6pm. Banners and flags are flying; barriers and security guards are in place; bands doing their last sound checks and crowds starting to flood in, draped with neck scarves in Céretane colours (blue and white). Socks are Catalan – striped red and yellow (sang et or, blood and gold). Bodegas are lighting their grills… the smell of sizzling ‘saucisse Catalan’ fills the air.
Doors and windows are taped and barred. There is a frenzy of last-minute activity in the attempt to protect shop fronts. Bar glasses have been exchanged for plastic cups. The sun beats down on the cobblestoned rues, between the shadows cast by the giant platains that are so characteristic of the centre ville.
At the arena, the bulls are in sealed enclosures with viewing windows and a notice requesting silence. Catalan flags are proudly on display. Three corridas highlight the weekend of festivities for the this year’s féria.
Here, opposite les arcades (looking out to the arches of the old town walls), banda are gathering; rushing past, instruments in hand. The bar tender’s brow sweats. Drumming commences. Flies try to sip my wine. I can see plumes of cigarette smoke curl in the evening light.
I am watching everything that is turning around my little table as I pause, marking the end of a busy week, and the beginning of this festive weekend. There is a man of around eighty, with flower garlands (red and yellow) on both wrists, wearing a big grin. Salopettes (short overalls) and panama hats. Black and red… Spanish aficionados.
Suitcases are being wheeled into hotels. Rugby-men pass in loud groups, followed by entourages of over-made-up filles… looking for action… waiting for something to happen… pacing… retracing the same steps… back and forwards…
Friends meet, and greet. The waiters wipe their brows and make hand signals to indicate that can’t hear over the music that has struck up on the stage opposite. There is a card game to my right. A photographer to my left. And an advancing parade, spurring me into action… the féria will soon be officially declared open…