It is the day that only the villagers know about, (and me) and last year I got it terribly wrong!
This is the private day of the Joaldunak – the mythical, pagan, carnival personality of our village of Ituren. This is the day they make their personal pilgrimage to our mountain farms in honour of their ancestors. But today there are no coaches, no television cameras, no tourists just my neighbours hurriedly preparing mushroom tortillas, and pintxos of spicy sausage and sheep’s’ cheese. Bottles of cider are uncorked as the Joaldunak approach, and the deep dirge of the bells reaches a crescendo in the oak trees at the bottom of the track.
Sheep’s skins, lace petticoats, whips and bells.
As an English woman living here among the Joaldunak it is a great honour to be part of this event. For the handful of special guests who join me for this Walking and Basque Pagan culture week (in which this event is pivotal) few have not been visibly viscerally moved.
SO: when guests from all around the world had booked their flights to join me for this ceremony, you can imagine that the most I can do is get the date right! You can imagine the horror when Juanito explained that (due to a misleading calculation in the lunar cycle), the dates had been changed! How the hell do you face your clients after that????
What happened next is without doubt, the greatest honour ever bestowed on me during the 10 years that I have lived here. When the Joaldunak leaders learned that I had ‘metido la pata’ as they say in Spanish, the troop of Joaldunak rallied around me. (Lazaro rushed back from San Sebastian), Juanito, Javier, Pello, José Ramon, Juanjo all donned their bells and sheep’s skins. Sagrario put on a huge comida popular at her home, roasting the lamb on the spit outside the farmhouse, while her husband, Ignacio and brother-in-law, Luis, put on the bells for the first (and last) time in 25 years. Visual tears of pride as the bells were strapped to their broad 50-year-old backs. Musicians came up from the village and over 40 people came together that day to stage an enormous ceremony just so that I (La Inglesa) would not lose face in front of my clients.
As this wonderful fiesta drew to a close, the last words of the Bertsolaris (Basque bards) over their sloeberry liqueurs were GEORGINA; DON’T FORGET THAT NEXT YEAR (2012) El DIA DEL JOALDUNAK IS THE 22nd SEPTEMBER!
There are still a few rooms left on this walking holiday 16th – 23rd September and the experiences of the Basque culture this week will be absolutely unique for anyone who comes.