I came back from Spain, I have survived the jetlag, and am willing to wear the clothes I packed on the trip again (although still with a bit of hesitation). I had a most fabulous time with my sister trying with all our might to wear the soles off of our shoes and to fill my 32G memory card on my camera, but both were near misses in the end.
Everyone asks, which city was your favorite, or what was the best part. You try going to Madrid, Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada, and Barcelona, and then pick a favorite. Not that easy. The cities just don't compare. One aspect that I really was wow-ed by though, was Semana Santa, Holy Week.
In Andalusia, Semana Santa is a week long religious affaire filled with processions of elaborately decorated (and incredibly heavy, like 1 ton+ carried on the backs of men) floats, groups of pointy-hood wearing Nazarenos (penitents) with 5 foot tall candles dripping down the narrow streets, a shrill brass band, and a whole gaggle of other penitents, walking slowly through the streets, from their parish church to the cathedral and back.
The costume, including the cone, is supposed to disguise the Nazarenos, people repenting (they've been doing this LONNNNnggg before the KKK took on the cone shaped hoods, so don't get all squeamish). Some of the people participating in the procession emphasize their repentance by walking barefoot, or even with shackles. The cone symbolizes a rise towards the heavens and brings their penitence closer to the heavens.
The whole spectacle was quite overwhelming, especially the first time we stumbled across a procession. We were in Cordoba, in a street that was so narrow you could nearly touch both sides. The police came, and were yelling at all the shop owners to close-up shop, and get their tchotchkes off the walkway. Anastasia was able to translate bits and pieces--it was shocking to hear the police call one shop-owner "Catholic trash" for not getting his merchandise away.
While the police are closing down the shops, the procession just waits. Candles dripping, incense burning, brassy band playing, and you know the Nazarenos are just drenched in sweat in the hot weather with their full gowns and cone-shaped-hood (capirote) on, not to mention the men carrying the float (Costaleros) of Jesus followed by a second of Mary on their backs.
The procession began again. Apparently we were at a trade-off point, where the men carrying the floats gently set them down, and swap with a new group of Costaleros. Here we were able to see them with their back braces (faja) and burlap bags over their heads and rolled up on their shoulders to help take the weight of the floats. Each brotherhood, (group affiliated with a parish that participate in Semana Santa) has it's own way of raising the float. This brotherhood were on their knees, with the float resting on their shoulders, and with one whisper from the man that guides the float, they all jumped up. Not just up, but off the ground, and then landed back down. The held their position until all the candles on the float's alter were lit again, and proceeded.
The whole thing was absolutely unbelievable. And that was only the first one. Over the week, we saw many processions throughout the heat of day, through the (still very hot) nights, in all different colored robes, hoods, crests, candles, and different scene's of "The Passion" of Jesus and mourning Mary. In Seville there are as many as 60 brotherhoods, in Cordoba, there were 6 a day for the entire week, and Cordoba is no massive city.
I hadn't planned the trip just to see Holy Week, but I am so glad that we were there to see it. An incredible experience. Next time, I'm going to see the Patio Festival.