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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Relaxing in Santiago

Friday morning we gathered for a tour of the city with a local guide. She shared lots of interesting tidbits about the history of the city and the cathedral. The current cathedral dates back to 1075, when it was rebuilt after a fire. She also told us her version of the legend of the apostle St. James, who supposedly preached the Gospel in Spain, and how it is believed his bones came to rest in Santiago after he was beheaded by Herod. Fun fact: Santiago has 95,000 residents plus 25,000 students, hence the high bar to person ratio. It is the third oldest university in Spain.

We toured the cathedral, which was packed, with constant admonitions for silence broadcast over the loudspeaker. (The guide said it was a delight to have such an attentive group, as the Spaniards just talk over her!) The line to touch the statue of St. James was too long, so we settled into the transept for the noon mass. The cathedral is known for its massive "botafumeiro," the world's largest incense burner. Apparently they now light it only when a group pays 300€, which Virginio thought was terrible, but I thought was kind of a smart way to squeeze some support out of the busloads of tourists (4 million a year...impossible to say how many are pilgrims, though 200,000 Compostelas are awarded annually) who may or may not drop a few euros in the plate. Anyway, the botafumeiro was built to ameliorate the funky smell of pilgrims sleeping in the church, which was allowed until the 17th century.

It takes eight strong men to pull the rope that swings the botafumeiro over the transept at speeds up to 68 km/hour. (It has broken three the 16th century when the princess of Spain was visiting, it flew right out the open door! Another time it hit the altar, and in the 20th century it hit a seminarian.) As notable as the swinging, smoking botafumeiro itself were the carnival-like gasps from the crowd and the hundreds of cameras recording it in action.

The surprise of the mass was that a cardinal was visiting! This was a big treat for our one Catholic teammate. I decided to bend the rules a bit and take communion, which was an express service without wine. The service was very meaningful to me and made me realize one reason I haven't felt close to God lately is that I haven't really been seeking God. I've gotten out of the habit of attending church, but this trip made me realize I want to renew my Sunday worship routine in the fall.

After worship, Qassab and I strolled around the beautiful city park. He treated me and Sandra to schwarma wraps from a Middle Easterm restaurant, and we had a little picnic with those, some yogurt, and nectarines. It was nice to have something a little lighter and skip the restaurant routine.

After a little shopping (I got two scarves for fall and a black lace dress), I enjoyed the hotel pool and hot tub before meeting everyone for sunset cocktails on the terrace of the Parador. Sandra treated us to a pitcher of Sangria, and we had more tapas for dinner: empanada and octopus again, plus a few new dishes: mystery meat and potato, white asparagus with mayo, fried sardines (head on), fried calamari, garlic shrimp, tortilla with mushroom, and padron peppers. Just your basic Spanish bar fare, but tasty.

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