The Story of San Bartolomé Redux
To start, I walked backwards along the route of the procession. Walking backwards allowed me to see the beautiful alfombras or carpets that are created along the route of the procession. The alfombras are traditionally made of dyed sawdust, although anything can be used. Also popular are pine needles with various leaves and flowers, but I also saw one with vegetables, and another made of all different types of coffee beans. The vegetable carpet was my favorite because the vegetables add some height to the image and make it more interesting to look at. Not that the others aren't beautiful and interesting to look at. The sawdust carpets are generally neon colors, and geometric designs. The pieces require lots of planning, can take up to 12 hours to make, and require several participants in its creation. Deigns vary greatly but are always intricate and beautiful.
The idea is that the floats pass over the alfombras, art as an offering to Jesus. You would hope that they would be preserved all day long, but as soon as the float passes over, the image is marred and seconds after the procession has passes, the city clean-up crew is there to haul the remains away.
After so much build up and anticipation, the Jesus float finally arrives appearing majestically through the incense cloud. Jesus is about one and a half times the size of a man, and bears his cross. On this float, there was some other biblical figure, (San Baratolome?) and some angels. The whole thing is ornately decorated with ornate robes on the characters, flowers on the objects, and banners with biblical scripture. The float is carried by over a hundred men. Three men in the front guide the way, pushing on the float with all their weight to slow it down, or pulling on it to speed it up. They wore slightly different costumes and are clearly a few of the organizers of this operation. They call down the line of purple men if an order needs to be given, and direct the float around corners and when new purple men are exchanged to carry it.
Behind the Jesus float walks a impromptu marching band. The band is made up of mostly tubas, trumpets, and various percussion instruments. They play a slow dirge to set the tone of the occasion (Jesus heading towards his crucifixion) and keep everyone under the float in step with each other. The whole thing - the image of Jesus suffering under the weight of his cross, the men in purple suffering under the weight of Jesus, everyone taking slow steps, dragging their feet the the tune of the depressing music is moving. Its not quite a funeral procession, but its far from a celebration.
As soon as the Mary float passes, the crowd disperses, and the clean-up crew sweep up the once beautiful rugs that have now been turned into mulch. You would never know that such a procession had passed.
There will be one more float next week on Palm Sunday before Semana Santa. Dyring Semana Santa, I'm told there will be a procession almost every day, growing in size and popularity. Stay tuned...