Wednesday, 20 February 2008

San Sebastian

Parte Vieja, becalmed

On the Cercania from Irun a party of yellow-shirted teenagers, all intoxicated, were crumbling hash into a cigarette paper. It was nearly eight in the morning. We thought they were returning from a nightclub in Irun: in Europe there are often big parties in small frontier towns. I don't know why. The queasy, artificial smell segued into another fog of boozy breath.

It took some time to establish what was happening in San Sebastian. It was the day of the regatta which brings the Basque Games to its rumbunctious, Sidra-drenched climax. From all the towns of Guipuzcoa poured forth teams and their fans. The yellow shirts were but four of ten thousand, and that ten thousand only a quarter (or so) of a throng of primary colours which cut sharp patterns against the weathered stone of the Parte Vieja. Moreover, it was raining, a fine Atlantic mist by which I would have been less surprised to be cloaked in Dunoon, Ilfracombe, or Aberdyfi. Dark skies made the narrow streets even more claustrophobic.

By a little after eleven- on the twenty-four hour clock- everybody was pretty much drunk. There had been a run on the local cider, acrid and carmine, which was vended in long glass bottles. Perhaps not coincidentally, the stretched, swannish stems of the bottlenecks were ideally suited to the improvisation of petrol bombs. Having visited this town before, we were attuned to the seditious buzz which precedes trouble. Soon enough, the Ersaintza riot squads were out in the streets, swinging batons and firing rubber bullets. As it is invariably wise to do in these situations, we took ourselves away from the commotion for a bacon & cheese sandwich and a can of coke.

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