“So is this the Royal and Very Illustrious Fraternity of the Holy Christ of the Expiration, the Virgin of the Greatest Pain and the Piarist Brotherhood of Jose de Calasanz”, asks K, “or is it the Ferverous and Penitent Brotherhood of the Holy Christ of the Good Death and Our Lady of Love and Railworkers?”
I can’t help chuckling to myself at her schoolgirl error.
“No, no you silly bean”, I gently chide, patting the back of her hand.
I’ve been brushing up on the processions in my little Semana Santa booklet, complete with timetables, recommended viewing locations and little illustrations depicting the various get-ups that would identify the cofradias, or brotherhoods, and their penitent, pointy-hooded nazarenos. Apart from the colour of their costumes there would be nothing to distinguish one nazareno from another; all of them covered from head to foot, their identities concealed by capirote, capa and capuz. I recognized the conical yellow headwear and black túnica that we’re looking at now immediately.
“It’s the Pontifical and Royal Confraternity and Brotherhood of our Lady of Solitude and the Descent of Our Lord.”
We are blanketed in a hovering layer of incense and the city air is a holy din as drum and brass play a marcha de Semana Santa – crazy, lazy harmonics that evoke the spaghetti western. The first paso carried by the Pontifical and Royal Confraternity and Brotherhood of our Lady of Solitude and the Descent of Our Lord represents the passage of the body of Christ to its sephulcre, and it’s quite something to see it navigate a street corner I can tell you; the anxious, encouraging calls of the capataz direct the white-shod, shuffling feet of the costaleros as they sway and sweat beneath – burly young men who will get to carry the ornate platforms just once in their lives.
Once aligned it advances at a strident pace, followed by another company of hooded nazarenos. When they pause again there’s an incongruous air of informality. Members of the crowd pop chewing gum into the mouths of those whose hands are full of incense thuribles or the candle holders beneath which children linger to augment the blessed wax balls they will collect tonight. Then the second paso, the dolorosa, candle-lit and gold-embroidered. Then more nazarenos. We move on, squeezing through sardine streets and trying not to think about the Ku Klux Klan, too much.
All a far cry from yesterday at the motorway services. On our way here we have stopped for a tostada and a café con leche and as always the TV is on, blaring out over formica table-tops and paper napkin dispensers, the tinkle of spoons in saucers, the buzz and jangle of the fruit machine.
Infuriatingly we find ourselves watching a procession, live from Sevilla. It’s the Macarena – a gitana singing a saeta lament to the Virgin on this blue sky day; one of the main Good Friday events. There couldn’t be a more iconic representation of Easter in that city and it’s infuriating because we have just spent two days there hunting high and low for a procession and to no avail. All we got were the lines of empty, soaked seating and the odd lone penitent wandering about, head bowed under a soggy capirote. Rain has put a stop to it all and costaleros – grown men – weep in the streets.
We console ourselves on our way home that Tarifa – where we live – does a mean Semana Santa itself, but the rain follows us and when we go into town the cobbled streets are shiny, wet and empty – not a penitent in sight. It’s beginning to feel like a practical joke. In the early afternoon of Good Friday we arrive in Granada and it’s raining. We linger later that day for a scheduled procession on the same street as our hotel but nothing happens. It seems as if we will have travelled all over Andalucia in Holy Week, to three separate sites of semana santa celebrations, without so much as glimpsing a procession; a unique achievement and a story I mentally prepare to be telling for years.
But it isn’t to be. Tonight, when we bump into the Venerable, Ancient and Illustrious Sacramental Brotherhood of the Our Lady of Peace and Penitent Fraternity of the Holy Christ of Favors and Crowned Holy Mary of Mercy, it’s the third procession that has blocked our way, and all we’re trying to do is get back to our hotel.
Once again Granada – our favourite city – delivers where others disappoint. We went to Sevilla for the full Semana Santa monty but we’re getting it here. The streets are packed and cordoned off at key intersections; sweet and snack carts are wheeled back and forth to occupy the best positions at the right times. Television crews, police, everything.
We duck into a bar we know because we want to see the look on the parents’ faces. We find ourselves in the cramped front room beneath the TV screen, having swapped the Holy Week masses for a bar themed on…wait for it…Holy Week. The walls and ceiling are covered with iconography and religious kitsch, the smell of incense as strong here as it is on the streets outside. A brassy dirge comes from the speakers. My mother is speechless. Enough said.
For a second time we watch a procession on the TV, but this screen is nestled amongst the bric-a-brac of Easter itself and the procession it’s displaying is right around the corner. After a few drinks we will intercept it. We are full of noise and music, religious theatre, tapas and wine. We are reminded that even today Spain is just that little bit different.
On Sunday we leave for home and I sit hypnotized, as I always do, on the road out over the vega. It is lined with derelict houses, car dealerships and workshops – the detritus of the outskirts. The distances though are snowy mountain tops and just behind the suburban commerce the plain here is planted with poplars in perfect rows; the country behind them a flickering animation as they flit past.
I always like to tell people that this road is beautiful in the Autumn but the truth seems to be that the colours here are autumnal all year round; yellows and browns and the silver of the tree bark. I look forward to seeing it as much as I do the Alhambra these days and I hope it won’t be too long again as I mutter an hasta luego.Follow @RobinJGraham