The Sardine Has Burned

The Electric Holy Road is hardly a straight one. It winds and turns back on itself and runs straight forward into blinding white uncertainty. A single trip can wind you up in a place you would never even have imagined existed. The pull of the Great Magnet (that which governs the path of us road-weary wanderers) will always ensure that you are drawn to the things you resist, just to teach you the important lessons that can only come from facing your basest malfunctions.

But still, I’m glad to be on it, no matter the crazy places it takes me, always embracing the change. For strange reasons that will only become clearer in time, the Magnet has decided to land me in the UK. It’s drawn me from the sweltering sun and wine-dampened dust of South-Eastern Spain to the rain-sodden and mossy south of England.

Though it tears me apart to leave my sun-bleached second home, I was blessed once again with a fiery farewell, this year finally able to catch the sardine go up in flames (more on that later), as well as the holy week and a half that so inspired me last year (which you can read all about in my post from 2017).

fruit sculpture in Murcia

So, where were we?

The last time I sat down and wrote a piece for Electric Holy Road was after my return from Portugal, a country which, despite the impossible rain blowing in from the Atlantic, quickly shot to the top of my list in terms of European destinations. In the long-short month since returning from Portugal, it seems like everything has changed. It feels as if years have passed. Before leaving, I was in a total slump, unable to see the future through a haze of go-nowhere job applications and uncertainty about my place in the Spanish speaking world. The trip’s goal of re-awakening my positivity, of getting me back on the Electric Holy Road, was definitely achieved… and the Magnet responded. With a single email job offer for Bonica, delivered a day after our return, our intertwined lives were thrown on a completely new path.

Since then, we spent our last weeks in Murcia eagerly packing and preparing for our move, collecting the necessary paperwork and saying goodbye to the city of citrus. The farewells were hard, but knowing that we would be no more than a few hours (and a couple hundred Sterling) away from “home” eased the process along. Though it still feels, only a week and a half later, that we have been ripped traumatically from comfort, we are already putting down new roots, organising and planning our triumphant return.

So yeah, that’s why I haven’t been posting a lot, lately. Missed me? ‘Course you did.

Jumilla, Murcia
A typically big sky in the Region Murcia

Another Holy Week

“You’ve really become a true Murciano,” says Bonica.

It was my second Holy Week, and I wasn’t really fussy either way. I had things to do, places to be, and though I did take my holy time to stand and embrace the passing thrones, I mostly ducked and dived strategically to avoid the parades on my way to more everyday meetings. Like the less-than-devout locals around, I had quickly become somewhat immune to the grandeur. Holy Week, with its pointy-hooded nazarenos, mountains of sweets and incredible tronos has become part of my blood, thanks to the culture-injection delivered by my six months in Murcia.

Still, when I did have the time to stop and look and listen, I couldn’t help being moved. Like last year, I found the rum-tum-tumming of the drums to be the most impressive aspect of an already moving event. We were also lucky enough, as our makeshift family unit, to find a seat at a restaurant from which we could marvel at the passing of Maundy Thursday’s silent and dark parade. Who could forget something like that? Bonica, her mum and I enjoying a simple dinner, as a parade of black-cloaked spirits stepped by to a solemn drum beat, all under the gaze of Murcia’s grand cathedral.

Semana Santa in Murcia
The Procession of Salzillo on the Saturday of Semana Santa draws one of the biggest crowds

Spring in my Step

After respect is paid during Holy Week, Murcianos let loose at the coming of Spring, revelling in the heat and green before work begins again. Bando de la huerta this year was set on a less scorching day, though I’m sure a few out there did get a bit roasted. My little entourage for the day was much bigger than it was during the previous year’s festival, so many new friends coming together to eat simple food under a thatched straw roof. There was plenty of wine, plenty of boiled snails and paparajotes, plenty of singing and drawing cartoons on the table cloth. Our group of sun-loving friends attracted eyes and attention during our lunch, thanks to the warm tones of Doctora Creativa singing. We were treated, in return, to the rusty sounds of a true huertano. A sun-hardened and squinting old gentleman approached us and sang a traditional song that I couldn’t understand, while leaving his calloused hand on my shoulder for the whole performance.

Of course, there’s always another side to these things, and seeing the absolute devastation of the street after the passing of the festival was gut-wrenching. Vomit on the pavement, men pissing in my local ATM booth, poison plastic litter as far as the eye could see. It was overwhelming, crushing, strangely uplifting. I hadn’t stayed out as late during last year’s festival, so left without seeing the mess to clean-up. Now that I have, I really understand a few things about city-wide parties. I feel like I’ve grown thanks to the mucky experience.

The Sardine is Buried

Last year, I sadly had to leave Murcia before seeing the Sardine buried. This year, I was given pride of place, able to view the night’s parade from the first floor balcony of a family friend. And when the Sardine finally went up in flames, I watched it with a heart open to the new life that was being born from the ashes.

Entierro de la sardina (literally: Burial of the Sardine) is a tradition seen across Spain, but most spectacularly in Murcia. It is a night celebrating prosperity, the passing of seasons, human greed and a small fish. It’s a fairly bizarre event, beginning with a parade through the heart of Murcia. Women on two-storey stilts stride by, colourful Bolivian folk-dancers jig and slightly daggy inflatable characters bob along after them. You know the primary parade is over when men, women and children begin to take out huge plastic bags and turn umbrellas inside out. The carrozas, huge ship-like floats each named for a Graeco-Roman/Viking deity, begin to rumble along in the glittery wake of the parade, and the world suddenly turns to chaos.

The carrozas are crewed by rather jolly (rather tipsy) troupes, who toss plastic tat out into the street for people to catch. Their boats are absolutely full of cheap, dollar store toys, which are emptied along the kilometres of the parade. The goal of the night for most on the street seems to be to collect all the toys possible, fighting, hitting, yelling and bawling for a bag full of disposable, brightly-coloured plastic. Naturally, the trash is hellish. The potential toxicity of the display is off-the-charts. But it is damn fun. For an hour or two, your world becomes colour and noise. The passing of the carrozas is like being in the centre of a tornado that has just swept up a large country fair and half of a Broadway costume department. There’s a joy in the struggle. There’s a horror in the battle. The sardine’s funeral really is something else.

Around two in the morning, the month of festivities was concluded with a couple hundred bangs. Bonica and I waited in the early morning cold for the Sardineros to pass in their pyjama-like costume and deliver the fiery end to Murcia’s great big stature of the sardine. With almost no warning, the beautifully made, red and gold pillar, went up in flames. We held each other, surrounded by hundreds of others, as we watched the sardine burn. Flames leapt high, smoke filled the night sky and the city waited with held breath. Finally, it collapsed in a painterly shower of sparks and my time in Murcia was at an end. We stayed like that, silent and thoughtful, for another half an hour as tonnes of fireworks exploded against a black and smokey sky.

The sardine burned, the sky came alight, and another season passed into the being. Another winter disappeared and a new future opened up. With the burial of the sardine, I buried the last six months of struggle, learning, eating, writing, living and burnt away all that which clung tattered to me. There is renewal in fire. There is hope in love. There is promise in a cold night’s fireworks. Whatever happens next, the burial of the sardine helped me realise the Electric Holy Road was still open to me.

Entierro de la sardina
Entierro de la sardina by yours truly, 2017, Copic Marker and Pencil on Paper

So… Where are we now?

I’m writing this post from one of the small workstations in the Reading Public Library. It’s a smashing day outside, warm and bright and clear, with a cheese festival open in the nearby park (I did succumb to some expensive nachos). My six-month Murcian adventure has wrapped up and my indefinite UK adventure is just beginning. There is a small lump bobbing at the bottom of my throat at the thought of that, filling with the heavy water of worry… I’ve always joked about my disdain for the constant rain, the sad sausages and the worn out empire of England, but the Great Magnet has deemed it time to deliver me here. I am beyond confident that the move will be worth it, but I’m still in the battling, surviving stage, dodging questions from Brits asking me “bah! You could live in Australia. Why are you here?”

I’m here because it’s the next step on the Electric Holy Road. It’s the will of the Great Magnet and my choice to get out and see the world alongside my best friend. I’m here because I need more material for my blog, and because I’d probably, sadly, get paid a bit more for my work here than in Spain. My second home is hardly far away either way. It’s a hop across the pond, really.

I must admit though, I’m feeling incredibly homesick for Murcia. There is another lesson in that pain: The recognition that I only miss things once they’re gone instead of embracing them properly while they are there. Luckily, this important revelation has come to me at the very beginning of this next stage. From now on, I will be treasuring my future memories before they are even born. One day, the sardine of Reading will burn (or maybe that’ll be “the haddock of Reading”, something a bit more British) and I will move on. I am determined to miss this place with as much heart as I now do Murcia, as I still do Adelaide. Now I’m back on the Electric Holy Road, back to living my best life, I’m sure it will be much easier to bury the unspecified-small-fish when the time comes.

A house on the waterfront, foregrounding office blocks. Typical Reading.

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