It’s been a hot few weeks here, most days in the mid to high 80’s and because of that the orange trees are in blossom everywhere, filling the air with most wonderful aroma. We’ve not experienced that here, in spite of visiting both earlier and later than these dates. It was a nice freebee and it reminded me of Valencia where we had a little orange grove in a park right below our window. We wandered around trying to take some photos and stake out some shade. It was extremely difficult plying these crowds - they were dense and haphazard with only a few people actually watching the Hermandades pass by. The great majority of people we sitting around visiting or playing with their phones or littering the street with the shells of sunflower seeds which are apparently some sort of local delicacy. When you’re wandering through such a tumult you wonder why these people are subjecting themselves to it, but much like Mardi Gras or Spring Break, this event just seems like an opportunity to be part of a giant crowd. The religious overtone you’d expect was wholly absent, rather it seemed to be strictly about the family social thing. Relatives and parents would stand close to the path and when the procession would stop they offer their marching children or grandchildren a bottle of cold water. Based on the heat, I’ll admit I’m pretty amazed we didn’t see more child Hermandades passed out in the street.
Unlike Valencia, the intimacy of the processions here was much, much less. Very hard to get decent photographs or in most cases even a good view. I managed a few, but as the night wore on the effect of being awake for 35 hours was beginning to take hold. After our final pass down a jammed narrow lane we decided to call it a night and plotted a path off to the side of the action.
A nice long night’s sleep is a must on that first day after a major time change and we had one, finally getting out of the house by 11:30 AM. For the first time in all of our visits here, the bells of the cathedral were ringing and it was so nice to stop in the middle of the street that leads down to the cathedral square and listen to them. While there were still a lot of people out and about, it was nowhere nearly as bad as last night – it was almost possible to walk unhindered. We grabbed a table at Los Milagritos, our favorite little coffee shop right below La Giralda, the onetime minaret( now bell tower) adjacent to the main part of the cathedral. Coffee and fruit salad proved to be a nice wake-me-up. Grocery shopping was on the agenda so when the sun cleared the top of the building, we paid and headed off towards Corte Ingles whose basement supermercado is a favorite of ours.
There were a lot of dressed up couples in the street, the men in suit and ties, the women in black dresses and mantillas, those tall lace-draped combs that are worn tucked into the hair at the back of the head. Eventually we figured out that these people were headed to one of the big churches for some ceremony related to today’s holy calendar. The square in front of the church was thronged, with people drinking beers at stand-up tables and a long line of the dressed up people – hundreds if not more – standing in a long serpentine line leading into the church. The main street in front of Corte Ingles was closed off and lined with big piles of crude rattan chairs, collected from last night’s processional viewing. It seemed odd that they would set up and take down these thousands of chairs each day, but that was apparently the process. Why not just leave them there? would be the obvious question.
The grocery store was madness, at least by my delicate nature and much busier than I’d ever seen it. But we survived and headed back home with a couple of shoulder breaking bags. Plenty of supplies to supplement eating out. The true beauty of renting an apartment versus staying in a hotel.
Done unloading, we went looking for lunch and found it at La Cueva, a nice restaurant on a shady square. Eating outside here can be dodgy because smoking is allowed whereas it is forbidden inside the restaurants. We got lucky though as there was just enough of a breeze blowing to fend off the table behind us where all three people were indulging. Perhaps the major downside of navigating these crowds is the number of secondhand cigarettes you smoke each day. Not as bad as Paris, but pretty close and surely made worse by the sheer volume of people.
Lunch was tuna croquettes and a cold salad of raw tuna, onions and tomatoes. A half bottle of Rioja made it perfect. While sitting there we got chatting with a young American couple, military pilot and his wife and daughter. He was actually using film cameras for photographs, in addition to the same model Fuji that I use.
After a few hours of cooling our heels in the air conditioning in the apartment we went back out around 9 PM to look for some dinner. It being MLW’s birthday, we decided to head to La Giralda (the restaurant, not the bell tower) for duck magret. We luckily got in before the rush but unluckily there was no duck – the menu is apparently condensed for Semana Santa so instead we had a rare filet of beef with some pan sautéed potatoes. It wasn’t what we’d hoped for but it was really quite nice. The waiter asked us back next week when the menu returns to normal.
It was now close to 10 PM, and while nice and cool, the crowds had yet to abate. We took a long roundabout way to our favorite bakery for some of the local cookies and then braved the crowds back across the cathedral square towards home. We were dead-ended at least one time before finding a mostly workable path. It turned out to be propitious because we stumbled upon the passage of the Palio of the Hermandades Valle.
There are two parts of each procession, the Cruz which are crosses and tapestries carried by the marchers, and the Palio which is a big, ornately decorated float that depicts some aspect of the saint that the Hermandades dedicate their order too. Christ on a cross and the Virgin are common themes and tonight’s was a spectacular representation of the latter. Mary, in a grand carriage of silver surrounded by tall white candles, quite spectacular. The palios are carried by a group of men called costaleros, literally underneath with big support beams on their shoulders. A typical team is around 40 and the floats can weigh up to 5000 pounds. They move for some distance and then another crew comes in and takes a turn swapping back and forth over the 10+ hours that a procession can last. Originally the teams were composed of dockworker but today men come from all over Spain to volunteer for the privilege of being a carrier. You see them on break all over the place, white shirts and pants, and white bandanas no doubt to keep the sweat out of their eyes.
They stopped directly in front of us to re-light the candles. I’d noticed earlier in the day that the center of all the cobblestone lanes were covered in multicolored splatters of wax and at one point in our wanderings I saw a young boy with a ball of wax being refreshed by one of the candle carrying marchers.
They moved on after perhaps 10 minutes, and so did we. Shuffling along with yet another long line of people before making a clean break for our street and on to home.