For those of you that aren’t privy to the epic episode of Gilmore Girls in Season 5, Rory pursues a story for the The Yale Daily News by investigating a gorilla-masked, ball-gown wearing girl who yells “In Omnia Peratus” before jumping into a a dark and swanky SUV with a bottle of champagne. Her investigation of the campus’ Secret Society lands her blind-folded in the dark Connecticut woods, where members are clothed in elegant ball gowns, tuxes, enjoying champagne and fine cheese, not using the letter “E” in speech, and chanting Latin hymns. While there is a touch of eeriness, the event really lends itself more to a classy fraternity party. It is “glamping” for the elite. It’s whimsical and mysterious and leaves most wondering, “why didn’t my college experience resemble this??”. The event culminates in a “big spectacle” that everyone believes will be a “life or death” situation, deeming the name of the group-Life and Death Brigade worthy, but it turns out to be something lighter and fun.
I, myself, a proud (yup, proud) Gilmore Girls’ fan, have always watch this and look back with nostalgic remorse, thinking that my college-experience was lacking because it did not include this far-fetched and unlikely party in the woods. The remote location of the retreat, the candles, the camping, the elegant clothing, a big spectacle, champagne… I never thought I would experience anything even vaguely similar. But then one fine July day last summer, I got my own little taste of such an event, in the small little town of As Pontes, Spain.
As Pontes is one of my favorite towns in Spain, in the heart of Galicia. Known for its profound skyline with one of the largest power plants in the North-west of Spain, it merges industrialism with culture in its quaint little town. One only needs to spend a short amount of time there before you can walk into any cafe and have that “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” warm and fuzzy feeling. Aside from the delicious food you will find in this town, you can also find Europe’s largest man-made lake (complete with beach for leisurely sun-bathing and water sports), fresh taps of Estrella Galicia, and above all, some of the most invested festivals. To learn more about As Pontes and other festivals, read here!
But, their signature festival: Fraga. Prior to attending, I was always resisting the image of “Fraggle Rock” every time I heard the name, “Fraga”. After attending, I have vastly different images in my head. Fraga is actually the name of a neighborhood in As Pontes. This neighborhood sits closest to the town park where Río Eume flows. Festa do Fraga (Galician for Fraga Festival), spans over 4-5 days, usually over a weekend, and settles itself in the Fraga neighborhood park. Groups of friends and families set up temporary homes, cabins and tents to live in for the entire festival. It’s ironic to me, since the majority of the town attends, and their actual homes are only a short walking distance from this park. However, living in the park for the festival is an integral part of the overall Fraga experience.
Okay, so you won’t find candles, but at one point the electricity did go out and everyone resorted to iPhone-flashlights. You won’t find cryptic speech that excludes the letter “e”. You won’t see or wear fine elegant clothing, and champagne may be hard to come by. You won’t see cute white-cloth tents adorned with wash basins and cots. And finally, the big finale spectacle won’t include jumping off of 5-foot scaffolding, tethered by a bungee chord, and using an umbrella as a parachute.
But you will be attending a raging party in the woods. You will camp. You will drink. It will be dark, and there will be a grande finale spectacle, that may put you in life-or-death situations.
So instead of white-cloth fabric tents, you’ll find rustic self-constructed plywood cabins, party tents, tree forts. You won’t hear “e”-emitted speech, but you will hear more Galician than Spanish. In place of chanted Latin hymns you’ll hear tidbits of regeton and Spanish music blaring from personal radios in the tents, interspersed with traditional Galician music weaving its rustic tunes through the tents from the main concert stage on the hill. Most notably, where your image of the Life and Death brigade event leads your mind to classy, old-world dress, you’ll find a hodgepodge of crazy Summer attire. The first golden rule of Fraga I was required to follow: wear the worst clothing you own, because you will never be able to wear it again.
The final grande spectacle at Fraga is called “Sesión Vermú”. For all intents and purposes, it is a concert, and a rowdy one. This is the critical moment when those old, grubby clothes you’re wearing won’t ever see the light of day again. Typically, one attends the festival with a choice beverage or two. There are cases of Estrella Galicia everywhere… typical party and concert beverages. However, drinking the alcohol isn’t so much the issue, as is the inevitability of alcohol seeping through every pore. The Sesión Vermú band is always the same band each year and they know how to get the crowd riled up. There’s a lot of raging, throwing of drinks in the air, dancing, pushing and jumping. In the end, I walked out with a few bumps and bruises, and completely drenched in the sticky combo of wine, soft drink and beer. Traditionally, the next step is to go wash-off in the muddy river, still clothed. A washing machine doesn’t have much hope left for your clothes at this point.
Fraga is spirited, fun, and Galician. Like the Life and Death Brigade, it transcends norms, and yet maintains tradition. It unites old friends, strangers, and an entire community. And all the while, it’s secluded, a secret to the rest of the world…until now!