Sunday, May 9, 2010

Delicious ambiguity at Semana Santa de Sevilla

Some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity... Gilda Radner

I decided to take a break from Africa for Easter and head to Semana Santa in Sevilla...not the usual thing for a volunteer working in Africa but necessary I thought.The original arrangement was to meet a friend in Santa Justa train station at 5.30pm but as by bags didn't arrive on the London-Madrid flight, I spent most of Holy Thursday in Madrid airport rather than enjoying the festivities in Semana Santa de Sevilla.

Anyway, not the end of the world, I thought. Draw on your newly learned patience from Africa where nothing works according to plan and you are expected to wait and wait. I'll be a few hours late and rejoin celebrations later that night. I waited from 1.30pm to 5.30pm that day, sipping cups of cafe con leche, eating Jamon Serrano sandwiches and trying to relax..not easy. Tranquillo, I murmured to myself..the bags will arrive soon and then I'll be on my way.

Eventually the bags arrived and I headed straight to Atocha train station, Madrid, to grab the AVE high speed train to Seville. Only 2 hours 20 minutes from Madrid to Seville, a little different from African trains (pole pole) and the Irish rail service which promises improvement with the slogan "getting there"..

I luckily met up with 2 American girls on the train. Deanna was living in Seville for 6 months, and spoke Spanish with a Sevillian accent. Her friend was visiting from Chicago. As I was 5 hours late for my meeting with my friend, my only option was to stay on the girls couch for the night and make contact with him in the morning. Thank you Deanna for your kindness. I would have had to sleep in Santa Justa train station if I didn't happen to bump into you on the train

I emailed my friend that night to let him know where I was and luckily, he was online so we made contact. He came and picked me up... straight to Semana Santa festivities. Despite my fatigue, I joined the festivities on the streets, my nervous energy keeping me going.

The streets were thronged with people, all admiring the procession of pasos, floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the Passion and images of the Virgin Mary. Some of the sculptures are considered artistic masterpieces, as well as being culturally and spiritually important to the local Catholic population.

The processions are organised by Hermandades and Cofradías, religious brotherhoods. During the processions, members precede the pasos, dressed in penitential hoods, accompanied by brass bands.

The standard structure of a procession is:
A great cross (Cruz de Guía - Guiding Cross) is carried at the beginning of each procession. A number of people dressed in the distinctive pointed hood (Capirote), and holding long wax candles, marching in silence. These are the Nazarenos. Moving between the lines are diputados de tramo, guardians who keep the formations organized. A group of altar boys, acolytes,march behind, with chandeliers and incense, and other servants. Then The Paso follows.

There are 3 pasos, the first one is a sculpted scene of the Passion ; the second is an image of Christ; and the third an image of the suffering Blessed Virgin Mary, known as a dolorosa.
The structure of the paso is richly carved and decorated with fabric, flowers and candles. Many of the structures carrying the image of Christ are gilded, and those carrying the image of the virgin are silver-plated.

A distinctive feature of Semana Santa in Seville is the style of marching of the pasos. A team of men, the Costaleros (literally "sack men", for their distinctive headdress), supporting the beams upon their shoulders and necks, lift, move and lower the paso. As they are all inside the structure and hidden from the external view by a curtain, the paso seems to move by itself. On the outside an overseer (Capataz), guides the team by voice

The crowd behaves relatively normally while Nazarenos are marching, though one man actually pushed me out of the way..I responded with "tranquillo" (relax) to the fanatic. This turns to respectful silence when the images pass. Small children beg for sweets, from the Nazarenos.

So as religious as it sounded, it was a lot of fun. The ambience was intoxicating...crowds on the streets, dressed in traditional dress, men in black suits and the rest of us.. We spent nights eating in terraces, eating gambas con ajo, marinated olives, choco balls with white wine followed by coffee with Baileys. Que delicioso, a big contrast to the fried chicken, greasy chapatis and beans I have grown accustomed to in Nairobi. I made mming noises after every morsel of food I When Harry met Sally scene in restaurant..mmmmmmmmm

So next trip, Il Ngwesi, near Mount Kenya next weekend

Stay tuned for more adventures.
.and for those of you not living in Kenya...come visit

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