Do Catholics have more fun? By Catholics I don’t so much mean practising Catholics as lapsed Catholics living in countries with a culture that is heavily dominated by its Catholic heritage. Spain, for instance.
Take this example, what do we do in Australia to mark the beginning of Lent? We eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day for the less religious), if you’re more devout maybe go to church for Ash Wednesday and decide on something to give up for Lent. But that’s it. In Spain (and, of course, other countries such as Italy and Brazil) the weekend before the beginning of Lent means Carnaval. Read: street parades, costumes, massive parties till dawn.
Taking these celebrations even further, in Asturias, there are two weekends of Carnaval. The first is on the actual weekend before Lent, and it is celebrated all over the region but the biggest parties are in Gijón and Avilés. Apparently everyone started leaving Oviedo for the weekend to go to the other two cities for Carnaval, resulting in a rather boring, quiet Carnaval. But this is Spain and there couldn’t possibly be a boring fiesta somewhere! So, Oviedo decided to move its Carnaval to the following weekend. Yes, the excessive partying and merriment (and in some quarters, drinking) now fall during Lent, the period of reflection, sobriety and preparation for Easter. See what I mean about lapsed Catholics?
Now that you’ve had an introduction to the idea of Carnaval I’ll be writing up my stories from the two weekends of fiestas this week. Look out for stories of all-night dancing, costume competitions and pouring rain in the next few days!
Plaza de la Catedral - the end of the parade
Oviedo is a strange, contradictory place I am beginning to suspect. On the one hand, everyone lives in town in an apartment so that they can walk to and from work. And they also love the social aspect of walking everywhere, so that they can bump into their friends, see people and be seen. But then, they all have cars (even though no apartments come with parking) and drive to big shopping centres in the middle of town, centres similar to those we have in the suburbs, such as Marion or Castle Plaza. And at 6pm you can often be stuck in a very unpleasant traffic jam.
Similarly, for a “pedestrianised” people they can be appallingly bad at taking care when pedestrians are on the road. I carry the details of all three of my travel and health insurance policies on my person anytime I step out onto the house. There are zebra crossings at nearly every single intersection but I still haven’t quite got the courage to trust the drivers will give way to me. (This is also partly because I am only just this week getting the hang of looking to my left for oncoming traffic when I cross the road.)
Asturias is also a region known for its cows and dairy products. Yet, milk here comes as UHT and cheese is made from a mix of cow and sheep milk (it has a strong flavour but fortunately it is no match for my Vegemite which overpowers it completely!)
Since coming here I have also found that any native English speaker is in demand for giving private English lessons. So why, one must ask, do they insist on dubbing every single English-language television program and film into Spanish? They could instead use subtitles and give the many, many English students a chance to listen to genuine accents, and in the process improve their own.
So far Spain still seems a contrary country (for instance, I know they have great food and like eating it, but when, oh when, do they eat it?!) But I love it. I love having to buy fresh bread every two days because my “barra” (like a baguette) is starting to go stale and no self-respecting household in Spain can be without bread. I love that even though my milk is UHT it proudly says it is “leche asturiana” (Asturian milk) on the carton. I love going out for a walk and seeing half of the city’s population out doing the same thing.
On that positive note, I hope you all enjoy your Monday mornings, while in Spain we cling a little longer to Sunday night.