EASTER is one of the highlights of the year in Spain, and Holy Week in Sevilla is the big one.
Although with Antonio Banderas making his annual pilgrimage to take part in the processions, watched on from an upstairs balcony by la Melanie, Malaga comes a close second. Semana Santa is basically a week of elaborate processions of intricate floats.
The term floats is a little misleading as each weighs a tonne and is carried through the town by about 40 men, the costaleros, who are hidden underneath the thing. It’s not a job for the faint hearted and the costaleros wear headpieces like large inside-out socks – thickly padded around the head and the neck – white T-shirts and dark cotton trousers, a little like a gang of devout and muscular smurfs.
Each float depicts a biblical scene, usually Christ being whipped, with the cat-o-nine tails’ beads slapping against each other as they move along. The figures on the floats themselves are normally rendered in what an art critic would call “Late Catholic Renaissance Suffering Style”. Plenty of detail in the crown of thorns, beads of blood, open wounds and the agonised expression of Christ himself. Happy Clappy Christianity this is not.
And then, of course, there are the Virgins. You can’t have a good procession in Andalucia without a Virgin floating by every so often. While the more cynical amongst you may debate the improbability of locating a Virgin anywhere near the Costa del Sol, in Sevilla they take them very seriously.
There are the two heavyweight Virgins in Sevilla, the Ali and Frasier of the float world if you like. The Virgin of Hope of Triana and her great rival the Virgin of Hope of the Macarena, who, because of the rain a few years ago, where diverted and by chance came face to face with each other in an alley for the first time ever. You can only imagine the conversation that they must have had. ‘This town is only big enough for one Virgin etc.’.
It’s a moving experience, with some of the processions in complete silence while at others people cry out ‘guapa! guapa!’ or sing to the Virgin Mary. This is not, I repeat NOT the time to try out your bar room Spanish or an impromptu version of Una Paloma Blanca. The locals would set upon you, the streets are crowded and the police and ambulance services would never make it to you in time.
Perhaps the best known image of Semana Santa, however, are the nazarenos, people cloaked in the traditional costume of repentance – which bears more than a passing resemblance to the KKK. As well as this there are priests swinging incense everywhere, and a band in front of each float that plays music. With more than 50 processions through Seville during Holy Week, it’s a good idea to grab a guide (found at any kiosk or supermarket) to know which procession is where and when.
Of course, if the thought of standing in a crowd is all too much for you, then you can also follow the example of many in Sevilla and watch the whole thing on television with a bowl of olives and fino to hand. The sacred week over, Sevilla gets back to normal and looks forward to the more profane celebrations of the April Feria…
Burn baby burn
It was glorious weather last weekend with the real hint of summer in the air, so I decided to take one of the rowing boats out for a spin. Having lived in Spain on and off for nearly 30 years, I reasoned that I had built up immunity to the sun’s rays, so went out without sunscreen. Bad move. With a cool breeze on the lake and rowing strenuously, I decided to take my t-shirt off. Even worse move.
It wasn’t until I was in my shower, getting ready for my radio show that the first pangs of sunburn kicked in. This was followed by a frantic search at the back of the bathroom cabinet for anything that bore a passing resemblance to aftersun. I do have aloe vera plants but I don’t think my long suffering gardener would be too impressed if I started hacking away at the shrubbery.
Luckily, behind the gunked up bottles of Factor 30 I found a bottle of aftersun, and covered myself in it. And then my lightweight collarless shirt – the one that only makes an appearance during sunburn season – made its annual debut. To say that I was more that a little relieved that the aircon was working in the studio was an understatement!