The drum rolled
again, the whistle blew, and the two of us started walking. At least, all I had
to do was to try to keep still. We walked through the square, down a fairly
long street and then the drum beat again, the cap de colla waved and the man
under me stopped walking. Just above my head a window opened. "It's the
boy," shouted the cap. "Don't look up. Keep still. He's going to climb
down on top of you." "Brace your shoulders," cried Ignacio. I
braced my shoulders and waited. It seemed a very long time, and then I felt him
coming down on my shoulders. The drum beat, and I started swaying. Hands
pressed forward, but it was no good.
I woke up in my
hotel room. Ignacio was leaning over me. "What happened?" I asked.
"Nothing much," said Ignacio. "Just a few cuts and one or two
bruises. You went through a plate-glass window. I've brought the bill with me.
The whole art of the game is knowing how to fall."
I have never
heard of a student of bagpipes, but I suppose such a thing exists, since nearly
everybody is a student of something. When I arrived in Galicia I was very
surprised to discover that bagpipes formed the greater part of the national
music, and decided, with the help of wine, aguardiente, brandy, anis and
extraordinarily cheap champagne cocktails, to make a study of them. The flower
of bagpipe time is during the Feast of the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela,
when groups of players accompanied by a man with a tiny drum march through the
streets playing tamed Celtic airs. They are dressed in breeches, red stockings,
and flutter with ribbons, the great gourd of their pipes slung over their
shoulders like a haunch of venison. But it is a sad procession, unwitnessed and
unloved, like a robin singing in a cemetery. The people of Santiago are praying
or drinking, their great red-haired gods sulking in the mists of the mountains,
and nobody gives a damn.
I hadn't been
long in Santiago before I met Jonathan Speed. He was a plump man with faraway
belligerent eyes who had come to Galicia to study cathedrals. But it was
obvious that he was in search of something else, a private phantom, a strange
One day we heard
some bagpipes. They were as wild as wind in the heather, stark with the naked
cries of happy murderers in the glens, as Scotch as haggis or as Irish as
promises. "Astounding," said Speed. "To hell with cathedrals and
progressive jazz. Let us buy bagpipes."
Somebody told us
about a master bagpipe manufacturer called Pablo. He made the bagpipes in front
of your very eyes as another man makes hats or cigars. And when he had fluted
the bagpipes he put the pipe to his lips and Pan blazed in the shop. Pan, and
no other. Wonderful, insuperable, lost Pan. "The very thing," said
Speed, and we went to the shop with one of those eternal Spanish friends who
hunt for you everything from sardines to saints. There, in a lost street,
crumpled with children, we entered a shop sweet with new sharpened wood, the
hum of a lathe and the royal red blaze of the bagpipe blowers.
"Make me a
bagpipe," said Speed.
"And me a
bagpipe without the bag," I said.
In half an hour
the bagpipes were on the counter and in another quarter of an hour I had a pipe
as gay as a tinker's donkey. Speed slung the bag over his shoulder, blew on the
pipe, there was a roar like a stuck pig, and a tune came out as brave as a
field in May. It was a Northumbrian air, but it made no difference. I blew on
my pipe and there was nothing but the wind. "Dance," said Speed, so I
danced a vague Hibernian dance, and the children scuttled into the shop and
Pablo himself raised the fluted pipe to his mouth and the sawdust room was a
world of glowworms. Later we went from feast to feast until one day he suddenly
put on a black suit and a Homburg hat and left for England. "My work,"
he said. Poetry or progressive jazz or cathedrals? I didn't ask him. I am
English, but I don't understand the English.
I was alone with
the pipe. I started to blow it in my small hotel high up above the Civil
Guards, the commercial travellers, the pigs and the hens and the bells. I blew
and I blew and not a note came out, just a sound like wind in the wainscoting,
like old men coughing over their pipes in a ruined dormitory. I packed up, paid
my hotel bill and left for the village of Ribeira at the end of a bay and went
up into the hills. "Look out for wolves, eagles and ghosts," said an
old female domestic, who occasionally threw a bucket of water into the Stone
Age latrine. She told me about an eagle which had killed an elderly councilor
in the town hall. "It sat outside the window and stared at him," she
said. "He died of fright." They came from Portugal and might be dead