This morning, I woke as I always do—early. Since we are staying in a hotel, I stepped out into the courtyard, which remains my sanctuary, so I could read and not disturb Pat. The air is crisp; Antigua, at nearly 5000 feet, has the climate of Denver–warm and sunny days, cool nights, no humidity.
The sun has just begun to rise, so I curl up on a sofa to read for a few hours and finish this blog post. For the last three months, I have worn flip flops and a sleeveless dress. This morning I am cold. In Budapest or Bratislava, I would grab a throw blanket from the stash folded in a basket in any coffee shop, but sadly, there is no such basket here.
Our time in Antigua has been perfect. The first four days, the Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions dominated our day (to the degree anything dominated my day). Fortunately, our hotel was just off the most common processional route. When I heard the beat of the drums and smelled the incense, I knew it was time to step outside—or not, depending on my mood.
Good Friday morning, I woke at four o’clock and headed out to La Merced procession. “It’s the best,” the desk attendant at our hotel had told me.
As I walked to the church in darkness, Guatemalan families scampered ahead of me. A crowd had gathered, and the float was just leaving the church as I arrived at the square in front. I expected gringo photographers, but instead found a crowd dominated by Guatemalans—young children eating chunks of bread, old men and women sitting on the curb, mothers nursing their infants.
Catholicism is rampant here—and at no time is that quite so evident as on Good Friday. Women wore black dresses, some with black lace veils. The men and boys donned purple robes. Both men and women carried the floats, which can weigh up to 7,000 pounds, on their shoulders. After the procession passed, I walked through the town to see the carpets.
Constructed of dyed sawdust or pine needles and flowers, the carpets covered sections of the processional route. Families finished just in time for the procession to trample the carpets, immediately destroying them. Five paces behind the last processionist was a dump truck staffed by a group of maintenance workers. They immediately scraped the remains from the street and tossed the waste into the back of the trunk. The process of carpet making began again for the next procession.
This continued day and night through Easter Sunday.
These carpets ranged from fine Oriental style designs to small, childish patterns. They reminded me of the diorama projects our children made for school—some crafted to parental perfection, others obviously the efforts of the intended third grader. So it was with the carpets. No matter the style, each one was utterly charming.
The quaintness was reminscent of my 1960s-vintage youth: grange hall dances, church Christmas pageants, Mr. Sharp dressing up like Santa and giving us each a small box of candies. When I mentioned the old worldliness of it all to a woman at our hotel, she added, “Yes. And no strollers. Every baby here is held against the heartbeat.”
Perhaps that’s why I have never seen a Guatemalan child cry—not out of sadness, frustration, or being denied a new toy. The bigger girls hold the babies. The mother’s hands are a constant motion of beading and weaving—items to sell to the tourists on the street. I was touched by it all.
Today, we leave for home where I will brave the real world. I’m looking forward to it–and dreading it. The same conflicting emotions which have carried me through these last three months, it seems, will now carry me home.
Categories: Central America