Every year as Easter descends upon Spain, so too does an air of celebration. The university shuts down, people migrate back to their villages or to the South and there’s a definite feeling of summer starting. For Semana Santa (Holy Week) my friends and I embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Iberian Peninsula. My friend Porter and I set out from Zazz (our cute name for Zaragoza) and were reunited with our friends Tim and Chris in Lisbon, before we left for Madrid. After a brief pause in Zazz, we went to Sitges, Cataluña to meet Tim again and spend my birthday in one of my favourite Spanish towns.
In Lisbon, Porter and I entered the AirBnB to find Tim adorably jumping about like a small puppy (he really, really loves Lisbon). His enthusiasm was absolutely infectious and before the weekend was over, we had all made some exquisite memory in Lisbon. For me, it was on the last night when we went to an open mic night in which the sangria flowed and the vibes intoxicated the senses. At first, it was quite average, there were only a handful of people and some timid strumming of some chords but then she came. Who is she? Her name was Rosalinda, but she went by the stage name Alex Schiller and she was a cabaret dancer from New York. She swept into the bar on a cloud of whimsy and an energy so alluring and powerful that we could not help but fall in love with her. For Tim, she was the epitome of glamour. She drew in with her a group of German tourists with whom I practiced my meagre German and fell more and more in love with Lisbon. Chris, with a soft and enchanting voice, began to play a guitar and sing Radiohead to us once the bulk of people had left. It was divine to see such serenity emanating from him. Lisbon was truly wonderful.
The next day, Porter and I made our way to Madrid, to the very heart of Spain. I had never been but I was so excited because there was so much for me to do and see. Gran Vía, El Parque de El Retiro, Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Chueca, El Prado, the Cervantes Memorial (complete with a statue of that noble and ingenious knight, Don Quijote de la Mancha and his loyal page Sancho). There is no one experience from Madrid that stands out but rather it seems to be two days of splendid exploration, feeling the history of the city. Sometimes, I felt the cries of the madrileños defending the city from the army of Franco (No pasarán!) and sometimes I could imagine the royal processions moving through Puerta del Sol. Truly, Madrid is a stunning jewel in the middle of the peninsula.
After Madrid, Porter and I were supposed to head to Valencia, however we felt it better to rest up for the weekend, so we returned to Zazz. It was relaxing to be home again, if only briefly, and I managed to see some of the Semana Santa processions taking place in Zazz. They are a touch eerie to behold given the multi-coloured hoods which march through the streets, adorned by symbols of the Church and accompanied by floats depicting the Virgin and the crucified Christ. Loud drums resound throughout the night as the processions solemnly make their way through the winding streets of the Old Town and at once, one feels both a sense of curiosity and of morbidity. But for the Spanish, this is a celebration of devotion and of the love of their Lord, a spectacle like many others but at the same time, one unlike any other.
Then came Sitges and the aesthetic spectacle of my birthday. I had been in Sitges some years earlier at the height of summer and had fallen irrevocably in love with it, so naturally, it was the only place to be for my birthday. I was lucky enough to be joined by Porter and Tim (and later, by our friend Kati) and together, we spent two days in a paradise of beaches and mojitos. Adorned in a flower crown and all sorts of colour, we went out to my favourite bar Parrot’s where we drank cocktails and prepared for a night of dancing. I cannot believe how lucky I am to have had two great friends with me, prepared to indulge all my whims and herald in the start of a new year of my life. The next night, on my actual birthday, we once again set out but this time with Kati and a small list of challenges for me to complete including, but not limited to, getting a kiss from a German, having somebody buy me a drink and obtaining an article of clothing from somebody. Oh, it was superb! Out of ten challenges, I completed nine and truly, I could think of no better way to turn twenty-four than with those three beautiful souls, laughing, grinning from ear-to-ear and loving.