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miércoles, 18 de noviembre de 2009

Memories of Alcalá 18: The Levante

Spanish original

Every year without fail the Levante would make an appearance. It came out of nowhere, with no warning, but people said it wouldn't stop until after a certain number of days – always an odd number, one, three, five … I didn't know of anything to support this theory, but it never failed. It was one of those things the older people said.

The Levante is the wind which blows from the East, from the Mediterranean, from where the sun rises each morning. It would come tearing through the ravines and river valleys until it crashed into the mountains with their high peaks. From there it reached at full blast the bastions of Alcalá and Medina. For the older people it was a nuisance, disorientating, a real pain. For the children it was a party, liberating, a game with the forces of nature.

At school, when we heard the roaring of the air in the windows, we knew the Levante had arrived. After school we went up through the steep winding streets to play in the archway on the Plaza Alta. We dumped our satchels, unbuttoned our school overalls and opened our arms in the form of a cross. The wind raged round the entrance to the old Town Hall and we made bets as to how long we could stand there without moving, challenging the Levante. The Levante always won in the end, dragging us over to the wall opposite.

Another game was to play football against the Levante. We kicked the ball with as much force as we could, but the Levante always returned it with still greater force. Each time the Levante got the ball into the doorway, it was a goal. Sometimes the ball took off at top speed down the street until it almost reached the Alameda.

Since then I have only once seen a force more powerful than the Levante; that of the sea at the Atunara de La Linea. The waves reached seven or eight metres high and dragged the fishing boats from their moorings. Big ships were wrecked beyond repair.

Another game was to shout and shout until we couldn't hear the roar of the wind. It was impossible, and though we yelled ourselves hoarse we couldn't get on the same sonic wavelength. We went home exhausted and weak, with no voice left, and starving hungry. Our parents knew what we had been up to and said nothing, as if remembering the happier days of their own childhood. When the Levante lasted more than three days, people despaired because it would drive them crazy. But there was always some child playing ball in the street.

They say the Levante originates from a depression over the Mediterranean. Then, a mass of warm, moist air swirls up from the sea and produces black clouds, which end up depositing heavy rainfall when they hit the mountains. The environment which this creates is not good either for mankind or for the crops, because it encourages pests in the countryside, like the aphids which eat the leaves and tender parts of the plants.

One night, the Levante became even fiercer than usual. It started off as a high-pitched wail and ended up a menacing roar. The windows could barely withstand the battering and the windowpanes shook. We children hid under the blankets to escape the roaring of the wind, and managed to get to sleep. But the grown-ups got up to fasten the doors and the shutters because they were so worried by the strength of the wind. The next morning, it was said that the Levante had blown down trees and destroyed the crops, and the weather-vane on La Victoria had been shattered. On the third day, it stopped. What a force!

JUAN LEIVA
Translated by Claire Lloyd


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