Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Sunday

Well, Mom, Shirley, and all my other competitive athletic friends, we have found a new event for you. We think you are already in good enough shape to start the rounds and we know how you enjoy putting another notch in the marathon stick, so we’re here to suggest next year you come to Spain in the spring. Every year on Easter Sunday they hold the traditional “Running of the Bulls”. If THAT isn’t enough to get your athletic adrenalin pumping, I don’t know what is. I know you competitive types like to challenge yourselves to new victories. It really isn’t about the winning as much as the achieving; that sense of “I did it”. What an accomplishment THIS would be.

We had to get up at 6 am to drive the three hours out to Arcos de la Frontera to watch this. When we arrived, the streets were already closed so we once again parked outside and walked in. We could tell right away where the run would happen. They have huge metal bars that block the streets. They look kind of like the ones around farm pens to keep the horses or bulls in/out. The street we chose to wait on had a lovely top part that was enclosed looking down on the lower street where the run would take place. Many families were already there and the YOUTH that was out was amazing. We haven’t seen that many young people since we left Canada. If you were between 17 and 25, THIS was the place to be.

There were no front row spots any longer. We were only two hours early. We opted to stand near a family in the hopes they would let us peek through their shoulders. After an hour in the hot sun, they became very friendly and squished together to allow us a front row spot! What luck! They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Spanish but we all got along very well. The hours leading up to the event were filled with raucous laughter and excellent people watching. Strapping young males swaggered along the lower road, hoping people would notice. They did. Nimble young females cavorted along giggling and whispering together. People leaned out of windows, lined the rooftops, crowded behind the bars and spilled into the lower road every now and then. Spaced strategically along the enclosed area were tubs filled with ice and beer. Bars nearby had pushed into the street using large counters to extend their frontage. People walked around drinking beer from tins or plastic cups. It was happy hour at 10am.

A band came marching through and everyone cheered a clapped. Firecrackers went off in varying degrees of boom, causing the crowds to grow more frenzied and loud. Finally, sirens blared from down the street and two police vehicles followed by a large truck with a huge blue box labeled “Toro” on it. People cheered and waved as the beloved bull went by in his sealed blue box. What that poor animal must have been thinking…

It turned out we were at the front of the run so we watched the box lifted off the back of the truck. The police vehicles left and we all waited the last ten minutes in growing suspense. The men lining the street had now backed up along the walls and their bravado was put to the test. Some practiced leaping up the side, others passed around cigarettes, while still others bit their nails. Their bodies told a story as the minutes ticked by and we waited for the bull.

Then the bull was released. He flew out of the pen at the men and they scattered. He stayed at the top of the street for a few minutes, charging men and hitting up against the sidelines. A few men sprinted down past us. Then the bull came running our way. He stopped a few feet before us and turned, looking around him for irritants. The irritants had all wisely stopped moving. They were behind him or in front, far in front. He charged past us and on into the narrower section of the run. The street becomes narrower as the bull runs until it is a slot-car race up the final strip. We weren’t near there so didn’t see the action. I was just as happy not to watch men trip over themselves and get trampled. It was fast. We barely had time to feel our hearts pound and it was over.

We strolled up to the old town and an ambulance passed us with its siren blaring. Every year somebody gets hurt. A few years back an American soldier was killed. We walked by the first aid station and saw a man with huge abrasions down his face sitting still while the medic looked at his scalp. Think of the story he’ll have to tell! If you go in the run, you get a nice red scarf. You can also buy a t-shirt. Several men were in groups wearing matching shirts.

Mom, Shirley, are you in?

Easter in Spain

Well, it has been an interesting week in Spain. Easter here is very different. They don’t celebrate with rabbits and chocolate, if you can imagine; no painted eggs, no baskets of jelly beans, no children hunting through the grass looking for colourful surprises. However, the week was not without drama and excitement.

In Spain, they celebrate Holy Week. It is ten days long, beginning on the Friday before Good Friday and finishing on Easter Sunday. There is no Easter Monday but then most people have had the prior ten days off. All week long, the brotherhoods of the parish churches gather together to parade Holy relics through the streets. The grand finale is Good Friday when every town acknowledges the crucifixion of Christ by walking through the streets together.

All week it has been raining. I read that most of the brotherhoods will cancel carrying the huge icons through the streets if it rains because the relics are very old and precious. We had plans to go to several different events but decided not to when we saw the rain. Most places are about a half hour drive and the roads are what you might call “challenging”. We don’t really have roads like this in Canada so it is hard to explain though if you have been keeping up with the blog, you’ll understand. A friend of Julia’s told us that many tourists arrive here looking very white and needing to hang on to something for a while after they get out of their cars. One does get used to it but no sense pushing our luck.

On Good Friday, we went to Velez-Malaga, a town about the size of Langley. The rain seemed to be holding off and we didn’t want to miss out on ALL the fun. When we arrived, we had to park on the outskirts of town and walk back in. Even though there were thousands of vehicles everywhere, there were very few people. It was odd because you couldn’t really even hear people yet you knew they had to be somewhere. We didn’t have far to go before we found them all.

It was a festive atmosphere on the inner streets of the city, with kiosks selling plastic junk and greasy food, people milling everywhere and huge processions of people in tall pointy hats and long gowns. We stopped to watch several people dressed in tall red pointy hats and white gowns holding large silver candlesticks walk by. A band played and about fifty men stood shoulder to shoulder carrying a huge Jesus on a Cross display. A row of children dressed in Church robes and walking in front swung incense about them, creating a hazy sweet smell. The procession moved slowly. Periodically, a bell would ring; the men carrying Christ would stop moving, the bell would ring again and they would set down the ornate float. The band would stop playing and everyone would rest for a bit.

During these interludes, little children with balls of wax would come up to the penitents (hooded ones) and ask if they could have some of the candle wax. The penitent would tilt the candle and drip their wax onto the ball. It seemed like the older the child, the larger the ball of wax so maybe they save the balls from year to year.

We had been told the real event was watching them come in and out of the cathedral so we headed up to the cathedral to wait for the procession to reach there. Surprisingly, we ran into another procession! This one was on another street and the penitents were dressed in different coloured robes. Some had tall pointy hats and some had deflated points. We weren’t sure why the difference. The float was Jesus in a glass coffin this time. It kind of reminded me of Snow White but that is a bit irreverent given the occasion. The men carrying the coffin float wore headdresses that looked a bit like Egyptian pharaoh hats and some were blindfolded.

We decided to head back to Almachar to catch the late show there but on our way we stumbled across more processions. Each one had similarities but the penitents always wore different colours. They often carried huge candles or silver rods. Some carried a cross. One procession had ladies with Spanish mantilla headdresses on. All of them had a group of men, no women, carrying a heavy float. We’ve heard these floats can be up to 1000 kg! I don’t think these ones were that heavy.

We couldn’t have timed our arrival in Almachar better. The procession was just heading from the main square down to the church and we quickly parked the car and hurried around through the other streets to get ahead. It was a small procession by comparison. No one wore robes or hats. About ten men carried a small float of the Virgin Mary. The best part was that the men would stop and a singer would come out to sing the wailing cry of Flamenco for a short time. Everyone would clap and then the procession would continue. The arrived at the church just as the bells chimed midnight. The festivities were just beginning. We’re not sure what else they had lined up, though because we headed off to bed.