I visited Southern Spain during Holy Week (Semana Santa), and stayed with a good friend in her home town of Linares. During my stay I wrote a blog everyday, learning about the religious culture behind Semana Santa and generally my observations as a foreigner in Spain for the first time.
I was very tired when I arrived in Linares. It was a long day travelling from Leeds to Malaga, waiting for our transport and arriving late at night. My observations were based around sitting in a car and staring out of the window.
I noticed the motorways are better than the UK, Carmen says they’re awful in southern Spain, which says a lot about how terrible the UK must be.
I also like the mountains and the tree farms planted so orderly (Carmen tells me they’re olive trees), I kinda like the weirdness of the olive forest being so geometric.
Carmen’s family is lovely and although I can’t really have a proper conversation and can only pick up the occasional word, I feel welcome and not isolated. It’s sometimes nice to be silent and observe.
The view from Carmen’s family home is lovely, although bull fighting is cruel, it’s still part of Spain’s history. [more about that later]
Palm Sunday! I’d forgotten about its existence. Domingo de Ramos.
We watched the procession in the city centre. Carmen tells me that everyone dresses up smart in new clothes for this day, and that the Spanish aren’t always that smart. The city was heaving, simply everyone was out. The bars were packed. The procession itself was fascinating, Catholic iconography, a lot of emphasis on the Virgin Mary too (giving the mother and a woman, importance seems like a very good idea to me). The cloaks were colourful, but sadly the KKK stole their look. Carmen says the procession is called ‘The Little Donkey’ parade, I sang her the song we used to sing at Christmas in school. I don’t think she was impressed.
We had beer and tapas afterwards, Carmen was worried I’d feel left out, because of the conversation, but it’s fine. She hasn’t seen her family and friends for ages, and she misses them. I can grasp the odd word and join in more than I could in Lisbon. My Spanish isn’t great, but I’m learning and trying.
Before we headed home, we caught the last procession of the day.
The one thing I have noticed, is the sense of community that religion brings with it (when it’s done for love), the UK needs more community and festivals, not necessarily religious, but tradition to bring people together. Will it happen, sadly I think society is beyond fractured, it needs a lot of time, love and energy to fix it.
A quiet day of visiting bars and drinking beer. I tried many different tapas today. And looked at others (the snails).
Patatas Bravas – nothing like the British version, this is hot sauce and mayonnaise.
Caracoles – snails, I didn’t eat because they make me sick, me and molluscs don’t get on.
Morro – literally means nose. It’s pigs snout. Tastes like crackling and pork scratchings. A mother who dragged me up eating offal, I wasn’t phased by eating the fatty skin of a pig, let alone it’s nose!
Nuevo de Codorniz – (quail egg) on something like a bruschetta (but more like a spicy tasty salsa – the English version of the word). Very nice.
We were invited up to take a look around the Bullring Solo Social club and I was allowed to take photographs of the interior. It was fascinating, 50 years and the decor really hasn’t changed in that time. It was like a time capsule.
We watched another procession. I’m beginning to learn more about the history of the clothes, religious scenes and the people involved.
Each church or area of the city will take part in the processions throughout the week. They are managed by Santa Hermandad, the holy brotherhood.
The processions are made up of penitents, Nazarenos, dressed in robes and wearing capirotes. These are conical hats, that also cover their faces to conceal their identity. In medieval times the conical hat was used by clowns to depict clumsiness and stupidity, because of this criminals were paraded through the streets wearing the hat whilst the public threw rotten vegetables at them. The Nazarenos would wear them during Holy Week sometimes with bare feet, and sometimes chains, as self injury.
They also carry pasos, which are large floats depicting individual scenes from the bible, Jesus’ journey on a donkey into Nazareth, the last supper, images of the Virgin Mary grieving at the killing of her son. These pasos are carried on the heads on men, and can weigh 5 metric tonnes (that’s like carrying two fully grown adult giraffes)! They men are called costaleros (which means sack men, because of the sack cloth they wear on their heads).
We are visiting Marga and Manolo (and baby Ricardo) today.
Carmen was the architect who designed their house. It’s gorgeous, the best part is the little rooms, I like open space, but little nooks are just as important. And lots of space for the animals (they have horses too). I have decided when I win the lottery Carmen is going to be my architect!
Marga has four dogs, I’ve missed Mickey, so it is lovely to have dogs to fuss. And they all speak all the languages in the world!
I haven’t mentioned the table with the heater underneath, called a brasero (I tried to photograph it, but just couldn’t express how it is, so you’ll have to do with a description instead). We sit around to chat and pull the blanket over our knees, and as older Spanish houses don’t have central heating, only a brasero, it’s cosy when it’s a little cooler. Some of the newer houses have central heating and braseros. Carmen, tells me her sister is old fashioned and wanted the brasero instead of central heating, but they do have a lovely log burning fire too.
Sadly, or not as we’ve been inside, it has rained today. Haha, if I’d come away expecting to dictate the weather, I’d be disappointed! I don’t envy folk that go on holiday for the weather instead of the culture.
It’s a quiet start. We walked around the town and bought some essentials. We visited Iglesia Santa Maria and looked at some of the pasos at rest. They are huge, I didn’t take any photographs sadly. It must take great strength to carry them, Carmen tells me they crawl on their knees when they take them out of the door. They are very detailed and ornate.
Tonight we spent the night drinking with Carmen’s friends.
I like the Spanish style of drinking small glasses of beer and eating snacks (tapas). I’m not a wild young adult anymore and I don’t want my head spinning and that nauseous feeling that follows through. If only the UK did the same… How to change a culture created around alcohol and being really drunk. [Later Carmen tells me about her theory on this. The British are unable to express themselves as easily as a nation, and as such have to get really drunk to be able to do this. Maybe in the past we have seen this as a sign of weakness to show emotion – the stiff upper lip stereotype. However, the ‘eating is cheating’ rule that us Brits have is really dumb, if we tried the Spanish way maybe we’d be less hung up and more civil to each other!]
Things I miss: free wifi everywhere (I hate you Rupert Murdoch), TV (to be fair I haven’t really tried with this one), cash points with the numbers the right way round (arghhhh I can’t figure out my PIN number without the formation), showers on tap (electric showers are the blessing of the central heating age, and the UK). But there are so many things I love. And it makes me realise and wonder, why do we want to segregate and stop mixing and learning new things? The world is fascinating, and I learn so much from meeting people. Language isn’t always as much of a barrier as you think.
I learnt a lesson from Señora Coronado, don’t drink and not eat. The tapas were small (smaller than normal), but the beer grew in size. And today, Carmen and I wish we’d listened to her mothers hindsight!
It’s also Maundy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper. I’ve been reading up about the Christian calendar and what each of the dates acknowledge of Christ’s life. How these dates offer different kinds of spiritual reflection. Whilst I do not have strong belief in God, and find organised religion can be difficult on a personal level – I don’t like following rules; spiritually, self awareness and thought is something I can find a home with. Below I’ve outlined the periods with the actions along with response to them.
Advent – preparation, decoration, creating beauty
Christmastide – feasting, giving, celebration, acknowledgement of the importance of Mary
Epiphanytide – looking forward
Shrove Tuesday – the last day of gorging (on rich foods)
Ash Wednesday – repentance, self examination
Lent – fasting, giving up, self denial, removal of luxuries
Palm Sunday – celebration, arrival
Good Friday – solemn reflection
Easter – a joyous celebration, resurrection, Easter lily (regrowth, new life)
Whitsunday – ascension, feasting, self belief, self actualisation
Below was the first procession we watched in the afternoon. The young girls picking up rose petals which had been thrown over the Paso featuring a mourning Mother Mary.
And evening procession, the crowds were packed, and people were watching from their terraces.
We tried to get a spot later on the watch the paso being brought out through the church doors, Carmen tells me that the costaleros have to walk out on their knees before standing up, because the paso is so huge. Sadly we didn’t get to watch this, but nonetheless it is still impressive.
Today it has decided to be sunny. It’s also Good Friday, although I’m not sure what’s good about being tortured and murdered.
We have met with old friends, and little Miriam is here (she’s only 3). She thinks I’m the scary foreign lady. She’ll smile and when she looks at me, it immediately turns into a pout. I’m finding it rather endearing.
Ricardo, Carmen’s nephew (who is not even 1 yet), on the other hand turns the smiles on when he sees my camera, I think he’s a model in the making!
Miriam just told her mother ‘that lady speaks funny’. If I was three and a strange person showed up speaking in a foreign language, I guess I’d be confused too!
Bull fighting vs Fox hunting – ok, so they’re both horrendous. Bull fighting is one animal, taunted and can also attack, the dead bull is sacrificed and the meat is eaten. Fox hunting is several animals, most of them treated unfairly, a fox hunted to exhaustion, terrorised, and with no purpose other than sport. Even though it is illegal to kill the fox, if it dies, it dies. Not eaten, torn apart by dogs, or terrorised and exhausted to death. Either way the fox is seen as a low animal, not worthy of respect, it’s a pest, vermin. The bull is respected. That huge difference exists because that wealthy class in the UK do not respect anything but themselves. (And I am basing that judgement on how the rich ruling class treat society and the most vulnerable).
Madre Coronado has told me I must learn Spanish better so we can have a proper conversation next time I visit. I definitely intend to improve my second language, which has always mostly been Spanish.
Goodbye Linares, your hospitality has been much appreciated.
We travelled to Malaga, as we fly out early tomorrow morning.
There’s a big difference to Linares – price, tapas doesn’t come with beer, you have to order when you want them (I don’t like this system). Malaga is actually quite pretty and interesting historically. Picasso was born and grew up here, and we visited the house he spent his childhood in. The Moors influenced the narrow streets that created shadow and consequently coolness from the hot sun. I think because I went without any expectation (other than it being over run with crispy red British booze hounds and aggressively loud families, ok so I did have quite a low expectation), I was happy to find it was actually quite a nice city to visit. It did seem that the British had stayed in their gated communities rather than venture out and explore (I’d heard few British accents, American certainly, but not British). It’s sad that a place has become synonymous with a certain type of holiday maker, and gets crossed off my list of places I’d love to visit because of my perception of it being spoilt. I need to be less judgemental I think!
I didn’t venture out with my camera, so sadly have no photos of Malaga, other than the one I took on my phone. I blame tiredness from travelling and walking lots that day!
I know I am extremely fortunate. To have travelled and stayed with friends and their family, to have been guest to some of the most wondrous things in this world, to have chosen places that are packed with great hospitality.
Flying home. I’m sat separate from Carmen, so I’ve been lost in my thoughts. I have written a meandering prose to past the time, whilst looking out of the window.
Looking out at the world beneath me, how it rolls and changes, more land than people, with manufactured scars crisscrossing the greens and browns below.
Curious clouds sit like awkward cushions as we pass over them. Threatening to throw us around. White topped mountains peak out, ancient and now grey, the old men of the earth, they entice and give adventure to the hardiest of people.
Shadows of clouds bring shade to land beneath, lakes of murky green, fed by winding rivers, careless of where their path leads them. Brillo trees, hiding secrets in their branches. The coastline approaches, waves whipping the rocky shore.
The curve of the world and the expanse of blue.
Time for a cup of tea!
Land appears. White currents eating at the shore, eroding and changing the direction of the sand it carries. This land appreciates the clouds shielding it from spying eyes. Wide rivers snaking amidst the fields and towns, gulping up water that the clouds bring, not stopping when full, with banks weak from their volumes. Hello sunshine, I’m afraid your visit is in a queue, the tardy clouds are lingering longer than they are welcome.
We’ve passed over coast again. More sea. The water is so still from this height, the waves don’t crash or swirl or carry anything. Yet I know this stillness is a lie, movement continues as the oceans push and pull around this earth.
A grey coastline juts out. Farmland like patchwork, towns embroidered in between. Like lace thrown out flat, velour trees burnt away to reveal the patches of land.
Again brilliant white shields my view. And keeps the sun from kissing the land and rooftops.
Once over the vast city, towers and warehouses, sprawling for miles. I am reminded that the most luscious green of all is the home I call Yorkshire.
It was cold and wet when we left the airport. I think I miss being sunkissed, and wasn’t ready for chilly and no sun.
My thanks to Carmen for inviting me to her home in Spain, for her Mama for being a mother in another country, her sister Marga, Manolo and baby Ricardo for their hospitality (and sublime modelling skills), all the many friends we met with, and to Spain for showing me there is more to it than what those package holiday brochures led me to believe. You have been beautiful and I hope to visit you again.