Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: ‘Show us your shoes’

The headline only makes sense in San Antonio, Texas. A city filled with parades this time of year, although far from religious in nature. Crowds along the streets yell “Show us your shoes” to duchesses, princesses and queens riding high upon their floats throughout Fiesta San Antonio.

Of course, no one does that in Cadiz during Semana Santa. The continual processions are solemn commemorations of Holy Week.

The floats, or pasos, bear statues of religious figures, not real people. So, watching, you find yourself yearning to focus on the hundreds of participants accompanying the floats bearing the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

But individuality obviously is not the goal.

The Nazarenos are disguised under their capirotes designed to funnel their penitent prayers up toward heaven. You begin seeking eye contact with those continually tugging their hoods to keep their eyeholes in a functional alignment. Is that person male or female? Altering centuries of tradition, many members of today’s “brotherhoods” are women. Found myself analyzing all the different shapes of the robed figures: Is that a pregnant woman or a short beer-loving man or woman? And what does a collapsed cap mean?

The teams of costaleros bearing the weight of the pasos on the back of their necks are hidden under the floats’ heavy velvet skirts. Only their shoes are visible, but the alignment of their footwear conveys how closely they are crammed together and the teamwork required to step in unison as they slowly pound the cobbled streets. Once in a while, you can view them switching out the tired team for a fresh one or someone lifting the skirt to check on their welfare. And we stood next to a rare team of women anxiously preparing to crawl under an unusual paso with wheels to maneuver it along its route.

Checking out shoes quickly becomes a spectator habit. Women dressed in clothes of mourning wearing lacy mantillas march in high heels. Then there are barefoot penitentes, some hobbling a bit as the hours pass by. So used to my flat cushiony Skechers that I’m unsure which of those two options would send me into a state of limping faster.

Some members of the cofradias can be seen reaching into their robes to hand out holy cards to children along the way. Some interact with children by tipping their candles onto extended balls of wax growing in girth throughout the week. Children marching often carry baskets of candy to distribute to other children.

The musicians are pied pipers luring you toward processions.

But the goose-stepping uniformed men haunt me somewhat. The stomping of middle-of-the-night marchers on Thursday echoed like storm troopers invading our building. They invoked my childhood fear of the military parade of winged monkeys in the Wizard of Oz except, instead of that rhythmic chorus, there was no music. A woman wailed mournful chants. La Llorona? It took hours to fall back asleep. (Does that amount to a confession that I am still frightened by the winged monkeys?)

The capirotes? They no longer inspire fear, only curiosity about the individual underneath.

On Easter Sunday, the members of cofradias accompanying the float bearing a figure representing the resurrected Jesus wore no hoods. They wore suits. They lost any sense of mystery. Kind of like watching bankers on parade. The camera lens failed to focus on any of them.

While the flower-bedecked gilded floats attract attention and draw the faithful, the faith of the people provides the true beauty of Semana Santa.

Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Final Semana Santa processions pass through her streets

From early afternoon to the wee hours of the morning, the winding streets of Cadiz have been entangled with crisscrossing Semana Santa processions.

Banners and the color of robes worn by members of the different cofradias distinguish the sponsoring group for each procession. Most have only two actual floats, but the marching continues for hours as they transport their particular Virgin Mary and portion of the tale of Jesus’ trials and tribulations from plaza to plaza.

The mood of the spectators is mainly reverential, although the end of each procession is followed by the vendors’ carts offering candies, including caramel lollipops in the shape of the pointed capirotes.

The most excitement is generated by watching the teams of costaleros struggle to squeeze the floats in and out of the church doors with barely an inch to spare in any direction. And the music. The brass bands are filled with more talented musicians than it seems possible for a city of the size of Cadiz to possess.

And finally, the processions conclude with the resurrected figure of Jesus standing unburdened atop his Easter Sunday paso.

Not a bunny in sight.

Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Palm Sunday floats sway through the streets

His reputation preceded him. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem astride a donkey, his miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead was fresh in the minds of many. They swarmed into the streets to greet Hosanna, paving his way with palms and even their cloaks.

Jesus’ progress probably was faster then than when he was waiting. Waiting. Waiting outside the door of the Cathedral in Cadiz for yet one more procession to commence.

A lot of waiting is involved for all participating in the processions commemorating Domingo de Ramos, or Palm Sunday. The dirges are slow-paced. And the costaleros porting the heavy floats on the back of their necks need breaks, as their duty lasts for hours and hours.

Upon re-levitatating the pasos following the brief “restful” squats, the team of about 40 porters are greeted with applause by the faithful lining the streets. Hoisting these ornate beauties is a major feat, as some weigh in at more than 4,000 pounds. It was not surprising to witness a mother peeking under a skirt of a float at rest to check on the health of her son.

The capirotes, tall caps funneling messages to the heavens, worn by the nazarenos appear a bit uncomfortable for the participants struggling to keep the holes aligned with their eyes. Some of the penitents bare their feet to help them identify with the suffering Jesus endured during the week following his initial triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The videos are not action-packed but will give you a feel for the swaying motion of the men carrying the pasos and the accompanying music. A large percentage of the population in Cadiz must grow up playing horns.

The processions from various churches to and from the Cathedral last most of the day. Drums still echoed down the street hours after sundown.