Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Authentic Spanish Wedding!!!!!

An authentic Spanish wedding. Frankly, I couldn´t ask for a better cultural experience. And I would have never imagined in just 7 short months that I would become close enough with a group of friends (one of whom happened to be getting married soon) to be invited to the wedding. But, I got lucky, and my Spanish fairytale continues.

The wedding was set at 12:00 on Saturday, April 25, 2008. Roque Jesus, the groom, was already in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento at 11:30 waiting anxiously for the guests and the bride. Little by little, the guests also started to gather in anticipation of the arrival of Marie Carmen (the bride). Suddenly, to the sound of churchbells ringing and the honking of the bride´s car, Marie Carmen arrived. Everyone rushed to the car´s side, and Marie Carmen stepped out in an intricate lace wedding gown, with a veil measuring at least 12 feet. Once the guests got a glance of the bride, some ran quickly into the church, while others filed in behind the bride and her groom. The ceremony began. And continued. And they were pronounced husband and wife. As quickly as we had all entered the church, we all ran out. While the bride and groom, and their families were taking pictures, everyone prepared to throw rice. Marie Carmen and Roque finally came out of the church, and were showered with a curtain of rice.

From the church, the bride and groom went to a photo shoot while all of the guests went to various bars around town to mingle and have a quick drink before the reception began at 2 o´clock. Once at the reception, we enjoyed a variety of 15 different tapa-like hors D´oerves. At 3:30, the bride and groom arrived, and this time, were met by a curtain of confetti and balloons. We all entered the hotel reception room, and prepared for the meal of a century. The meal started with appetizers (as if we hadn´t eaten enough already) of Iberian ham and sausague, and an assortment of cheeses. This was follwed by a mixed salad. The salad was then followed by a plate of 10 shrimp (yes, you had to behead and peel the poor lil guys yourself). After the shrimp, we enjoyed a nice lemon sorbet (which was allegedly to help the digestion process and cleanse the palate). Then came the "first" plate, a typical Spanish stew consisting of broth, ham, and egg. The second plate was a fillet of lamb filled with ham and peppers in a mushroom sauce and fried potatoes. For dessert we enjoyed a typical Spanish cake. And to top it all off, we sipped on a hot cup of coffee (or tea). To my surprise, the bride and groom did not have a specific "wedding cake" nor did they partake in any ceremonial cutting (like a typical American reception). I was also surprised when the reception finished and no one had made a single toast [aside from various people shouting "VIVAN LOS NOVIOS" ("long live the bride and groom)] and the bride and groom themselves did not speak either.

After the meal, the open bar (admittedly the best part) began and continued for about 3 hours. Three short hours of drinking, singing, laughing, dancing, crying, and celebrating. When the open bar finally closed around midnight, we all left the hotel. You might be thinking that the party ended there. You are quite wrong. From the hotel reception, we ALL (bride and groom included) went to Avenida Espana (the main/only bar hopping street in Ubrique). From there, the party continued until 7:00 in the morning. Unfortunately for me, the festivities ended around 2:30, since I had to get up the next morning for a hike and climbing/rapelling adventure. So around 2:30, I slowly managed to find my way back to my flat, and I crashed until 8:00 am. What an adventure and what an experience! I have said it before, and I will say it again...The Spaniards (specifically these Andalucíans) know how to PaRTy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Semana Santa II

On Thursday, April 9, 2009, I hopped on a bus and headed to Sevilla, the city with the most elaborate and numerous Semana Santa processions in all of Spain. Thursday night, or what is known as the "madrugá" is the most famous night in Sevilla, and hundreds of thousands of people come from all over Spain and Europe to witness the numerous processions that begin early Thursday afternoon and continue throughout the entire night and well into Friday afternoon.

I arrived in Sevilla around 8 pm on Thursday evening, went to an acquantaince´s piso to grab a quick bite to eat and went out to the streets at 10:00 pm. We did not return to the piso until 7:15 am Friday morning. We saw a total of 8 processions throughout the night, all extremely beautiful, but extremely long and slow moving. Some processions had as many as 2,000 "nazares"...which meant that if you stood in one location to watch the procession pass, you would have to stand for over 1 hour and 30 minutes to see it from start to finish. We saw a few processions in their entirety, but mainly just ran around the city of Sevilla trying to see the ornate saints/floats and listen to the accompanying music. Once we saw what we wanted to see, we navigated through the crowds to find the next procession.

While I think the solemn and reflective nature of Semana Santa has largely faded away and become more of a social ocassion, it is still an incredible way to celebrate Holy Week and Easter. The people who carry the statues of the saints, who come in penance, who come playing music for the ears of God, and who come to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have come before them, continue to keep the beauty and solemnity of Semana Santa alive, or at least, visible.

All in all, throughout Semana Santa I saw processions in Cádiz, Ubrique, Sevilla, and Chipiona. All were beautiful and very distinct, but Sevilla had without a doubt the most elaborate celebrations. However, it also had the most people, most tourists, and most chaos. Did I mention it took my friend and I over 2 hours just to return to the piso, which on any other day should have only taken about 20 minutes walking? The verdict: It was a wonderful experience to go to Sevilla and I wouldn´t have missed it for anything, but if I am ever back in Spain for Semana Santa, I think I will stick to the smaller pueblos and avoid the crowds.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Semana Santa I

As many of you may know, Spain is especially renowned for its "Semana Santa" (or Holy Week) traditions. Once again, Andalucía (the southern-most autonomous region of Spain where I currently reside) is home to the most glamorous celebrations (just like the Cádiz carnaval). Most pueblos and all capital cities in Andalucia participate in Semana Santa and have various processions that coincide with the historical biblical account of Christ the week before Easter. But within Andalucia, Sevilla is typically recognized as the most elaborate, and every year draws an enormous crowd of religious and simply curious onlookers. I will be one, as I am heading up to Sevilla later this afternoon to witness the processions of Maunday Thursday that go throughout the entire night until dawn.

However, I have already been fortunate enough to get a taste of Semana Santa, in my own Pueblo and in Cádiz. My experience in Cádiz, however, was the outcome of pure luck (or maybe pure bad luck?). Let me explain. After participating in a grueling 8 hour hike on Sunday (covering some 45 kilometers of mountainous terrain from Ronda to Ubrique), my roommate suggested I take a day to relax and head to the beach. So we hopped on the internet, and decided to venture to somewhere new: Puerto de Santa Maria. On Monday morning, we arrived at the Ubrique bus station at 8:20 am, 10 minutes early to catch the supposed 8:30 bus to Jerez. To our surprise (but it really shouldn´t have surprised us), the internet bus schedule was wrong, and our bus did not depart until 9 am. So, we took a half hour walk around town to kill the time, then hopped on what we thought would be a fairly quick journey to Jerez. Two hours and fourty-five minutes later (on a route that by car takes 45 minutes max) we arrived in Jerez where we ran across to the train station to catch the train to Puerto de Santa Maria. Once we arrived in Puerto de Santa Maria and stepped off the train, we anxiously looked around for the beach (or any sign of a beach). There was none. But we decided not to panic, and went to ask a passerby who informed us we needed to catch a city bus to the nearest beach...and if we wanted to catch it we should probably turn and start running since it was already at the bus stop. So we thanked her, took off running, and made the city bus with two seconds to spare. In another 30 minutes, we were finally at the beach. Total transportation time: 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Once at the beach, we realized neither of us had sunscreen. In order to avoid looking like lobsters, we decided to go buy some. How hard can it be, right? Well, that is a whole other story in and of itself. Long story short, we finallly bought some SPF, went back to the beach, and enjoyed the sunshine for 3 hours. At 4:00, we headed up to the bus stop to catch the 4:30 city bus back to the train station. We arrived at the stop at 4:15, and went into a store right next door to buy a drink. At the precise moment I was paying (4:18 pm), a lovely blue city bus drove by. Yup, there went our bus. Go figure, you take extra care to arrive 12 minutes early and you still miss your bus. So we did the only thing we could do, wait 30 minutes for the next bus. Once we hopped on the city bus, we anxiously rode around for another 30 minutes thinking that we were now cutting our connections very close...but still thinking we were okay. We arrived at the train station at exactly the same time the train (OUR train) was pulling up. So we sprinted across traffic, and ran to the ticket window and asked for the 5:30 train to Jerez. The grumpy ticket seller informed us we just missed it and the next one did not leave until 6:00 pm. However, we could not take that one because the last bus for the night departs Jerez for Ubrique at 6:00 pm. So we looked into our only other option: heading to Cádiz where there was a 6:30 bus. We bought our tickets to Cádiz, and in 45 minutes arrived with exactly 7 minutes to spare to run and catch the bus back to Ubrique. As we were sprinting (once again) out of the train station, I found myself unable to exit because the machine would not recognize my ticket. Since it was a valid ticket, I thought it would be okay to hop on over and continue sprinting. However, since I was not tall enough, I ended up just repeatedly inserting my ticket thinking it has to work at some point while my friend ran to get help and tell someone I was and unable to exit. Two minutes passed, but it seemed like a lifetime. I finally got out, and yet again, we did a full out sprint to try and make the 6:30 bus back to Ubrique. We arrived at the bus stop, and there was no bus. But we had not seen a bus while we were running either (and we ran along the route), so we decided it must just be running a little late. Finally we grew curious, went and asked a police officer, who apologized but told us he had not been paying attention to the buses. Finally a bus pulled up, and we asked about Ubrique. He told us the last bus left at 5:00 pm. Wait. Back-up. Excuse me? Fortunately for us, he was mistaking. However, so were we. There was no 6:30 bus to Ubrique on the weekdays (only the weekend), but there was one more bus back to Ubrique that left at 8:15 pm...which meant we had a little under two hours to fiddle around.

We decided to go back to the police officer and see what all the commotion was in the main Plaza. To our delight, it was one of the first Semana Santa processions of the week. Niether of us have ever been in Spain during Holy Week or seen a procession of the like, so we stuck around. It was quite elaborate, everyone dressed in white robes/tunics with pointed white hats, and some walking barefoot along the streets of Cádiz (in penance). The statues of Christ and the Virgin were incredibly ornate, and like all processions here, were carried through the streets at a snails pace, by a group of 30 or more men. This is no easy task, as these sculptures weigh hundreds of pounds. Following each statue is a band, that walks and plays behind the scultpures and penants. Lining the way for the scultpures, and scattered throughout the bands and the penants, are nazarenos (or people carrying processional candles and crosses). Little kids from the crowds often approach the nazarenos and ask them to pour wax from their candles onto a wax ball. Since the processions last hours (usually a minimum of 4 hours), the kids get bored, and making a wax ball that grows from year to year, is a way to pass the time and a tradition that has survived the years and getting even more popular. It was quite interesting to see.

Finally, at 8:15 our bus came, and we hopped back on...quite ready to return home. All in all, 6 hours and 30 minutes of transportation, for 3 hours at the beach, and 1 hour and 45 minutes in Cádiz viewing the procession. Needless to say, we were a little tired of riding on trains and buses by the time we got home. But were thrilled we got to see a Semana Santa procession...by pure luck? or bad luck? Still can´t decide.