Travel Writers: Diary of a Spanish Journey, part 3 by Sara Woods

Location: Salamanca, Spain

The Spanish, from early childhood, become life members of the L.F.L.A. (Lust for Life Association). They passionately embrace its’ ideals and beliefs and practice them religiously. The members meet frequently at home, on streets, in bars or restaurants. The code word for a meeting is ‘fiesta’ and their motto is:

‘Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero’
-seize today, as you have no assurances of the future.

Spain is renowned for its celebrations and fiestas. There are at least fourteen official fiestas nacionales (public holidays) a year. In fact most of the public holidays are religious holidays full of traditional ritual religion and the symbols and icons of the church. The Spanish embrace this mysticism but the fiestas are also celebrated with a zest for life, passionately, colourfully, and at times with a frenzy and hedonism.

One of the most religious and popular holidays is Semana Santa (Holy Week). The celebrations, which mark the passion of Christ, consist of multiple processions over eight days, from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday.

Unfortunately, in Salamanca and many other parts of Spain during Semana Santa this year the weather was atrocious and many processions had to be cancelled. Halfway through one procession in Salamanca dark clouds appeared and it began to pour. Everyone ran for cover. At the front of the procession Jesus who was bare footed, shackled, wearing a flimsy robe and dragging a heavy cross, stopped and looked heavenward. He then lay down his cross, undid his chains and then he too bolted into a local tapas bar to await the dissipation of the ungodly weather.

On Holy Thursday, I went with five friends to Zamora a town forty kilometers from Salamanca to see the processions. The processions are described as being ‘of international tourist interest’.

The plaza mayor in Zamora was packed. As midnight struck we heard a slow rhythmic boom of drums, echoing in the distance, broken intermittently by a short pulse of high-pitched trumpet notes. On tiptoes between the heads of the crowd I caught glimpses of golden banners. Then, the strange sight of rows of men in long dark robes and klu-klux-klan-like hoods (the penitents). And behind life-size wooden statues of the Virgin and Jesus floating shoulder-high and swaying, right then left, with each boom of the drums. The air was heavy with incense. In the midst of this I heard whispering and then a thud. My friend had fainted. We had gone from watching the spectacle to being part of it. The crowd opened into a wide circle and started to whisper, flashing lights announced the arrival of two zealous ambulance men and meanwhile the smell of incense and the rhythmic boom of the drums continued. A few minutes later to the chagrin of the crowd and (I think) disappointment of the ambulance men my friend arose like Lazarus.

Later we wandered through the narrow streets. The streets and bars were jam-packed with revelers drinking from plastic cups and dark-robed men in sandals clutching masks in one hand and crosses in the other. The sinners and penitents celebrating together. Evil and good – it was surreal. All were awaiting the next procession at 5am – aptly named la procesión de los borrachos (the procession of the drunks).

Even in Spain the celebrations must end and so it is with Semana Santa. However in Salamanca the L.F.L.A. has the last word. A week after Easter there is another fiesta –
El lunes de agua – watery Monday. It traditionally celebrates the end of Easter and the end to the abstinences of Easter – meat, alcohol and sex. Therefore it is customary on El lunes de agua to eat hornazo – a thick, crusty pie of four of five different cuts of meat, alcohol is drunk and traditionally the loose women of the city are welcomed back from the other side of the river where they were expelled to during Easter. The celebrations continue throughout the day and night.

Sara Woods studies at don Quijote in Salamanca. For more information about don Quijote, visitDon Quijote

Text © Sara Woods, all rights reserved



Read Sara’s Spanish diary Part 1

Read Sara’s Spanish diary Part 2

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