Every year in early June, one of the small villages in the Gallinera Valley in south- eastern Spain sponsors the region's Cherry Festival.
Cherries galore of course. For sale in their fresh-from-the-tree wholeness. In preserves. In pastries. In cherry wine. In cherry-blossom honey. You get the picture.
But it was the gigantic paella--a Valenciano festival staple--that captivated me and indeed drew the largest crowds. June in southern Spain. Hot. Yet the steam and heat from the enormous paella pan appeared not to faze anyone. Festival patrons lined up early in the morning to buy paella tickets. Families with children, young couples, busloads of tourists from other parts of Spain--everyone milled around the sweating cooks--watching them rake the bubbling rice and moving just far enough away to elude the shifting smoke from the cooking fire because the closer to the giant cauldron, the sooner one could trade a ticket for a plateful of Valencia's signature dish.
Only the pit-spitting contest--yes, a competition involving grown men and women trying to spew cherry pits further than their neighbors--drew louder cheers of appreciation.
I am returning to Spain in no small part because of the fun I had at the Festival de la Cereza. I can't wait to find out what village will host it this year. But I wonder if it's culturally acceptable to pay someone to wait in line for me for the paella tickets?!