Decked out for Christmas

Why we were in San Sebastian for Christmas 1976 is a mystery – a matter of days and kilometres, I think, rather than planning.  It didn’t matter, really, we were living out of our VW van – had been for several months, wending our way across Europe to Turkey and back again.  It was very cold, I remember, and drizzling slushy rain.  I kept whining “but it’s Christmas” – the cold and wet and dark still an affront after four years of upside down Christmases.

How could we forget?  The streets were decked out in twinkling lights

Parks and Trees Sparkling with Lights

and in the park a crèche competition had drawn dozens of entries.

And miracles do happen, children – R relented and we went in search of a snug hotel room for a couple of nights.   Oh, the luxury of hot water on tap.  Luxury in general, in fact.  All the pensioni we visited were closed for Christmas, turning their rooms over to visiting family and friends.  Even R began to feel a little Joseph and Mary, no-room-at-the-inn – and that was the miracle, because we had to settle for a five-star with plush pile carpet, lifts and en suite bathrooms and yes, air-conditioning, and doormen in uniforms!

There was a kicker of course – this was Franco’s Spain, and keeping a lid on Basque resistance didn’t stop just because it was Christmas.

We had a delicious meal at an almost-deserted restaurant on the square and afterward joined the other diners taking a stroll, arm-in-arm under the twinkling trees.  (It had stopped slushing, thank goodness, but even R didn’t mention that, so glad was he of those whenever-you-want-them hot showers!).

There was something in the air – other couples, small parties of friends or families were similarly strolling around the gaily lit square – measured footfalls and muffled conversations – all of us, anti-clockwise around the lozenge-shaped square.  And cars too.  Singly, or in clusters like the pedestrians, full of youngsters, windows down,  hurling slogans into the air as they lapped the square.  And following them a police car with flashing lights, and a dark-clad truck with soldiers in the rear.  And around and around they went, playing follow the leader, for a mesmerizing eternity until all of a sudden, the street lights dimmed.  The truck came to a halt at the narrow end up ahead, disgorging soldiers, their booted feet clattering on the road.

The passiagiata crowd dematerialised like the Cheshire cat.   I saw R coming toward me at a crouch, mouthing something, one arm flailing at the ground.  A flash of fire.  An unknown sound.  What’s happened to my arm?  I looked down to see a dark, squash ball shape dribbling onto the flags at my feet.  I’m still standing there like a statue in my pale, kangaroo skin coat – even I couldn’t have missed me.

I looked up, they were moving toward us – a group of them, with guns.

Usain Bolt never ran as fast as I did then – pell-mell through those unfamiliar city streets, but always, in the back of my mind the vague direction of the sanctuary of that five-star hotel.  Tourists.  We’ll be safe once we’re among the wealthy tourists.   We slowed somewhat as the uniforms of the doormen appeared ahead but they must have seen our faces for the doors were flung open before we arrived and we didn’t stop running till we’d reached our room and flung ourselves across the bed.  Cold with fear and adrenalin.  Panting.  And then the curiosity.  I peeled off my coat, exposed my arm – already it was blue down to the elbow.  How amazing.  I wonder if the bullet’s still there?   Did you see … ?  Lets go back and see.

Well it wasn’t – someone must have picked it up.  But that’s how we got to have a photograph of the square after midnight, after the army declared enough was enough, that  it was time to send everyone home to bed.

A shocking surprise

This is a trifecta of a post:  the Weekly Photo Challenge “Surprise“, Ailsa’s “Festive“, and Jake’s “Christmas” – do use the links to delve into other surprises and festive stories and pictures.

I’m hoping to bring you a little Sri Lankan Christmas in the next few days, but if I don’t see you – have a safe and happy Christmas, and may your only surprises be under a tree 🙂

26 thoughts on “Decked out for Christmas

  1. You have had a very interesting life Ms. M. I came in to your blog mid-stream, and do believe I’ve missed some very important pieces. And if those pieces aren’t here, then you need to write a book.
    Merry Christmas!

    • It’s been a fabulous life and though I sometimes feel as though my move back ‘home’ is the beginning of the end, it will, of course continue till the end!

      I didn’t start my blog at the beginning Angeline – I rarely start at the beginning – so there are plenty of stories yet to come, though prior to ’76 precious few pictures!

      Happy Christmas to you too 🙂

  2. Beautiful! 🙂
    ¸.•*¨*•.♪♫♫♪Happy Holidays to You & Yours!.♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸ ♥
    ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.★★.•°*”˜.•°*”˜.•°*”˜” ♥ ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.★★.•°*”˜.•°*”˜.•°*”˜”

  3. That must be one of your most memorable Christmases! I’ve spent time in areas where military presence is a fact of life, but I’ve never had any of them involve me in any action!

    Spain is also on the bucket list for travel, but I think it will be much calmer than it was during this Christmas of yours. 🙂

  4. Those lights in the trees look exactly like the ones we have in gib.

    As for the shootings, I’ve only (touch wood) been anywhere near one – Guardia Civil again of course, and it freaked me right out. Glad you got safely to the hotel.

    Feliz Navidad.

  5. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Christmas Surprise Triage at Grandma’s | Humbled Pie

  6. I’d just stopped paying attention and was off in my own little dream world when you got shot, Meredith. That’ll teach me! Well, probably it won’t, but I certainly snapped back to the present. (or the past) Hope your holidays this year are warm, safe and not at all boring.

  7. My Christmases pale into insignificance after reading about yours! Phew!! I’ve old family friends who left Australia to go back to Spain, she being a Spaniard, and they’re not really that happy about things there; all I can say is I’m glad I’m not there! Hope this Christmas is a lot merrier! All the best, :O)

    • Oh, that was a pretty happy Christmas – once I’d persuaded R to splash out on that hotel room and hot showers!

      Yes, I hear the GEC has had devastating consequences in Spain – especially for the young, where around 25% are unemployed. Awful.

      Merry Christmas to you too 🙂

  8. What a story! I can’t believe you went back to the square at midnight! Certainly not one of your ‘experiences’ that will go into my bucket list 😀 Merry Christmas Meredith.

    • I suppose if I’d known beforehand I’d have opted out too, and yet with the vantage of hindsight it’s a wonderful memory, really. It was so interesting, Madhu. It was like a play, with all the characters playing their parts. The kids in their cars driving around taunting the army chaps, who seemed to just follow them around, keeping them in sight – all the while the elders walked sedately, but continually, showing their support of the kids. There was just that one moment of terror, when I saw the soldiers advancing …

      Thank you dear – I’m having a Christmas when you’re not having Christmas – have moved into a suite at the old Galle Face Hotel in town for two days and will take photographs galore, taking advantage of the light traffic on the roads to stop and start without creating too much havoc. Christmas night I’m treating myself to a slap up dinner. It sounds a bit humbug I suppose but without family Christmas is just toooooo awful, despite people’s kindness in including me, and this is the only variation I’ve not tried yet so I thought I’d give it a go!

      Do you celebrate it like so many Sri Lankans do (Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist alike!)?

  9. Whoa – such a story M. My visit to Franco’s Spain entailed soldiers and guns but no firing and no racing through city streets lit for Christmas. So … when’s the book coming out? 😉

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