In the last week of school, there wasn’t much more that could be done, particularly for those who had not studied throughout the year. Exams were over, and only the posting of grades and the graduation ceremony remained.
The weather was hot and the nights were enormous. So much so that at times they even seemed endless.
On the eve of the Saint John’s day, 23rd of July in the Christian world, a group of friends, Maria among them, decided to greet the Saint’s day in typical fashion. And in the early hours of the night, went to the beautiful beach of Vao.
They placed themselves right opposite Torralha Island to build their fire and expiate twelve years of sacrifices. Or, perhaps, something more.
It was a moonless night engulfed in an enormous cloak of darkness. You couldn’t tell where the sea began and the sky ended, making what light there was even brighter. And the faces reflecting beautiful doors to the soul.
Maria’s group consisted mostly of friends from school who, at the beginning of the summer, had come to the end of a long path of several hard-fought, but winning, battles.
* Verano azul (Blue Summer) was a famous Spanish television show directed by Antonio Mercero that first aired in 1981. It tells of the adventures of a group of youngsters between ages 9 and 17, while on summer vacation in Nerja, a small town on the Mediterranean Costa del Sol, Andalusia, in Southern Spain. The series, with 19 episodes that drew up to 20 million viewers in Spain, has been re-run almost every summer since then. It has left a deep impact over several generations of viewers and has become part of Spain's common cultural memory. It was also broadcast in Latin America, Portugal, France and some Slavic countries like Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Later some friends of friends came along and called other friends who ended up bringing even more friends.
The initial circle where they had been sitting was now made up of little circles or similar shapes, all sharing bottles of beer and themselves. It was a master cocktail mixed by the graduates of the group — the friends who were already at university and who were onto studying more interesting subjects like the chemistry of alcohol and first year applied anatomy.
Maria was with Bea and Lúcia, friends since the time of ponytails and playing dolls. All three laughing at the stories of prowess told by some sorcerer’s apprentices sitting in front of them.
Fortified by the courage that Estrella Galicia brings to all who seek it, they smoked and drank as if they themselves were Hijos de Rivera* factories, in A Coruña.
The three friends knew this summer was likely the last when they would all be together, at least in these circumstances.
They were women, and therefore knew that from then on there would be inescapable expectations in each of their lives.
But this was a night to party, to celebrate. Everyone wanted to be happy and in their own way, already were.
The excitement was growing, and at the same time the sounds of voices were becoming louder, more uncoordinated, yet more sincere.
If someone else had happened to see the flames from the fires they would have said they were dangerously out of control.
One of the young men who was sitting in the small circle clumsily stood up in front of Maria.
* Hijos de Rivera, S.A.1 is a Spanish brewery founded in 1980 in the city of A Coruña, Galicia. The main brand is Estrella Galicia, a 5.5% abv pale lager. The company's origins date back to 1906 when José María Rivera Corral established La Estrella de Galicia brewery in the city of A Coruña.
He unbuttoned his jacket and it quickly fell to his feet, and he launched his pullover into the air, just missing the fire by a few millimetres.
Moving as if he lacked any feeling in his lower limbs, he tried to tear off the shirt he was wearing, shouting so that everyone, including himself, could hear what he had to say:
- Maria, listen to me carefully.
He spoke so loud that silence fell as if by command.
The girls who were surrounding Maria replied in unison. She was probably the only who remained silent.
- Do you think I’m a kid?
Paco was in fact a kid, beardless and with pimples.
- But I’m old enough to tell you a thing or two.
Oops, thought Maria. And at the same time, the smile that had been on her face for hours was being replaced by something a bit more wary.
Paco was one of her brother’s best friends; he came by her house and was the last person she was expecting to make a declaration, regardless of the message.
- Paco, you’d better just shut up now. You’ll only say more rubbish. And besides, you’re totally drunk.
Said Bea, who knew him well.
- Maria, I love you.
Maria could swear that for a few brief seconds all she could hear was the crackle of the flames, and the half a million people there at the beach.
- Maria, marry me and we’ll elope tonight, we can catch a train and go to France and then we’ll travel around the world.
Often when we are hit by something unexpected, something completely
out-of-the- blue, it takes a few seconds to realise what’s happened.
Maria and everyone around her needed a moment to catch up to what was happening.
Maria took a deep breath. For the first time in many hours the fresh air of the night filled her lungs. In the same moment, her senses, which alcohol had put to sleep, awakened.
She thought about Paco and what she had just heard. And was happy one of the most handsome and interesting boys of the group wanted her.
She liked the idea of discovering the world, starting in France. She loved Paris, and she knew one day she would live in the “City of Light”. But she didn’t understand why they needed to elope, let alone get married, even if it was to Paco.
She looked at the faces around, but she found no expressions to help her.
Except one strange look.
She didn’t know the name behind the face, which, unlike all the others was smiling, or at least seemed to be. And who, besides holding onto a smile, held a guitar in his hands.
– Paco look at me and listen up.
Maria’s voice was so quiet that everyone, including the boy in front of her standing, had to lean in and come closer to keep listening.
- Let’s jump the fire.
She stood up and held her friend’s hand before he stopped being her friend. At the same time Bea fired off some chords on the Fender guitar that was lying next to her and started to sing.
It was one of those songs that could very well be the (sound/voice) of an entire generation.
Lobo hombre en Paris*
Cae la noche y amanece en Paris,
en el dia en que todo ocurrió.
como un sueño de loco sin fin
la fortuna se ha reido de ti, (e de mi)
La luna sobre Paris
Like the “wave” we see at football games on Mexican television, everyone stood up one after the other, and started to sing, dance and jump around the fire.
The one exception was the owner of the look and the guitar — a friend of a friend of another friend, whose name Maria didn’t even know.
That face had smiled at Maria. And as chance would have it, he was not even supposed to be there that night.
Sitting on the cold sand, José paid close attention to what was going on. The warmth of emotions made up for those parts of his body that were still feeling the cold. And he couldn’t have agreed more with Paco: Maria was worth running away with and going not once, but twice around the world.
As it would happen, Maria and José never did speak that night, the night of the São João fires at the Vao beach.
But from the moment they saw each other on the night of July 23rd, the night of the São João fires would never burn the same.
* Spanish pop/rock band La Unión - got involved in the local scene in the early '80s. Singer Rafael Sánchez, bass player Luis Bolín, guitarist Mario Martínez, and keyboardist Iñigo Zabala hit the charts in 1984 with their song "Lobo Hombre en Paris," releasing Mil Siluetas that same year, produced by Mecano's Nacho Cano and followed by El Maldito Viento in 1985.