Early yesterday morning as I puffed up the winding, country road to Fornalutx, a nearby mountain village, I heard a toot toot from a battered old car coming down the hill. ‘Get a move on, lazy bones!’ a man grinned from the window. I shot a glance, long enough to clock it was Llorenç, a local tradesman. Running past the builder’s merchant, two men on a tractor waved me over. One was the brother of a Majorcan friend, the other had worked on our land. ‘Coming to the fiesta tonight?’ they both asked.
Fifteen minutes into my run, at seven in the morning, the whole valley seemed to be awake. Passing a nearby field I lazily stopped in my tracks to watch three old farmers singing a Majorcan ballad and practising their gloses, traditional bawdy songs cum poems, with the assistance of a ximbomba. This bizarre instrument consists of a terracotta pot covered in taut goat hide with a bamboo stick wrapped in a wet cabbage leaf thrust through its midriff. When the stick is moved up and down it makes a rather obscene sound rather like that of a flatulent bull or someone blowing an exceptionally large raspberry. I passed the time of day with the merry minstrels before once again setting off on one of my pre-marathon runs.
In the sunny and noisy village plaça I was greeted by Juan Alberti, the mayor and his deputy Toni. Both were putting up trestle tables and covering them with coloured paper cloths in preparation for the week long fiesta. Juan took me through the programme, politely ignoring the perspiration coursing down my face and tee-shirt. From a café my chum Marco appeared to give me a hug and a bit of animo in advance of the race. ‘Forty two kilometres? Madre mia! We’ll have the cava on ice when you return from Cologne.’ Paca, owner of the village bar, exchanged kisses. ‘See you tonight for the fiesta? Remember we’ve got dancing and performing horses.’ How could I resist?
As I ran through the village and back down the hill, my journey was peppered with cheery shouts, waves and toot toots from locals on their way to work. It had me reminiscing about the beloved children’s radio show Toy Town. Was this its Majorcan equivalent, perchance?
And by the time I arrived home an hour later, refreshed, chirpy and desperate for a shower, I realised how very lucky I was to be part of such a friendly and vibrant community. The economy might be gloomy and many here are struggling to make ends meet, but everyone rallies round and nothing will stop the fiestas, the symbol of cohesion in our valley.
To be embraced by the locals and included in their daily social activities with such kindness and warmth is a privilege that I acknowledge every day. I’ll always be a foreigner in a new land, but it matters not a jot because this really has to be as good as it gets.
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