South of Valencia, the birthplace of paella, lay many seaside towns which have changed over the last ten years. Commerce has crept in, taking away some of the magic that accompanies a beach environment. But these are the Spanish, after all, and despite an effort to keep up with the Euro-mentality, certain events are sacrosanct.
As fate would have it, Paloma, Chris and I decided to visit Alicante smack in the middle of a feria de San Joan. We had no reservations for the train or hotel, but after some Madrid-NY itinerary planning with Gaspar at Pata Negra, we scored a miraculous train ride to the beach. The vistas were captivating, as we were treated to a good old fashioned conversation about the merits of an authentic paella and the importance of Hannah Montana by a group of mature citizens who refused to let Paloma sleep. A couple of canas at the snack bar and we arrived in no time.
The whole city was preparing for the feast of San Juan, intricate costumes and impressive whimsically wooden statues erected with its purpose to be burned by the firemen in a finale called la crema. We got a harbor side suite at the Hotel Melia, and off we went to party in the streets. La barraca is an integral part of the celebration. Restaurants and bars set up on the streets, and families can reserve entire plots for private merrymaking. We feasted on sausages, fries, seafood and pork ribs while enjoying the parade of townsfolk young and old marching up and down the avenues. Bands, disc jockeys, dancing, drinking, eating – San Joan must have been a Bacchanalian sort. Gaspar’s pal Gustavo showed us a good time, and we whooped it up way past sunrise.
Alicante is known for its gelato like ice cream, which comes in hundreds of flavors and is often served with coffee. This and beer keeps one cool enough to withstand the beach heat, which is serious. The beaches aren’t crowded during the day, and just before I could get a real bronzing, Goose was shuffling us off to la bomba, which as it turned out sounded like World War III. The Spanish just blow stuff up for twenty minutes, creating sound so deafening and alarming that our heart rates rose, the small children clinging to their parents trousers and skirts from shock. The finale yielded thunderous excitement and appreciatory applause from the satisfied crowd, who soon after returned to not working for the day, and preparation for more partying, again all in honor of the dear Saint John. Rest is not an option during this festival, and the only respite we uncovered was an evening at Gaspar’s folks’ home in Noveldra, where a minor feast was prepared, washed down with local red and white wine. Six hours of conversation and dining, and I was headed to lala land, having been hosted in such tremendously gracious fashion by the Paya family. After a brief tour (I don’t remember a thing) of town, we were thrust into the streets of Alicante again for more mischief. The beaches were mobbed, and the streets filled to the gills. How could we resist? The next day we were back on a train to Madrid for the next leg of my journey, not without feeling remorseful about sucking all the marrow out of Alicante’s vibrant bones. Just as well, as I really needed a siesta.