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Men shaped liked cannonballs, bars full of people who do not drink, firework spitting bulls and storms that wreck entire villages. These are the delights of the Mataraña region of Spain. Lost and forgotten in the Portals of Beceite almost as distant from the sea as it is from Barcelona, this place is as far from "fast food land" as you can get. Foreign tourists rarely visit here unless they are hopelessly lost. English is not spoken and, in many cases, neither is Spanish.

Valjunquera has gone

All viable villages in this area are wired for sound. We first experienced the system when staying at El Convent, the only hotel in La Fresneda. On our first morning there I went for a run before breakfast, as I usually do, and my wife went for a walk. We met, purely by chance, at the point where the main street which leads up the hill, branches off into the streets that lace the hillside. I was running down she was walking up. At the moment of our meeting a loudspeaker immediately above our heads crackled into life. Loud guitar music preceded some singing by a wailing Spanish lady. Every dog in the village joined in.  The howling of the dogs and the wailing notes of the singer made us both laugh, the whole thing was a complete surprise in this otherwise sleepy village. The short song ended with some more frantic guitar music and then there was a brief period of silence, more crackling and then a very serious male voice made a number of announcements. The smiles on our faces died away. Something serious must surely have happened for an announcement to be made to the whole village. Perhaps the water supply had failed or was contaminated. Perhaps the electricity was about to be cut off. Perhaps the mayor had died. Perhaps there had been some greater disaster which affected the whole world, something that we, in our language-isolated state, knew nothing about. We walked back to the hotel in some trepidation noting that there were loudspeakers at all key intersections. It began to remind me of that strange TV series, The Prisoner, where everyone was constantly monitored and loudspeaker borne announcements were made admonishing the residents for transgressing one of the many rules of the place. In that fictional place a serious transgression caused an enormous ball to chase prisoners around the town, inevitably finding and squashing the culprit. I looked about for signs of the ball or a squashed rebel but there was nothing and when we arrived at El Convent everything seemed to be operating as normal.

I showered and we had breakfast so the village's main services seem to have survived the crisis. Later we learned that such announcements were both regular and normal. The music varies a little but is usually one of a few extracts of Jota music which we have grown to like very much, it is similar to Flamencan singing, the wailing style is clearly derived from Spain's Arabic past. The information contained in the announcement usually concerns what will be for sale from the market stalls in the village square the next day. Described thus it seems quite mundane, but for us it is part of the character of the place and still makes us smile, especially that chorus of wailing dogs. Quite what's going on in their little minds we may never know, perhaps they just don't like Jota music.



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