Street life

12 May 2009

Festival program

Late spring, roses the size of cabbage heads blooming everywhere in Jaén. On Thursday, largely unannounced, you started to see strangely costumed people appear in the city center, mimes, red balloons, shabby fairy wings, juggler’s pants, living statues. There were dreadlocks & the faint, wafting smell of marijuana, & mangy dogs, & Jaén, which is usually buttoned-up & disapproving, felt briefly like a different city entirely.

I was taking a walk in the sun near the Plaza de Constitución & stumbled onto the program, which was being handed out by girls in black costumes (reproduced above; La arte toma la calle means Art takes to the streets!), & ended up in the late sunlight standing beneath the awning of the Bar del Pósito (plaza photographed here; the bar’s out of frame to the left) with a bottle of Cruzcampo in hand, where La Batukada played a Spanish-inflected mix of Afrobeat, reggae, salsa, etc. – lots of group singing, call & response, center stage filled with drum, a saxophonist & trombonist & electric guitar.

The plaza was full of hippies, old men, and, in the center, right in front of the small stage, around 30 little kids, who spent the entire show staring straight at the performers in a kind of wonder & dancing their hearts out – one girl in glasses & a red velvet dress kept doing sevillanas, while the band sang about marijuana – hierba buena – & street performers drank cheap red wine out of cardboard containers.

I’ve said it didn’t feel like the same city, and I’m having a hard time making clear what I mean – it felt like somewhere nearer the coast, sun-drenched, somewhere with tourists to gawk at the locals & itinerant musicians & the sorts of people who later would be dancing barefoot on a barstool at the Bódegon. Maybe the word I’m looking for is lively, which for all Jaén’s good points rarely applies.

At any rate, what I liked most about it was the kids – that typically Spanish juxtaposition of outdoor drinking, pleasure-loving youth, & families out on the town for the evening. You see the same kids playing in the marble-tiled alleys outside of the bars by the cathedral all of the time, invariably in jumpers or tiny boat shoes.

Of course, I didn’t have my camera with me – a 35mm with no flash doesn’t work at night, and it’d been close enough to sundown when I’d left home that I hadn’t brought anything with me. You’ll have to imagine the expression on their faces.

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