Most girls dream of being a princess when they are little. I feel like I am experiencing those dreams more powerfully now. Surrounded by castles, history that goes back millennia, and celebrated female royalty that accomplished amazing things, my imagination is ignited with what it would have been like to have been a Queen. I know the reality isn’t as pretty as the dreams, but that’s what’s fun about having dreams; they’re not reality. And thanks to my intercambio (speaking partner, a native student at the University), I got to live mine for a weekend.
Despite the quip against Spanish honor in the Princess Bride, the exuberant celebration of Spain’s medieval cultural heritage reminds me a lot of the movie. If they knew about Indigo Montoya’s contribution to American culture, I’m sure they’d be proud.
My intercambio, Claudia is one of those who embrace this tradition. She’s from Villena, a town about an hour away from Alicante, which radiates down and outward like a cape from a castle on a hill. Every year in Villena they have Feria Medieval, weekend-long a medieval festival, where the whole old district around the castle is decked out, filled with artisan stalls, and brought to life with medieval entertainment.
Now, it would have been great to just go to this festival. But my intercambio is AWESOME, and she happened to have an extra dress (handmade by her mother! Props to her) which happened to fit me perfectly, so I got to spend a weekend feeling and looking like a medieval maiden, walking the streets of a vibrant medieval town.
This medieval festival was complete. It was framed as a festival celebrating a visit from the Catholic Monarchs. There were parades of people in elaborate costumes, music both from the time and from our favorite stories about it (There was a lot of Game of Thrones, some Robin Hood, and some Pirates of the Caribbean (not exactly medieval, but who’s complaining)), archery, exuberant sword and jousting fights, a medieval-style wedding, a concert on the castle explanade, dance exhibitions for the Monarchs themselves, comedia-style theatre.
At night, there was a long parade from the market up to the castle meant to cleanse the town of witches, followed by fireworks, which I don’t think are medieval, but again, no one was complaining. Besides, neither were the sneakers peeking out from under the hems of our dresses.
In fact, it was quite funny to watch how modern culture leaked into the Medieval world. There were lights, of course, people not dressed up, people dressed up but wearing sneakers, medieval wares and music that weren’t quite medieval, and then there was technology. My absolute favorite moment exemplifying our generation is this knight, participating in a skit depicting a momentous war in Villena’s medieval past. At this point in the skit, our knight has been the victim of a massacre, which the main characters are dramatically lamenting on the other side of the scene. He must be really into the drama because he forgets to be dead and instead films a clip of the lamentation.
There were lots of fun foods; potatoes on sticks, sweets and waffles, tortas fritas with sugar and cinnamon (very good), and all kinds of meats and soups.
The strangest, but very fun thing at the festival is completely unique to Villena’s festival: lechuguerra. It is a battle of lettuce.
A few minutes before, assistants distribute boxes of lettuce to the crowd. Then, the scene is set: two women are selling lettuce in a marketplace. The tax collector comes around and one of the two women complains that the other one can sell her lettuce at a cheaper price because she illegally doesn’t pay taxes. The other woman still refuses to pay the taxes, and tensions get so high that somebody throws the lettuce. When her arm flies into the air, as one, the whole crowd flings their lettuce to the sky. The crowd explodes into a shrieking, laughing mass, and lettuce is flying everywhere. It’s actually fantastic.
Thank you so much to Claudia and her family for having me for such a wonderful weekend.