Went walking in the mountains above Alicante with Simon over Easter. Acres of almond blossom. Good sinew-hardening walking. Climbing the Sierra de Bérnia and getting stuck on a 20m rockwall, giggling. Learning the meaning of the word egregious and hortatory. Rainbows and full-moon shadows. And Good Friday procession in the mountain village of Castels de Castel that completely overwhelmed me.
We arrived knackered from a full day’s hiking at around 7 and went to one of those working-man’s bars in Spain that serve scrotum-tightening tapas. Then we found out the procession was starting at 10. Outside the church families were arriving, grans and grandchildren, chatting happily. Then on the dot of 10.30, a solemn drum-tap and three effigies lurch out of the church doors into the town square, carried on the shoulders of 10 or so men marching in step which gives the images the strange loping movement of a galleon. A large Mary, a crucified Christ and a Christ laid out for burial. All the men of the village march in line down one side of the street, the women on the other, all holding long candles. Suddenly it’s silent apart from the drum tap and then, the band – 30 or so amateur brass and woodwindplayers – who up until now have looked like they could barely scratch together a “Cucharacha”, break into a stunningly beautiful and textured lament. Starting with the low brass, it rolls onwards into an really, really beautiful orchestra piece as the entire population solemnly march in step around their village. A full moon above the candlelit streets.
Clearly it’s an annual event. Something to be enjoyed. But it’s a wonderfully solemn, dramatic and beautiful thing. I find myself smiling and crying all at once as I fall into step behind the band.
And as we walk on and the music is repeated and I enjoy the girl flautists at the back chatting and comparing haircuts, laughing discretely until their cue comes. I enjoy the elderly clarinettist shushing them. I enjoy the staginess of it. The way that once we’ve found our way back to the church and it’s over, everyone’s chatting, laughing, normal again. But normal together.
Rituals are not about perfection, they’re about togetherness. I sussed that on Holy Island on my first Buddhist retreat. Back then I was dreadfully earnest and hunourless about spiritual things and expected the Buddhist ceremonies to be perfect incarnations of some airy Dharma ideal. While I was sitting disapprovingly through one particularly long and messy Guru Rinpoche puja – with monks dropping books, enquiring loudly during chanting which page they should be on and messing up their conch blowing – suddenly all my irritation fell away and I had a moment of blistering clarity, what Zen calls satori. All that mess gelled into simple perfection. Ritual is not like playing a piece of classical music where everything is sublimated to create a perfect interpretation of what’s on the page. Ritual is about people together doing stuff, pointing the same way. The giggles, the mess-ups, the pompous people, the bored. They’re all part of it.
Walking behind that whole village together was a beautiful priveledge, regardless of what the march symbolised. Walking together with Simon through the lemon, orange and nispera groves up towards the high peaks was just a pleasure. I enjoyed being together with someone so much that when Simon headed off to visit a friend of his in Valencia, and I had the afternoon to myself there, I felt quite winded and melancholic.
I lay in the sunny park and took a weird picture.