Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Health and Safety, anyone?

The summer solstice having come and gone, the days will start to get progressively shorter but we still have a lot to look forward to. On Thursday it is the fiesta de San Juan when bonfires are lit all over the place and jumped over at some late point in the evening. Now, that always seems to me to be rather a pagan ritual, possibly something to do with the summer solstice. Has Saint John had his name added to it to give it an air of Christian respectability? Hmmmm, I wonder! It's also the evening when the streets smell of grilled sardines as the Spanish love of the barbecue and the Galician love of eating just about any creature that comes out of the sea combine together to organise grilling sardines out of doors. Brilliant!

This year though it seems that health and safety, so over-prevalent in the UK and so largely ignored here, has hit the fiesta scene. Certainly in the Vigo area it is now necessary to get permission in advance to have a bonfire. Not only that but you have to apply for that permission 15 days before the Noche de San Juan. That's two whole weeks!!! What happened to procrastination and Spanish last-minutism? Imagine if you tried to put those restrictions on bonfires for Guy Fawkes Night!

The bonfire itself must be built two days before the Noche de San Juan. Well, that would not cause a problem for the 5th of November bonfires. I remember having ours built weeks in advance and the main worry being that some poor unsuspecting hedgehog might have chosen to hibernate in it. Roast hedgehog anyone? No, better a baked potato or two!

The bonfire must be no more than 8 metres in diameter and three metres high. Wow, that is quite big! No, I don't fancy jumping over that, no matter how much good fortune it might bring me.

It must be 12 metres away from any building or any other stuff that might catch fire. A sensible precaution but who goes round to inspect all this stuff.

Finally, there is to be no burning of tyres or oil or any other horrible toxic rubbish. A few years ago I was in La Coruña for this fiesta. Walking along the paseo marítimo next to Riazor beach I watched bonfires being built, definitely 12 metres away from any building but much less than that distance away from each other. (I had visions on the more unstable ones toppling into one another and causing general mayhem.) Groups of (mainly) boys and (occasional) girls had commandeered supermarket trolleys to bring the makings of their bonfires to the beach. As the only way down to the beach is via sets of steps it was a fairly easy matter to police what was allowed down and as the afternoon wore on their were collections of abandoned sofas and armchairs which optimistic souls had wheeled down the hill but did not have the heart to push back up again.

Of course, another aspect of the Noche de San Juan is that is one huge semi-legalised botellón, with large numbers of people gathered in public places to eat (most likely sardines but also pizza and all the other typical botellón snacks) and drink (lots of alcohol). They had better take advantage of ithis year because there are rumblings of actions to prohibit this fenómeno social which has turned into un problema social.

There are moves afoot by Mr Feijoo and the Xunta to prohibit under-18s from participating in the botellón, as a way of putting a stop to under-age drinking, or at least putting a brake on it, in the face of increasing numbers of young alcoholics. They also want to put a stop to la hora feliz, the so called Happy Hour imported from the UK, and special offers on drinks – two for the price of one and so on. It sounds like a familiar story.

I don't suppose it will manage to put a damper on the Noche de San Juan. Neither, by all accounts will the weather. According to one report this, year we are due to have one of the hottest and driest summers for a good while. Well, it was the coldest and wettest winter so it's only fair that the situation should be reversed.

Enjoy your sardines and be careful jumping over those bonfires!

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