One of the great attractions of San Mateo – the week-long festival taking place in Logroño, the capital of La Rioja, these days – are the weird and wonderful events put on by local clubs.
No one in the tourist information office could tell me what Tirada a la Rana (literally: Throw at the frog) consisted of. It was, it turned out when I found my way to a nearby street, a variation on a well-loved and global fairground activity testing people’s chucking prowess. In this case the local club, Peña La Unión, was challenging people to lob small disks into the mouth of a metal frog. Each competitor had 10 throws. Few managed to score a direct hit.
In Logroño’s old quarter, many stands had a gastronomic delicacy at heart. A club with connections to neighbouring Navarra were offering chistorra (a type of sausage) hot dogs and a glass of wine. Not far away Peña Rondalosa was busy barbecuing hundreds of sardines served on bread with a glass of wine. And beside the cathedral was the Federation of Peñas offering stuffed red peppers… with a small bottle of wine. Notice the trend here?
Aside from these stalls a staple of many La Rioja festivals, giants and “cabezudos” (big heads) were winding and twirling their way through the city’s streets. The giants are big but relatively harmless. The cabezudos, however, have a not entirely agreeable habit of sneeking up on the unsuspecting and giving them a whack with a large club. No one, young or old, appears to be immune from their attentions. In their wake many parents are left comforting petrified small children. But all in the best possible taste, of course.