Fall Festivities in Spain

Palm trees in Elche

Yesterday I had the highly interesting experience of seeing a bit of Halloween in Spain. My study abroad group, along with our dauntless professor and leader, Armando, went to the nearby town of Elche for an afternoon outing. (Realize that, in Spain, “afternoon” extends until 8 p.m. I can just see my friend Shannon—who nicknamed me “the grandma” freshman year because of my frustrated attempts to go to bed early each night—laughing at me now. As it turns out, however, I like a later schedule quite well…as long as I can sleep in late. Which I can do in Spain, hooray!) Shortly after arriving in Elche, which is known as the “City of Palm Trees” and is home to the largest palm grove in Europe, we climbed the tower of the beautiful Basílica menor de Santa María. Following several minutes of huffing and puffing up countless stairs, we were delighted to discover that the view from the top was well-worth the effort.

The singers in the Church of Saint Joseph–the Prime Minister’s wife is the tall blonde on the left.

Next, we headed to a beautiful choral concert held in memory of the four-hundred-year anniversary of the great Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria. It was such an incredible experience to listen to the ethereal strains of madrigals and “Ave Marias” sung in Latin in a centuries-old Catholic church. The concert may also have evoked a number of wistful sighs as I recalled singing similar compositions in Choraleers last year. It’s a special group of people; and what a blessing to make beautiful music together several times a week! (Well, all right…we don’t always make really beautiful music right at first. But who does when they’re sight reading?) I was also interested to learn from Armando—an ever-flowing fount of fascinating information—that one of the performers was the wife of the current Prime Minister of Spain, Zapatero. Hearing this information, of course, prompted several members of our group to gasp incredulously and to wonder why she wasn’t accomp
anied by numerous secret service agents, as Michelle Obama would be. Today, however, upon describing our outing to my host mom, Puri has informed me that there is a rather large difference in the political and social importance of the wife of the President of the US and the wife of the President of Spain…because the United States is so powerful. I’m not sure why, but when Spanish friends explain to me that my country is extremely powerful and influential—as happens with fair regularity during discussions of anything from entertainment to politics—I squirm a bit and rather feel as though I should apologize that my native country is currently so powerful in the world arena. This the result of an overdose of political correctness, I suppose? I’m not sure, really…but it certainly is interesting and eye-opening to hear the range of outside opinions of the US.

Huesos de santos…scrumpdilliyicious

To resume my account of the trip to Elche, on our return to the train station at 11 that evening, we passed through a huge village celebration featuring some ghastly costumes and figures on horses representing evil, as well as people dressed up as fairies and other airy creatures. The atmosphere was augmented by large amounts of mist and multi-colored, flashing lights, which illuminated the nearby Altamira Castle built by the Almohad Dynasty in the twelfth century. Now you don’t often see that during Halloween festivities in Columbia, South Carolina (or in Due West, for that matter…though having the neighborhood kids come to the dorms to trick-or-treat is fun). Subsequently, we found the train station filled with costumed young people, many with huge bottles of “soda” in tow, who were heading to fiestas in the city. Almost without exception, everyone was dressed for Halloween in costumes comprising black clothing, “ghoulish” makeup, and various other frightening m
asks and costumes. Perhaps the trend is unique to the Alicante area, but we certainly didn’t see any of the princesses, hippies, or cowboys often found amongst those dressed for Halloween in the US. At any rate, it certainly made for an interesting trip home. Today, I rounded off my Spain-style experience of Halloween-All Saints’ Day celebrations by sampling HUESOS de santos (saints’ bones), the Spanish dessert commonly sold around this time. Despite the slightly unappetizing name, the sweet, marzipan-and-egg combination was quite delicious. But the part of the day that is most saliently in contrast with this time of year at home? The temperature on November 1st was in the 70s, and there were quite a number of people on the beach sunbathing and even swimming. Ah, the Mediterranean.

The view from my balcony…beautimous, yes?

En route to Elche

The Altamira Castle of Elche