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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part IV. North East

A Catalan Christmas

Steve Porter
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Nino sizes up Tió, sniffs and decides he is no danger to his territory. Tió is a small log of wood, with a smiling face painted on the flat end. Presents are placed inside a hole cut in the body, which is covered with a piece of fabric.

Francesc, takes a stick and taps on Tió. He sings. “Tió, tió, caga tió...” The song demands that Tió shits out a present for him. Francesc removes the fabric and finds a present there.

Now it’s Mary’s turn. She takes the stick and Josep helps her with the words of the song. She pulls the fabric back and finds a little figurine of a man caught with his pants down doing a shit.

This is a caganer; a type of figurine which is believed to bring luck. Caganers are a widely accepted part of Catalan Christmas tradition and their frequent appearances in nativity scenes does not appear to cause a stir in Catalonia. It seems surprising that they are not considered blasphemous in what is, after all, still a Catholic country, although religious idolatry is less evident in this part of Iberia.

Not everyone is impressed by Catalan off the (toilet) wall humour. The Barcelona daily, La Vanguardia, ran a story about Antoni Miralda, a Catalan artist whose work was the source of some controversy in California. His exhibition of caganers, featured one of the Pope having a crap. Another portrayed Fidel Castro, complete with cigar (in his mouth fortunately), and cock and balls dangling between his arse cheeks.

My own presents are less interesting this year. Lots of socks and a money box. Mary has been decorating the tree. Taking a bath. When she is quiet like this I know she is feeling down. She’s thinking about her parents’ home in Stirling and the way her mother spends the whole day preparing dinner with the central heating and the oven taking the kitchen temperature up near to thirty in spite of the frost outside.

I suggest we go out for a walk. The Ter is still frozen. The local football team, whose stadium lies on the banks of the Ter, are going into an unforeseen winter shutdown. The temperature hovers around zero although the sun is out. At least we are protected from winter winds due to the town’s position in the valley. Mary picks up a handful of snow and throws it in the air where it sparkles. She is slowly forgetting about a family Christmas.

It started snowing at nine o’clock in the morning about ten days ago. By the time I left Can Peitx after my morning coffee, the streets were white. Mary and I went out for lunch when the snow eventually eased off. We took photos of the barely visible yellow post-box at the bottom of Carrer Sant Miquel. They will be sent to the people back home who think we are enjoying a mild Spanish winter.

Local schoolchildren come flying down towards the town on sledges. Beyond the viewpoint and the cross at Rocaprevera, the farmland, where we were cycling without jumpers on a mild sunny day early last month, looks like a scene from a rural Christmas card. Mary tries to take a short cut down the hill and slips. I photograph her, face down in a foot of snow, limbs outstretched like a black star falling from a white sky.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationAugust 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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