Friday, 21 March 2008

Godly grief, greenery, and Grajal

Today is so many things! It is Good Friday, and the first full day of Spring, and Johann Sebastian Bach´s birthday, and also the birthday of Nicolas, my little godson. Here in Moratinos it is sunny and chilly, and a thousand birds are singing outside. Inside the kitchen Paddy is filling the air with the scent of frying baccalao -- he´s making his rice & spinach & feta dish with fish these days, and it works a charm. A Paco de Lucia CD is filling our ears with wonderful guitar music... but the birdsong is loud enough to provide counterpoint. It all is lovely.

There´s lots to write about, so I must be judicious! Yesterday we took a hike down the Camino de Madrid, a relatively new camino path that travels from Madrid across the very flat and boring Castillian plain and joins the "main" path right here in Sahagun. We took the dogs with us to Sahagun, and walked the trail backward, north-to-south, to the next town down. It´s called Grajal de Campos. Only 313 people live there, but the place it going on: they have a Renaissance palace, a very weird six-sided church tower, a fully fledged medieval neighborhood, and a 16th century castle right out of Walt Disney. And because it is Holy Week, we found everything open and fully staffed when we arrived! Woohoo!

Grajal now is quite a backwater, but back in the day when Sahagun was Big Time, Grajal was right there competing for the trade, prestige, and tributes too. (´Grajal,´by the way, means ´Grail.´ One for all you Templar Conspiracy Theorists!) The mayor was at the palace when we walked by, and told us to c´mon in and look around, dogs and all. (We were there already last year, when the renovations were still in full swing, but we let ourselves be shown the gardens and the old winepress and bodega. Turns out the mayor is a cousin to the Segundino family, who live on the plaza in Moratinos, so we got the Big Welcome. When he was a boy, the palace was a fallen-down ruin, a paradise for young explorers. Just imagine that!)

The castle is adjacent, and we´d never been inside. There´s only one way in, via a tiny doorway tucked way around one side. No one is ever there when we check it out, but yesterday was our lucky day... another Segundino cousin was there. He handed me a flashlight and pointed to a tiny light in a black hole, and said "the stairs are over there. Don´t be afraid. Watch your step." Paddy stayed down there with the man to talk about Moratinos and relatives. Here is a pic of that stairway. And me with claustrophobia!
(It was WAY windy up there! The whole place is filled up with dirt, which has preserved it beautifully. No one knows what is buried down there. So cool to have an untouched mystery, just waiting til there´s enough funding, time, and interest.)

Anyway, it took forever to get back, and last night was Maundy Thursday, the real start to Holy Week. I was whupped! Lucky I got a nap in the afternoon. I went to a packed-house, smells ´n´bells Mass at San Lorenzo church, and then joined the crowd out in the plaza to watch the start of the first processions.

Nighttime is perfect for this sort of thing. The penitentes in their long purple robes and tall pointy hats, shouldering 300-year-old statuary tableaux of the last days of Jesus´ life, eerie music by drum and bugle bands, and the flickering votive candles carried by a legion of tiny old ladies... Very ancient, visceral ritual, a thin Christian veneer over a much older cult of death, I think. (Sahagun´s processions are tiny compared to the big cities, where they go all-out and draw crowds of thousands. See some great photos here: But I still really like ours. Small and simple, and only a little bit tipsy.

My favorite image of the night happened at the church doors, where I snagged a good vantage point. The confraternity of the purple hoods numbers about 100, including some very small children. Leandro the Plumber is a grand poobah, and he cut quite a dash, sending lesser souls scurrying hither and yon to help move this image or that, get the right flowers on the right palanquin, etc. Among the plainclothes assistants was a tall, rangy biker in gang colors, apparently attached to the Virgin of Sorrows float. He wore a glow-in-the-dark rosary ´round his neck, and shouldered the sagging rear left corner of the float as it went past me... apparently a taxing position. As he stepped into the plaza and the trumpets pealed a greeting to the mournful image, I saw the back of the man´s motorcycle-gang jacket. Blazoned in bright yellow it said: "DRUIDAS." Druids. I laughed out loud, very inappropriately! And of course my camera was at home.

This morning they marched all the figures around town again, and tonight they´ll do the same. Three bands and a chorus will perform in the evening in the plaza. Good Friday is the peak of the celebration... the resurrection/Easter thing seems to be a bit anticlimactic, but for the solemn troupes of drummers who march through the town, banging away. (their hoods and robes are black.) There are dozens of other little customs here to mark the occasion: midnight sessions of gambling on a coin-toss, celebrated in most of the bars; and a seasonal ´limonade´ that tastes like strong sangria, and endless rosary recitations.

Out in the fields the earth is waking up. The birds are back, and the hunters and the pilgrims, along with the daisies and mice and lizards, too.

Now we just need some rain.

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