Of Absences and the Difference between Easter in Spain and in the Philippines

For the record, I would like to say that it makes me sad that I do not have the discipline to update my blog regularly. It is not because I do not have anything to write about, on the contrary, since my last entry, and even previous to that, I have experienced a lot of things here, worthy of a post (to which includes: participating in an Asean festival during the annual Muscat Cultural Festival; watching a Japanese traditional drummers at the newly built Royal Opera House here in Muscat, and maiming my neighbor’s car). Thinking about all of them truly excited me again, as I hope it did your curiosity, so I promise to do my best to tell you about it soon.

For now let me write about my latest travel exploit to the home of Don Quixote of Cervantes – Spain! Because of the long Easter holiday, JG and I have been planning a short get-away to escape lying around in the house for five days as well as the beginning of the sweltering heat here in our little part of the Middle East. We initially planned on going to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, to see the Van Gogh museum, but due to the difficulties of finding lodging we could afford, we set our sights next to Katmandu in Nepal to see their old temples, but alas we also could not find accommodations that fit our bill. So as a last minute spur of the moment decision, JG calls in the middle of the afternoon to ask me about Spain. And at that point I was ready to go anywhere.

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I have never really thought much about Spain, which is funny considering I come from a country colonized by the Spaniards for 300 years. But truth be told, if colonial influence is to be considered, I am privy to the American culture. Except for my Spanish name and a few Spanish words we still use in the Philippines, I did not get much from Espanya, not even their religion.

Nevertheless, I thought it interesting to see. Two days before, I realized that the point of our trip was to escape Easter holiday nothingness, only to visit one of the most Catholic countries there is. For the non-Filipino readers, you see in the Philippines, during the “holy week” as we call it, starting Maundy Thursday to Black Saturday, most shops and businesses are closed, and majority of Filipinos are “supposedly” spending the time to refrain from our worldly habits and reflect on the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. In the Philippines, to further explain, there is a belief, that at the strike of 3 “o” clock in the afternoon on Good Friday, Jesus Christ dies, which means an opportunity for evil forces to be able to their bid since Jesus is, to put it mildly, in dispose. As a child I was warned not to play during those times every year, told that my angels will not have their powers to protect me from harm. To which I, although was not raised in a Catholic environment, believed faithfully, especially after a very painful biking incident one time when I was six refusing then to heed my relative’s cautions. As Christmas is celebrated with a festive mood and of joyful celebration, Easter has always been for me a week feeling of gloom as if mourning someone dear who painfully dies every year.

That is until I got older… Once you are old enough, especially nowadays back home, the holy week is one of the many holidays in a year when adults find the time to get away. Most families would take road trips and visit churches (bisita [visit] Iglesia as we call it), some whose beliefs runs deeper than going to church having yourself nailed to the cross is also a famous event in some parts of the Philippines.

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Some Filipinos take the Easter Penitensya really seriously. Photo from The Daily Inquirer http://www.thedailyinquirer.net/good-friday-filipinos-nailed-to-the-cross-in-san-fernando/0411903

But most people (especially the yuppies) would retreat to the beaches or take trips elsewhere, where the shops are open, and quite honestly churches and praying would be the last thing on your mind.

So now you might probably better understand my concern of going to Spain during Easter, I had thought that being the county where the Philippines’ inherited its Catholic beliefs, visiting Spain would be visiting a place in deep reflection and/or penitence.

Boy was I wrong, it seems to my surprise that the idea of Easter there is not the same as I have been brought up to back home. There are yes, the usual parades of Saints, the reenactment of the Passion of the Christ, and special festivals, but none of the feeling of gloom, or at least the guilt that you are enjoying a nice piece of steak and wine, when you ought to be fasting, and thinking about repenting from your sins. I did not dare ask the locals, but a fellow Filipino we met explained that there, it is always work, work, work; and apparently even faith is not an excuse not to.

It also seems that I am the only one who thinks this way judging from the massive number of people there. Even though there was a bit of rain and the spring weather still brings a bitter cold breeze especially at night, hordes of people, both locals and tourists roam its streets down to the center Sol, fill its restaurants surrounding Plaza de Mayor, with dinner starting as late as 10:30, and 24-hour Chocolate and Churos nooks to cap the night, or should I say the wee hours of the morning next day.

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The busiest street in Spain, towards the Center of Madrid in Sol.

But it wasn’t so bad at all! I got to see two original Van Gogh’s and a lot of Goya and Picasso. The Paella was of course Superb. Also got a chance to visit tombs where Spanish blue bloods are laid to rest. It was really nice to see a country which has a very rich history and love for art of all sorts. I tell you more about it on part two… for now I leave you with this picture of oldest restaurant in the world.

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The window display of Sobrino de Botin, established in 1725, showing off its Guinness World Record recognition as the oldest restaurant in the world. We did not eat there, by the way, but apparently upstairs is where Hemingway finished The Sun Also Rises.
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