Monday, December 3, 2007

Spain's Kosher Sagrada Familia

When I was a pupil in Mrs. Slezak's grade 2 class, I created a piece of artwork so sublime that it came as a bit of a shock when it was peremptorily assigned a spot on the cinder block classroom wall rather than in an art gallery in some world capital ... say Paris. That December, I produced the Mother of All Manger Scenes. My virgin was suitably chaste, the shepherds wore their sheep around their necks like fox stoles, the cattle were lowing and the one requisite donkey braying, and the three Magi - anachronistically on the scene some 2 weeks early - were depicted approaching the crib with incomprehensible gifts in equally anachronistic (Medieval) caskets.

And the pièce de résistance? - a giant crucifix mounted atop the very stable where the Christ child had just been born. When I finally brought my masterpiece home, my father turned an eyebrow up at the cross but I argued, as a good Catholics, the Holy Family would have had a cross somewhere in their home. End of story.

Like all/most/some good Catholics we had a model of the nativity scene (or a crèche as we called it) in our home. I never quite saw the purpose of maintaining a crèche since we spent most of the time hauling a slightly-oversized sleeping Siamese cat out of it. Besides extricating the cat from the stable, I would often hold races between the camels and the oxen and the odd Hot Wheels race car nicked from my brother Knarf's collection. Perhaps we were supposed to contemplate the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and/or Glorious Mysteries as we set the occupants of the manger back on their feet and hooves and pulled fluffy white sheep out of our cat's bottom.

So now it's December (the 3rd to be exact), and the streets of Madrid are aglow with Christmas lights and its plazas peopled by Beatific Virgins and Overlooked & Generally Ignored Josephs in nativity scenes called belén. So prodigious are these belén that websites and paper guides provide handy lists with times and dates of where they are and what they feature. So although you may be tempted to pop over to the Palacio Real and view the 18th century nativity figures there, you should be mindful of the fact that the belén at the Municipal Museum Plaza de la Villa not only occupies an area of 70 square metres but includes Herod's Palace and a Hebrew mill. How o how to choose?

With belén-season comes the ubiquitous Christmas markets where Spaniards can buy the necessary props and doo-dahs for their nativity scenes at home. These markets range from the über-traditional which primarily sell belén figures (tiny lambs and chickens go for €1.30 each) and paraphernalia (the aforementioned Hebrew mill for example) to the those markets which also flog rubber masks of Prime Minister Zapatero. Who says that religion and politics make strange bedfellows? But I do confess that at yesterday's Christmas market in the Plaza Mayor, Señor Gato Gringo and I were rather taken aback with the sheer abundance of stalls which sold swarthy kings from the Orient and luxuriously accoutred camels, winding rivers of Galilee and blacksmiths' shops - all cheek to jowl with vendors of luminous snot and whoopee cushions and bright pink clown hair. And the more enterprising sellers offered both.

But nowhere is it more true that - at least where Spain's belén is concerned - the devil is in the details. For alongside the caves and the buckets for the wells, there are rows upon rows of tiny ceramic wine and water jugs, all manner of fruits and vegetables, as well as prepared foods for the Holy Family - presumably the end-product of those goats and chickens and sheep and pigs you can buy for €1.30 and up. Pigs? Surely those aren't little clay quarters of cured ham hanging from little clay drying racks?

Yes, in a country where - in spite of the brouhaha they make about bulls - the Pig is King, pork has to be on the menú del día for the Holy Family. What self-respecting Sagrada Familia would - or could - forego a strapping haunch of jamón ibérico (the leg from the fabled acorn-eating black-footed pig) in favour of a couple of green onions and a falafel sandwich? I mean, really. Every tapas bar worth its salt has on its counter a gnawed-at sawed-at pig leg, its dainty hoof pointed towards heaven, screwed into a rather nefarious-looking but conveniently portable slicing contraption - a device descendant of the Spanish Inquisition - so why not the Holy Family?

Truly, the only thing missing is a giant crucifix. And maybe flan for dessert.

26 comments:

knarf said...

Perhaps the glowing snot would be for the Baby Jesus? Babies sometimes have snot on their face, and surely since he had an element of The Divine about him, the Baby Jesus would have supernatural snot...

La Gatita Gringa said...

Like a nose halo?

Javier said...

Things get a bit gorier here in Vitoria:
http://skyscraperss.com/euskoscrapers/48250-navidades-2006-a.html
( scroll down to 8th picture )

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