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Friday, March 21, 2008

Viernes Santo (Good Friday)

Good Friday. I go out shopping to Marks and Spencer, potter about doing things at home and remember how different it used to be when I was a kid, back in Catia, in the west of Caracas...

Back home, most shops would be closed; those that opened only did for half the day. there would be Viernes Santo (Good Friday) processions. My old house in Catia was half-way down a hill -well,ok, a gentle slope, anyway, with a church at the cusp of the hill, presiding over the old neighbourhood's long, slow decline into slumness. At sunset (I think; my memory is a bit flaky about these things), you would see the crowd leave the church, carrying candles and the images of Jesus Christ carrying the cross and the Virgin Mary and so on, (all lit with portable generators that would be trailing behind the statues -why do I find this small fact somewhat incongruous), they would approach as they sang in lament, 'Perdona a tu pueblo, seƱor...', 'forgive your people, my Lord...', to the tune of a Popule Meus composed by some guy in the early 19th Century which was blasted from loudspeakers from the church. I mostly rememberm the noise of the generators as the images went by and seeing the people carrying the candles in paper cups, thinking those would not be sufficient to prevent the wax from dripping on your fingers and burning you.... I think I very early on stopped believing, but was nonetheless very superstitious and found the whole thing at the same time moving, tacky and spooky, the slow pass of the crowd with the candles in front of my house, the blinking electric lights on the images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, followed by the rattling noise of the generators, the brushing noise of the shuffling feet of the crowd as they walked past when they weren't singing. The certainty of it all, the knowing that there was a purpose to existence and that you could placate the capricious entity that governed it by showing repentance and faith for those invisible beings that governed our life from afar, from above.

The procession would then turn the corner on Calle Internacional by the bakery, slowly disappear until they were all gone for another year, while I was left wondering what it all meant and why it seemed to me at the same time vaguely preposterous and utterly terrifying.

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