Wednesday, 6 January 2016


I first saw them a few days ago, in Macarà, three kilometres inside the Ecuadorean border. A Disney cast of characters, augmented by a Smurf and personages that my ignorance of the national political scene fails to identify. They're propped against a wall outside the balloon and party shop, such that I wonder if they're might be a local story involved. Some life sized, others just models. Gaudy bright, but with a distinct amateurish finish; as if the local primary school's P6 has been perfecting the art of papier-mâché. The detail is exquisite, only they lack permanence. Short shelf lives.

All cultures have ways to conclude the dying year, to draw a line under what has gone before. I remember being sent to take the hot ashes from the fireplace to the bin, the front door being opened just before the 'bells', so to hear the shipping horns down on the Clyde. Yet some are best forgotten, if only for the sake of embarrassment, to wit: that epitome of Scotch kitsch: The White Heather Show. All lost tartan trews and Andy Stewart.

With these customs observed, it's time to start afresh. Traditions that persist and we've just happened on some new ones.

Los Años Viejos; the old year brings out the Monigotes, those effigy characters that we first spotted a few days ago. Now they've moved from lounging nonchalantly to clambering onto car roofs, motorbiker pillion seats, parked outside car showrooms and tethered threateningly in front of vets' surgeries. The hardware store has spray painted spades in the colours of promised prosperity, whilst I wonder if the pharmacy is suggesting that it might trade in anabolic steroids. Traditionally they would be representing those that you didn't care for: your politics, your boss, your creditors. those that you have deemed to have sinned, like the over-remunerated football striker who failed to score, or the customer who's failed to settle their tab.

Then the tradition morphed to include characters from the popular imagination, Marvel's superheroes, or Looney Tunes' animates, to those who have been prominent in the previous year. It will also include the wish list; hence the motorbike on a car roof that passed me. Many of the creations are wonderfully crafted. There was ET who filled the cargo bed of a pickup, Spider-Man clinging to the roof of a speeding car, Peppa-Pig impregnated into a van's radiator grille. On other occasions you get the impression that there's a back story, an 'in-story', a history of incident that's being purged.

What is a near consistent: they're all male orientated.

Which introduces another cast of performers. The Vindas. The Widows. The 'wives' of the Monigotes, those effigies that will be burnt at midnight. Performed by young men dressed in luminous wigs and stuffed bras, suspenders belts and high heels, who then hold to ransom the passing traffic. That is, until some beer money has been elicited.

As if all this frenzy were not enough, there's all the other traditions to be adhered to.

Tradition: Retail Therapy. The purchase of yellow underwear to encourage prosperity, try red if it's love you crave or green for the filthy lucre. Silver and pink wigs to re-enact 'Frozen', a black plastic scythe with a white face mask to mimic Munch's 'Scream'. Then there's the acquisition of fireworks, and don't forget the beer. Crates of Pilsen are stacked in canyons down the narrow pavements, whist the explosives vendors furtively materialise after dark.

Tradition: the clear-out. The gents' barbers are ankle deep in hair clippings, metallic spray is in fashion. The car-washes are queued out, sudsy sludge flowing down the gutters.

The dark comes quickly, private parties break out in the now closed shops and cafés. The music from the karaoke bars steadily magnifies. With an half hour of the old year left, the impatient start to detonate the first rockets, little boys fling fire crackers into echoing alleys. The countdown reverberates across the plaza, and on the stroke, the first bonfire blazes. All those effigies, all that bad karma from last year goes up in flames. Purged. With the leaping flames comes one more ritual. Fire jumping. The cathartic purification of the old and if you want to add a little excitment, carry a tumbler of your favourite fire water.

We watch from a safe distance, I've seen one to many mis-fired rockets, one too many squibs skittering at ankle height today.

Tomorrow all that will be left will be a heap of ghost ash, an occasional part-charred paper skull and a populace being poured into taxis. For the party still has a full day to run.

Another year has begun, another year of collecting characters for the next old-year's bonfire of the sinners.