I know, I know, I have written about the Ituren carnivals many times before (see links below) but the reaction is so raw, so overwhelming each single time we participate that I feel compelled to put it down. They are not my people, I am from a ‘middle-class’ Birmingham suburb with Accessorise and John Lewis down the end of road – but when the Joaldunak of Ituren ( Javier, Lazaro, Juan Mari, Imanol …) pass by in solemn, rhythmic file, this primordial dirge of the bells seems to thump at some collective sub-consciousness in us all.
Well, not quite. My young Joaldunak of a daughter (whose head had already bobbed away to the step of the Joaldunak on her father’s shoulder as he danced around the maternity ward with her ten years ago) seems to feel nothing at all! As I hold on to the puzzling emotions of a Brummy in Ituren, Marion is dragging me hysterically over garden walls and flower beds, to escape the bear!
However, Izaskun, another mother from the village school, remembers the feelings of awe and excitement she had as a young child when she would wake suddenly in the middle of the night to the sound of the bells and, rushing to the window, discern through lace curtains, the dark silhouettes of the Joaldunak in the street. In those days there were far fewer Joaldunak, the costumes and bells were costly and many would have to wear normal work clothes and Basque berets. However, the magic wrought by the Joaldunak is like a timeless elastic thread that when pulled, concertinas past into present and present into past.
By about five o’clock when all the moxorroak; demons and witches, have limped back to their lairs and the plaza is left covered in muck, flour, hay and possibly the odd entrails of some dead animal (I am still coming to terms with this year’s dead rabbit (as, I am sure, is a small girl in a checked clowns costume and green wig)), the villagers of Ituren have a huge feast in the ganbara of the town hall. Yes, the atmosphere here is euphoric, elated and raucous, there are muscular Basque lumberjacks in miniskirts, women in their pyjamas, but the Ituren carnival has something unique – totally its own.
What? In some ways the emotion over lunch is the antithesis of the solemn and visceral stirrings summoned by the bells – and yet in other ways it is similar. There is a huge sense of oneness, of equality, of acceptance – a collective sub-consciousness that draws from a time before we were man or woman, black or white, Joaldunak or Moxorroak, Iturengoa or Brummy and, as I wipe the muck from my jeans with typical British distain, I believe it is the only place I have ever felt that I really belong.
I have no doubt that my little Basque Marion, who dreams now of a life in England, of a life without bears and gore, of Laura Ashley sofas and white carpets, will return home one day to her Ituren carnivals and feel the same way too.
Other posts on the Ituren carnivals: