Sunday, April 18, 2010

The update

I received a letter in the mail a while back from my grandparents filling me in on the new happenings in Nebraska. At the end of the letter, my grandma mentioned that she would love to hear more about my classes and the study aspect of my study abroad experience. At this suggestion, I realized that I had barely mentioned class in any of my posts in quite some time. Now that I am about half-way done with my classes, I guess my grandma is right- an update is due.

I am taking mostly history and literature classes on subjects ranging from Modern Latin America to Romantic Spanish Literature. The classes I take directly at the university are smaller than most of my classes at Michigan and are much more focused on the lecture than discussion or class participation. Students take notes in paragraph form, I'm assuming writing down every single word the professor says. Monday through Thursday I take classes almost straight from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm and I then head home for lunch. My favorite class so far is probably my modern Latin America class which (despite what modern means to most of us) covers Latin America from 1492 through the 18th century. Because Sevilla had a monopoly on all the trade to and from the Americas during this time, the professors have access to incredible amounts of information and documentation about the Americas during this time sitting right next door to the Universidad in the Archivo de las Indias. The class is taught by two professors- the lecturer is this jolly older man whose passion for the material he's teaching is apparent. He remains incredibly concerned that his American students will not understand the cultural background that is often needed to "get" what he is explaining about life in the Spanish colonies and takes time after class to check in with us. The other professor is a younger woman who wears impeccably put together outfits every day and whose gaze can cause me to squirm and wish I could sink under my desk. She is in charge of taking us through the original documents that pertain to the lecture from the week and has us read aloud from old Spanish texts... When native speakers struggle to get through the texts... well, you can imagine that it is particularly mortifying for the non-natives!  

The classes also have very little day to day work and are almost all exclusively graded on your final paper and/or exam. The problem with this is that it is very easy to forget that not everything can be put off until June. Right now, I have 8 article responses, two final research papers that need to be approximately 10 pages long, a journal and a fair amount of supplemental reading... to start! And that's all to finish before I can think about the exams. So, while it has been great to lay on the beach and travel nearly every weekend, we will all have to face reality pretty soon here! 

But it's hard to get in the rhythm of buckling down to work when in the last month alone, I've had a full 18 days of class off! My friends have travelled all over Europe in the past month and many of them have facebook albums entitled things along the line of "Vacation from vacation." For organization's sake, I'll have to write about my vacation from my vacation another time.

PS: there's another post RIGHT under this one that's new too :) 

The Passion - La Semana Santa

Coming from a religious background where focus is not on visual representations, Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Sevilla was a radically different way of celebrating Easter than I am used to. Sevilla is famous for its incredible Holy Week processions that begin on Palm Sunday and go all the way through Easter Sunday.

Each church marches through the city to present their 'pasos.' One paso depicts a scene of Jesus' passion larger than life and another shows the gilded and ornate Virgen Maria mourning. Each of these weigh more than 4,000 pounds and is painfully carried by as few as 40 'casaleros' who place the weight of the paso on the nape of their neck. Throughout the week, you see men walking throughout the city with stiff backs and sores on their necks. The pasos also include as many as 2,500 'nazarenos' that march solemnly in their long robes with crosses on their backs and, often, bare feet. The processions can take over nine hours to go through the whole city. 

During the day, though people are dressed in their finest mourning clothes, there is still an air of festivity as people press into the streets to see their neighborhood church's procession pass by. Women with black mourning veils hold giant clouds of cotton candy. Freshly made potato chips and candy are sold by street vendors. Their pride is apparent- I was told by at least one person at each paso that this Virgen or this paso was the most beautiful of them all. 

But at night, the air is different. On Maundy Thursday, the processions go through the entire night, holding vigil for Jesus' last night. The streets that were difficult to get through during the day become impossible to navigate. After fighting crowds on dark, packed streets, I finally made my way to one of the paso's routes at 2:30 am. I sat on the curb hoping that it was worth it. I was tired and my feet hurt and I still had another forty-five minutes until La Macarena paso was set to pass by the place where I was sitting. From the first nazareno to pass until the last, it would be two full hours. So I sat and waited, thinking about my own feet and discomfort much like the disciples must have waited that night in Gethsemane. 

After a while, a hush fell over the crowd that had gathered and the faintest sound of music (let this play in the background) could be heard. Everyone gets to their feet to look down the road, and you can see the shadows from the nazarenos' candles flicker on the buildings lining the street. The nazarenos begin to pass in a slow and steady march, each one hidden behind their hoods, lit up by the candles they are holding. Some are children and have started to fall out of their straight rows from being so tired. The older men carry the crosses and step on the cement with bare feet that are cut and bruised. 

The music becomes louder and the paso comes into sight. Above the crowd, the paso shows Jesus standing with two Roman guards at his side, one reading his sentence. Behind him sits Pilate washing his hands with his wife on her knees before him pleading for Jesus. Men dressed as Roman guards escort the paso as a band plays a funereal march on antique horns. The air becomes cloudy and perfumed with incense. 

(You can see a video of the paso Cristo de la Sentencia here) 

Shortly after, the Virgen de la Macarena comes through, tears on her face and bowed in prayer. The mantle of her dress trailed behind the paso. The mourning clothes that had seemed so out of place in the daylight now fit as the crowd respectfully and silently watches her pass. The women in their mourning veils let their tears fall down their faces without brushing them away.

Later, as I walked back home near dawn, I came across another paso. I stopped just in time to see the paso of Jesus and the two thieves hanging on the cross go by the Catedral as the dawn started to turn the sky pink.

Jesus' Passion was literally played out through the city- His story represented in the majesty and richness that is often forgotten. While He was not robed as a King when He stood in front of Pilate that night, the pasos reminded me that He was our King and God. He was put on the cross with disgust and hate, but each flower, candle and golden artifact and faithful nazareno and casalero painted a vivid picture of how these events were seen from Heaven. He didn't walk to the cross alone, but mourned by multitudes of angels who could see His majesty through the blood even if we could not.