Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fiestas Del Pilar

Fiestas are a big deal in Spain.

I often feel like Spanish lives revolve around fiestas, hoping to go to as many fiestas as they can in a year. I often ask one girl in my class what she is doing doing for the weekend, and she often replies with, "Well... there are fiestas in my town, so..." I often am asked what the fiestas in my town are like. When I tell them that my town, my dear Glenbrook, has one big fiesta a year, during the Spring, that starts at 8am and goes through till 3 pm, they stare at me like Australians are crazy. Spanish fiestas are something that has to be experienced. They have this great sense of celebration running through their blood, through the soil of their land. There are fiestas for the smallest of things, and the smallest of towns, and the last three, four, five days. They are filled with long nights, no sleep, patriotism, and lots of noise. Fiestas are not something that they do to celebrate their lifestyle, their culture, their country. Fiestas are their lifestyle, their culture, what makes their country so unique and different.

Two weeks ago was the Fiestas del Pilar. As I have already explained in previous blogs, Pilar is the saint for all Hispanics, and is situated in the Basilica del Pilar in Zaragoza. It is celebrated as their national day, or I should say, week. I was lucky enough to go to Zaragoza for seven of the nine days that it was celebrated.

Basilica del Pilar in Zaragoza.

We arrived in Zaragoza on Saturday afternoon at around lunchtime, where we had lunch with the Yaya, the grandma. After spending a good couple of hours feasting on good food, and relaxing, watching the autumn leaves dance in the wind, we headed off to the apartment, and were bombarded with noise. I read in a book I bought about Spain, that youth suffered from hearing impairments more than a lot of other countries because of the noise they make. In school, out of school, during fiestas, there is always something going on. (Except for Sundays!) There is always a constant noise - music, yelling, singing. The apartment that my host family has is situated perpendicular to the main street in Zaragoza, where all of the different things were going on. Surprisingly, I slept quite well! The next few days were spent relaxing in the mornings and going out in the afternoons, watching everything that was happening. There was an abundance of music, from all over South America, dancers from around the globe, markets, food, lots of things to keep us occupied. On my adventures out into the celebrations, I immediately noticed that all the teenagers were wearing the same things.

They all seemed to walk around in groups, wearing what looked like painting overalls, that were painted on, drawed on, written on. It was so unusual for me, as everyone (in Spanish everyone is said as todo el mundo, which directly means the whole world... little bit of trivia!) I saw was walking around looking the same. When I asked María and Ana about it, they said that that was what everyone wore all the time. This baffled me as well. I soon began realising that they, too, wore matching jumpers that often had their name printed on it, or the name of their cuadrilla, their group. After some more investigation I realised that they didn't actually wear it all the time, as in every day, but only during fiestas.

Something that is different to Australia, and I assume a lot of other countries, is their markets. In Australia, my favourite part of a market is the food section. There are often food markets, or lots of little stalls with different types of food at Australian festivals. I have so many fond memories of going to markets, and having lunch there; a spring roll from the stand with all Chinese food, an Egyptian pancake from that small stand in the shade, a smoothie from the fresh fruit stand, some Thai noodles from another stand, a garlic naan bread for afternoon tea. I associate food with markets, with festivals. A conglomeration of food from all over the world, a variety of tastes, an array of colours. In Spain, it isn't like that. They sometimes have some food stalls, but one stall may sell a leg of ham, another cheese, another chorizo, and another sweets. But they don't often sell meals, or things that we can try, small portions of things. At Zaragoza, they had some food stalls that sold things like jam or honey, that you could try, so I went along and ate the tiny pieces of bread dipped in honey, the spoons filled with different combinations of jams... It sufficed, but made me miss an Australian aspect of markets and festivals.

I really enjoyed the entertainment aspect of the Fiestas del Pilar. All along the Paseo de Independencia, the main street, there were musical groups from all over Spain and South America, as well as dancers and percussionists. I spent a great deal of time watching these groups, listening to famous Spanish songs being sung in Spain, by Spanish people. It was really amazing and caught me off guard, making me think, "Wow, here I am in Spain, hearing these songs that I learnt the Spanish colours and days of the week to." This group on the left were really great. There was a cafe right next to where they were playing, so I'd bring my diary along, have a coffee and relax listening to them play.

One dance group. As you can see, there were lots of people that came along and watched.

Percussionists playing to a crowd of people.

These celebrations go on for the whole nine days, but the main day, the day that is celebrated all over Spain, and not just in Zaragoza, is the 12th of October. The 12th of the October is the day where the people offer flowers. Inside the Basilica del Pilar, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary. She is sometimes given a dress to wear over the statue, and she will only wear that dress once. The dresses are extravagantly made, and are very beautiful, with strong colours and delicate stitching. She has thousands of dresses that have been made for her. Many people offer flowers, and the flowers end up making the dress of an enlarged statue of the Virgin Mary.

The 12th of October was an incredible day, that showed a great insight to the history of Spain and how they dressed. Everyone dresses up on the 12th of October, in traditional dress. This is a tradition that goes back around sixty or seventy years. Sixty years ago, the Spanish wore different clothes, obviously, than today. They had clothes for working, for going out, for church, for weddings, for at home, etc..., and for fiestas. The clothes they wear today, are the clothes they wore for fiestas. Each province wore a different style dress, but they stay true to the clothing back then. María and Javier dressed up on the 12th, with tradtional Zaragoza clothes. María wore a necklace that was fifty years old, a scarf that was 125 years old, a skirt that was decades old... everything that she wore had been worn first by a relative during those times. I was blown away by the completely different style of clothing it was, and the accuracy it held to what they really did wear.

Javier and María in their traditional dress, with their flowers to offer.

There were thousands of people offering flowers, all dressed up in the traditional clothing, and I loved it!

Each different province has a different traditional dress, some which have become quite famous that you may recognise. I highly recommend you looking up on Google the traditional dress of Andalucia and Cataluña, so you can see the variety in the traditional dress. It was fun to be able to know where people had travelled from by the very different way they all dressed.

This photo is of the Virgin Mary and her 'dress' of flowers. As you can see, a lot of people didn't dress up as well!

I really enjoyed being able to see another different part of Spain, and participate in another one of the innumerable fiestas!

I have been kept busy since then, as my grandparents from Australia have visited me! We went on a little trip, which you will soon hear about.

Apart from that, I have been attending school, and have been really enjoying it. Saying that, I really feel restless. It is such a weird feeling, knowing that I have three months left of my exchange, which will go really quickly, and then I'll be in Australia. I am beginning to understand how little time I have left, and how I need to keep grabbing everything my exchange has to offer with both hands. Exchange is not easy, but I think I've been given an extremely incredible year. Here I am, in another country, living a culturally different life as a local, speaking a different language and gaining a second home along the way. Some days are great, where I don't have trouble speaking, where I feel like I'm progressing everyday, and other days where I feel like I haven't improved at all and that I should just pack up and give up. The excitement of the adventures, the family, the friends that await me in Australia are so alluring, that I need to tell myself often to focus on the now. On the today. On Spain, and what it has to offer. Before I came to Spain, I was petrified of the whole year aspect of the exchange. I thought that a year would mean that when I came back everyone would be gone, that everyone would forget that I existed... that if I left, I wouldn't come back to the same Australia. I can't say that nothing has changed and that it'll be like I never left, because I don't know that yet. I don't know what going back will be like. All I know, is that there was no reason to be petrified. There is no reason not to go for the year. I will have Australia for many more years to come (I hope!), but I will only ever have Spain, this experience, this time of my life once. That is a blessing that I still don't comprehend. This year has been the perfect year for me, filled with so many good times, so many challenges, so many events that have made me grow up a little. So many times where I've realised how much I need God in my life, how I need to follow Him, and celebrate the life He has given me. Life here in Spain has shown me a new type of celebration, a new type of joy, a celebration that is as old as this country, a joy that is as strong as its people. A joy that I pray I've been able to bring into my life, so that when I come home in February, I'll be able to have a little bit of Spain and the people I love dearly with me. There is a warmth here, that I love. A passion for life, a sense of 'eat now, work later', that both infuriates me and makes me laugh. Spain is filled with contradictions. Spain makes me angry, frustrated, but also content and joyous. Australia will, hopefully, be seen with news eyes. Eyes that have come from a country that celebrates everything, enjoys everything, that loves everything, that is passionate. I hope I will be able to see Australia with these things in mind.

Sometimes I wish I could bring Tudela back to Australia. It would make things so much easier.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I've tried to write this post about four times, each filled with jumbled words, senseless sentences, and nothing from my heart. Trying to explain my week last week isn't what I want to do, because I didn't enjoy last week at all. Last week was filled with both bad and good, as does every week and everyday in each person’s life. For me however, the bad outweighed the good, and I spent a great deal of the week in tears. Why, you may ask? One word that every exchanger will be thoroughly familiar with: homesickness.

I don’t really want to dwell on last week, as it wasn’t a very nice week for me. I was hit with a bout of homesickness, stronger than any other that I've ever experienced before, and spent a great deal of my time crying. It was a hard week, especially because my host family didn’t really understand why I would be homesick, and neither did the other exchange students. I wanted and needed comfort, and felt like I couldn’t get any. It was a sucky week, something that I don’t wish to repeat again.

Being homesick sucks.

I started writing this blog post, planning on going into every detail of how I felt, and everything that I did. I want my family and friends to know that exchange is difficult, and that there are things that don’t always go the way we’ve planned. I want to describe to you that sick-in-the-stomach feeling you get, where you can’t eat, can’t think, without wanting to cry because you miss everything, everyone so much. I want you understand going through the emotions of having everything around you fine, but still feel horrible. I had been feeling great, on top of the world. I had friends, I could speak Spanish, I was happy with my family. I didn’t understand why I felt so homesick, so pained, when everything was going fine. I still don’t understand. Understanding homesickness is important, but what I learnt from my week is more important.

I felt and still feel alone. I am a Christian in a non-Christian area. I have no Christian or religious friends, I don’t have a church to attend, and feel often alone in a place with no Christian fellowship, community or encouragement. Last week I felt that I had no one, that I was alone, and had no one to comfort me. My brother, Brad, sent me an email a couple of days ago that greatly brightened me up.

“It must be really difficult being so disconnected from a church. God saves us into community and the body of Christ is so important for daily life following Jesus. Even though you're in Spain, it's important to know that you are not alone. That we are bound together in Christ and that you are a part of what God is doing all around the world as God has mercy on many.”

I so often complain about being ‘alone’ that I often forget that God is still always with me, that I still have my family and friends with me. They may not be here in Spain, but they are always only a Skype call away. Being on exchange, you often have to learn to be your own best friend. Learn to enjoy doing things by yourself, and exploring where you live. I think I do this pretty well, but there are always those times where you just wish you had someone to talk with, that has known you longer than your time in Spain.

That week was a big eye opener to the fellowship I still have with my friends and family and the Christian community, even though I’m so far away. When I was feeling incredibly homesick, I decided to write some poetry, and Hebrews 13:5-6 came to mind.

For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"

It is so easy to feel alone, to be filled with fear and lose hope, even over the simplest and smallest things. This verse is a huge encouragement to me, knowing that God will never leave me nor forsake me. Exchange isn’t easy. Homesickness isn’t easy. Feeling alone isn’t easy. But bringing everything back to God, and relying on him through everything changes it all.

This is an extremely jumbled post as it’s been stopped, started, stopped, started, rewritten, and have had no idea what to write about or say! Months of not writing does that to you, I suppose.

This week has been somewhat better. On Monday, we had a birthday party for one of my friends at school, as she was turning 17 on Tuesday. We went to the movies and saw Charlie St Cloud (Siempre a Mi Lado in Spanish). It was my first birthday party that I have been to since I’ve been in Spain, and the feeling of inclusion, acceptance, and friendship was overwhelming. I am loving having Spanish friends, conversing with them in Spanish, telling jokes and understanding jokes in Spanish, and living the Spanish life. This week has been a week of acceptance, as I am beginning to realize that my exchange year is winding down. I have been speaking with Mum and Dad about my plans for the next couple of months, and they are filling up quickly! I am hoping to travel throughout the month of January, though I’m not sure where or with who. I have no idea where I am spending Christmas at present, as my host family may be overseas for the Christmas break. I am having to start sorting these things out, which is both incredibly exciting and a little daunting, as it makes me realize how little time I have left in Spain. There are 76 days left until Christmas, so I have at least another 76 days left in my dear Tudela. Thinking of my time left on exchange in mere days is incomprehensible. I came on exchange expecting Christmas to never come, that my wind down period would be far off in the distance, but I am beginning to realize that it is just around the corner! In saying that, I still have a little less than four months until I touch down in Australia, which is a reasonable amount of time. But time flies when you’re having fun!

I have also been getting excited for things that I’ve left behind; uni, friends, family, sleepovers, work, Bonnie, Church, driving, the smell of Australia, my bedroom, the small things I call home.

I feel like I am on the fine line of having so much left of my exchange, and the winding down period. It is difficult to try and get my emotions in sync, and know where my head is meant to be with stage of my exchange so far.

This past week I have had to tell myself to stop looking at the future, of my plans in Australia, the fun times to be had, the return to normality and Australian culture, and look at the present. There are always things happening here in Spain and in Tudela, and I don’t want to miss out on these things because I am focusing on what will be happening. This week is the equivalent of Australia Day. October 12 is the day of Hispanics. It is the day celebrating all things Spanish and South American.

Zaragoza is a city about 45 minutes away from where we live, and it holds the Basilica del Pilar. Pilar is the saint for all Spanish people, so October 12 is incredibly important there, and there are lots of activities happening this weekend. I am going to be staying in the apartment that we have in Zaragoza, going to Bull fights, seeing Spanish dancing, going to free concerts, eating a lot of food, experiencing more Spanish culture.

Something that I love so incredibly much about the Spanish is their joy for life. They celebrate in a way that is so unique and so lively. I’m extremely excited to go and see the celebrations and take part in them, especially in Zaragoza, as Pilar is there.

I am about to head off, so I will leave it where I am. Sorry for the lack of posting, the jumbled-ness of this post, and the lack of interesting things in it! I promise that I will be writing more in these coming weeks. I love writing in my blog, I love sharing what I have to share, but life often gets in the way. (Or my laziness does!)

I'll leave you with a verse that greatly challenged me this week. It is from Acts 5 where the Apostles are persecuted. They leave the town after being flogged and it says,

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name... they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah."

Acts 5:41-42