Toby Kay | Diets and deities
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Diets and deities

It’s Thursday, and that means Weight Watchers.

The weekly meeting of the local expat group convenes at a quiet cafe near the supermarket. They are lectured to about ‘syns’, self-restraint and ‘changed mindsets’ – as if receiving a Catholic sermon. I sit on the sidelines with a cortado, while ‘the ladies that don’t lunch’ do their thing.

Barbara has gained a pound. Cheryl has lost two.

It’s literally the observance of mass.

Again much like the church.

The church has been on my mind a lot recently. Our house has two Stations Of The Cross on it. Tiles above the door depicting, as my wife Maria tends to call it, “Christ Falling Off The Cross”. I’m not sure where in the the good book Our Lord has his mishap. But, it sounds like Luke. Luke always had his own opinion of things – rather than accepting everything as gospel. Ahem.

Nevertheless, the ceramic representations of Our Clumsy Saviour on the front of the building also makes our residence a local celebrity during holy week, and frankly, at indiscriminate other times of year.

Frequently, marching bands, leading statues of the Holy Virgin, traipse past the front door. The troops squeezing into the single lane street and pausing to pay reverence to our home. Our TV gets drowned out by drums and earnest trombones, and I am beginning to think that this is something the estate agent should have mentioned.

Two weeks ago, a phone engineer was trapped awkwardly inside our hallway for 15 minutes by 40 youths being lectured to about the Passion outside the front door – our house being used as some kind of ambient Christian teaching tool. He and I stood making small-talk in broken Spanish and English until the first communion class of 2018 was eventually led on their way up the hill and to the next place of instruction. Presumably “Christ Having A Siesta”, if Maria, or Luke, gets to name it.

The town we live in is small by international standards, and middling by regional ones. Oliva sits at the very south of the Valencian region, surrounded by mountains, the sea and orange groves. The population count by the last census was 25,789, with around 3,000 British in high-season. The predominant sector of holiday-makers in the summer are from Madrid, escaping the oppressive Spanish heat inland.

We live in the old town. The Moorish heritage eradicated by all but the street plan and the low houses. The local mosque is now an overly grand church with a blue dome, its daily clanging bells summoning the faithful to Matins at a bewilderingly precise 7.23 am every morning. We hear them from our bedroom – a charmingly authentic background track to our new Spanish life rather than an urgent call to prayer.

The Easter festivities have been rapid and unexpected. Much like sniper-fire.

The local tourist office is concentrating its efforts on telling the world about the attractions of Oliva in general, and light on detail.

Marching bands appear like a well-dressed and poorly-rehearsed flash-mob. Fireworks are set off at any hour of the day. Effigies are paraded. Streets and shops are shut. Drums are drummed. Trombones are tromboned. The masses, mass.

No-one seems to know when these things are happening. But they flock instinctively. It’s as if there is some great hive-mind at work – celebrating Easter with such fervour that nobody needs to be told the plan, they just become part of the system.

Dawn of Easter Sunday sees the faithful climbing ‘The Hill’ to the ruined castle. Reenacting a local approximation of the ascent to Golgotha, without the necessary unpleasantness.

Jesus is a stand-in. The scheduled guy broke his leg a week previously, so there was a quick ask-around to find his replacement. With literally a cross to bear, the new guy drags it bare-chested and bare-foot up the hill.

At dawn. On a Sunday. Before I’ve had coffee.

I don’t know what the Weight Watchers make of all this. Their cosy familiarity jars starkly against this extreme form of self sacrifice – resisting the temptations of buns rather than the soul is no contest. Or at least I would imagine if I ever had to put it to the test.

The group is sent on its way with a cheery and linguistically ambiguous – “Can I see less of you next week?”.

I honestly hope not.

This is a land of excess, and better for it.

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