We met the procession just behind the church and we were able to spend a leisurely time walking along with them. A far more intimate experience, much more like what we had in Valencia in 2012 and much less like the last 4 nights of aggressively picking our way through the crowds. The bands were playing and the palios were so close that we could see the toes of the costalero’s ( palio bearers ) Chuck Taylor sneakers with each step they took. It was the kind of participation that we’d hoped for when we chose to come here at this time. I’ve mentioned the crowds before, but as a way of driving home the point of the sheer volume of people here, I’ll mention that I read last night that Semana Santa contributes $240M euros to the local economy. In a single week.
I stopped to take a photo of a little boy getting his wax collection enlarged by one of the child Hermandades when his grandfather noticed me. He pushed the boy back and had him repeat what he was doing solely so I could take a better photo, and the boy’s grandmother smiled and handed me two small cards depicting the subject of today’s march. It’s always a funny thing to stick your camera into a cultural event that is serious to the participants, so it’s nice when they acknowledge you and even encourage your participation.
We waited until the end of the line came by and changed directions, heading back towards the plaza in front of the church. The sun was finally coming over the buildings and as the palio of Nuestra Señora moved into the light, Mary’s face was softly illuminated. A very nice moment. As they went on towards the back entrance for their transit of the cathedral interior, we went around the front and waited for start of the line to come out the front. The leading group, bearing a large gold cross was there when we arrived and it was only a matter of minutes before the lead palio emerged, its gold accessories glowing in the sunlight. We stayed until the second palio came out and completed a very gingerly turn from east to south, truly demonstrating just how hard those 45 men carrying that thing have to work to keep it going forward. Once Mary had moved on, we went back home for the breakfast we’d postponed.
Back out after an hour we stopped for coffee and croissant, this time finding a seat in a different neighborhood café (our favorite place was closed again) and then went over to the cathedral whose front door was open for people attending Easter Mass. We were allowed in as far as a rope line but that was adequate to not only hear the Mass being conducted, but also the choir and unbelievably, the giant pipe organ too. We’d truly hit the hat-trick on this trip - singers, organ and bells, all in two days. Three long time wishes granted in a space of 24 hours. Not bad.
We decided to take a morning walk and so headed north towards the Macarena district with the intention of re-visiting a nice section of the old city wall. Every street we passed through was full of tourists on their way out of town, dragging their rolling suitcases behind them. It gave us hope for the next 5 day - maybe things will level off a bit. Crossing La Campana, we saw the police blocking the road and beyond them was the reason – the procession was still out in the street and heading home. So in the time it took us to watch them, eat breakfast, stop for coffee, listen to Easter Mass and walk 10 blocks, they had only completed the walk 10 blocks part. It really made me feel for those poor children, concealed head to toe in uniforms, walking for 10 hours under an unforgiving spring sun. Dedication at its realest.
The Macarena wasn’t overly busy as we wandered around finally finding the old walls and heading back towards home. What cars there were coursing the streets made the most unusual noises with their tires, just like walking on linoleum with your running shoes. Some combination of the rubber compound and the surface of the cobblestones. Not unlike every kid in the class running their nails down the chalkboard. It wasn’t long before we crossed back into Santa Cruz, this time through the back entrance stopping in a small square dedicated to Don Juan to take a photo of some very raucous Parrots high in the top of a palm. As we turned into our little alley I stopped to take a picture of a young priest in full black robes playing with his cell phone. A bit of tradition and modernity rolled into a single scene.
Being Easter, we chose the most appropriate way to spend the afternoon, Iberico ham, local tangerines, Manchego cheese, and chocolate while listening to Handel’s Messiah. The perfect way to end what had turned out to be a pretty much perfect morning.