martes, 26 de abril de 2011

Semana Santa in Spain

Hey yall-

So we just finished the Easter holiday here in Spain, and it was quite an experience.  Semana Santa, or "Holy Week" is characterized by a series of processions that happen from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday- about four happen per day.  Sounds nice, right? Parades every day to honor Jesus's sacrifice?  No. NO. no no no. Allow me to explain myself... 

Parcicipants in these parades, which usually include a group of military "people" (not sure the correct term here- officers, civilians, or whatever) marching in uniform, a group of drummers, a group of 40 or 50 men dressed in burlap bags carrying giant statues of the virgin mary, or a crucifixion scene, or something of the like (relics from local parishes- these can way up to 5000 kilos), and "nazarenos"- the majority of those who march.  These nazarenos are usually spanish men whose fathers, grandfathers etc have marched in the semana santa parades (its a great honor to be selected for this role).  They carry any one of the following: torches, huge crosses, giant staffs, or spearlike objects, with which they strike the ground in unison to the slow beat of a loud drum, which creates an earthquake/pending doom sort of environment.  Also, they wear conical headgear and robes (varying colors depending on the Saint of the parade) that inspired the Klu Klux Klan's outfits.  Wikipedia says "inspired"...but the outfits are the exact same.  These parades happen at night, with fire, loud drums, chanting, women crying (grieving over Jesus's loss) and... candy.  The "nazarenos" (KKK members) actually hand out candy to little kids in the audience to try to make the event less frightening.  Some of the parades are silent and last until 2am.  I have attached a video here of one of the parades on Maundy Thursday (the saddest day of the week)...hopefully yall will understand why I'm taking such a negative tone toward the festivities.  Speaking truthfully though, they are very moving experiences.  The entire town leaves their houses and heads to the barrio (old area in Alicante's city center) to watch the processions, and everyone seems to really feel the emotion of the event, despite being a country of largely nonpracticing Catholics.  The parades move very slowly, and the participants take pride in their roles- which have existed for centuries.  Alicante's processions aren't as well known as Sevilla's, but we escaped much of the rain that the East coast of Spain received and had the majority of our parades.

Interestingly enough, after all of this buildup, there aren't any processions on Easter Sunday.  My madre spent the day watching her usual 6 hrs of TV.  Monday (yesterday) was a holiday too and all of the stores were closed.  I guess Spaniards need a day of rest after all of that marching. 

Hope all is well at home and much love-


domingo, 17 de abril de 2011

London....mind the gap, and your wallet.

Two Americans, one Japanese, two Swiss, two 65 year old Germans, and one girl from Kazakhstan walk into a bar...sounds like a joke, right? Nope, just the story of my past weekend in London.  Only replace a bar with our hostel room and you have the foundation of the picture.  I think that if we hadn't gone out to see any of the sights in London on our whirlwind 2 1/2 day trip this weekend, we would have been exposed to more culture than a walk around all of Epcot.  Without going into detail and running out of blogging gas before talking about the actual city,  I think it's worth mentioning a few of the oddities from our "roommates"- whose common language was English (ranging in skill levels from conversational to "hallo").  Our friend from Kazakhstan loves America- seriously. Her first sentence after she asked where we were from was "I LOVE AMERICA".  She also loves Victoria's Secret.  The girl from Japan sleepwalks.  The two Swiss girls were very hardy travelers, and, according to Kazakhstan, one looked like the spitting image of Liza Minnelli (who she said stars in Sex and the City).  The last of this motley crew were the two older, white haired, German women, who kept mostly to themselves.  Their two characteristics of note were that they only knew how to say "Hallo" and "going out" in English, and also that they rarely were fully clothed.  Needless to say, although we treasured our time (2 hours) in the hostel, we decided to focus our energy on the city of London itself.

I had formed most of my images of London from a combination of scenes from The Parent Trap, Mary Kate and Ashley movies, and the episodes of Mr. Bean we watched in Australia in 2000.  Many of them held up- the city is exactly how it's portrayed in the movies- only the people are nicer (not as generally attractive as here in Spain, mind you...) and the accents sound better.  My friend Hilary and I took on the city like...two very excited American tourists.  In a two day span we managed to see all things obligatory: The Tower Bridge, London Bridge (which is really just a normal plain bridge), The Tower of London, Big Ben, The London Eye, The Tate Museum, The Globe Theatre, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace (including the Royal Mews-- which, inexplicably, means "stable/garage"), Picadelly Circle, Soho, and Camdentown.  We were all over the place.  People have asked me a bunch of times "what was your favorite part of London?" and I honestly can't say.  I think the experience of actually being in London was the best part.  Being among the people and in the environment with "Kate+William" regalia (they are beyond an obsession) was surreal.  My favorite part of the entire trip was our trip to "The George Inn," a cobblestone restaraunt/bar near our hostel where youngish professionals come for happy hour around 6 or 7 at night.  There was a huge outdoor patio and everyone was just standing around chatchitting, if you will.  The people (and the peoplewatching) were great.  I will be looking forward to being able to grab a beer in the States and converse with friends like that come July 19.  It has the effect of making one (me) feel very mature and wise for their years.  I felt mature just writing that sentence.  Oh, are grand. 

Just a word of caution to excited tourists: the men in the red coats with big furry black hats? Yeah, they don't stand in heckling distance anymore.  They operate behind bars and real security guards with large rifles that look like something out of Ghostbusters.  I couldn't even shout a knock-knock joke to them to try to get them to laugh because they were so lejos (spanish for far) away.  Such a shame... I was positive that I would be the one person on the Earth to make them break a smile.  (I'm sure I'm the first person to ever have thought that).  Also, watch your wallets on the metro. My friend Hilary's was stolen right under my very watchful nose.

Un Beso from Alicante!