Thursday, November 10, 2005

Dia de la Almudena

The first clue should have been the cathedral bells that started clanging just before 10am. I went out to the street, thought to myself, "hmm, the museum isn't open yet," but figured that the guard had overslept. Went to the bakery, noticed that the shelves were full of a roscon-like pastry with little cream crosses drawn on it, and thought, "there must be a holiday coming up." But it wasn't until I got to the market and saw the big metal gates drawn across the entryway that I realized that the streets were suspiciously quiet for a Wednesday morning. Aha. The holiday was today. But what holiday was it?

Saint Isidro. Virgin of La Paloma. Constitution Day. Armed Forces Day. Assumption Day--although we're used to the regular eruption of esoteric holidays here, they still amuse us. I thought we knew them all. But no. Yesterday was Dia de la Almudena--the patron Virgin of Madrid. Of course.

So we went: Dia de la Almudena is celebrated with a huge Mass in the Plaza Mayor. Cardenal, bishops, priests, noviates, all lined up in neat rows, with nuns guarding the host back stage. The non-clerics get to dress up too: women in their tight castizo dresses, with that goofy carnation on top of their head; men in their far more elegant capes. They go to Mass, they take the Virgin out in a procession, everyone goes out for vermouth. Another successful holiday, with all the critical elements: costumes, a little religious devotion, plenty of alcohol.

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