Monday, March 27, 2017


   While Semana Santa is a national tradition throughout Spain, the "Andalucians" arguably "feel" the week more than other regions of Spain.  Throughout 7 days, Andalucia is surrounded by a spiritual halo.  Semana Santa is a tradition which is repeated year after year, a time when the devout and  curious joint together to participated in the procession and converge on the streets and squares which take on the ambiance and mystique of an open air temple.


   The skill and expertise behind the parades rest with the religious fraternities and brotherhoods.  They have the responsibility of maintaining the statues as well as coordinating the penitents and musicians.  Sometimes up to two thousand members of a brotherhood take part, some carry candles, rods or banners depending on their level of seniority.  The most senior is the president who carries a golden rod.



    The "costaleros" who carry the weight on the floats and their sculptured representations of the biblical scene are directed by the overseer or head of the group who ensures that the float is carried with maximum seriousness, grace and tradition.  To be able to survive the long hours and distance carrying the heavy "thrones" the costaleros have a cushion, known as the costal, which prevents the direct contact of the wood rubbing against the skin.  The thrones are followed by "nazarenos" dressed in tunics, hoods and masks and women dressed in traditional costume.



    The high point of the procession is when the float exits and enters the respective church.  This is the moment when art and religion seem merged into one.  A sculpture of images created by superb craftsmen.  The best floats date back to the 16th and 17th centuries and can still be seen today.
   The entire scene is alive with color and sound, thanks to the polychromatic variety of tunics, hoods, ensigns and banners.  Emotions are stirred by the slow rhythmic beating of the drums and processional marches, the swaying paces of the bearers and the poignant wailing of the "saeta" which is a sacred song similar to the flamenco and sung through the Holy Week processions.


    Even if you are not religious, it is difficult not to be moved, the atomsphere is so vital and poignant.  For some it is a fun filled fiesta time, for others a week of ritual and reflection.  Without a doubt, Holy Week in Andalucia is a tradition that is an integral part of the culture and appropriatly reflects the spirit of the people.
   Year after year, each and every village proudly enjoys the berauty and mystery of "Semana Santa", although there are variances and some towns for instance, will preserve certain traditions more than others.  The villages and hamlets generally hold their parades on Thursdays and Fridays, while the large capital cities have week long celebrations and attract thousands of people from far and wide.
   Irrespective of size, each float represents the pride and enthusiasm of every Andaluz who will spend the entire night, from dusk until dawn, accompanying them in solemn reverence to his or her religion.


   The Carnaval de Oruro (or Carnival of Oruro), is the biggest annual cultural event in Bolivia.
   Celebrated in Oruro, the folklore capital of Bolivia, the carnival marks the Ito festival for the Uru people.  Its ceremonies stem from Andean customs, the ancient invocations centering around Pachamama (Mother Earth, transformed into the Virgin Mary due to Christian syncretism) and Tio Supay (Uncle God of the Mountains, transformed into the Devil).  The native Ito ceremonies were stopped in the 17th century by the Spanish, who were ruling the territory of upper Peru at the time.  However, the Uru continued to observe the festival in the form of a Catholic ritual on Candlemas, in the first week of each February.  Christian icons were used to conceal portrayals of Andean gods, and the Christian saints represented other Andean minor divinities.  The ceremony begins 40 days before Easter.

   Legend also has it that in 1789, a mural of the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared in a mineshaft of the richest silver mine in Oruro.  Ever since, the Carnival has been observed in honor of the Virgen de la Candelaria (Virgin of the Candle Mass) or Virgen del Socavon (Virgin of the Mineshaft).  The most important elements of the Carnival now occur in and around the Sanctuaria del Socavon (The Church of the Mineshaft).


   The carnival starts with a ceremony dedicated to the Virgen del Socavon.  Marching bands, compete simultaneously in the grotto of Pie de Gallo on Sunday, which is the greeting to the Virgin.  The highlight of the Carnival is conducted over three days and nights, with 50 groups parading through the city over a route of 4 kilometers.  The groups represent various indigenous dance forms, and are accompanied by several bands.  Over 28,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians participate in the procession that lasts over 20 hours.  The dances include Caporales, Diablada, Kantus, Kullawada, Llamerada, Morenada, Potolo, Pujllay, Suri Sikuris, Tinku, Tobas, Waca Waca and La Diablada (Dance of the devils).  These demonic dancers are dressed in extravagant garb.  The design and creation of Diablada costumes has become an art form in Oruro, and several Diablada clubs, consisting of members from all levels of Oruro society, are sponsored by local businesses.  There are anywhere from 40 to 300 dancing participants, whose costumes may cost several hundreds of dollars each.


   The main event kicks off on Saturday before Ash Wednesday, with the spectacular entrada (entrance procession), led by the brightly costumed San Miguel character.  Behind him, dancing and marching, come the famous devils and a host of bears and condors.  The chief devil, Lucifer, wears the most extravagant costume, complete with a velvet cape and an ornate mask.  Faithfully at his side are two other devils, including Supay, an Andean god of evil that inhabits the hills and mineshafts.  The procession is followed by other dance groups, vehicles adorned with jewels, coins and silverware (in commemorating of the achura rites, in which the Inca offered their treasures to Inti, the sun, in the festival of Inti Raymi, and the miners offer the year's highest quality mineral to El Tio, the demonic character who is owner of all underground minerals and precious metals.  Behind them, follows the Inca characters and a group of conquistador's, including Franciso Pizarro and Diego de Almagro.


   When the devils and the archangel arrive at the soccer stadium, they engage in a series of dances that tell the story of the ultimate battle between good and evil.  After it becomes apparent that good has triumphed over evil, the dancers retire to the Santuario de la Virgen del Socavon at dawn on Sunday, and a mass is held in honor of the Virgin, who pronounces that good has prevailed.


   There's another, less spectacular entrada on Sunday afternoon, and more dance displays on Monday.  The next day, Shrove Tuesday, is marked by family reunions and cha'lla libations, in which alcohol is sprinkled over worldly goods to invoke a blessing.  The next day people make their way into the surrounding countryside where 4 rock formations, the Toad, the Viper, the Condor and the Lizard, are also subjected to cha'lla as an offering to Pachamama.  Plenty of the spirit is sprinkled down the revelers' throats as well.
     Oruro's Carnival has become Bolivia's most renowned and largest annual celebrations.  It's a great time to visit, when this somewhat unfashionable mining city becomes the focus of the nation's attention.  In a broad sense, these festivities can be called re-enactments.  The festival is so interlaced with threads of both Christian and indigenous myths, fables, deities and traditions that it would be inaccurate to oversimplify it in this way.

    Ceremonies begin several weeks before Carnaval Oruro itself, with a solemn pledge of loyalty to the Virgin in the sanctuary.  From this date on, there are various candelite processions and dance groups practice boisterously in the city's streets.


    Can you say Starkbierzeit?  It's German for "strong beer festival", an event held every March in Munich.  For two weeks, breweries bring out their most potent beverages, and beer halls throw noisy parties with a  host of Bavarian entertainment and food.  It's Oktoberfest without the tourists.
   The festival's roots go back to the Paulaner monks who, according to legend, began making an extra strength beer to sustain themselves during their Lenten fast.  The beer, first brewed in the 17th century, gained a "word of mouth" following.  The townspeople called it Salvator.


   Strong beer's popularity took off after Napoleon rode into town and sold the monasteries to local businessmen.  Paulaner ended up in the hands of a entrepreneur named Franz Xavier Zacheri, who turned the monastery into a beer hall and mass produced the monks' beer.  In an inspired bit of marketing, he promoted Salvator as a cure for the wintertime blues.  Munchner's answered the call, descending on Zacheri's beer hall in droves.
   Salvator is classified as a doppelbock, which means an "extra strength" version of the Bock style.  "Bock", in Bavaria, is a generic term meaning strong beer--pale as well as dark.  Just how strong are doppelbocks?  They start at 7.5 percent alcohol by volume.  Anbd because their strength is masked by a strong malty flavor, they can sneak up on the most experienced of beer drinkers.


  The site of Zackeri's beer hall is still the gathering place for Starkbierzeit--especially on  March 19th, St. Joseph's Day.  Today, it's called the Paulaner Keller.  This sprawling complex can hold 5,000 revelers, and there's room for thousands more outside.  It has everything you'd expect in a traditional beer hall: sturdy beermaids; brass bands blaring out drinking songs; and plenty of malty, amber colored Salvator Doppelbock.
   It didn't take long for Munich's other breweries to follow Paulaner's lead and come out with their own doppelbocks.  But as a tribute to the original Salvator, they've all given their beers names ending in "-ator". 
   Paulaner's biggest competitor is Lowenbrau, which brings out its sweetish--and lethal--Triumphator in March.  You can find it all over town, but if you want to join the party, the place to go is the brewery's enormous Lowenbraukeller.  Show up on the right evening, and the entertainment will include boulder-lifting competitions and other feats of strength.


   Doppelbock isn't the only style of beer served during Starbierzeit.  For an interesting change of pace, head for Weisses Brauhaus, a popular destination for those who like to start their evening with a good meal.  As the name suggests, it specializes in wheat beers, which Germans often call weiss, or white beers.  This time of year, the brewery pours Starkweizenbier, a dark colored beer whose pronounced wheat flavor hides a big alcoholic punch.


     Munich's most intriguing strong beer venue is Forschungbrauerei, which means "research brewery", in English.  By tradition, it's allowed to start serving its doppelbock, called St. Jakobus, a week before Starkbierzeit, it is a small, family run establishment whose entire production is consumed on the premises.  It's also one of the few remaining places where beer is served in ceramic mugs which do a better job of keeping beer cold. 


   Starkbierzeit isn't widely publicized,which is just fine with Munchners.  It's their time of year to show pride in Bavarian culture and tradition.  But don't let the local color scare you away,  that's why millions of people visit every year!  Bring a good guidebook, a hearty appetite, and a taste for strong Bavarian beer.  That'll be enough to earn you a "Wilkommen" at any beer hall in town.