Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

La Vida Española: Everyone’s invited!

One of the things I love most about Spain, besides the exquisite beauty of its countryside and the crumbling palaces and cobblestone streets, is the powerful sense of community and exuberance that permeates our town.  The celebrations during Semana Santa, “Sainted Week,” are full of life and a crosscut of the entire community, from the very young to the very old and everyone in between. 

My aunts Heide and Traute blended right in!

In Spain, as opposed to other places I’ve lived, people don’t segregate according to age.  Go to the Gaslamp district in San Diego on a Friday night, and you will see the 21-to-30-year-old crowd almost exclusively.  Not here.  Hit downtown Puerto at midnight on Friday, and you will see infants in strollers, parents watching their toddlers play, teenagers partying in botellones (street drinking, while not exactly legal, is tolerated, and a plastic bag with a bottle of gin and 2 liters of tonic is common).  Older people hang out with their grown children at the outdoor cafes, and it’s not uncommon to see grandmas in wheelchairs being pushed through the streets by their kids or grandkids. 

Watching the processions

During Semana Santa, this mixed community is even more obvious.  Semana Santa is the week-long celebration of processions leading up to Easter, and probably the most religious time in Spain, at least in Andalucia.  My aunts Traute and Heide were in town for a visit; this was particularly fortuitous for Traute, a long-time Catholic.  That didn’t mean she wasn’t shocked by the hoods and eyeslits worn by the pentitentes during the processions; these Ku-Klux-Klan-lookalike costumes are startling to just about everyone the first time you see hundreds of cloaked figures come down a darkening street.

Click here to see what I'm talking about

Here they come...intimidating at first

But there’s the community:  Everyone comes out to see the processions.  Or so it seems.  There are all ages, from babies to the oldest senior citizen, watching and clapping as the tortuously heavy floats, borne by dozens of men known as cargadores, are revolved around corners and under electrical wiring in Puerto’s narrow streets.

Click here to see a procession  

Semana Santa is a whole-sensory experience, with the visuals of the stunning floats bearing suffering Christ and a radiantly sorrowful and exquisitely beautiful Maria.  These icons, or statues, or whatever you’d like to call them, have taken on much more meaning for me; seeing them in their alters at the church, I found them beautiful but mildly amusing, dressed in splendor that Jesus and Maria would never had seen.  Now that these figures have passed right past the front door of my house, they have taken on a life of their own, becoming familiar and dear to me.  

A visit by an old friend...or so it seems
Click here to see another procession!

The visual is accented by the odor of incense and the mournful laments of the bands.  All ages participate in the bands as well, and I continue to be amazed at the quality of music achieved by these multi-age marchers.  Primarily made up of trumpets and other brass instruments and supplemented by drums, you can see all ages, men, women, boys, girls, teenagers, and everyone in between, playing and marching together in unison. 

Looking for wax

And these processions include the onlookers, including our American, very-much-not-Catholic kids.  The penitentes carry large, long candles to light their way through these 4-to-5 hour-long processions, and as they stop to rest and switch out cargadores—the onlookers clapping appreciatively every time the float is hoisted successfully—children of all ages dart out with balls to collect the wax.  Tia and Sasha have accumulated an impressive bola; Griffin and Ado keep losing theirs and have had to start over several times.  But the interaction delights our kids, and we watch them slipping from one candle-bearer to the other, intent on their part of the celebration, while the ever-tolerant Spaniards watch and even help them with their task.

Not so scary after all

And the Spanish are nothing if not tolerant, on all sides.  During the morning procession, which begins at the church at 5 am, the silent penitentes wind their way through the narrow streets to the riverfront, passing by the Resbaladero, home to no fewer than 4 discos.  As the procession stopped before its turn up the street right around 7 am, the partygoers spilled out of the dance halls, loud and drunk.  The contrast was fascinating, and I waited to see what would happen, as the discos usually are open until 8 or 9 in the morning.  But after watching for a few minutes, the nightlife crowd dispersed into the onlookers, joining the crowds and clapping for the cargadores.  Or maybe they just went home,  I’m not sure.  Whatever it was, the discos turned off their pumping club music, closed their doors; it was peaceful and friendly, and as the sun rose, the procession band gathered at the corner fell into step and began to play. 

Santa Maria's float
Click here to see Santa Maria pass by

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