By Julie Galosy
We heard the church bells first: clanging some kind of secret message. They didn’t toll the time nor transmit a warning. They just chimed.
Out of the window we saw the whole village in motion. Bundled up, they scurried down the hill, past the one-room church, toward the marina. They came in a steady stream, all 800 of them. No one was missing. Although we were the only foreigners in this Catalan village we didn’t want to be the only outsiders; we joined the migration.
At the edge of the sea the marina housed the fishing boats, the soul of the town, and a few putt putts. It was here that the whole village had assembled along the board walk atop the harbor, clustered in family units.
“Mira, mira,” our neighbor Carmina said to me with old Josep smiling and nodding at her side. He pointed out to sea. There was a distant glow moving slowly across the Mediterranean toward the village. We watched as it approached, the tension heightening. Children started clapping and jumping with excitement as the air buzzed with the shouts of anticipation.
The glow got stronger and stronger until at last, its source—one of the fishing boats—entered the harbor. It was festooned from stem to stern in white lights encasing it in a halo as it slipped into its place. The crowd erupted in a hurricane yell of happiness, clapping, screaming.
“Mira, mira” screamed Carmina over the din, “Los Reyes.” The Kings.
Dozens of children came off the boat carrying flares to light the way. There followed the three honored guests– Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar–The Three Kings. They were dressed in royal finery, long satin robes covered with shawls encrusted with sequins and rhinestones. Their long locks escaped from under golden crowns. Their beards were full and curled.
They moved slowly, following the lights provided by the children leading them. As the retinue advanced, amoeba-like along the marina, the Kings tossed candies to the screaming throngs of children wildly welcoming them on the boardwalk. Each handful of soaring candies was greeted by a mad rush of urchins jetting about and around trying to capture the sweet projectiles. The court moved as one to the front of the church, the crowd parting as the Red Sea to let them pass.
Cries of “Los Reyes! Los Reyes!” greeted them as they acknowledged the adulation of the gathering.
Finally, they arrived at the church. The priest, already in position, awaited his duty, with his ever-present lover at his side. The crowd shifted from the edge of the sea to the plaza in front of the church.
The priest blessed the crowd and welcomed the Kings in a speech barely audible, even with the feedback-squeaking microphone, over the screams of the children. Finally the mayor called for calm and like a shock—the crowd instantly silenced, but the frenzy of anticipation churned just beneath the surface.
I looked at Carmina quizzically. “Espera, espera” she said. Wait.
“Jorge Gonzalez” came the first name echoing through the quiet village. Answering with a shriek, a tiny tot disconnected from the crowd and working his way through the legs of the throng, he ran to the front of the church. There he found one of the Kings in possession of a festively-wrapped treasure just for him. With great affection the King bowed deeply to accept the two-cheeked kiss from the little lad before he eagerly grabbed his prize and disappeared back into the crowd, enfolding into its bulk.
“Ann Marie Bustmante,” the name wafted through the village with the responding shriek as a girl worked her way through the maze of onlookers to receive her kiss and her gift from the Kings. And, so it would go for hours, until all of the children of the village had their moment, their instant of fame, gathered in the warmth of their families and the beneficence of the Kings.
We melted away then, we guests in their midst, smiling with the knowledge that we had just been privileged to share in this magic moment with our neighbors who didn’t even realize how special it had been.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com