Royal blue standards adorn the Puerta de Jerez, one each side of the mudejar archway. Suns radiant and the word LUZ emblazoned on either. Inside in the casco lights have gone up over the streets; red and white flower motifs and along the walls smaller pennants hang, also blue. I’ve seen it before – preparations for the arrival of the Virgen who will come to town tomorrow (eight thirty sharp) to take up residence for a week. Tarifa‘s Real Feria y Fiestas.
Last night I watched the coronation of the Reina Juvenil as I did last year and as was the case then there appeared to be a lot of minor roles going; at any rate there were a good few girls and young women in pretty, formal dresses and flowers by the ton. Flowers on their lap, in their hair, at their feet, on pedestals, all around them. They sat self consciously and soaked up the attention, and the pollen no doubt, seated in diagonal rows on the incandescently lit stage. Excited whispers, giggles, that kind of thing.
My second Reina, crowned.
The ceremony has gone up in the world – from the long palm lined alameda where it was held last year up to the refurbished square at the side of Tarifa’s magnificent new theatre. The palms up there are wrapped in white linen and the stage this year is framed by the double staircase that ascends to the leafy little park above.
The next day. I wait beneath the arch of the Puerta. The Cause of Our Joy will return to Tarifa tonight and I am waiting for her. But this time it’s different; there are two of them. I have waited for them both before and as before they keep me waiting; eight thirty sharp has become nine fifteen and counting. K has been in Germany this week and is almost back after a gruelling day of flight delays and traffic jams. She was due here hours ago to drop her bags and greet the Splendour of the Church with me but it hasn’t worked out that way. I have this “bad omen” feeling that it won’t now be the two of us, together, welcoming the Untier of Knots. She has called me and I am to meet her off the bus and help with her heavy bags. They were light when she left but now they are heavy, full of shoes and clothes she didn’t own a week ago and that we haven’t got room for.
The other lady comes to town every year on this, the first Sunday in September. This is the second time I have been here to see her and I have positioned myself beneath the Puerta to take a picture. I pick a corner to park myself on and as the hour of her arrival draws near a crowd develops around me. Light is fading and street lamps flicker on. Through the arch I can make out a little bit of hubbub as the Vessel of Selfless Devotion approaches, finally. My phone rings. Guess who.
“Are you off the bus already?”
“Up by Lidl?”
I look around me at my eagerly waiting companions; their faces, our faces, lit up in anticipation of such a beautiful event. You don’t need religion to love this, to grow attached to it in a mere twelve months. It’s more about time and rhythm, the cyclic repetitions of a community – something larger than oneself. Something to share. Plus the Spanish knock this stuff out in world class style.
“Eh..do you still need help with the bags?”
Even as I ask the question I wince at my own inanity. It seems unlikely that the bags have shrunk since my help was asked for, an hour ago.
“Are you coming?”
“Eh..can you wait there for me? I’ll be as quick as I can.”
She wants specifics.
“About five minutes”, I lie.
“Ok”, she sighs.
We hang up and I peer through the archway, willing the Mystical Rose to hurry the fuck up in an unlikely attempt at telepathy, or telekinesis – whatever it takes to get her to move. But that is not her way. I’ve never been the casanova type but it occurs to me now that I’m learning what it’s like to have two women in your life. And from this side of the fence let me tell you – it isn’t much fun. K has been on planes and on buses, not to mention the airports and stations in between; the day has been, for her, a litany of inconveniences and long waits. The ability to take these things with grace and remain of good cheer is not one of her many wonderful qualities.
I’m not built for this. What to do? My fiancée or the Mother of God? It’s tricky. I am on the point of choosing one over the other (K is carrying heavy bags and the Queen of the Universe is being carried) when the Model of Motherhood plays her trump card.
She has an entourage of several hundred devotees and horseriders (I’d forgotten about them) who begin to file under the Puerta, led by Joseph who as always precedes his wife. I feel for Joe. I get the feeling me and Joe could relate over a beer. The narrow street is suddenly rammed with people. Any thought of moving in the next five minutes has to be dismissed; I am stuck here, pinned to the wall.
Sorry K, but you don’t get to be the mother of an immaculately conceived omniscient deity without having a few tricks up your sleeve.
As I’m taking my pictures the phone rings again.
“Hey, have you left yet?”
“I’m…just about to”, I speculate.
“Ok don’t worry. I just wanted to let you know I’m walking down. I’ll see you near the Puerta.”
“Are you sure? I’ll start walking and meet up with you.”
I don’t know what to make of it. Her tone of voice is worryingly, menacingly upbeat. Now that the Pride of the Human Race has passed the crowd has thinned out a little and I make a move. At a half run I make my way to the northern edge of the casco and out onto the main street. I haven’t walked ten metres and there she is, almost all the way home. She dumps her bags and we have a short conversation. The topic is my sense of priority. I’m not in the least bit surprised that these two conspired to arrive at exactly the same time. Don’t let anyone tell you women aren’t competitive. Not that I say that out loud – I pretty much just nod.
Then we embrace.
The Woman Crowned With Stars won’t have reached the church yet so I still have time. I take K’s bags and we dump them in the apartment; then I take her hand and we make a dash for it. Outside the church we pick a spot on the wrong side of the barrier, in amongst the brass band. Nobody seems to mind.
As the Comfort of the Troubled nears the bells begin to ring and K laughs, the noise is so maniacal. We have made it; I’ve been waiting for this all year – to do with K what I was forced to do alone last time. My superstition is soothed. It is a fitting way to see in Year Two – another year of firsts for us no doubt but also, satisfyingly, a year of many seconds.Follow @RobinJGraham