A Tale of Two Cities – End of the Festa

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The scene at 11am Sunday morning. The climax of the entire week, the most boisterous, enthusiastic atmosphere you could ever find yourself in! The San Gejtanu band and St. Joseph playing at the same time, right behind each other, competing, insulting, dancing, the entire High Street packed to the brim – everyone’s been up drinking since 8am in the August heat and now it’s on! 
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There is absolutely no room to move. People climb on walls, on phone boxes, on ledges, to try to get a decent view. The streets are crammed so as not even an ant could fit, and this before the main band has even arrived! 
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Now it’s a sea of flags, a legion, a regiment, dancing and waving to the anthems of the band, the young and old in full voice, despite a week full of drinking and singing!
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Right in the heart of the crowds. It was hot, crowded, sweaty, loud, smell of beer everywhere – this isn’t for the faint of heart!
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The slight August winds make waving those large flags a tiring feat. The march starts at 11am and at 3pm it must wrap up, go in, and pack up for another year. If the band stays longer than their allotted time church bells start ringing to drown them out. These are part of the strict regulations imposed on the band-clubs after the 1987 brawl.
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The feast is well-known around the country – local television crews come to film it and many outsiders come to visit it. 
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The view from my house, my old, wooden balcony; the St. Joseph march begin their rushed procession through the streets, whilst their supporters wait for them in front of the band-club for the 3 o’clock final flurry!
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The party isn’t only in the streets – it’s also in the clubs themselves, where deputy prime ministers, ministers et al mingle with the revelers, drinking with them in the loudest music you’re ever likely to hear.
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Now it’s the 3pm climax. The San Gejtanu band and their supporters are gathered outside the band-club and the finale begins.
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Always bear in mind that these people have been drinking every night of the week, including last night, Saturday until at least 1am, got up at 8am and by 3pm in the heat of the afternoon they’re still going! This is the most hardcore party in the Mediterranean. 
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And now it’s 8pm at night. After 3pm the revelers go in for a siesta nursing hangovers they could build landmarks for, and the most dedicated amongst them will re-emerge in the evening to witness the procession of the statue. This time it’s a more sedate affair. People dress up formally and the mood is less Ibiza more Catholic.
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A close up of the statue of the town built half a century ago in the harbour. San Gejtanu is seen kneeling to receive baby Jesus from the Virgin Mary.
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Carrying the statue is a tough act – the carriers practise year-round with barrels. And it’s not just a matter of weight, it’s co-ordination too, which is why there are the men in suits and staffs on the side making sure the men are well-aligned and the statue is well-balanced. There is great reverence for the statue and the saint.
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Ready, steady – God! At 10pm the statue arrives in front of the church. People gather in their thousands to watch the running of the statue. Remember those stairs of the church? The statue has to run up those steep, inclined steps on the shoulders of local giants.
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The head priest of the church gives a brief speech, then fanfare is played, then a nervous silence… the statue does the run, it wobbles a bit at the top, everyone gasps for breath, but then it steadies and then a relieved round of applause rings out with people shouting Viva Gejtu!
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About two years ago the statue nearly fell as it got to the top. Actually, it did fall, but it was held up by the crowds so it was saved, most of the carriers were injured, but they dried themselves off, recovered and took in the statue. Heroes. You can find the video on Youtube. But this year it all went accordingly San Gejtanu returns to his church and the festa is over for another year. Now a sense of emptiness, a nostalgic melancholy sets in on the town. And tomorrow, it will be a ghost town, all shops closed, the streets full of beer, confetti and angel-less pedestals. But there is hope, there is always next year!
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