Los Olividados - Flanders

Michael introduces a hat from Andorra...

It's worn like this, with the peak, the brim, at the back and it is in fact the distinguishing mark of... the proud distinguishing mark, of the Andorran Olivador, or olive stuffer.

How many of you, I wonder, as you toy with a dry Martini at the bar, have thought of the romance that lies behind the simple stuffed olive? Or have witnessed, as I have, the almost unbearable drama of a Corrida d'Olivas - or Festival of Olive Stuffing?

In Andorra every boy hopes that he, too, will grow up to be one of the truly great Oliveros. And each year in fiesta time people come to watch this traditional sport from as far afield as Cadith, Madrith or, by air ferry, from Lith, as I myself dith.

Let me now try to recreate for you something of the atmosphere of the Corrida d'Olivas.

By 3 o'clock in the afternoon the stands in the great Plaza d'Olivas are packed with spectators and excitement mounts as the band strikes up a pasadoble, announcing the grand entry into the arena of the Olivador. He is closely followed by his assistants: the Picador, with his pick of sharpened wood; the Matador with his small, round mat. They bow to the Presidente Municipale, or Mayor, in his box, who gives the signal for the trumpet to sound and the first olive to be wheeled in. A gasp goes up: for this is no ordinary olive - this is the giant, pendulous Oliva Brava, specially bred for the ring in the rugged foothills of Andaluthea.

The Corrida d'Olivas is divided into three parts, or tethios. First, a tethio of quittes, or passes. Here the Olivador, keeping the rest of his body entirely motionless, passes the olive from hand to hand, trying to soften up its tough outer skin in a bewildering series of veronicas, naturales, media-veronicas, veronicas reverso. All this before the hyper-critical eye of the afithionados, each with his bottle of afithiolemonade.

The trumpet sounds a second time, this time the tethio de banderilleros. And now it is the turn of the Picador: planting his feet firmly together in the sand, he holds his picks at arm's length and prods into the olive, trying to determine whether the stone runs true, up and down, or whether it is set at an angle, favouring one side - the dreaded Oliva Revoltosa.

The trumpet sounds a third and last time - for the tethio del muerte - the moment of truth. The Olivador bows again to the Presidente, saying "I dedicate to you this olive". He then places it on his knee. Murmuring a prayer to St. James of Compostella, he takes the Pica and raises it high above his head. All is hushed. And then in one sudden movement he brings it jabbing down into the heart of the olive and a great cry goes up of "Olé!" - he has made an 'ole! But before the gutted olive can fall to the sand it's caught by the Matador, on his mat, and dragged out of the arena and handed over to the Estuffadores, who are of two types: the Estuffadores Pimentos and the Estuffadores Anchovas. Their dread work done, it is distributed among the poor.

No olive is ever allowed a second time into the arena. And woe betide the Olivador whose olive is Revoltosa, for then, at the moment of Pica, the pick, glancing off the angled stone, will jab hard into (ugh!) his own knee.

A cruel sport? Some may think it so, but this is surely more than a sport: this is more than just a vital art form. What we have experienced here today is total catharsis in the acting out of that primaeval drama of man pitted against the olive.

And as the Sun sets over the now-empty Plaza d'Olivas, nothing is left but a few footprints in the hot sand, with here and there a tell-tale smear of olive oil. And one is reminded of those immortal words of Garthia Lorca (in the Roy Campbell translation):

And this hat? This hat was introduced by perhaps the greatest Olivero of them all, Flaminguez. Flaminguez, it was, who at the very moment of Pica, would give a deft twist of the wrist which sent the sharp olive stone flying high into the air, and this peak... is to stop it going down the back of the neck.


This always reminds me of Tom Lehrer's In Old Mexico
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