A HELPFUL policeman chuckled and offered us two pieces of advice on our first morning in Seville; “the river is always behind you” and “don’t trust the maps”. His eyes searched over our one quizzically before leading us to the road in question and pointing us in the direction of our hostel. We took his kind counsel and followed it to the letter.
Wandering in Seville through the winding streets and quarters, each distinct and beautiful in their own way, we soon realised the policeman was right, using a map was futile. Firstly because the official city-issue map didn’t seem to match the streets we were exploring, and secondly because the Semana Santa (Holy Week) procesiones (processions) filtered through the city bringing everything in its path to a standstill. You just had to stop and gaze at its splendour, map stuffed hastily in the pocket, camera poised.
In true Semana Santa style, there was rain. When there is rain, the processions are postponed and people weep in disappointment. On occasions, the rain fell heavily, drenching Seville in sadness. During these moments, the floods of rain drove us into the nearest taberna with all the other tourists and locals. We stood at the bar, consoling ourselves with the sweet delicacy typical of this fiesta: Torrijas. This is a wine-soaked bread, doused in honey and sugar, then sprinkled with cinnamon.
The processions that braved the changeable weather followed routes across the city and throughout the day and night at the peak of Holy Week. Whole congregations, the Nazarenos, were dressed in tall pointed hats that extended over the face, with small holes for the unrecognisable people to stare out of on their long slow march. They held heavy candles and dripped wax along their path without uttering a word whilst on their silent vigil for forgiveness. Children lined the streets coaxing the voiceless Nazarenos to help build their wax balls. With long gowns only revealing the occasional barefoot, the scene was quite chilling.
The effigy followed. It was adorned in gold, laden with candles and dripping pearls. Tears came from the Maria’s eyes, falling from long eyelashes. Teams of men carried the structure on their shoulders. The weight was so great, they could last only a few metres before having to change. As they heaved the effigy along, the struggle made the structure ebb and flow disconcertingly. It swayed above the crowds, echoing the footsteps of the men. They stepped in time with booming drums joined by brass instruments, which commanded the attention of the masses surrounding the scene. Every parade had to pass through the cathedral and return to its parish.
Later on, after the dramatics of the processions, people relaxed over wine and tapas in the tabernas. The expected Andalucian passion returned. Hand gestures, laughter and flamenco. Yet this art form had a sincerity about it too. The severe expression on the dancer’s face was of deep emotion as her first silhouette fell across the stage. She clapped gently, stamping her feet as the rhythm gained momentum. The open hurt in the singer’s voice brought heat to your body and evoked a respectful silence and awe. The rhythm was reaching its pinnacle. The dancer’s pace quickened. She spun in endless circles. The guitar and percussion was building into a crescendo. Suddenly, she struck her finishing pose. After a second she released a breath, and so did the audience. Smiles erupted on the performers’ faces. Cheers and laughter once again.