The summer fiestas start to fade, and as they do, they merge with and morph into another form of tradition - the fair. Or they do subject to the caveat with which we have grown all too familiar. “In accordance with Covid regulations” is given as much prominence in programmes as the slimmed-down schedule itself. Even so, and because fiestas and fairs can take place (after a fashion), there is the seamless transition from one set of celebrations to t’other, with some combining both elements.
No event more symbolises this seasonal transition than Binissalem’s Vermar, aka Sa Vermada. It retains disappearing summer by insisting on fiesta but accepts the fair time of year marked by the grape harvest.
In a normal year, the Binissalem festivities would be as drawn out as the Can Picafort August fiestas. But unlike those firmly summer parties, the Vermar’s length enables it to straddle seasons; it starts in summer and ends in autumn. It is equinoctial fiesta.
The Vermar, a vinous grand tasting, treads grapes and presents a battle of almost festishistic down-and-dirty rolling in crushed fruit. Supremely stupid and enormous fun, the grape-throwing is like paintball minus the pretend militarism. Binissalem, the home also of the stone fiesta, is the centre of rural celebration; its parties are statements of difference.
Yet one wonders if the Vermar may ultimately continue at the time of the turn of the seasons. Climate change, so we are told, is leading to grape-ripening occurring earlier and to new challenges to wine-makers. Spain has more land devoted to vines than any other country. Rising temperatures threaten not only the grape industry but also the fiestas; something other than Covid to worry about.
The autumn fair is encountered all over the island. Alcudia has its at the start of October. Like others, it blends (or would blend) the farm machinery, the stands for local produce and the animals with the giants, folk dance and night party of the fiesta. DJs and bands rage by the old-town centre and keep the neighbours awake. For some, Covid might actually be a blessing. No disturbed night’s sleep with permission of the town hall.
At the fair are all manner of local curiosities - from fans and hats to custom cars of eccentric design and highly-tuned engines. The fairs are also occasions for the island to show off - government and Council of Mallorca publicity for recycling, sustainability and the circular economy, plus the economy’s wares in the form of, for example, Mallorcan wines.
And Alcudia can boast the very best of bigheads, the special group that was created for the fair’s revival in 1989 - S’Estol Rei en Jaume, King James’ troupe with weird characters from folk tales, like the Mad Miller who throws flour over you. They are now accompanied by a new but old gang - Els Vilatans de Guinyent, the villagers of the settlement that disappeared centuries ago.
Symbols have to be created in order to become tradition. The cultural association Sarau Alcudienc invented Jaume and his fellow personalities. In Binissalem, the Vermar started life in 1965 as something of a private affair for wine connoisseurs. The fiesta potential was quickly recognised, and so symbols were required - the “vermadores”, the grape harvest maids of honour, who were subsequently joined by their male counterparts, the “vermadors”. Equality in Binissalem, but it was female-led.
They, the vermadores and vermadors, will perform their duties, such as at the offering to Santa Maria de Robines for “the blood which is the wine that alleviates souls, blood from the earth that sustains us”. The wording comes from a poem written for the Vermar in 1968. It is a different form of acquired tradition for a village that can sometimes have an unwanted one - misspelling.
It has not been unknown, for instance, for a grape battle to have taken place somewhere else - Binnisalem. Arabic didn’t bequeath “binn” to island toponymy. Bini - Biniali, Biniagual, Biniaraix, Binissalem - was derived from beni, sons of, and came to act in Catalan rather like Ca’n, house of. The rest of the name of the village is from salam, to save. A Covid message lurks even in a place name.