Sunday, 17 May 2009

Chulapas, chotis and rosquillas

It's all thanks to San Isidro. Patron saint of farmers and of Madrid (about the least-agricultural place you can imagine) thanks to his divine ability to plough perfect furrows (helped by angels) and the spring that gushed forth to help him carry out a little resurrection in the (now) capital city. To celebrate, Madrid holds a big fiesta on the days around the 15th of May and this year, we joined in.

San Isidro is one of the most important bullfighting events in the world, with numerous corridas and the highlights all over the news. As you can imagine, this is one part of the festivities Theo and I declined. We've had numerous arguments with bullfighting fans about its merits, but are yet to be convinced. Pro-bullfighting Spaniards consider it an art and a display of great bravery on the part of the matador, but to me, it's still death for public spectacle, no matter how artistically or bravely achieved. Anyway, we gave it a miss.

The other aspects of the festival were a lot more to our taste. The business of dressing up in traditional Madrileno costume (chulapa or chulapo) to dance chotis, for example. The men's chulapos are fairly standard - black and white checked caps, white shirts with waistcoats - but the women's chulapas are gorgeous. Long, colourful dresses (especially red and white gingham) which flair out at the bottom in a big frill, white headscarfs topped of with red carnations and fringed shawls. The children in costume are just too adorable for words.

The choti involves the man standing on one heel, with the other toe used to steady himself while his partner slowly twirls him round, ideally to tunes from a barrel piano. Not the most dynamic form of dancing, but fascinating to watch. The men are supposed to appear arrogant (as well they might) while this is going on, but most of the septugenarians and octogenarians on the dancefloor only succeeded in looking a bit grumpy, while their ladies gyrated beamingly around them. We had the good fortune to witness a youngish couple in L-plates giving it a go, with three or four more experienced dancers offering instructions and demonstrations. Typically, this quickly degenerated into an enthusiastic argument between the instructors over the correct handhold, which only added to the entertainment.

If you're going to be serious about San Isidro, you have to get yourself up to Prareda de San Isidro, where the path is lined with stalls selling the classic traditional delicacies. Rather fabulously, these are basically pastries, doughnuts and biscuits of one sort or another. Rosquillas, listas, barquillos and churros - overall, a carbohydrate disaster. It was probably a good thing that Theo and I had not only breakfasted prior to our stroll along the parade, but were due to eat a delicious lunch cooked for us by David and Nataly shortly after, or we could easily have gorged ourselves into oblivion.

The pareda takes you to the ermita (hermitage) to honour the saint and, most importantly of all, the fuente - the place where San Isidro's spring springs. In view of things like the Mexican 'flu, we figured it would be a good idea to partake of a little free health insurance, so supped a generous glassful each. Very pleasant, too. Head and shoulders above the warm, sulphurous liquid we swallowed in Baden and the diluted blood-tasting stuff at Bath.

A free world music concert, Planeta Madrid, was the other event we patronised. We went on the Friday and Saturday night and saw Daniele Sepe & Brigata Internazionale (World Italo Disco - as gloriously naff and infectious as the name suggests); Lila Downs (Mexican songstress); Taraf de Haidouks (insanely fast Romanian gypsy tunes - somewhere between music and organised chaos) and Orchestre National de Barbes (Algerian/French - driving beats and preposterous dance moves. The band included a couple who looked like the Parisian equivalent of Morecambe and Wise, dressed up in Arab robes and turbans, the effect only improved by their thick-rimmed spectacles.)
The whole weekend has left us with this overriding impression: San Isidro rocks.


  1. Dear Kate and Theo,

    A little blog feedback.

    Firstly, 'least-agricultural' is not English.

    Perhaps using spellcheck might help a little.

    Decide if you're from the US or not.

    Learn how to use punctuation.

    I would be happy to edit or proofread your blog for a small liquid fee.

    Don't whine about bullfighting until you've been to one.


  2. Any chance of the proofreading job?

  3. thanks for the feedback! Pedantic comments made anonymously are always welcome.

    However we think we'll carry on whining about bull fighting without ever going to one. Likewise fox hunting, badger baiting, cock fighting, etc, etc