The festival of Mr. Miracles

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Plaza Mayor in the morning was already busy. This was nothing to what we came upon when we returned just as the festival was getting underway. There were people everywhere, but they were all very well behaved considering that there was not a lot of space and the main event was rapidly approaching.

The festival is in honor of Jesus, but it centers on a painting of Christ crucified that is sort of miraculous. The best word we could come up with for what the painting is was "float", but it is carried by men who make it dance around. The story behind the painting is that it was painted by a slave in the 17th century and survived horrible earthquakes and such disasters, making it sort of miraculous in and of itself. Also miraculous is the fact that the slave who painted it was untutored in painting, but the painting is really quite good. And it was painted on faith alone. Strong stuff, that.

As we arrived the float was making its way into the Plaza and everyone was getting all kinds of excited. Everyone was wearing some kind of purple. The "laity" were just wearing purple sweaters or swatches of purple or buttons. The official people were the purplest purple I have ever seen. The women wore dress-like robes that were tied at the waist with a white cord, and they wore white lace to cover their hair. They also carried teapots of incense that reeked and that I couldn't stand next to. The men wore caped robes that opened down the front and were secured by a giant white rope around the neck. Some men were carrying the float, while others carried flowers. Most of the men were wandering around looking important, but some were emergency first aid, so I guess they were walking with a purpose. There were four ambulances waiting for disaster to strike.

Upon entering the Plaza, the float stopped in front of the president, who was chilling complacently on his balcony, and with a chime of the bell did its first little dance. Everyone clapped appreciatively. I should take this moment to state that 80% of Peruvians are declared Catholics, and Catholicism is the state religion. The float then proceeded with inexorable slowness to make its way around the Plaza, much to everyone's delight. I decided to stake out a place on the curb and sat down while Travis ran around taking pictures. I mean, seriously, how much of the dancing float can you really stand before you get bored. We were there for hours, I kid you not.

Finally the float made its way to the front of the Archbishop's palace. Here the archbishop was standing at the ready on his little making-speeches-balcony, and after another little dance he gave a sermon, which, when Travis translated for me, made me extremely annoyed. I will leave it at that so as not to offend our Catholic friends. But the archbishop was very friendly and he waved to everyone, who waved back happily. The whole thing was an amazing cultural experience that would never ever happen in the US. Everyone came together to celebrate, they all clapped at the right moments, were serious at the right moments, and there were even a couple songs that everyone knew the words to.

After the sermon everyone made a mad rush for the street where the parade would continue. This just happened to be the street with the flower drawings that just happened to lead to our hotel. We were therefore caught in the crush and when they started shoving I got irritated, particularly because they were shoving old people. Then the old people started talking to me in Spanish telling me to guard my bag because of pickpockets, but I didn't understand that until they actually made the motion of hugging the bag. When we decided that we weren't going to get onto the street we wanted to be on, we turned around. That was an adventure, too. But eventually we got away from the masses and I went back to the hotel while Travis ran around with the camera some more. When he came back he gleefully told me that he'd been pick-pocketed three times by the same guy. But his hand was in his pocket, so he felt the guy pushing his wallet up his leg. If he hadn't been holding the camera, he said he would have slapped the guy's hand. It was rather entertaining, because after the third try the guy got all pious and crossed himself and then moved on.

In the afternoon we walked around Lima and arrived at the other plaza in honor of Josť de San Martin. This guy was the liberator of Chile and Bolivia, and he first declared Peru independent. Then Simon Bolivar came and they had a private conference and San Martin went back to Europe and was never heard from again. So I guess they both get liberator credit. Anyway, in the center of the plaza is a huge statue of San Martin astride his horse, and in the front of the statue is a woman who is all symbolically strong and carrying olive branches or some kind of leaves. This woman has an AWESOME story. I will tell you.

When they sent away to some non-Spanish speaking country to have this statue made, they said they wanted a crown of flames on the woman's head. The word for flames in Spanish is llamas. Unfortunately no one thought to translate this word, and so in a bout of confusion the woman was delivered complete with llama. As in singular, this being our friendly Peruvian beast of burden. Ergo our lovely lady, rather than sporting a crown of flames, has a little llama sitting on top of her head for all the world to see. It's absolutely hilarious and I couldn't stop laughing when I saw it.

I heart Peru.
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