March 28, 2018
I spend the morning writing and editing photos, although I would rather be doing anything but, especially considering that the sun is still shining, and by noon it will probably be pouring. I am exhausted, and yet kept awake by the relentless hysterical yapping of the Pekinese across the street. Oh, Colombia, you need to learn some things about training your dogs …
I promise myself to get up and leave the house early, but all I accomplish is leaving the house by mid-morning. No, I have to try harder at leaving all those activities I am used to doing in the morning. Thinking of how to spend my time before the evening processions of the Semana Santa kick in, I review the brochure for the Cauca departamento, and it turns out that most towns listed are too far away from Popayán, if there are roads of any sort. One is en route to Silvia, and I am not going down that route again. The Coconuco hot springs I am not going to, which leaves the Parque Nacional Natural de Puracé, which absolutely requires an early departure – none of my usual dawdling around.
Due to a late start, I decide that I will take the day off from the journal, as it is already raining when I leave the house. And yet the afternoon journey through Popayán is most enjoyable. Having run through more produce than I had originally anticipated, a trip though the rainy deserted streets to the fruteria is in order, the two young girls at the store immersed in their wild inventive antics as the adults attempt to keep on top of their faltering inventory, much of the fruit well past its prime.
And onward into town, to the market next to the Iglesia La Ermita. I see the vendor selling the T-shirts emblazoned with murals found on the walls of Colombian and Ecuadorian cities. Where have I been? What am I up to? I would love to buy one or more of her T-shirts, but that will have to wait until tomorrow! I discuss with her the frustration of giving people gifts that have an artisanal quality, that carry a story, and that are treated as nothing more than consumer objects. How then to deal with a gifting process? Find the appropriate people to give gifts to? Don’t give any gifts at all?
It turns out that there is a procession this afternoon – and I missed almost all of it. A young uniformed drum and lyre corps rounds off the tail end of the procession, the synchronized beating of the drums offset by the high-pitched sonorities of the lyres. As the procession disappears into the distance, the streets are left to the stragglers, vendors of candied peanuts and cut fruit, the young police officers in green uniforms, and street cleaners. I can’t help being amazed at how clean the streets are after the processions – the complete absence of garbage would be unthinkable at a gathering of such large crowds back home.
I am continually complimented on my Spanish, which seems strange to me, both because speaking Spanish here feels like it should be a given, and then I feel my Spanish is actually very mediocre. At least I can be somewhat proud of the fact that my knowledge of the language is not the product of formal schooling.
Another smaller crowd gathers in front of the Claustro De Santo Domingo, which is another church that has not been open until now. So the opportunity beckons! The presumable motive for being open is to store the floats that bear the religious images. The church is full of people both admiring the images as well as taking selfies, which is always entertaining.
People line up to enter the artisan market in the historic complex next door. I fail to see the incentive to spend COP $5,000 to take in an exhibit of vendors selling arts and crafts when similar work is on display through the rest of the country, and typically far from memorable. But without having actually taken the exhibit in, who knows, this could be the one exhibit that stands out from the others.
My big destination of the day is the Cafe Ricoleta, one of the funky coffee shops on Carrera 5 – in fact, virtually the only dedicated coffee shops in town are on Carrera 5 – for an excellent coffee in a colourful, intimate setting, the only other customers being aging vamps in full regalia. The service is abysmally slow: it is not at all clear how the amount of staff working here manages to be so inefficient.
On Calle 4, another arts and crafts market spread out over several courtyards of an old palace, vendors’ stands set up along the edges, the centre dedicated to fountains and modest shrubbery. Woven goods, toys, dolls made of fique, spiced liqueurs originated from the coastal area, drinks and jams made from Andean blueberry (having powerful antioxidant qualities), roasted quinoa, wooden baskets, woodwinds, jewelry made from brass and semi-precious stones, bead-based jewelry, dream catchers, and so on. A band swathed in white begins playing generic Latin folk music in an adjacent courtyard, the audience in rapt attention. There are definitely things that have caught my eye here, and I should come back – if I find the place again!
Walking by the office of the Junta Permanente por la Semana Santa, it occurs to me that they could answer some questions regarding the processions this week. The office is located in one of the many historic palaces that line the streets of the centre. As an aside, I can only imagine how opulent some homes here may be. A crowd of people mingles in the courtyard, and my attention hones in on a younger woman seated at a desk, obviously anyone seated at a desk being a more likely candidate for my naive questions.
The men carrying the floats (pasos) are cargueros (whatever happens, don’t say ‘cagaros’), a position that is passed down through the generations in the families that are responsible for each paso and its corresponding images. Yes, the floats weigh a lot; the more images, the heavier the weight, and those with a roof, even more. The stops are intended to offer relief to the cargueros.
The pichoneros are dressed in street clothing, and intended to assist the designated cargueros in carrying the paso. The saumadora is the woman in a traditional floral dress carrying the wreath in whose centre incense is embedded. She is intended to provide an introduction to the paso. Only the floats with roofs are preceded by the saumadora.
The regidor wears a suit or tuxedo, carries a long cross, and is responsible for ensuring that the procession proceeds as required. Apparently, every night the pasos are different, but later on, reviewing the festival program they have provided me with, it seems that the same images recur throughout the processions, although they may possibly represent physically distinct floats. The young men carrying staves crested with circular knives used for scraping the candle wax are moqueros. They claim that the musical accompaniment is of a strictly religious nature, to which I interject ‘Simon and Garfunkle hardly composed music with the Semana Santa in mind’ which receives a somewhat confused response.
The market on Carrera 6 leading to the Puente Del Humilladero is in full swing, but any attempts to take meaningful photos with these crowds is difficult. Or rather, I want to not dwell too long, and yet that is exactly what happens when waiting for the crowds to clear from the mango stand or the vendors selling colourful cotton candy. This is a social experience, not intended to simply offer postcard views of town.
Today I actually manage to attend the concert of Renaissance music at the Teatro Guillermo Valencia. Even better, the concert consists of a selection of Claudio Monteverdi’s madrigals from the various stages of his career (Cremona, Mantua and Venice). The building features seating in front of the stage, as well as four stories of small loges that rise above the ground floor, encircling the theater. The building is packed, and despite being free, it doesn’t much resemble the crowd that gathers on the Parque Caldas during the afternoon. That said, the extremely restrained quality of the work presented drives people out the door, the house being far from full towards the end of the stellar concert. Restrained the work presented may have been, but spectacular in its beauty, Monteverdi of course being one of the great composers of the European musical idiom.
On the street, as dramatic counterpoint to the concert I just saw, a group playing a type of traditional Afro-Colombian music, possibly Currulao, including a marimba, two drums and a shaker. The music is gentle, melodic and hypnotic, reminiscent of traditional music from Central Africa.
I decide to forgo the subsequent concert and return to my home, eat dinner, catch up on work, then return to town to see the evening’s procession. Alas, I am not able to return to town due to some lamentable personal business rearing its ugly head at the wrong moment …
As much as I typically condemn Colombian fast and street food, the area to the south of the centre is fond of deep fried grated and whipped potato preparations. On the way into town, I enjoyed a simple but tasty grilled potato pancake, and at a small kiosk returning home, a big ball of deep fried potato puree stuffed with egg, ground beef and rice. There is something about deep fried potato in its various incarnations, a revelation to surely no one in this world other than perhaps myself …
Am i imagining things or are days getting longer?