Semana Santa

The haunting sound of a mournful drum beat has pervaded my little flat each night for the last couple of weeks. Somewhere, close by, someone is practising for Semana Santa, a weeklong event that commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s the equivalent of our Easter, but on a much grander scale.

Each of the churches I’ve popped into have been busy getting ready for this most important week of their year and it’s been fascinating to learn a little about the history of this uniquely Spanish event.

In 1521, the Marqués de Tarifa, on returning from the Holy Land, introduced the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) which has evolved into present day processions where the various scenes of the Passion of Christ are depicted.

In Andalucia, all towns celebrate the week with daily processions – yep, that’s right the processions are daily! I had originally thought there was just one big procession which everyone turned out to and all the floats, or pasos, as they are called in Spanish went past. I’ve now learnt that it’s a much grander affair. Very elaborate and highly ritualised.

Each procession is organised by the cofradías (brotherhoods). In my little town alone there are seventeen brotherhoods.  In Seville, I am told, there are over fifty. This makes for several processions a day. Each starts out from their local church (we have 21 churches, chapels etc here in my town!) and follows a route that must include the Carrera Oficial where the dignitaries and those lucky enough to have seats get a front row view.

The biggest, and most impressive, is in Seville where the centre is closed to traffic for the week. Last Saturday the infrastructure was being set up for the parade. I’ve since discovered that seats are pretty much impossible to come by as they are handed wpid-20150321_103719.jpgdown by families through the generations.
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The pasos are ornate floats, richly adorned with silver, gold, candles and statues of Jesus or the Virgin. The statues often date back centuries and no expense is spared on the rich robes of the Virgin. Costaleros, ranging in number from twenty four to over fifty of them, are hidden under the float so all you see is their feet as they bear the floats through the streets.

Nazarenos, (penitents) walk beside the floats and some even walk barefoot, which is very impressive in my book given some processions last up to 14 hours! The nazarenos are robed and hooded, giving them a strong resemblance to the Klu Klux Clan but there is no connection. Accompanied by drums, candles and burning incense the whole procession harks back to days long past.

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 Confiteri La Campana window

Semana Santa is so much a part of Seville than even the shop windows are decorated in theme and the big department store Corte Inglese had an exhibit of school childrens pasos creations.wpid-20150321_111329.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

I’m heading to Malaga tomorrow which is the birthplace of Antonio Banderas and Picasso. It seems Antonio regularly participates in the Malaga Semana Santa celebrations, not as a famous star but as a Malaga born local. Read more here about how and why he is involved. I wonder if I’ll be lucky enough to bump into him?

Michelle

Andalucia Day – 28 February

A gorgeous sunny day today as we mark Andalucia Day and the final day of February. Temperatures are on the rise so I’m a happy little Vegemite. My laundry is fluttering on the rooftop, I’ve thrown open all the windows, turned off the heating and moved back into my office as opposed to doing all my writing and sorting on the dining room table to conserve heat. It’s kind of like when the Dry Season arrives in Darwin and we turn off the aircons.

Andalucia Day is an official holiday here, it marks the day in 1980 when a referendum was passed and Andalucia became an autonomous region in Spain with its own government. Where I live is in the Seville province (one of the eight provinces of the region).

Flamenco and bullfighting, whilst considered typically Spanish, actually originated here in Andalusia. There’s a bullfight on today, but, whilst I am fascinated by the customs and history, which I understand, goes back to about 700 AD, I am abhorrent of the fact that an animal is killed in such a cruel fashion just for sport! Therefore, I shall not be attending any bull fights anywhere or anytime. There was a program on TV about this the other week and whilst I watched the interviews and admired the costumes of the matadors, I flicked channels when it came to actual fight scenes.

Flamenco on the other hand is something equally fascinating, beautiful to watch and causes no harm. I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that so many of my students actually dance Flamenco and that it’s widely taught. A few of the English teachers I’ve met go to classes, but given I’m not exactly musical I’ve not attempted them.

Michelle

BACK IN SPAIN

Today is my fourth day back in Spain; I arrived Wednesday night and have been lucky not to have suffered from jet lag despite the very long trip. It was straight back to work Thursday morning so it’s nice to have this weekend to chill out. I spent yesterday checking out the rebajas – yep, I learnt a new word in Spanish – it means discounts but is the equivalent of our sales since that’s what’s plastered all over shop windows. I also visited the supermarket plus fruit and veg stalls.

My fridge is stocked with loads of eggplant, red and green peppers, gorgeous tomatoes, beautiful mushrooms and crunchy green beans. That said, it’s so flipping cold, I don’t really need a fridge at the moment. When I step into the kitchen each morning to make my morning coffee I could swear it must be about 2 degrees!

However, once you go outside it is gorgeous winter sunshine, so it’s very pleasant walking through the streets, as I did yesterday, to get to the post office and send off a letter to Mum who is not on Facebook or any other means of electronic communications. The walk to the post office offers some lovely vista’s including the beautiful façade of the Palacio de Penaflor, which I believe, is quite something inside, but at the moment is not open to the public (I’m not sure if it ever was) and there seems to be some debate as to what to do with it. I’m really keen to get a look inside this intriguing building.

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Approach to and views of Iglesia San Juan

On the way back from the post office I meandered past the very picturesque, Iglesia San Juan, a place I’ve visited prior but definitely worth a second visit. However, it was closed so I had to content myself with just soaking up the exterior atmosphere.

There’s very little in terms of literature in English which explains what all the fascinating buildings in Ecija are so I’m making it my mission to find out a little bit more about the ones that intrigue me the most. It’s most definitely not a touristy town although we do see the odd day tripper, and whilst it’s nowhere near as spectacular as Cordoba or Seville, the place does have a certain unique charm. I would sum it up as being natural, no touristy shops of tacky souvenirs on every corner and people go about living their daily lives without pandering to tourists which in turn translates into cheaper prices in restaurants and, of course, less English speakers.

Michelle

Dratted flu!

After enjoying a lovely Saturday morning browsing round the local market, which was freezing cold I might add, I managed to develop a rotten cold that has seen me laid up for the long weekend with a thick head, runny nose and tickly throat. The planned trip to visit the Mezquita in Cordoba was off and instead I stayed at home feeling very sad and sorry for myself all layered up in three jumpers, thick socks, slippers, a pile of tissues, cough lollies and Echinacea plus a steaming mug of chamomile, honey and vanilla tea.

I’ve spent most of the long weekend sleeping on and off, watching the odd movie on TV and reading while swaddled in a thick blanket. The temperatures plummeted and Monday morning was 1 degree – no wonder I need two heaters going in the sitting room! It’s hard to believe that the weather can get so cold here and so quickly. Although the locals did tell me that it was summer one moment and winter the next – too right!
I had to venture outside to work for a couple of hours Tuesday afternoon but thankfully the temperate had risen a bit by then, the Academy has a good heater and my classes were not so intensive so it didn’t matter that my brain was somewhat foggy. I’ve managed  get through the rest of the week thus far although my croaky voice is a source of amusement to several of my students.

I’ve been sniffling my way back home each evening after class and gratefully stepping into my apartment where I’ve been leaving the heating on while I’m gone. My landlady has told me to watch the power bills as I think she was surprised my bill for power and water for the last two months was E56 but to me that was so cheap compared to Darwin prices. I like to be nice and warm inside instead of wrapped up like an Eskimo in my own place so I’m more than happy to pay what it takes to keep me comfortable.

Dinners have been steaming bowls of home-made soups – thank goodness for the freezer where I’ve stashed pile of meals as cooking for one means I always make more – and settling down to watch some weird stuff on TV, as I haven’t been able to concentrate properly on reading, before dosing myself up again and snuggling down for the night. Last night was impossible to keep warm last night and I ended up crawling into bed with a silk scarf wrapped round my head plus long tights and T-shirt under my flannelette nightie!

This morning I woke up feeling lot more like my old self – still got slight sniffles but thank goodness my head is clear and I can think properly again – so my silk scarf act must have worked. All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t get the job in Mongolia that I applied for! I was definitely being watched over when I missed out on that one!

Michelle

December…..first week

I’ve been here two months already, the time has flown past and two weeks today I’ll be boarding a plane in Madrid to head back to Darwin for Christmas where I’ll no doubt swelter and instead of the heaters will be lazing about in the pool to try and keep cool.

I’m very pleased to be able to say that this week I finally managed to become registered on the Spanish health care system. Only two trips to the Health Centre and one to Social Security and my task was accomplished. I’m definitely getting the hang of this local run around system that involves several visits and many photocopies of all paperwork.

I’ve also got a few thousand more words down on paper, enjoyed two social nights of informal conversation groups which was a mix of Spanish and English speakers, met new people and discovered a little cultural centre I had no idea existed before. The chap who runs it, Juan Manuel Luna Fuentes, presented me with copy of his book “Viaje A Nueva Icaria” all in Spanish I might add so on winter nights I guess it’ll be me and my dictionary trying to wade through it. I also learnt all sorts of fascinating stuff about flamenco which will be the subject of another post.

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Cobbled street just after midnight –  lit by the soft glow of the street lights

Temperatures have suddenly dropped to between 4 and 6 degrees each morning and late at night but I still love walking home in the dark as the city takes on another dimension in the glow of the lamp light. Don’t get me wrong, I am always offered a lift but it’s so much better to walk and after a night of chatter I enjoy the solitude. The streets are quieter and it’s as though I’ve stepped back in time as I walk the cobbled streets towards my apartment. It’s perfectly safe to walk at night and it burns the calories too!

The cooler weather means bundling up in more clothes, and I’ve taken to wearing several layers (which gives a Michelin Man appearance at times) although when the sun comes out it is lovely to bask in its warming rays and then I feel hot so need to peel off a layer! In my apartment I have two heaters going in the sitting room so I don’t turn into a popsicle overnight and, as I write this, I recall the days of typing in London wearing fingerless gloves – if it gets much colder I might just have to invest in a pair once again!

This week an ice-rink has appeared in the main square which is officially called Plaza Espana but the locals refer to it as the Salon and the Christmas decorations have been hung across the streets. I’m heading out now to explore the town and see what delights I can find at the market that I saw springing up in the Salon yesterday.

Michelle

Opportunities

My teaching load is lighter for December which gives me space to be taking on a couple more individual business clients. I’m open to clients from anywhere in the world as long as their work interests me and I feel that I can be helpful tEveryone is my teachero their business or cause. Anyone interested in discussing opportunities is welcome to contact me on michellehanton@gmail.com

Why is the load lighter? Well, two of my classes finished up on Friday as they head to their English exams tomorrow. These are external exams with examiners coming from Trinity College in the UK. It’ll be strange not to see them every day after having spent the last 2 months together. We enjoyed a great last day together including celebrating a birthday at morning tea and then lunch after the final class.

I find it so rewarding working with motivated students and clients alike. The pleasure I experience as a result of their success is really hard to describe and I guess the most recent public success was Katrina Fong Lim’s election night victory but all successes bring me the same pleasure which is why I so love being able to choose clients that align with my values and best of all I also learn from all these wonderful experiences. Life is indeed wonderful.

Michelle

Locals supporting locals

I know in Australia we have the food banks, wishing trees and so many other things for those who are less fortunate,good person but here things are a little different. It’s the little community events that are supporting those within their own areas.

On Saturday I went to the supermarket and there were volunteers there doing a collection for those who needed support. Shoppers were very gently and politely approached by the volunteers to consider purchasing an extra item while they shopped and popping it into the collection trolleys.

I think this is a great idea and it was good to see so many people getting behind the initiative. All the goods are distributed locally which is fantastic and really embodies charity beginning at home. I was so pleased to be able to add multiple packets of biscuits and boxes of juices to my shopping for inclusion in the donation trolley. In the scheme of things it cost me so little but will mean a lot to someone who does not have the money for these kind of items.

I give thanks each day that I have a healthy family, a roof over my head and food to eat.

Michelle