There are all sorts of holidays and festivals here in Spain that they don't tell Americans about. I just get up on the weekends and, because I live in the center of town, there is usually some pretty interesting street theater going on just underneath my window. A couple weeks ago there was a religious procession (it took two and a half hours to walk a statue of Mary out of the church, to the end of the block, and back), and before that there was a horde of cyclists (apparently they're a pretty regular occurrence, and ride nude in the summer*).
I've started to accept the idea that I probably will never understand why these things keep happening around me, so it was kind of a shock to find a familiar celebration this past weekend. Columbus Day is a national holiday here.
It makes sense, 1492 was a very good year for Spain: the Reconquista ended with the fall of Granada in January, and Columbus's discovery of the New World brought prosperity to Spain for the next century. At one time, Spain owned all of South America except Brazil (which was Portuguese), all of Central America, Mexico, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, and parts of the Caribbean. Then the British defeated the Spanish Armada and the Spaniards backed the wrong horse in the 30 years war, and after that things just sort of collapsed slowly for the next three hundred years or so. The country hit rock bottom either just before, during, or after the Civil War (depending on who you ask). But, to get back to where this story started, Columbus brought good times to Spain, and Columbus Day is a holiday here.**
There was a big fancy schmancy military parade in down town Madrid, with all the different units with their own uniforms. For instance the Spanish special forces wear a hat that looks like the hat an Aggie would call a bitter (What does the rest of the world call it again?) except it has a dangle-y red tassel in front. That combined with the fact that they wear the top button of their shirts unbuttoned (with no undershirt) makes them look pretty ridiculous. That and their mascot is a goat with golden tinfoil on its horns (for no reason that anyone could tell me, and I'm not even sure how to begin to Google an explanation). Remember, they're special forces and if you laugh at them they can totally kick your ass.
I watched this parade on the TV in the living room because 1.)I didn't know about it until it came on and 2.)it's been raining all weekend. After the parade the king traditionally hosts a reception at the Palace (down the street from me on the other side of the Opera House) for the president, the cabinet ministers, any visiting heads of state who might show up, and the commanders of the military units that were in the parade. The upshot of this is that the parade came to me, as it's easier to march (or ride?) a mounted unit down pedestrian streets than ones open to cars (because you don't have to worry about stopping traffic), and the palace guard rode right under my window. [I will have pictures up as soon as my computer decides that it will read my camera's memory card.]
Fun fact: while normal troops march in parades, equestrian troops 'bailar' ('dance'), at least in Spain.
*I'm still not sure if Ana and Juan were kidding about that. It was a source of great amusement for about an hour, then we finished dinner and that was the end of that conversation. [back]
**But it fell on a Sunday this year, and that did not translate to a Monday off like it does in the States. Apparently it's felt that there are enough other holidays disrupting the calendar already.[back]