A gaggle of girls with hair dyed green and their tee shirts soaked in wine giggled their way past the bodega. Fireworks exploded in the street. It was the time of year in Northern Spain when the locals go slightly mad.
The beginnings of Fiesta had been evident the evening before as we drove into Logroño, the main town of the La Rioja area.
The lights of a fun-fair shone brightly and a Ferris wheel with sparkling bulbs revolved high into the dark starry night.
It was really late but smartly dressed families with quite young children played at the stalls and didn’t head home until the wee sma hours.
We slept late and woke to join the locals, who were either wearing red or blue neckerchiefs. We seemed to be the only tourists, so I decided to ‘blend in’ by investing in one.
We followed the crowd through cobbled alleyways and along broad boulevards.
Every now and then the police held up the traffic and a mass of Lycra clad cyclists raced round the corners preceded by police motor cyclists with sirens blaring. Every club in Logroño gets involved in the Festival of San Mateo.
The crowd got thicker and we were absorbed into a good natured mass of young people in the town square. Until then my idea of a Spanish fiesta had been of a quiet religious procession parading a sacred statue. This was nothing like that, there was loud music, dancing and the chanting of “San Mateo, San Mateo, San Mateo.”
At noon a rocket was fired, the music and dancing stopped, and bottles of wine were shaken and sprayed over everyone.
Flour bombs were thrown and every one went crazy.
They had a great time, kiddies sprayed aunts and teenagers became soaked, then began to resemble the 'living dead' as being wet they became caked in white flour.
The clever ones came prepared wearing plastic ponchos.
Later we recovered at a bodega sipping drinks and nibbling at tapas to the sound of passing bands. Then in a leafy cobbled square we sampled food from the different Spanish regions while we watched costumed dancers perform to the accompaniment of strange bagpipes.
Logroño is on the 'pilgrim route' to Santiago de Compostello and following the symbols set into the ground we passed the church square of the Iglesia de Santiago where the towns and villages that they pass were set out on the paving slabs like a giant Ludo board game. Resisting the temptation to play ‘Hop Scotch’ we headed back for the car and continued our travels.
We drove through the town of Santa Domingo where people sat at the open air cafes on the red tiled pavements and amid he trees performers in clown costumes entertained an audience of children.
As the day wore on the villages that we drove through assumed a ghost like quality. The streets and became empty and deserted. It was ‘siesta time’ when sensible Spaniards put their feet up and have a rest.
The vista opened up and the far away hills seemed blue in the distant haze, bringing home to us the fact that Spain was a big country. The only figure we saw working in the fields turned out to be a 'santo pacaros' or a scare crow.
At Haro flowers hung from the wrought iron balconies and a clanging bell echoed down the narrow Calle Santo Pomas where I bought three bottles of Clareté at a bargain price. I had enjoyed it the night before. Clareté might best be described as a rosé, except that instead of being pink it was the colour of Iron Bru.
In the shady colonnade a couple playied backgammon, while a Spaniard with a large black beret and moustache, got up from his seat by the empty bandstand. He lit a cigar and hurried across the square to join other local men in a bar. His echoing footsteps and a chirping bird from a cage on a balcony above were the only sounds.
Haro is a major wine producing town, and after checking out the excellent wine musum (free,) we visited the Muga Bodea where we learned that they had particularly good harvests in 1994 and '95 and were told to look out for Rioja of those years. The tour ended with us sampling wines at a great round table with some bread and a spicy sausage called Choirizo.
If you fancy a visit to Haro a good time would be in June, but pack some clothes that you don't mind throwing away as that is when, they hold The Battle of the Wine They slosh around fifty thousand litres of the stuff.
The next time I sip a glass of wine I will think of the senorita I saw clad in full flamenco costume, clasping a yellow rose and waiting for the traffic lights to change at Logroño. It's not the thing you see every day in our local street, more is the pity.