Friday, 22 July 2016

Tortosa - Festa del Renaixement

Yesterday morning, Paul came around for a couple of hours, to discuss how to approach his next study subject in Lay Reader training correspondence course, which is the Holy Spirit. When I read the list questions for assignment options , I admit that I found it challenging. It's several years since I had to look through any course material of this kind. 

The course aims remain much the same, even when the context changes. The variety of learners and their background changes too. Each generation of scholars and teachers poses questions to answer in ways that they hope will arouse interest and get learners to respond productively, but there's no guarantee any new set of questions generated will be understood by all students all of the time as the background of each person differs. It's part of the adventure of education for scholars, tutors and teachers alike. The perennial challenge is to discover the relationship between the subject matter and one's own experience.

Today, I took the train to Tortosa to meet Jenny, the Lay Reader who was licensed last month after completing her five years on the same course. It was good to have a catch-up session, but the other aim of meeting was for her to show me around large parts of Tortosa's old town that I'd not seen on my two previous visits, all set up and decorated for the city's annual 'Festa del Renaixement' - which is Catalan for Renaissance Festival.

Many if not most of the people out in the streets were dressed in sixteen century style costumes, and the narrow streets were crammed with stalls selling food, craft items, clothes, toys, jewellery. There were mediaeval games, a falconry display and rides for children and exhibitions. There were groups of school children all dressed up, accompanied by fife and drums, an amazing brass ensemble playing ancient looking instruments, as well as dressed up as entertainers. There were a few daytime concerts, but many more arranged for the evenings - outdoors and in churches. Like any old city, Tortosa has its share or redundant churches and convents, thankfully, well looked after and adapted now for other social and cultural purposes. It must be marvellous to spend the entire weekend here taking part.

Jenny and I parted company at lunchtime. I then re-visited the Cathedral before it closed for siesta.
One thing that has changed since I was last here concerns the Cathedral precinct. Its eighteenth west front is approached through a narrow street with four and five storey houses either side. Now a 50 metre rank of houses in front of the facade has been demolished, to reveal a view of the riu Ebre. I bet there was controversy about this, as the houses are side to be eight hundred years old. I can well believe there have been houses there for that long, but the ones demolished may not have been more than a few centuries old, and were pretty scruffy, as I recall. Demolition has given way to archaeological investigation of the housing site, and the findings are bound to be of interest. The plan is to create a garden in this open space created, and this will uplift the area enormously. 

After the Cathedral visit I had a lunch of Papas Pobres and cereveza at one of the many street restaurants nearby. A train still on the internet timetable at three I found wasn't running, so I had a four hour wait for the next. I walked the length of the stalls in the old town streets a second time, also the former Jewish quarter, the best part of a mile's worth of street stalls. I also explored a large park near the station with a palmeria. It contained a large old building, which may at one time have been a place of storage, but is now transformed into a showcase for a collection of large papiermache figures, gigantes, used in festive processions. 

I've seen figures of this kind in Sta Pola and Vinaros. They seem to date back to the eighteenth century, although not in this case. These figures were made in 1996, part of the cultural investment in the renaissance festival. They represent a Catalan renaissance writer Cristofor Despuig, his wife and family, plus a couple of Moors. There's even a local mythical monster the size of a small car called a Cucafera. It looks like a cross between giant beetle an armadillo and a crocodile. There were also a couple of gigantes in a fine gothic redundant convent church I visited, re-purposed as a concert venue and archive centre. I wonder how many other figures are stored elsewhere?

I got back to the station in good time. It's quite close to the centre of town. There was no display of information indicating at which of the six platforms the train was expected to arrive. None of those waiting seemed know. Two trains stood waiting at outer platforms, neither had destination boards. It was only when the train conductor and the drive arrived, just five minutes before departure, that it became evident we weren't waiting for a train from the main line to arrive and collect us (Tortosa is at the end of a branch line), but our train started right there. Generally, rail information systems in Spain work well. Was Tortosa's switched off or broken, I wonder? As this was the last train of the day to travel to Vinaros, I was relieved to find out, as I was tired after a day of walking around and trying to keep cool, taking refuge in churches when I could.

On the way back from the train station, I stopped at a supermarket to buy something for supper, and made it back just as the Archers started.

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