So, this spring has just been crazy busy so far, hasn’t it? Isn’t it time to be sipping cold beer and claras on terraces or something? Because no one has informed me. I’ve been here and there and guiri running and visitor hosting and a little bit of pretending to work in between.
With all of the April and May madness, I’ve barely even thought about my trip to Jerusalem. I started out with a post on a visit to the Western Wall with high hopes of writing a bit more about the trip, but got sidetracked along the way.
Then, I remembered the awesome title I came up with a few weeks ago (most likely after a glass of wine or two) and thought, “how can I just ignore such title greatness? Somebody upload some photos already!”
Here are a few more random photos of the city:
Anyway, I’ve got a few more things to tell you about Israel. I’ll try to keep it brief, but it’s not easy. Despite its constant conflictive state and the distinct tension that is innate to the country itself, Israel is just so damn intriguing that it’s incredibly hard to describe my experience of traveling there.
Oh well, maybe I’ll just stick with ‘your mom’ insults and silly donkey jokes…
In the spirit of this week’s San Isidro festivities, I thought I’d go ahead and repost this goofy post I wrote last year…
Summer, Sun, and Saints!!
May has to be the best month in Spain, especially in Madrid. Everything blooms in May, event-wise, that is, and if you’re here in town for this weekend’s puente, you’ll notice a bouncy, festive vibe to the city as it celebrates the opening of bullfighting season, the anniversary of 15M, and most importantly, San Isidro!
Yes, the true reason for the season is Madrid’s patron saint, San Isidro. And if you don’t know the story of San Isidro (Isidore the Farmer), well it’s pretty interesting.
Isidore was born in 1070 and was a poor laborer most of his life. For years, he worked on the farm of a wealthy Madrileño landowner, Juan de Varga. However, poor Isidore was a pious man and would often spend his time at Mass before and after work.
Well, Isidore began to attract the ire of his coworkers who were more than a little irked over his tardiness due to his massive praying habit. (Some would probably say addiction, but let’s not surmise here shall we?) So, they brainstormed together and decided to complain to Sr. Jefe who went to investigate for himself this potential lack of productivity on his land. Perhaps he even called Human Resources to check on how best to resolve this matter without infringing upon his employee’s religious rights, but this we will never know.
Anyway, due to the complaints from his more heathen employees, the boss went to talk to Isidore about his working performance, or lack thereof. Expecting to see him ploughing along the fields, Sr. Jefe was caught by surprise as he saw an angel doing Isidore’s work while Sr. Holy was at the old pulpit. “Typical Spanish”, he thought as he shook his head in frustration.
The second time the boss went to talk to Señor Religioso, he was relieved to see Isidore ploughing away like a good laborer. But upon closer inspection, he also saw two angels on either side of him doing enough ploughing for three men.
Well, while one must assume that the boss man took into consideration this new form of productivity, he still had to take scalable action, so he laid off Isidore and sent him packing, straight to the unemployment office at Carabanchel where he was met with uncaring and, even more so, impious men who looked at him as if he were just another drain on society. Heathens!
Sr. Bossman then proceeded to hire only angels to do the ploughing, calling them interns and paying them half the wage so that the bossman could give his managers huge bonuses of massive amounts of pesetas so they could all invest massively in the ploughing start-ups that were popping up all over the place at that time.
But what about our Paro-ed Patron Saint, you ask?
Well, Isidore did his best to get through his downtime. He went back to school to get his Master’s in ploughing, but it was a rough market out there and he was just not “hireable”. His resume failed to garner any hits on Infojobs, so he decided to build up his “more marketable” skill set : religious dedication.
And then a good thing happened that would change his life forever. (No, the ploughing industry was not bailed out, silly.) Señor Isidore, found the true love of his life, Maria Torribia, who would come to be known as San Maria de la Cabeza later in life. (One family, two saints, ya’ll!)
Together Isidore and Maria had a son, who was seemingly as unfortunate as his father for he ended up falling in dark, damp well one day. Well, things were looking pretty dicey for Isidore Jr, until his father’s pious dedication did something we hardly ever see: it paid off, in buckets.
Papa Isidore began to pray for his son while he was desperately flapping around like a loco and wouldn’t you know that the water began to rise, lifting the clumsy son up and up until he safely made it to the top of the well when he father proclaimed loudly, “Hijo de mi vida! Pero que coño haces, tonto? Joder!”
While most people would celebrate this joyous occasion, Mama and Papa Isidore decided the best way to avoid another event like this one was to become celibate from sexual activity and they lived in separate houses for the rest of their lives. Weird.
Saint Isidore died on May 15, 1130. It’s said that King Philip III was cured of a deadly disease by touching the relics of the saint. So if you see anyone dressed in the traditional clothing of San Isidro, Chulapos, tradition dictates that you are supposed to chase after them and touch them in order to stave off serious sickness and unemployment.
So, if you want to be safe from scary, scary things like the plague and el paro, go ahead and run after any Chulapos or Chulapas you see this week and start rubbing them – don’t worry, they’ll be expecting it and you’ll be doing your part to honor this sacred saint.
I have to say that I’m so very appreciative of all the guiri and non-guiri support that the Guiri Run has received over the last few days. Thank you all so very much. It’s really something special that we can come together and support Boston from so far away. You all should be very proud of yourselves.
Second: Donations for Boston
So, initially, on top of organizing a guiri run, I was thinking about maybe throwing a fund raising event with prizes being raffled off to those who donated moolah. However, to be honest, I was kind of uncomfortable with that idea because it would entail me handling the donation process, starting a paypal account, keeping track of those who donated and making sure everything went to the appropriate organization, etc. I have zero experience with this, so I thought it would be best just to cut out the middle man, keep it simple and encourage everyone to donate to a charity of their choice. There are a number of charities set up for those that need help and here is a great list.
I’ve personally decided to support One Fund Boston, an organization started by the Boston’s Mayor and Governor:
“Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino have announced the creation of the One Fund Boston, which will raise money for families most affected by the bombings at Monday’s Boston Marathon.”
So, as we all know, times are tight, but if you wanted to donate even €5 euros to this organization, it really will make a difference to a lot of people.
Third: RUNNERS – You guys are la leche!
So far, we have around 40 people who have committed to run and most everyone has said the same thing, “I’m in no shape to run a 10k, but I’ll try”. I’m in the same boat, people! You think sitting around all day eating ham and drinking Mahou makes Hamatha a slim chica? Nooooo.
The only thing that matters is that we do this together. We’ll meet at a designated meeting place (TBA) beforehand, hug and double beso, put on our Boston Strong dorsals and take off like flying wonder guiris at the sound of the starting gun, okay?
In all seriousness, it’s the spirit of the event that matters and your participation really does count. I’m going to do my best although I know I won’t be able to run the whole thing, or even half of it. But I’m determined to cross the finish line, either walking or running.
It doesn’t matter how much you think you can do. Whatever you can do will be just fine. This event shows that we’re supportive of Boston and we’re doing our best to come together at a very difficult time. It’s a touching tribute and I’m very proud to share this with you all.
Fourth: What’s up with these prizes, yo?
For those of you who run in the race, we’re planning on drawing names for a few select prizes. After the race (on Monday most likely) I’ll put the names of all of the participants in random.org and I’ll be in contact with the winners that same day.
The first people to respond to my emails about providing a gift certificate were from Alfredo’s Barbacoa. Not only home to Madrid’s best burgers, they’ve shown that they have a great heart by supporting us.
They are offering a meal for two, a starter, hamburgers, dessert and one drink each. Cool, huh?
2) Iber English
Rebecca contacted me today with a lovely message and an offer of a free one-hour class of English. And yes, I know, we’re expats, but we’ve got a few Españoles on board so far. Also, it’s transferable so you can always gift it to your native snookems if you’d like!
3) Wicked Sweet Madrid
Wicked Sweet Madrid really stepped up with not just one offer of a sweet prize to one lucky winner, but two home made prizes, a cheesecake and a dozen cookies! I haven’t been to this shop (c/ Juan Álvarez Mendizábal 81) but it looks delicious. An authentic North American-Spanish fusion bake shop offering an assortment of cookies, brownies, cakes, snacks, breads, & coffee to sweeten your day!
4) Taste of America - El Rastro location
Juan Jose Fernandez and Ana Martinez have offered to donate a prize pack of good old American items from their Taste of America store near the Rastro (Ribera de curtidores, 39). I would like to thank both Juan and Ana for their generosity. (A very special thank you goes to Sami, who took time to get in contact with Juan and Ana.)
5) Cervezas Artesanales LEST
Lena and Stefan have offered to donate two six packs of their own craft beer and a t-shirt to the prize offers! Thank you so much to Cervezas Artesanales LEST for your generosity!
6) La Aventura Española
La Aventura Española has offered a full month of Spanish classes to one participate (3 hours a week) . The center is an innovative and modern Spanish school in Barrio Salamanca. The concept of the school is to ‘do’, and the classes are designed to give you the confidence to speak. Olé and thank you for your generosity!
7) On Spanish Time
This company has offered a great prize to one of our Guiri Run participant, especially for anyone with guests visiting who may need phone service. It’s a rental phone service that comes with 5€ loaded. It is a regular basic spanish cell phone with a spanish cell number. ALL incoming calls are free and outgoing call costs depend on the place being called of course. Delivery and pick up in madrid city is included. Thank you!
Fifth: After the Race?
I have to say that planning this whole event has been really touching. To see so many people come together really warms my heart.
And you know what else warms my heart?
So you can imagine my delight when Wendy from Triskel Tavern and Ian from The English Warehouse offered to buy every runner (with a dorsal) a cold pint after the race. They’ll also be providing a buffet as well. Their generosity is immensly appreciated.
Triskel Tavern is located on Calle San Vicente Ferrer, 3 (Metro: Tribunal) (Map)
I’m still waiting on a few places to get back to me, but these local companies have really come through for us. Please take a moment and leave a message of gratitude on their site or Facebook Page…
Again, thank you all so much for your support. I’ll be posting any updates on our Facebook Page this week and a confirmation of the time and place to meet before the race. I think the starting place is near Plaza de Colón, so it will be somewhere near there around 8:00 a.m. on the 28th.
What happened at the Boston Marathon has me heartbroken. Words can’t explain how I feel and I’m guessing that many of you are feeling the same way.
So, why don’t we get together and do something?
The Madrid Marathon is in two weeks, April 28th and while I’m certainly in no shape to run a marathon, there’s also the opportunity to run a 10k. And while I’m certainly in no shape to run a 10K, I’ll give it a try.
What about you?
Any runners out there that want to get together, make some “Guiri Run For Boston” shirts and meet up the day of the race? Maybe we can talk to someone there about foregoing the inscription fee or something. Maybe we could get our act together and raise money for the Boston Red Cross or another worthwhile organization?
I don’t know what I’m doing so I may need some help. I’m going to research today and see if I can come up with a plan. Any thoughts on how to go about this?
Venga. Let’s Run for Boston…
Please contact me by leaving a comment or send me an email if you would like to participate so I can get an idea of how many of us will be there. Again, I’m not a runner so I can maybe do five or six kilometers max, but we can walk the rest of the way. Run or walk for Boston. It doesn’t matter, I’d just like to get something together.
Update: I’ve just started a Facebook Page: A Guiri Run for Boston. I’ll add more information to that page as I get things sorted out.
There are few things more depressing than a rainy Semana Santa in Spain. Months and months of preparation literally down the drain. From the tears of the small children and disappointed monaguillos to the crestfallen costaleros, rain on this holiest of weeks really bursts a lot of bubbles. Yet, it has rained on almost every Semana Santa since I’ve been in Madrid. A sign from above, maybe?
Although more than a few processions were canceled or cut short by sinful rain this year, thankfully, a few managed to march on without problem here in the capital city. Here are a few photos from the Procesión de la Soledad from Real Iglesia de San Ginés or perhaps better known as that church near the famed Chocolatería San Ginés.
I’ll never forget my first Semana Santa in Spain. It was in Seville and I remember being doubtful that I would enjoy such a hearty religious event, but I loved everything about it.
Every. Single. Moment.
Like giddy, obsessive stalkers, we followed almost every ornate paso down packed Sevillan streets. We raced to beat them to certain corners just to marvel at how they maneuver around the narrow curves, watching the canopies sway back and forth. I remember how the lingering smell of incense and the wailing saetas enhanced the sight of the floating virgins and Jesus statues as they passed by. The distinct shouts of “arte!” or “vamo!” as el Capataz gave the order to lift. Still to this day, the emotion that surrounds La Macarena immediately brings tears to my eyes.
“Guapa, guapa y … guaaapa!”
Years later, I’m still thankful to Seville for instilling this enthusiasm I have for this inspirational event. I loved it then and I really hope I always will…
“I am a costalero for Her … for Her, because I love Her.”
As the Iberian Peninsula continues to suffocate from a never- ending mix of a smothering economic crisis rife with political scandals and graft accusations within the royal family, Spaniards are preparing to celebrate the most anticipated week of the year, Holy Week or Semana Santa.
However, as evidenced by the multitudes of protests and repeated calls for political resignations, it’s not a far stretch to say that the general population has clearly lost its patience and faith in the Spanish system, which, for many, may never have been that strong to begin with.
This year, as religious processions hauntingly glide through narrow Spanish streets, many may be asking themselves if the current political ills of the nation have managed to sap the faith of even the most devout Spanish Catholics.
And while more than a few pious elderly señoras may insist that now, more than ever, is the time for prayer, the popularity of the church has diminished greatly in correlation with Spain’s economic crisis. A germinating impatience with the Catholic Church has been growing among the general public due to the church’s influential role in politics and even more so, the handsome tax breaks the Catholic Church receives while painful cutbacks have been demanded of Spanish citizens.
As Holy Week approaches this year, will the current political backlash against Spain’s status quo manage to extinguish Spain’s historically prevalent religious fervor as well?
For anyone who has experienced Holy Week in Spain’s Andalusia region, it’s clear that religious zeal still exists, especially among the elderly and even among the younger crowds, if only for this special week. With masses of locals and tourists cramming elbow to elbow to solemnly watch as the heavy wooden platforms (pasos) are carried by packs of hidden costaleros, this week is an inspirational one, to say the least. Even for the most resolute non-believer, Spain’s processions are a sight not only to be seen, but a tradition to be respected and admired.
The Faith Found under the Throne
But what actually goes on behind (and under) the scenes of these revered possessions? Just who are these devoted Spaniards who train for months to blindly carry these weighty “thrones” laden with heavily decorated statues of Jesus and Virgins? Where does this devotion come from and why, in this day and age of ever-growing faithlessness, do these men commit to bearing the weight of these iconic symbols on their shoulders year after year?
To find the answers I was looking for, I simply did what the reason for the season suggests, I turned to Jesus. Well, not that Jesus. Jesús Llorens, a 31 year-old costalero who has graciously agreed to explain the process behind the Spanish procession and give us some insight to his 13 years under the throne as a costalero in Granada, Andalucía.
Jesús, how long have you been a costalero? Tell me a bit about the process of becoming a costelero.
Jesús: I’ve been a costalero for 13 years. I began when I was 18 years old because my parents wouldn’t let me start any earlier. In all of the brotherhoods (cofradías), if you want to be a costalero, you have to be 18 or have parental permission.
Before I became a costalero, I did a little bit of everything in the church. I lit candles as a monaguillo, carried candles as a nazareno, helped organize mass as a mayordomo and carried the insignia of the brotherhood as a portador de insignia. During my time spent in the church when I was young, I met the costaleros and they were a big inspiration for me. It’s an amazing experience and I’ll continue to be a costalero until my body won’t let me.
I think one is born a costalero and you start little by little at a young age. When you’re young, you see the older costaleros walking past during the processions or you watch how they build the wooden thrones or how they use small tables to practice. When you’re finally at the age when you can participate, that’s all you think about.
Explain to me the different methods of carrying “the paso”.
Jesús: Well, there are different ways of carrying the thrones depending on the city. In Malaga, there are hombres de trono, who carry the thrones using outside supports. They carry with one shoulder and there are normally quite a few of them.
Costaleros are completely under the throne and carry the weight on the nape of the neck, specifically over the seventh vertebra. We wear something called a “costal”, which helps the pressure. It’s usually made of sack cloth and a pillow that is rolled in fabric to protect the neck. For centuries, this is how it was done in Seville and for the last 30 years, it has become common in all parts of Andalucía. However, each city has its own distinct customs. For example, the pace and rhythm is different from city to city, like los horquilleros in Cádiz or the way that the throne is carried also differs like la molía in Xerez.
What are the preparations before Holy Week like? How long do you prepare physically? Do you have any personal rituals before the big day?
Jesús: We start preparing for Holy Week around Christmas time. There is always a first meeting sometime in November in order to coordinate the practice schedules and talk about important dates pertaining to the brotherhood.
From Christmas to Holy Week, each brotherhood organizes events to encourage participation, social gatherings, expositions, trips, and of course, various masses and special devotions for Jesus and the Virgin that represents each particular brotherhood.
The physical preparation is very important because we carry the throne for many hours and if one is not prepared physically, they’ll suffer for that lack of strength. Personally, I normally exercise all year, but when we begin the practice sessions, I really start to work on strengthening my legs, back and abdominals. These are the areas that suffer the most and where costaleros have to strengthen the most before Holy Week starts.
As far as personal rituals go, the day before I meet with all of my friends and we talk about the big day. Other than that, I just try to get everything prepared and rest.
Where does religion fit in with the practice of being a costelero? When you’re underneath, what do you think about? Is this a personal religious experience for most or is it more of a social event?
Jesús: Clearly, to be religious or a believer is a very important part of being a costelero. At those moments when your strength fails, you think about what you are carrying on top of your shoulders. I don’t know why, but it gives you an extra bit of motivation and you find strength that you didn’t know you had.
I know people that are costaleros because of the brotherhood; the union and the friendships that are created underneath the throne are very important. In fact, my best friends, the ones I call “brothers,” I’ve met under the throne.
Our processions last typically seven hours. So, when you are underneath you have time to think about many things. Many times, while you’re walking and listening to the music around you, you pray, or you think about your family and friends or a loved one, or someone close to you that you have lost and you dedicate that moment to them. In other moments, you concentrate on what you are doing. For example, when you are doing a complicated, tight turn, it’s important to know what you have to do to help those around you.
Other times, you simply close your eyes and let yourself be carried away by the moment. The band that is behind you is playing a piece of music that you will always remember, the smells that come from the procession: a mix of incense and fresh flowers, the cries of the people commenting on how well we are doing or how beautiful the Virgin is. Sometimes, you block everything out and just hear the simple sounds of the throne itself, the creaking wood or the sound of the Virgin’s canopy swaying back and forth.
Of course, there are a few costaleros that do this as a hobby, like a sport. But I have always been told that to be a good costalero, aside from wanting to be a costelero, you have to feel it; you have to know your own motives for doing this and for committing yourself to suffer under the throne for hours in the name of Jesus or the Virgen.
There is a quote from a book written by Father Ramón Cué that reflects this sentiment well, “I am a costalero for Her … for Her, because I love Her.” The most important thing to remember in this entire process – in what I call “our blessed madness” – is what you carry on top of the throne. Can you walk me through the day of the procession?
Jesús: The first thing you do as a costalero on the day of the procession is open the window and check to see if it’s sunny or cloudy outside. If it’s already raining, the cofradia won’t even start the procession. If it’s not raining, from the time I wake up until its time to leave for the church, I’m very nervous, I hardly eat anything, and I’m pretty quiet. I start to think how the day will be, which streets I’ll pass, what music I’ll hear.
When its time to leave, I get dressed in silence and remember to grab my good luck charms, a handkerchief, a medal, and a photograph. Once I’m dressed and ready to go, I give my mother a kiss and leave to meet the rest of the costaleros so we can walk together to the church.
The costaleros have to be there about an hour before the paso is scheduled to leave the church. We need time to put on the costals and the back braces. Once we are ready, we enter the church where we say a final prayer before leaving.
The most emotional moment is right when they open the doors of the church and the light from the street illuminates the interior of the church. This brief moment is something very special because just when the light hits you, you also hear the applause from the people outside who have been waiting for the doors to open for quite a while.
Once outside, everyone follows the instructions given by the supervisor, or el Capataz. The weight of a throne can be anywhere from 1500-2000 kg depending on the confradia. Typically, a throne with the Virgin on top can weigh anywhere between 1000-1500 kg. A typical route for my cofradia can last about seven hours, but there are some that last 12 or 15 hours.
Every city has its series of streets that each procession has to pass through. This is referred to as the Official Route and it passes by the Cathedral where the city’s Archbishop says a prayer as the processions pass by.
Once finished with the Official Route, each cofradia returns to their own church. This trajectory is where we experience the most intense moments, because you are able to go a little more slowly and you can enjoy the walk a bit more. When you go slower, people start to gather behind the throne, mimicking the rhythm of the costaleros, following you until you enter the church. This is what’s known as a “bulla” and it’s a very beautiful moment for all of us.
Finally, when everything is finished and the throne is placed inside the church, we say a prayer giving thanks to a job well done. We congratulate each other and the supervisors who have lead us through the streets. At the end, you always leave with a flower from the throne.
Spaniards have some pretty colorful vocabulary sometimes. Tell me the truth, do people swear under the thrones or is that inappropriate?
Jesús: Well, sometimes it’s just inevitable that someone uses a strong curse word here or there, especially when you’ve just passed a difficult street or you’re doing something really hard that requires a lot of strength and you’re suffering. But, if someone says something really inappropriate, they’re reprimanded quickly because, well, it’s just not the place to say some things.
At its heart, Holy Week is an ostentatious dedication to Spain’s strong Catholic roots. However, its many roles are more diverse and complex than the elaborate processions themselves. Despite economic and political troubles that seem to plague Spain on a permanent basis, Holy Week will always be a powerful key in building and restoring community spirit not just for religious celebration, but to take politics out of the spotlight, even if it’s just a brief period of time. Surely, this year, more than a few prayers for seemingly out-of-reach prosperity will be whispered as the processions pass by, but it’s health and happiness that’s on the mind of most Spaniards this week, not economics.
Thank you to my friend, Jesús, for sharing this unique glimpse into the underworld of Spain’s Holy Week Processions. As he has described, this is a massively respected event that entails months of planning and quite a bit of suffering for those physically involved.
Holy Week is an essential part of Spain’s identity and for anyone doubting the existence of Spanish faith, one shouldn’t look much further than a dedicated costalero, who carries 1000 kilograms of it on their back.
Semana Santa 2012, La Hermandad de la Cañilla, Granada
Normally before any trip, I’m positively giddy. The truth is that I love everything about traveling from the stress of packing to passing through security to crappy airplane food. I’m 100% thrilled to be on my way somewhere, anywhere. On our way to Tel Aviv, though, I had the very unfamiliar feeling of internal apprehension. I had no idea what to expect.
I would love to be able to tell you that we landed at the airport and a huge wave of relief washed over me. However, despite the modernity of Tel Aviv airport, our superb hotel just outside of the old city, randomly meeting incredible people, chatting with Spanish priests and Jewish tour guides, and debating who is a better football player (Christiano or Messi) with Israeli soldiers, that feeling of conflict never left me, no matter how hard I fell in love with the city.
We spent five days exploring Israel from the lush area around the Sea of Galilee to the barren Dead Sea and everything in between. Throughout it all, I remained contemplatively awed by everything we were seeing.
Trying to reconcile my non-religiousness while we supposedly walked in the steps of Jesus was an odd feeling. And of course, the political issues behind the conflictive relationship between Israelis and Palestinians wrestled in my mind constantly, especially as we passed security check points and drove through contested Israeli settlements. I’m still trying to figure it all out and get my point of views straight on the situation, but for the sake of this silly old blog, I’m just going to focus on the best parts of Israel and what I’ve seen.
The Old City
As one of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem’s history has been turbulent, to put it mildly. Inside the walls of the old city, Jerusalem is a labyrinth of narrow streets that snake and slither throughout the four parts of the city, the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter, and the Armenian quarter.
As its profound history suggests, Jerusalem is filled with an amazing amount of religious landmarks, but there are three principle sites that are familiar to most of the world, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Sepulchre, and of course, the Western Wall. These three sights represent the Abrahamic family of religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The Western Wall
We arrived on a late Friday afternoon, just at the start of the Sabbath. After checking in to the hotel, we entered the Jaffa Gate through the Armenian quarter and headed to the Western Wall. As it was sunset on Friday, which marks the beginning of the Sabbath, we saw a massive crowd of ultra-orthodox Jews and their families holding Friday prayer at the wall. It was sight unlike any other I had seen before, with payot-edfathers and their children chanting and swaying back and forth at the wall, deep in devout prayer. It’s incredibly emotional to watch.
The wall is open for anyone to pray, women on one side and men on the other. To be honest, when we were there on Friday evening, there was such a massive crowd of Jewish families praying, it seemed a bit intrusive and maybe inappropriate to enter as a tourist, so we just watched from afar at that moment. As far as photos go, it is forbidden to take photos on the Sabbath, so I withheld my camera until we returned the next day.
So, what’s up with this wall, exactly? I’d heard about it many times, seen photos, videos and know of its importance to the Jewish population. But what makes it so special?
To understand the significance, we have to go back to the time of the original Temple Mount that was built by King Solomon around 10th century BC. From there, we consult Wikipedia:
Judaism regards the Temple Mount as the place where God chose the Divine Presence to rest (Isa 8:18); according to the rabbinic sages whose debates produced the Talmud, it was from here the world expanded into its present form and where God gathered the dust used to create the first man, Adam. The site is the location of Abraham’s binding of Isaac, and of two Jewish Temples. According to the Bible the site should function as the center of all national life—a governmental, judicial and, of course, religious center.
The Temple Mount is said to have held what has to be my most favorite phrase of all time, the “Holy of the Holies”. Here, let me Wiki again:
The Holy of Holies is a term in the Hebrew Bible which refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant was kept during the First Temple, which could be entered only by the High Priest on Yom Kippur. The Ark of the Covenant is said to have contained the Ten Commandments, which were believed to have been given by God to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai.
The Destruction of the Wall
In 66 AD, the Jews of Judea rebelled against the Roman Empire. As revenge, Emperor Nero sent soldiers to wage a fierce destruction on the entire city and its people. In the year 70, the soldiers ransacked the city, burning everything in sight and destroying the Holy Temple, which served as the center of Judaism.
Over the years, the area around the wall has been the setting for multiple clashes between Muslims and Jews. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the wall came under control of Jordan and Jews were banned from the site until 1967, when they took back control.
Today, what remains of the wall is the Western side of the Temple Mount and the location that was physically closest to the Holy of Holies, hence the name and its religious significance.
The Tunnels Underneath
One thing that I did not know was that the wall actually extends well below the current street level. After the end of the six-day war in 1967, the Ministry of Religious Affairs began a massive excavation project that lasted 20 years.
Deep underneath the street level of the Western Wall, archaeologists uncovered layers and layers of the original old city including various rooms and public halls, a section of a Second Temple road, a Hasmonean water tunnel, a pool, and the entire length of the Western Wall – 488 meters long.
We took a tour of tunnels that lasted about 2 hours and I can’t recommend it enough. It was just incredible to be able to wander through such history that had been undiscovered for so long. I didn’t take many photos, but to get an idea of the tunnel awesomeness, check out this site.
So, as you can see, not only is Jerusalem an incredible city, but I’ve had a lot of coffee this morning. Yes, this educational post is bought to you by today’s many cafe cortos. And yet, I still have so much more to tell you and an absurd amount of photos. For example, this one of your mom is nice:
You have absolutely no idea how much I giggled while writing that title. Also you have no idea how much time I spent trying to decide between saying Seven Boob Park, Seven Breast Park, Seven Titty Park, etc.
For some reason I settled on Seven Tit Park.
And now I imagine you’re thinking “wha da wha…?”
Yes, there is a place in Madrid colloquially called Seven Tit Park. And yes, something like this just makes me love this city even more.
Seven Tit Park is in Vallecas and if you haven’t gone, it’s a wonderful place to watch the sun set over Madrid. Officially, it’s Cerro de Tío Pío Park, but don’t call it that because apparently no one knows its official name. It has always been referred to as the Seven Tit Park thanks to the seven booby-ish hills scattered around the park.
This past weekend, I was there with a group of amateur photographers to take a few sunset photos. As I was walking to the area, I wasn’t quite sure if I was heading in the right direction. I was, after all, expecting little green booby mountains, but I couldn’t see anything as I left the metro exit. So, I decided to ask the elderly man on the bench. (And yes, there is always an elderly Spanish man on a bench somewhere.)
“Pardon me, is this the way to Cerro del Tío Pío Park?”
In response, I was met with the usual blank stare mixed with the face.
“Um, el parque de las siete tetas ?”
“Si! Claro, niña! Eso es el parque de las tetas. ”
So, off I went to explore this seven tit park. Actually, I only made it to the top of one tit, but it was enough. (I apologize for saying tit so much).
Unfortunately, I don’t have many photos of the voluptuous park to show you since I arrived late and didn’t have much time to explore the actual boobies. And the sunset that evening certainly wasn’t one of Madrid’s best. And it was freezing. And my camera skills need some major work.
However, the park is a nice place to explore if you’re in the area. And just to be able to say, “I visited Seven Tit Park this weekend” is worth the effort it takes to get there.
So even though our photography outing was a bit of a bust, the views of Madrid are pretty spectacular and I’ll be going back when it gets a little warmer. If you go, I should tell you that this area is known to be a little sketchy after dark, so I don’t recommend exploring this area alone, at night, with guiri written all over your face.
Someone asked me what it was like to live in Madrid and I started to say, “Living in Madrid is like…” and then I found myself at a loss for words.
Maybe I could have said something profound like “living in Madrid is like a dream come true,” but that certainly doesn’t capture life in Madrid properly.
For a fleeting moment, I thought about just not describing what life is actually like here. I could have changed the answer to something like “Life in Madrid is awesome!” or a simple “I love it here!” but both options seem dismissive and juvenile.
As I was struggling to find the perfect way to describe Madrid, I started to think of all the ups and downs of expat life I’ve experienced since I’ve been here. And yes, it would have been very easy to say something like, “living in Madrid is like a roller coaster, full of ups and downs,” but that wouldn’t have been very original.
But it did get me thinking about my first actual roller coaster ride. It was in St. Augustine, Florida. I was 9 or 10 years old and my best friend, Nelly, convinced me to go on the ride. To be honest, the rickety old machine really wasn’t even a roller coaster at all; it was one of those fast-flinging bucket things where you get in and it violently whips you back and forth and up and down.
As we waited in line, I started to have some serious doubts. It didn’t look like fun from where I was standing, but everyone on it sounded like they were having an good time.
Once it was our turn, we loaded ourselves into the swinging human bucket that smelled like all buckets do and strapped ourselves in. A very long ten seconds passed by as a very somber old man got the massive machine up and running for the next round of jerky excitement. And when its time had come, the bucket obediently took off with a harsh metal scream and an unsettling lurch.
Then, there we were, Nelly and I, just clinging to each other with our hair wildly swishing around our faces and screaming our hearts out. It was an explosive mix of panic and exhilaration that I had never felt before.
That’s the funny thing about exhilaration. I mean, you have to get on the whirly, jerky ride if you really want to experience something incredible, right? No one ever remembers the boring tea cup ride.
As I stumbled out of the human bucket, I headed straight to the nearest trash can and vomited. Nelly was mortified and didn’t even hold my hair back like a good girl friend should. She looked at my pale face with warranted disgust and asked, “um, are you okay?”
I slowly lifted my head out of the trash can, cleaned my face with my sleeve, and said, “That … that was awesome.”
And that is what life is like in Madrid.
(Today is my seven year Spain anniversary! Yep, seven years ago today, I landed at Barajas airport filled with hope and wonder. To celebrate, I decided to create a poorly personalized expat rendition of the Richard Brautigan poem, I was Trying to Describe You, which is just glorious, by the way.)
Although certainly not known for being one of the major carnival cities, Madrid actually throws quite the raucous celebration this time of year. Packed with family friendly activities, a frolicky parade, whimsical chirigotas and of course, a fancy masquerade ball, the city proves, once again, that crisis or no crisis, the fiesta must always go on.
Madrid’s Carnival commenced this past Saturday with the official Pregón in the Plaza de la Villa. El Pregonero gives the official speech that marks the beginning of Carnival and this year, the charming Carlos Sobera had the honor. He gave a short and sweet speech peppered with the obligatory creesus jokes and of course, more than a few sobre mentions. Carlos managed to work up the crowd just enough before receiving the key to the city and making a quick exit.
This was my first time attending Madrid’s Pregón and I absolutely loved it … and was simultaneously extremely creeped out.
Following the opening speech, the parade was kicked off by Don Carnal’s entourage (actors from the Morboria Teatro Company) who symbolized the seven deadly sins. Along with characters from Goya’s famed The Burial of the Sardine, court jesters and various monsters entertained the crowd representing “music, celebration, light and joy and the people of Madrid enjoying their freedom”.
Well, okay. Whether it was a celebration of sins or freedoms may be up for debate but, either way, they were all super creepy. Behold:
So, although the crowds at these types of events usually have me cowering in a dark pub somewhere hunched over a cold caña, I rather enjoyed being creeped out by Madrid’s Carnival this year.
The party continues this week with quite a few concerts and expositions in the Centro Centro, the Matadero, and the Conde Duque. And of course, the actual Sardine Burial takes place on Wednesday. Check out munimadrid.es for details.