Now it was about midnight, and all of a sudden the goat we’d heard earlier appeared, led along a leash, bleating furiously, and the children at the tables rushed out of the tent to pat it. The oldest child, a girl about eleven or so, took over the leash, and led the goat and all of the smaller children up and down each row of tables, so that all of the adults could admire it and pat it for themselves. One little boy, however, was very concerned with its angry bleats, and once the goat was tied to a pole outside of the tent, he tried to calm it with hugs and gentle pats, talking softly and warning the other children to stay away. When I went up to pat it, he showed me the little horns that were about to erupt from the top of its head and assured me the little goat was “lindo, muy lindo,” which I agreed with enthusiastically. Later that night, after buying dozens of raffle tickets, we found out the goat was the prize, and would be slaughtered on the spot for the lucky winner to take home.
Giant sheets of a slightly sweet pound cake soaked in milk sort of like Tres Leches cake (minus most of the sugar) cut in squares were handed out with tongs to everyone, and coffee was served at top speed, but not quickly enough for our table (which was last) in big, stainless steel coffee pots with long curving spouts carried in one hand, while in the other hand, the server held a bottle of milk with at least four other bottles of different kinds of liquor (rum or whiskies? I couldn’t see) clutched between his fingers. Someone else gave out little cigars the size of cigarettes to everyone, and laughing, two each for every for women.
I used to smoke (a lot) and although its been fifteen years since I’ve had a cigarette, one puff of that little cigarillo, and I knew the only thing that still stood between me and smoking was (sadly) will power. It wasn’t disgusting or awful or like the smell of bars and ashtrays, but wonderful and satisfying—just as I remembered it. I left the table instead and wandered over to the fire, where a big pot was being stirred. It smelled like the scent autumn on this cold, cold July night (we all should have been wearing long pants and warm jackets), and when I looked inside, I saw a swirling liquid filled with apple slices. The man at the fire took out a match and lit the whole thing on fire. He then dipped a ladle in and pulled it high up at shoulder height so that there was a thin column of blue flame shooting straight down from the big spoon into the pot of fire.
This was aguariendente, liquor specific to northern Spain, similar to grappa but smoother, distilled from the skins of the grapes leftover from winemaking. You can buy it commercially bottled in different flavors like honey or coffee or the bright yellow “des hierbas,” but this was the real stuff, homemade and strong. A swallow or two was served from the same big pots the coffee came in--just a swallow tasting of apples and honey, and it was strong, strong enough to knock your socks off. Then the dancing began.
My husband’s great-aunts used to always dance together at family events (before they got too old), much to everyone’s quiet amusement, and now I know why. The dancing at the fiesta started mostly with the Austurianos; all the girls danced together and the old women, and then the men joined in, not dancing with each other, but with their wives and girlfriends. Everyone helped themselves to cocktails in long, skinny glasses with big, square cubes of ice and the party continued on, going strong until early the next morning. We got directions back minus the shortcut, and around 1:30 am, with our dozing children, drove slowly through the silent fog home, startling only an owl on the way, who flew with wide wings outspread, into the darkness.