clap my hands to the drum beats.
The chefs and French men of this performance all belonged to the Unión Artesana, one of the societies here in San Sebastian. Only men are allowed in these societies, and they were started as a way for men to experiment with gastronomy. To this day, Basque Country is know as one of the best eating places in thh world, and the Unión Artesana is the oldest cooking society in town. Dressed in thier chef outfits, they each carried a huge piece of cutlery, with which they pounded the stage floor to the beat of the music while parading around the stage. The French men, in full uniform, march around with their weapons and tools. The Basque women, who are family of the society members are allowed in on the party in their traditional costumes.

After Basque song after Basque song, I didn't want it to end, but after 30 minutes of drumming it did and I headed home, still hearing the songs in my head. Luckily I got a small encore as a troop of chefs was parading down the main street in my neighborhood and for one more time I got to clap along, sporting my own chef hat!

Muxu! (Kisses in Basque)

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