Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Holy Week Confession / Una Confesión de Semana Santa


What's the confession? Simply that I find Spain's Semana Santa observances really boring.
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Well, having the week off I find interesting, but the Semana Santa celebrations held throughout Spain are sooooooooooo boring. The first time I saw one of the traditional processions, I initially found the phenomenon rather interesting. After the first hour or so, however, my mind started wandering -- and wondering what the big deal was about. I ended up feeling like I was at a slow motion, humorless Mardi Gras parade on downers.
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Despite the history, the color, the pageantry, the crowds, and the obvious effort put into the events by the organizing groups (called brotherhoods and fraternities / hermandades y cofradías), these are simply people traipsing about in somewhat frightening looking “penitential robes” (think KKK), carrying enormous religious tableaus (similar to those that can be seen in many Roman Catholic churches) and marching methodically to mind-numbing dirges. You almost expect to see self-flagellating footsloggers somwhere in all the fanfare. What fun!
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Maybe "ominously boring" would be a good way of describing such depressing extravaganzas. To me it's sort of like a bad dream that keeps repeating -- here comes another group of hooded men laboring under another massive platform that holds another brightly painted Sacred Heart / Virgin Mary / Crucifixion / Martyred Saint sculpture, followed by another group of robed acolytes, followed by another group of candle-carrying women in black, followed by another group of hooded men laboring under another massive platform that holds another brightly painted Sacred Heart / Virgin Mary / Crucifixion / Martyred Saint sculpture, followed by another group of robed acolytes, followed by another group of candle-carrying women in black, followed by another group of hooded men... All to the accompaniment of incessant drumming, mournful wailing, and/or brass instruments slowly blaring funereal hymns.
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I find Barcelona a good place to spend this holiday week because there are not very many Semana Santa spectacles, and, therefore they are easy to avoid. In many other cities, especially in Andalusia, they seem to almost completely take over the streets. I speak from some experience, because despite my negative reaction to that first Semana Santa scene, I have given it a try in various Spanish cities, including Alicante, Granada, Malaga and Palma de Majorca.
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Being in Palma was similar to being in Barcelona (i.e., no problems skipping the realtively few parades), so I enjoyed every bit of my time there. While I loved the cities of Alicante and Malaga, I did so despite visiting during Semana Santa. Alicante didn't have as many parades as Malaga and in both places I could at least head to the beach for a little respite when there were "festivities" droning on. In landlocked Granada, however, I was more or less trapped. Indeed, I remember feeling almost hounded by the city's seemingly non-stop processions!
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Instead of the memory of that experience fading, it has actually expanded to include fantastic images of myself being pursued by penitents down Granada's ancient streets, which in my mind seem to wind around in an Escher-like labyrinth. I try to get away from them and turn one corner after another only to keep stumbling upon more giant icons looming above throngs of mesmerized people wearing tunics, hoods and masks. As I am pushed and shoved around I sense that the participants are all trying to absorb me into the crowd so that I will be converted into one of the hordes of zombies condemned to an eternity of watching the monotonous marches go...by...so...very...very...slowly.
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(George A. Romero could have a field day with this “false memory” of mine – not to mention Freud!)
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So, having experienced traditional Semana Santa events in the past, when this time of year rolls around I flatly refuse to go to places like Seville and Cadiz, which are supposed to have some of the "best" celebrations. No, I prefer to be on a beach somewhere in Catalonia.
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Hasta siempre amig@s,
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Carloz

2 comments:

Colin said...

I remember being in Madrid during Easter and not knowing that these parades would be on was by turns fascinated and to some extent appalled by the sight of the parades. I found myself comparing my own Irish Catholic past and the way we celebrated Easter which seemed to be going to mass then heading for the pub (adults) or to the pub garden (kids). On reflection I think the Irish Catholic way was better! :)

Luis said...

“Zombies condemned” and “George A. Romero”! Now, I understand why you told me that I had to read your post, I enjoy it a lot.

By the way, we should think about which are the real motivations of the people who participate in these parades. I said that because, while less and less people attend to mass (basically, old people), progressively, more people participate in the Semana Santa celebrations. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that they are a good place to socialize, to flirt or, even, to do business.

Luis