The four friends had met while they were on Erasmus scholarships in Prague and, during a night out at the city’s famous Roxy club, they’d all agreed to travel to Jerez together. Laura was the only Spaniard among them. Catherine was French, Joanna was Polish and Brünnhilde, with such a Wagnerian name, was obviously German.
“I love horses,” said Catherine, dreamily.
“I’m into motorbikes and bikers with tattoos,” added Brünnhilde, desire glistening in her eyes.
“Pure flamenco’s what fascinates me,” said Joanna.
“Well, what I really love is wine,” Laura finished off. And that’s when the ideal destination came to mind. “There’s only one city in the world where those four passions could coincide and that’s Jerez de la Frontera.”
“So Jerez it is!” shouted the four as they raised their shots of Jägermeister and, in true Erasmus-student drinking style, downed them in one.
Next it was time to sort out the details.
“As there’s no specific season for wines, we should look for the date when we can enjoy the motorbikes, flamenco and horses between one bottle of sherry and the next.”
Brünnhilde, with trademark German efficiency, did a quick search on her mobile and declared,
“I’ve got it, girls.”
The other three friends looked at her expectantly, oblivious to the club noise inside Roxy and the drunken partying going on around them.
“The MotoGP is in May, the Horse Fair is a week earlier and the Jerez Flamenco Festival is in March.”
“So we can arrive at the end of March, enjoy the flamenco, drink wine through April and then in May see the bikes and the horses,” calculated Catherine.
“Can’t we drink sherry in March and May as well?” asked Laura.
They all burst out laughing, then downed another shot.
“It’s a brilliant plan! A dream trip. But what will we live on?”
At that point, Laura, who was from the north of Spain and had never been to Jerez, took the lead.
“I’ve got a cousin who lives there. I haven’t seen him for ten years but we’ve always got along really well. I can ask him to keep an eye out for something.”
“Is he hot?” asked Joanna.
“What? He’s my cousin!” Laura hit back.
“Actually, he’s not bad looking at all…” She nudged Brünnhilde, “and he’s a biker so he’ll get us tickets for the MotoGP for sure.”
“What’s his name?”
“Juan, but everyone calls him Johnny. He always introduces himself as Johnny Blaze.
“Why does that name sound familiar?” wondered Joanna, out loud.
A few days later, Laura made an announcement.
“My cousin’s got us all jobs in a bar on Calle Larga, which is the main street in Jerez. He says that it’s full of foreigners trying out the local wines.”
“Perfect!” said Catherine, who was mad about sherry, which in France is known as xérès.
The four arrived to the city in the month of March and met up at the Rotonda del Minotauro — a roundabout dominated by an imposing statue of a Minotaur — near the railway station. Laura adopted a mysterious air and spoke to them all in whispers.
“There’s something I haven’t told you about my cousin because I know you’re all superstitious and you might not have come.”
“What’s it about?”
“Are you together?”
“Is he gay?”
Laura brushed aside these options with a wave of her hand.
“The thing is… I told you he was a biker. But in fact he passed away in an accident many years ago.”
“Yes, but he made a kind of pact with some darker force so that he could carry on riding his bike and doing people favours.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“No, no. Look…” On her mobile, she showed them a news item from a decade ago. It recounted a bizarre accident in which a biker and his motorbike had been literally flattened by a container that had fallen from a crane in Puerto de Santa María. Johnny’s body, however, had never been found.
“Don’t be scared. He’s dead but he’s a great guy all the same. And with a fantastic sense of humour.”
“And he’s found us a job!”
“But if he’s dead,” ventured Brünnhilde, “Can he…? You know what I mean. Bikers turn me on but not sure if that’s taking it a bit too far.”
“Oh, yes! Johnny loves partying. And he’s in fine form, if that’s what you’re referring to.” She grinned at her friend mischievously. “You’ll have no complaints. Being dead nowadays isn’t as serious as it used to be. Don’t give it another thought.”
They all stayed in a student flat close to the university, walking distance from the bar on Calle Larga. The place turned out to be a truly eccentric joint, which went by the name of Ghost Rider.
The four enjoyed outings to nearby villages such as San Lúcar de Barrameda, Trebujena, Rota, Chipiona or Puerto de Santa María, to see the place where Jonny had passed away. Then they headed for the first great event on their calendar, Jerez Flamenco Festival, where the heartfelt depth of the different cante jondo styles left them trembling with emotion. For Joanna, who was genuinely enamoured of flamenco, it was one of the best experiences in her life.
Since the twelfth century, the English had been aware of sherry or Jerez wine. Long before that, however, the Roman patricians had developed a soft spot for this region’s liquid delights, served at their bacchanalia and celebrations.
Fino, manzanilla, oloroso, amontillado and palocortado are the names of the most famous Jerez wines. They’re made from grape varieties brought here centuries ago by the Phoenicians and which, during Arab domination of this region, survived the Quran’s prohibition on wine production.
Thanks to these survivors, the girls spent the whole month of April wine tasting, working and enjoying life in the city. They made a short getaway to Seville as well, to try manzanilla and check out the Feria de Abril. Then it was time for the MotoGP. Johnny had got them first-rate tickets, while Brünnhilde was more and more taken with this deceased yet friendly biker.
Soon it was the last phase of their incredible journey, the Horse Fair. Together with her friends, Catherine looked on in ecstasy while the chestnut thoroughbreds jumped and pranced, perfectly controlled by their expert riders. Afterwards, of course, the four friends ventured into numerous, colourful fairground huts to carry on drinking the region’s wines.
The day for goodbyes finally came and Brünnhilde, who had a valkyrie’s name, caressed Laura’s cousin on the cheek.
“So you’re really dead, Johnny?”
“It’s such a shame! You’re so cute!” Brünnhilde sighed.
Johnny shrugged, kissed her with his icy lips and said to them all,
“We’ll see each other again.”
“Not in hell, I hope!”
And he rode off down Calle Arcos, towards the municipal cemetery.
Illustration: Amaya Arrazola