Tuesday 28 March 2017

A Long, Slow Journey 6: Celtic Air in Pontevedra

There are place names that you automatically associate with a tune. It will always be a long way to Tipperary, just as there will always be a track winding back to Gundagai.

[A cross marking the pilgrim route through Galicia] 
But a tune associated with the Galician city of Pontevedra? That might stump most, or at least those outside Galicia. Here’s where my inner Celtic-folk-nerd comes to the rescue, thanks to many years as a folk music radio host. So back in Arcade I’ve been preparing for our walk into Pontevedra by listening to one of the quintessential Celtic tunes for this region. (Galicia shares some of the same music and culture as places like Ireland, Scotland and Brittany). The music in question is the traditional pipe tune called Aires de Pontevedra.

The beautifully uplifting air was originally written for the gaita, a Galician mouth-blown bagpipe. It has become so popular that there are now versions played by folk musicians all over the world. Scottish highland bagpipes, Irish uilleann pipes, fiddles, flutes, accordions and guitars have all had a go at it.

For me one of the definitive performances is by Galician piper Carlos Nunez, a native of nearby Vigo. You can watch a live version here https://youtu.be/LG9tp1_UQFs

The Aires becomes my ear-worm as we climb out of Arcade into cloud-shrouded hills. Gone are the desiccated corn fields and eucalypt plantations of the lower lands. We’re now walking through lush forest with a distinctly Celtic feel to it. Showers come and go, ferns cover the forest floor, moss climbs the tree trunks and spills onto the cobbles.

[Climbing out of Arcade, Spain] 
The pilgrim network comes in handy today. We’ve been told that there’s a new route into Pontevedra for pilgrims. Instead of traipsing through the industrial outskirts of the city, we amble along the bosky banks of the Rio Gafos. We’re almost into the heart of the city before we have to hit the pavement.

[Walking through woods beside Rio Gafos] 
The Celtic air holds sway over the city too, with showers frequently passing over. We dodge them as best we can, and explore the old town with its narrow cobbled streets and lively food trade. 

[A Pontevedran rainbow] 
During one downpour we retreat to a bar and find our American friends Karl and Bill ensconced there. Ever knowledgeable about their surrounds, they tell us that the Church of La Pegrina opposite us is shaped like a pilgrim shell, and has long been a waypoint for pilgrims on their path to Santiago.

[An 'atmospheric' morning at Pontevedra's Pilgrim Church 
Although we leave Pontevedra early in the morning, the sun should be well up. But the Galician weather has remained “atmospheric”. The streetlights struggle to penetrate the fog as we wind through the cobbled lanes and over the old Burgo Bridge, near the site of an ancient Roman bridge over the Lerez. 

[Leaving a foggy Pontevedra] 

[The Burgo Bridge over Rio Lerez ]
Just before we leave the city, it seems fitting that we find a statue dedicated to a musician. The late accordion player Luis César Dios Rodríguez (better known here as “Diosino”) was one of Pontevedra’s musical heroes. It’s a touching tribute, but I can’t help chuckling at the thought that any accordion player in Australia would ever earn a nick-name that translates as “little god”!

[Statue honouring 'Diosino' in Pontevedra]

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