Seville Snapshots: Costaleros Practicing for Holy Week

The capataz knocks once. As if mechanically, the 40-off men beneath the wooden structure heave together, resting on their heels, hands gripping the wooden beams above their heads.

A second knock, and they launch into the air together.

On the third, the simulation float has rested on their shoulders, and they begin a coordinated dance down the street, walking in sync as they practice for their glorious penitence – Holy Week.

You all know that I paso de pasos (and the crowds, and the brass bands and even the torrijas), but the grueling pilgrimage from one’s church to the Cathedral and back fascinates me. No one bears the brunt more than the costaleros, who must pay for this prestigious position within their brotherhoods and seek penitence through their labor, carrying over 100 pounds for an average of eight hours.

In the weeks leading up to Viernes de Dolores, no less than 60 brotherhoods will crisscross the city to practice, placing cinderblocks on top of the metal float to simulate the large statue, each depicting the final moments of Jesus Christ’s life or of the weeping Virgin Mary. For ten days, Seville is full of religious fervor as the ornate pasos descend on the city center.

For an official route plan with approximate times, check here. You can use this to either catch the processions, or totally avoid them!

What are your Holy Week plans? Have you ever seen Semana Santa in Seville?

Montenegro! Very nice! Weather, very bad! But People, so nice!

The bus driver slammed on the brakes, causing me to crash into the handrail I was using to steady myself. “Thank you! Bus Station!”

We were regurgitated from the Dubrovnik city bus and into the dreary station, where ruddy-faced city folk roamed like the stray cats we’d seen all over the city. Taxi? a few whispered as we passed by with our suitcases. Hotel? I approached the dirty ticket window and asked for two one-ways to Herceg Novi, Montenegro, an hour south of the Pearl of the Adriatic. After two glowing days in the city and a big life decision, I would be stepping foot in my thirtieth country.

Hayley and I settled into the plastic benches inside the station, watching the rain come down. Fifteen minutes ticked by past our sheduled departure time. Then another fifteen. Buses headed to Zagreb or Mostar rumbled in and out, but nothing marked HERCEG NOVI or any other destination rolled by.

Ninety minutes after we expected to, we had passed two border controls and entered Crna Gora. The highway snakes between a series of mountains, finally dumping us out in the seaside village of Igalo on the Bay of Kotor. Low, dark clouds rolled in over the wide mouth of the famous bay, which looks like two butterfly bandages stuck together.

It was odd to remember that Montenegro was born in the same year as kiddies I taught in first grade last year, that’s it’s been centuries since they’ve had their own money, that for years they were the little sister to Serbia after the Yugoslav conflict. I braced myself for bullet holes in buildings, or war cries painted on cracked and crumbling drywall. Montenegro looked the same as Dubrovnik, just with half of the signs written in Cyrillic, a homage to the city’s tumultuous past.

Dovar met us across the street from the bus station. It’s apparently really easy to spot two bewildered American girls in a country that a cell phone claims is Serbia and things are written in cyrillic and the Roman alphabet. Our car was upgraded to an automatic, snow chains came included and we were a mere 200 meters from our rental apartment. Stana great us with open arms, enveloping us into a big hug.

“Montenegro! Very nice! Weather, very bad. Ok. We come, girls.”

She made us hot drinks, showing us around the apartment and a few scattered and torn maps of the area. Once we’d satisfied our internet vice, we set out in hopes of finding a place to eat. Stana didn’t understand our requests for food, instead offering us up a few wrinkled oranges she’d cultivated from her garden.

The rain started pouring the moment we got into the car. Unaware of how to get to the historic part of town, we drove away from the apartment and followed the narrow, winding roads until Hayley spotted a red, white and green awning. “Ah! Italian! Stop the car!”

We stopped and I immediately regretted putting my umbrella in the trunk, especially after our two gorgeous days walking the walls in Dubrovnik and drinking beers at cliffside bars. The street had turned into a landslide, a waterfall, and the Italian restaurant was actually a shoe store. Montenegro has become a popular getaway for the jet set, but we were at the end of March.

The historic center, which spills down a hill right into the Bay of Kotor, was a ghost town. The only open establishment was Portofino, easily the priciest restaurant in town during the low season. As it turned out, the hail had shut off the power in the entire historic center, and we were offered  a limited menu: Caesar Salad or Caesar Salad, to be eaten by candlelight.

At least the beer was still cold.

As we asked for the bill, the waitress told us in broken English that we’d been invited to a drink by the group of men sitting near the door. We’d observed the four townies throwing back shots of the national spirit, Rakia. They raised our glasses to us, and we did the same to them.

I think I’m going to like Montenegro, I thought to myself, crap weather or not.

Have you ever been to Montenegro? What did you like about the country, or not?

Seville Snapshots: Making a Splash in Croatia

This blog is a long love letter to Spain, particularly Andalucía, but traveling outside the land of sunshine and siestas is a lovely hiccup to my everyday life, my vida cotidiana. Like any expat, I’ve got my gripes about my adopted city, but spending a week away from Seville always rejuvenates my love for the place I now call my hogar dulce hogar.

I have a short list of what makes me happy: sunshine, cold beer and traveling (I’d also add food and puppies to this list). When Hayley and I decided to spend Holy Week outside of Spain, we were looking for those few things in our destination. We settled on Croatia, landing in Dubrovnik just as the rain clouds threatened the Easter processions back home and had a quick lunch to be able to enjoy the sunshine while we hunted down a cheap Balkan beer.

Rounding the old city walls near the ancient port, we captured the twinkle of the sun against the jade waters, the cats lazing in its warmth. In an attempt to find the famous Buza bar, we were met by an old man removing the last of his clothing, revealing a speedo and a belly that looked like he’d also been spending years downing Ožujsko beers at Buza. Clucking at us, he turned around, toes barely grasping the cement pier, and swung his arms backwards.

I was a gymnast my entire youth. He was making a go for it.

The old man’s backflip got me thinking about life and aging and goals. He reminded me that I’m never too old to try something new, to push myself to the limits, to quite literally jump into something headfirst. As his friend clapped and I held my breath, he bobbed up and down in the Adriatic, looking refreshed and pleased with himself.

Today may be April Fool’s Day in the US, but I’m not joking around anymore – I’ve got something big in the pipeline, and I’m ready to make a splash in 2013.

Seville Snapshots: Who’s That Nazareno?

Smell that? It’s incense. Feel that? That’s some sevillano whose trying to push his way past you.

Yes, amiguitos, Holy Week is upon us, the stretch of time between Viernes de Dolores until Easter Sunday where sevillanos dress in their finest, women don enormous combs and black lace veils and pointy capirote hats dot the old part of town. The faithful spend all day on their feet, parading from church to Cathedral and back with enormous floats depicting the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

I’m not much of a capillita, but ten days of religious floats means ten days of travel for me.

That said, I’m off to Dubrovnik, Croatia and the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, country #30 on my 30×30 quest. Where will you be during Semana Santa? Do you like Holy Week, or would you rather get your fix in a Holy Week bar?

My Favorite Holy Week Bars in Seville

Danny and I decided to make one last stop for the night, mostly fueled by our bladders than our ganas for another beer. I ordered a Coke and dipped into the bathroom while Danny paid.

Two minutes later, as I left, the lights had been lowered, and Danny looked pale under the glow of a projector. He pointed to a screen, which showed an image of a bloody Jesus from a black-and-white film.

“Oh, you get used to that,¨I cooed, but he had already downed his beer and was halfway through the door. Novatos.

“Not cool, Cat. We’re no longer friends.”

For me, the week-long revelry that surrounds Seville’s Holy Week has meant just a ten-day travel break for me. Living in Triana’s vortex of cofradías meant that braving Semana Santa, locked inside my house while life-sized depictions of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ passed below my window. Paso de pasos, quite frankly.

Still, I have become more and more fascinated in the pageantry and culture of Holy Week, and often take guests to bars full of musty busts of the Virgin Mother, spiderweb-covered chalices and black and white photos of anguished Christs to explain the parts of the cofradía and their symbolism. Plus, I kinda love having Jesus watch me have a cold glass of beer and snack of olives, I guess?

Bar Santa Ana – Calle Pureza, Triana

Far and away my favorite of the bunch is Bar Santa Ana. It’s the typical old man bar around the corner from your flat where you feel intimidated to walk into, but secretly have always wanted to – dozens of images of the nearby Esperanza de Triana and San Gonzalo brotherhoods. Bullfights are run on TV while you sip your beer, tabbed up right in front of you on the bar, and the countdown to Palm Sunday hangs over your head while you eat from a huge tapas menu.

La Freqsuita -  Calle Mateos Gago

With a name like the fresh one, La Fresquita has a lot to live up to with its beer. Still, it’s served cold and often accompanied with olives or even a pocket calendar. The small space – its biggest downside – is covered floor to ceiling in pictures of processions and a countdown to Palm Sunday. Since the bar is right off of the main tourist sites and centrally located on Mateos Gago, many patrons spill out onto the sidewalk in front of the bar.

Kiosko La Melva – Manuel Siurot, s/n (at the cross of Cardenal Ilundain). Hours depend on the boss, Eli.

My weekday bar is always Kiosko La Melva. Once a shack used to provide workers from the ABC Newspaper offices with their midday snacks and beers, the small structure is unbeatable for cold beer (which only costs 1€!) and small, delectable fish sandwiches. Eli and Moises, the wise cracking buddies who man the bar during the mornings and evenings, collect memorabilia from Semana Santas past to fill the bar’s small interior. Their favorites? The Jesus del Gran Poder and la Macarena, who are associated with the Real Betis football club! You can take the 1 or the 3 bus to the bar, which is located near the Virgen del Rocio Hospital. Closed when raining, Saturday nights and all day Sunday.

Garlochí – Calle Boteros, 26, Alfalfa.

Seville’s tackiest bar deserves a mention here, although it’s become a bit of a tourist attraction. Wafts of incense arrive to the street as a lifelike Virgin Mary, eyes towards the heavens, guards the door. The plush decor and aptly named drinks – like Christ’s Blood – make it a favorite among tourists, but there’s a “Garlochi Lite” next door with cheaper drinks and not so many eyes starting at you as you pound your cervezas.

As a non-capillita, I had to ask my dear friend La Dolan for her top picks for Semana Santa bars around the city. She told me of Carrerra Oficial, just steps from Plaza San Lorenzo and the Basilica del Jesus del Gran Poder that has put a replica of the famous church’s facades as part of its decor. The bar is on Javier Lasso de la Vega, 3.

Have you ever experienced Semana Santa in Seville? Or been to a Holy Week bar here?

Seville Snapshots: The Life, Death and Rebirth of an Orange Tree

A round lump rests each year at the bottom of my stocking. This gift, a California orange, is something we get every year from my grandfather, who signed us up to get a huge crate every December, even though he’s been gone for years.

It’s hard not to think of him when I see the beauties growing on the trees just outside my door. A dull smack, and one hits the ground rolling. While they’re not to be eaten in Seville (they’re used to make bitter marmalade), we often pick them up and make a cheap air freshener out of them. Just like a bullfight is characterized by three acts, culminating in the final faena, so is the life and death of the naranjas, whose final rebirth is a fragrant flower called azahar.

Orange trees enjoy the temperate, rainy winters in Seville. Come mid-February, the thunks become more frequent as workers use metal poles to dislodge the naranjas from their trees. The fruit is then gathered into large crates or burlap sacks and shipped off to Merry Old England.

Within days, the springtime rains bring along the small, silky buds that pop out amongst the waxy leaves. Sometimes they open early, filling the nighttime with a clean scent. My Irish friend claims they always come up around St. Patrick’s Day, so my nose has been upturned for the last few days, waiting.

Like all things springime in Seville, the azahar petals fall to the street within a few weeks, and the tempratures shoot up into the high 20s. The azahar is overpowered by incense from the Holy Week parades, and then by fried fish and sherry during the April Fair.

My friend told me that if I liked Seville during the Autumn and Winter, I’d swoon in the springtime.

She was right.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...