All over Guatemala, Semana Santa is famous for Easter carpets and wild Catholic displays mixed with not too subtle Mayan symbolism. Although I dreaded being passed hand over hand past trinkets and sausage carts like feasts in NYC, I agreed to a visit to the most famous festival in Antigua. And besides going to the old Capital includes the extremely welcome prospect of eating something besides Tipica or bar food.
The kicker on this adventure would be staying at “Auberge de Burrito,” a hotbed of do-gooders hosted by Romelle. The place is reserved for volunteers and activists en route to/from the highlands to help. Here, we would meet two midwives and a weaver. The Auberge partially supports Romelle’s work of financing post secondary educations. The walls were full of graduates smiling over captions like: Dentist, Teacher, Lawyer, Social Worker. For our purposes, the place was cozy, safe and very close to a parade route and food.
Wednesday evening we saw the first march – the band struck up as thrilling as Broadway and the giant floats approached in a haze of incense. We had been told to stay on the left side of the floats to be on the “right side” of Jesus for good photos. And the other important fact was that the townspeople paid their churches 50Q a block to carry the floats and extra for corners. The money went to hiring the bands and actors to play Judas and Pilot. The males wear purple, black or white hooded garments and the women wear mantillas, black skirts and white blouses.
The floats can have as many as one hundred spaces and bystanders marveled at the precision of the bearers as they swapped in and out. The marches would go on for 15-20 hours. At dawn a mother pointed out her son who had just stepped into the procession from the Merced.
The heavy burdens sway precariously and, so, the pilgrims are assisted by front an back stabilizers and a crew of people, who lift overhead wires out of the way. Some of the bearers close their eyes – perhaps in agony, in the case of the men, they seemed to be staining to pick up the game on their earbuds.
The carpets were of two types the Natural and the Formal. The Natural were made of pine fond foundations, could assume any shape and were adorned with floral details, rosettes and boarders; whereas, the Formal were framed designs laid on with multicolored sawdust applied with stencils. Government buildings and hotels installed very fancy carpets sometimes they would have miniature scenes tucked into the motif. On the route, parades would gingerly pass astride the carpets — leaving the Christ float to destroy them. According to Elizabeth Bell, the Mayans aligned with the idea of Christ’s “human sacrifice” and can be seen making the Mayan “sign of the cross.” as they march behind with the right arm erect crossed by a stationary left.
The drizzle would muffle the incense and cause Joan to speculate about the necessity of an extra Station of the Cross: Jesus is Covered in Plastic.
Joan is an arch foodie and she made only one bad call -and that for political reasons-but the rest was blissful. My favorite meal besides two days of great morning eggs and the fabulous finale dinner was afternoon pork Pupupsas accompanied by a tart coleslaw and the other dish, Chicken Mushroom Crepe were washed down with snifters of Ron Zacapa Centenario. The big yummy was a dinner shared with the midwives, one of whom knew of Hector before the New York Times review him on 15APR11. We reached this oasis of wine and food expecting to wait for an eternity. But, our new friends had a table and hors d’ouvres and the place to themselves when we arrived – to order a ration of portabello and decent Malbec. They would split a steamed fish and I would order a Boeuf Bourguignon and Joan would get the famous duck atop a screamingly fabulous potato pie. We finished dinner sharing a ginger creme brulee and a drop of rum.
I returned to Pana in the rain and fought my way through the drunks to my tower.