I had one of my scariest experiences here two weekends ago. I opened Chrome to check the weather and saw that the forecast for the entire week was chilly and rainy. I was thoroughly depressed until I realized that my weather widget was still set to Medford, MA and that this horrific forecast wasn’t going to affect me here. Thank God. The weather has simply been incredible over the last month and a half. We arrived in the throes of a dying summer with temperatures in the upper 20’s, low 30’s (80-90 ºF). These days were a little painful at first, but within the first two weeks the temperature dropped to a comfortable mid 20’s range with bright sun greeting us nearly every day. There have been a few days of rain here, but for the most part the weather has been kinder than I could’ve hoped. Now in ides of October (November by the time of uploading!), we’re heading into autumn and in the last two weeks there has been a noticeable drop in temperatures and a familiar briskness in the air. The days are still warm, while the nights descend into the teens.
At home in New England this change in season brings with it some pretty fantastic things. As the temperatures drop and the winds begin to blow, the bushy green trees begin to blush in the crisp fall air, turning from the verdant green of summer to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn. Apples grow ripe in the orchards waiting to be picked and enjoyed immediately or in a myriad of delicious dishes like apple pie, apple cider, and apple cider doughnuts. Clearly I’m a little nostalgic.
While I miss the seasonal customs I’ve had throughout my life, autumn in Spain brings its own set of customs, celebrations, and fiestas. In Alcalá the beginning of October is marked by the Semana Cervantina, a weeklong festival honoring Miguel de Cervantes, the famous Spanish author born here. While there are events throughout the entire week, the main event is the Mercado de el Quixote. My host-mother had told me about this amazing festival back in September and we made sure to come back from Barcelona on Sunday, leaving Monday completely free to explore the market. On my walk to the taxi to the airport early Friday morning I saw the merchants setting up beneath the tents and banner of the medieval fair and couldn’t wait to be back in Alcalá to take part.
On the walk home from the train station on Sunday I took the chance to make my way down Calle Mayor and explore the market a bit. The streets were lined with tented shop stands attended by vendors in Renaissance and Middle Ages era clothing and completely filled with people. On my way home I passed crepe shops, cheese vendors, bakers, artisans and everything in-between. A little tired from the trip to Barcelona and overwhelmed by the amount of people, I headed home and returned to tackle the market after a good night’s sleep.
The mercado is one of the coolest experiences I’ve had here in Spain. During the festival, Alcalá de Henares becomes the center of Spain. People from all over the country, and the world, descend upon the city to see this annual festival. A little over to month into the semester and I was now at home in a city of tourists. The streets were filled with people so that one could barely move through the crowd. Walking in the wrong direction on Calle Mayor felt like trying to swim up river. There were stands for food, from warm crepes, to tea, to chocolate and pastries, and even pickles. Some areas had street-side restaurants and bars , where people would order drinks and have dinner or some tapas. We even found a little stall to take chupitos out of cuernos!
The majority of the venders were selling different types of crafts and art. I came out of the market with some Christmas gifts for my family and a quill pen for myself! I can see why the market lasts all weekend, as the two days I had wasn’t nearly enough to take in everything I would’ve liked. Street markets are very typical in Spain, with one occuring in Alcalá every Monday and many more in Madrid throughout the week, but few are presented with such flair and pomp as the Mercado de el Quixote. While standing in line for a chocolate crepe, I heard the sound of a marching band in the distance. Soon they were upon us and we were presented with the spectacle of a brigade of trumpets and flag throwers performing in traditional costumes. They marched around the plaza and down Calle Mayor, doing so throughout the day. Other small groups of what I assumed to be of a less official nature also filled the streets with music and dance.
In addition to the merchants and musicians, a few artisans settled in the plaza for the weekend to exhibit their craft. A blacksmith had set up shop and was demonstrating how to create things out of iron, while sculptors were creating a kiln. Across the plaza glass blowers were creating beautiful glass horses and a cooper was making barrels. People filled the plaza, moving from demonstration to stration, enjoying seeing these masters of their crafts.
The Semana Cervantina was a great local fiesta that made me appreciate being in Alcalá even more. I wouldn’t be able to find this local experience in a bigger city or another smaller city without the same rich cultural history of Alcalá. Wading through the masses of people I saw friends that I’d met here and ran into one of the program directors hanging out with his friends at a mojito bar. Great end to such a full weekend!