Published on May 1st, 20172
Expat Life: Semana Santa Edition
To be sure, there seems to be curious sights on every corner here in my adopted home on this Andean mountaintop. Spontaneous fireworks bursting in the sky from my Cuenca balcony most any night, along with stray traditional/religious events seemingly every time I turn around. But I must say, the week-long celebration of “Semana Santa” (Holy Week a.k.a. Easter) is arguably the grandaddy of all the many festivities. As I continue to live (and learn) here over these past 3+ years, I relish the opportunity to personally dive in and participate in the many cultural happenings that surround me.
And in that spirit – this year, Semana Santa proved quite the busy week for me:
Visitación de Siete Iglesias
First there was the “Visit to 7 Churches” on Holy Thursday. Two years ago I first bumped into a knot of Cuencano lasses meandering through the cobbled streets of Cuenca who kindly invited me to tag along with them on the tail-end of their after-dark visits to 3 of them. Since then, I’ve vowed to make it to all 7 “iglesias” on a future “Jueves Santo” night. Actually, visiting 7 churches is an easy feat as there’s no dearth of them here in my beloved El Centro. Indeed, there’s more than a dozen uniquely beautiful iglesias within walking distance of my front door! And this year, I managed to complete the full ritual – I visited a full set of 7 churches:
Fanesca Soup for *80*
Earlier that same day (Holy Thursday), there was also the annual (but one single day per year) ritual of making “sopa Fanesca”. As I’ve written before, it’s quite a complicated recipe involving no less than 12 different beans and grains (symbolizing the 12 apostles) along with a bit of “bacalao” (dried salted fish – to symbolize the body of Jesus).
3 years ago, upon tasting my first spoonful of this creamy traditional Andean specialty I was hooked. And I now look forward each year to enjoying a bowl (or three) during Semana Santa. Last year I got especially lucky, when my dear Cuencana neighbor Olga agreed to let me help her shop for the soup ingredients, and cook up a big batch of fanesca to feed customers at her tiny restaurant down the street from my apartment.
This year, I again had the honor (not to mention the fun) of heading to the 9 Octubre mercado for dried fish, etc. and squeezing into Olga’s tiny kitchen to cook up a big pot of Fanesca – enough to feed *80* customers!
A Good Friday Excursion to “El Campo”
Even bettter, on the following day (Good Friday), Olga invited me to head into the countryside (“el campo”) with her youngest son David (pronounced “dah-viid” in español) to visit her “hermana” (sister) in the tiny pueblo of “Jima” – about a 2.5 hour bus ride south of Cuenca. As I’m ever up for a chance to integrate as much as possible into the local culture (not to mention, the opportunity to practice my Spanish for an entire day), I jumped at the chance.
Estaciones de la Cruz
And finally – though I have no photos (as snapping pics would have seemed a bit irreverent at such a somber religious event) – arriving back in Cuenca from Jima on Good Friday night, I dragged myself out again for yet another Semana Santa tradition: joining with my Cuencano neighbors to shuffle silently through these cobbled streets, pausing at small shrines set up along the way – to honor the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Whew! Quite the whirlwind week! And while I’m not particularly pious (though I WAS raised Catholic and went to parochial school til 6th grade – and once had a stash of “holy cards” to prove it!), when you choose to live in a country that’s 92% Catholic, you can’t help but honor the “glue” that seems to bind your neighbors together.
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