A Pilar of the community

Today may be the day for the perfect crime. Spain’s Guardia Civil are celebrating the fiesta del Pilar, in honour of their patron saint. The festivities started here this morning with some militaristic goings on involving the town band, guardia civil officers and ceremonial swords. There will, no doubt, be plenty of food and drink later, in honour of the Virgen del Pilar, who is said to protect the men and women who “give their lives to defend the constitution and territory of Spain”.

Pilar was officially declared as patron of the corps in 1913, though the origins of her links with the country’s military police appear to go back much further. Bizarrely in a country whose constitution enshrines the separation of state and church, Pilar also carries the distinction of having received the gold medal of police merit, which Spain’s interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz bestowed on her in 2012.

The gold medal is normally reserved for police who have died heroically, usually in acts of terrorism. But another Virgin joined Pilar this year in receiving the honour, when Díaz gave it to the Virgin Mary, no less. Or to a statue of her in Malaga, to be precise.

This time the award was widely denounced, not least by the police officers’ union which said “give the virgin whatever you like, take her some flowers, make her the patron saint of our people, but don’t give her a police medal, least of all one reserved for police officers who have lost their lives in an attack”.

The Movimiento hacia un estado laico (Movement Towards a Secular State) and Secular Europe are challenging the Spanish government in court over Virgingate, having vowed to limit what they call an ingrained Catholic influence in public affairs. The outcome rests with the high court, which has decided, probably wisely, that a panel of magistrates will examine the case without the need to call witnesses.

Scop off


Lovely as the sound of the solitary Scops owl is, I wish it would take its mournful and monotonous call elsewhere at this time of night. It’s an ear-worm we could do without. Or perhaps I’m missing the rhythm of multiple car alarms going off on a lively Friday evening in London.

Floats and flamenco

There is much more to Orgiva’s annual feria than tradition and doing things the way they’ve always been done. The four-day festival that celebrates this rural town’s history and culture is as eclectic as its community.

Without getting too teary-eyed about the significance of the giant paella, the massive free portions of which would set us back several pounds at most community festivals we’ve enjoyed in London, or of the tradicionales huevos fritos con ajos (fried eggs with garlic) handed out with bread in the main square, the egalitarian nature of feria reminds us of what is possible for a society.

Floats and flamenco dresses, elderly locals in their finest (new sombrero plano for him, a splash of colour for her), ex-pats keeping the pop-up bars busy. That they are juxtaposed with the powerful Brazilian and afro-Cuban drumming rhythms of Espíritu Santuka is a tribute to Orgiva’s diversity.

Another feria highlight, the carrera de cintas, a traditional sport in Spain and Latin America where contestants ride horses (though it is done on bicycles too, apparently) to a wire to try to capture a belt or ribbon hung from a loop, underlined the difference between equestrian activities here and in the UK. This wasn’t a gymkhana for privileged youngsters. These were working class men, racing their animals on a patch of waste ground in the middle of a housing estate (and no one at the council tried to stop it on ‘elf and safety grounds).

It’s difficult to spend money during feria. Most events are entrada gratuita. Only the Friday evening espectáculo ecuestre – the Andalucian horse dressage display – carried a charge. Not that anyone bothered to collect the €3 entrance fee from spectators. But I hope the hat was passed around for the €2 entrada solidaria at the theatrical production, money intended for Orgiva’s food bank.

As if four days of festivities was not enough for this town, we learn that Monday is another bank holiday, a fiesta in honour of Nuestra Señora del Pilar – the Patroness of Spain, the Guardia Civil and neighbouring town Lanjarón. There’s a saint for everything and everyone here. Any excuse for a party.