These are the details; it slopes upward. The board. The board with the holes. The coloured holes and the one unmarked hole in between you and the coloured holes. The coloured holes you roll the wooden ball at. Somehow past the intervening large unmarked hole. Uphill.
The stupid fucking board. Uphill into the coloured holes and what then? The balls just come back. I roll them again. People are shouting. There is a man with a microphone.
I turn to K. Not easy between the physically assertive women either side of me. I plead with her. I hope that she can see the panic in my eyes.
“What is happening here?”
She responds with a flat stare. I don’t think I like how relatively relaxed she looks.
“Not sure”, she says.
Not sure. Great. I turn to the board again and apply my faculties. It slopes upward. There are coloured holes and another one that isn’t coloured. That would presumably be the bad hole. I have three wooden balls. I roll them at the coloured holes repeatedly because that’s what everyone else is doing. They keep coming back.
Along with everyone else I roll them again. And again. There is a man with a microphone.
I don’t know what’s going on. I twist my neck. I hope she can see the whites of my eyes and the terror in them. I don’t have the big picture here. I am not enjoying myself. I don’t understand and I want her to understand that I don’t understand.
“What is this?”, I yelp.
“Dunno, actually”, she purrs contentedly. She doesn’t seem concerned, or particularly alert for that matter – are her eyelids drooping a little?
Is she going to fall asleep?
I want to kill everyone here but I know that that would be wrong, and also difficult. I admit defeat and retreat with K, beaten and utterly baffled.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know”…
I spot the horse before anything happens – there is something about it. A dark creature with a haughty gait. Muscular and glistening. A messy, glam-rock mane of anthracite black hair. It has clickety-clacked its way down here from the Plaza de Toros, but not alone.
The rider is – and I won’t mince my words here – overweight. Very. One would have thought that horse riding was contraindicated. The horse can’t be pleased – especially since the more-or-less circular rider has invited a passenger along; clinging to his substantial girth and teetering on the horse’s ass is a pretty young woman in a colourful traje de flamenco.
As the trio pass by she stops teetering; it’s more of a genuine incline now – to the left and at an alarming angle. The horse reacts by shimmying its rear end in that direction as the girl leans further and further. The horse is now rotating rapidly. Spinning. This isn’t going to end well but with the girl’s polka dot pink dress revolving it’s quite entertaining on a purely visual level.
The moment arrives. It has surely dawned on the girl that her time on the high horse is at an end. With what remains of her dignity she must let go and fall to the ground. The hard concrete ground. But she doesn’t. She clings to the rider. He is beginning to lean as well. The horse spins.
As the girl finally loses her grip on the rider the rider finally loses his grip on the reins. They tumble – her onto the road and he onto her. Dignity no longer an issue. The horse bolts. Through the city streets of Algeciras and into distant traffic. Not something you see every day. The girl sits dishevelled on the road; the round rider gives chase. Some hope. We walk on as the black stallion can be heard causing problems at a major intersection.
We run the gauntlet of casetas – each one booming with rave levels of revelry. The sound in between them a real cacophony of phasing, disparate tunes and rumbling, randomly syncopated rhythms. Aural chaos. A network of suspended pipes spray cool water on the hot crowd.
The caseta of Amigos of This, the caseta of Amigos of That, the Peña Paco de Lucia and so on. Some more popular than others – people lining up to get in. MC’s keep the crowd going inside. Perhaps they’re always popular – tradition. Perhaps someone famous is expected. A well-known cantaora, Paco himself!
We don’t know – still the new guys, still tackling the language; we are surrounded by a throng that is rippling and reacting to stimuli as yet unknown to us. The details of culture; points of reference, traditions, fame, controversy, people – we are still wading in amongst all of this. Curious, puzzled visitors.
It isn’t “our” Feria. This is Algeciras and we have to get a bus back home. It adds to the feeling that we are observers here. Tarifa doesn’t do this until September. We leave everybody to their rebujitos and head for the station.
Later, over wine in the sultry twilight we recount to ourselves the sights we have seen – the trajes and horses, the massive charcoal grills, the dormant daytime funfair, the drunken teens. I remember the incomprehensible game and ask K whether she has figured out what on earth it was all about.
“No idea. Something to do with the camels but I don’t know how it worked.”
“And the colours? What did the different col…Wait a second. Camels?”.
“Yes. The camels going along the track.”
“Didn’t you see them?”.
“You didn’t see the camels?”.
“No, K. I didn’t see the camels. Tell me, when I turned to you – those numerous times – and desperately pleaded for your input, you didn’t feel that they – the camels – were worth a mention, at that point?”.
I have to wait a few moments for the convulsions to die down a bit before she replies.
“But if you didn’t see the camels what did you think you were doing?” she gets out between laughter sobs.
“I was rolling wooden balls, K”, I explain, summoning every last shred of my dignity. “Up a hill. At some coloured holes. The was a man with a microphone. That’s all I know”.
I don’t get a reply this time – she is overcome. Dignity no longer an issue. It will be a few minutes before she can bring her shaking shoulders under control and speak again.
I pour us another glass and wait.