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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 05/06/11

Friday, May 6, 2011

FIESTA de SAN ISIDRO FROM SPAIN!



   San Isidro is the patron saint of the peasants and laborers and is also the patron saint of Madrid. Tradition has it that on May 15th the people of Madrid are to make a pilgrimage to San Isidro's meadow to celebrate his day and to drink the holy water of his fountain in his hermitage's patio. Madrid's biggest "fiesta" is celebrated yearly starting on the Friday before the 15th and running until the following Sunday, 9 days of Saintly jubilee throughout the Comunity of Madrid.






   You can visit the church of the same name on calle Toledo - built over the site where the miracle purportedly took place - about two blocks from the Plaza Mayor. The church holds a small museum with exhibits including the famous well along with a small collection of archaeological findings excavated in the region of Madrid.





   Like most in Spain, this Madrid festival has largely lost its religious character. Instead, the city government uses San Isidro as a platform to represent the best of Madrid culture, old and new, from bullfights to break dancing. You'll enjoy a full calendar of concerts, plays, parades, fairs and special art exhibits, most free of charge.
   Gigants (people on stilts) with "cabezudos" (big, satirical papier mache heads) parade around the city center, usually on the first Saturday afternoon of San Isidro.






     Legend has it that San Isidro was a poor peasant farmer and he and his wife Santa María de la Cabeza,  were very popular,  due to their generosity and always donating food to the poor. So, although the tradition and background of San Isidro is religious and rather mellow, as per usual, it did not take much arm-twisting for the Spaniards to turn it into a veritable bash. Long live the fiestas of Spain!
    Weekend partying is centered day and night around the Plaza de las Vistillas, Plaza de San Andrés and Puente de Segovia in the Austrias neighborhood, near the Plaza Mayor.  At night, bars set up shop on the street, or "chiringuitos." Good luck elbowing your way through the hordes to get a "mini," the Spanish term for a huge plastic cup of mojito, beer, cocktail or mixed drink





   Many revelers still dress up in the traditional garb of the period called "Chulapo or Chulapa" which is Madrid's national dress. "Chulapa/o" comes from the word "Chulo" which means "a bit full of oneself" or "very dapper" and since the Madrileños consider themselves the most audacious, the name stuck. They pride themselves on being true Madrileños and the men wear a checkered cap, waistcoat and handkerchief around their necks while the women's getup is composed of fancy lace ridden dresses complete with a headress and elegant wrap around shawl.





   Snack venders with "Barquilleros", "wafer barell organs", can be found everywhere selling their "Barquillos" or "angel?s bread", some dipped in chocolate and others just plain wafery! These snacks are traditional of festivals in Madrid but you can find them all year round as well. San Isidro is also the ultimate bullfighting festival. Scoring tickets to the hot "corridas" or bullfights can be next to impossible unless you have contact.





   San Isidro is without a doubt Madrid's most melodious fiesta. The main stage is always in the Plaza Mayor and during every day and night of the 9 day festival, one can enjoy various concerts and traditional dancing. Most opening acts kick off with a "Hevia", a rather popular bagpipe and wind instrument player from Asturias. The another even bigger venue in the Casa de Campo which features rock concerts.






     San Isidro has been an official festival in Madrid since 1947 and while technically the festivities run from May 8th to the 15th, like good Spaniards they stretch the fun and always start earlier and end later. The festival actually begins with the Mayor's speach on the Friday afternoon prior to the 15th and ends with the ever popular Cocido Madrileño or public Cookout.

CHEESE ROLLING FROM STILTON, ENGLAND!




   Cheese Rolling has become an annual event in Stilton and every May Day hundreds of villagers and visitors make their way to the main street to watch the teams battling for the honour of being called the "Stilton Cheese Rolling Champions".

Stilton History and The Cheese



The Bell Inn, where the rolling starts!

Ancient Stilton
  No one knows who lived here first - the earliest finds date from the time of the Roman occupation and are probably associated with the road that runs from London to the army fortress at Lincoln, which the Saxons later called Ermine Street.
   For centuries this road seems to have been little used, the important route was the east-west road, Fen Street and Church Street, which is why our oldest building, the Church of St Mary Magdalene, is found away from the main road that now exists.






   Stilton gets three mentions in the Doomesday Book of 1086 as three landowners, the King, the Bishop of Lincoln and Eustace held land here. The Great North Road had become a busy thoroughfare by the fifteenth century and Stilton was a well-known staging post; at one time there were 14 inns or ale houses for a permanent population of around 500 to 600 people. While most earned their living from farming, an analysis of the 1841 census, taken just before the long distance coach trade all but disappeared to be superseded by the railway, showed that occupations directly connected to the coaches were important too.






Village Pubs & The Cheese
   All four of the present inns have very ancient origins, even though their buildings have been changed and modernised several times. We owe our famous cheese to the coach trade. Any Stiltonian can relate tales of visitors asking "where is the cheese made?...", only to be told "‘in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire".
   The most widely accepted explanation is that the cheese came down to be sold at one of the coach stops in Stilton, perhaps The Bell or The Angel. As early as 1722 Daniel Defoe (the author of "Robinson Crusoe") ate some here and mentioned that the village was already famous for its cheese. The recipe was passed down through the Beaumont family of Quenby in Leicestershire. By 1830 a former housekeeper at Quenby, Elizabeth Orton, made cheese in her farmhouse. Her daughter married Cooper Thornhill who kept The Bell Inn and he sold the cheese. He was famous (or infamous) as a larger-than-life character who long held the record for riding to London and back.






Modern Stilton
   Today, all Stilton cheese is factory made, but still only in the three counties with milk produced locally. It takes a gallon of milk to make one pound of cheese and a lot of skilled hard work is still needed. Each cheese matures for 3 months after which the blue veins appear naturally as oxygen is allowed to enter through holes pierced by stainless steel needles. A whole cheese weighs 15lb.



One of the officials watching a race


   Stilton’s dependence on the main road has been its undoing twice; in the middle of the nineteenth century when the railway line passed to the east through Holme and Yaxley, and in 1959 when the present A1 Stilton by-pass was opened. The village became a ghost village; The Bell actually closed and fell into disrepair and other businesses also disappeared. In 1962 Tom McDonald of The Talbot and Malcolm Moyer of The Bell, aided and abetted by telephone engineer Fred Linstead who provided a telegraph pole, cheered up their drinkers by organising the first ever Cheese Rolling along a course outside the present Post Office on Easter Monday.





A Little History On The Cheese Roll

How did it start?

   It would be nice to be able to say that the event is "as old as the village" or that it's origins have been lost in "the mists of time" but really no one knows how far back the tradition of rolling the cheeses goes. Midway through the Twentieth Century, when the village had turned into rather a quiet place having been by-passed by the A1 and the inns and businesses had seen a big drop in their trade, a landlord of one of the pubs decided to revive an ancient tradition. Or so he told everyone! He could be seen rolling a Stilton Cheese along the road outside his pub. People came to stand and watch and eventually joined in. And so the sport began - again.






The Rules
   It was originally run on Easter Monday and there was not a lot of uniformity to it to begin with. It seems a piece of wood in the shape of a Stilton Cheese was produced, a starting line drawn up somewhere between the The Stilton Cheese Inn and The Talbot and the finish line was outside The Bell Inn. Brave teams of Stilton men would then vie to roll the cheese to it's finish and, after the ensuing scramble, and many tussles and spills, the team that ended up steering the cheese to the finishing line would win! Nowadays, the starting point is always outside The Bell Inn and The Angel and the finish is a line drawn at the cross roads between the bottom of Fen Street and Church Street. The contestants are teams of 4, either all men or all women and each team member has to roll the cheese at least once during it's flight. It's a knockout competition with quarter's, semi's and a grand final.






Fancy Dress

    Some of the teams wear fancy dress for which there is a good prize and it all adds to the colourful scene. We would like to say that the sport has become more genteel over the years but we still get the tumbles and spills as in former days. The friendly rivalry grows during the competition as each team passes through to the next round so we end up with some very competitive finals!





    The prizes are always the same, a Whole Stilton Cheese and beer for the men and a Whole Stilton Cheese and wine for the ladies. But, of course, the main prizes are to be the winners of the coveted Bell Cup for men or the WI Cup for the ladies and to go down in history as 'Stilton Cheese Rolling Champions'. For more information about next years Cheese Rolling or to obtain an entry form contact the organisers