by Randolyn Zinn
Walking down from the cathedral, our feet hurt from the rocky Andalusian pavement that bites into your soles with every step. When a café appeared in the middle of the piazza we stopped to rest and fortify ourselves with a thimble of fino.
The slow and regular tapping we heard seemed to be coming from an intersecting alleyway. Then two young boys came into view practicing an elaborate ritual.
The grim-faced lad in back seemed to be in charge as he pounded a wooden stick on the pavement. His friend strode ahead as solemn as a deacon in time to the beat, balancing a chair smothered in carnations atop his head. Every fifth tap he would stop to kneel on the cobbled street and then hold the pose for two counts before continuing forward.
It wasn’t until they stopped to buy a pack of gum that I saw it wasn't Jesus lashed to the cross, but a G. I. Joe action figure.
I caught the boy’s eye, smiled and asked if we could take his picture. He stood still and stoic then moved on to follow the demand of his friend’s stick.
I remembered what a fervent little believer I’d been as a girl, walking in stately procession with other maidens in church, intoning a litany of praises to the Virgin Mary during her holy month of May. One lucky student (never me) was chosen to crown Her statue with a wreath of roses. It was like a religious beauty pageant where the winner was always the same: the mother of Jesus.
What was the intention of those two little boys in Arcos, I wondered? Not surprisingly, this is the town where penitents crawl on hands and knees up to the cathedral to atone for their sins. Perhaps the boys didn’t consciously know why they were doing what they were doing. Perhaps they were instinctively following the impulses to art-making that Catholicism has inspired for centuries: to render the beauty of martyrdom, to reach for perfection, and that only through suffering can we hope to achieve salvation – ideas I had forsworn but, truth be told, never completely abandoned.
G. I. Joe as a stand-in for Jesus might be laughably kitsch-y, but those boys were not being ironic. They were practicing atonement or spiritual discipline or reverence – who knows what they had in mind—but their seriousness of purpose was exactly what I had come to Spain to find.
Photo by the author
Postcard From Spain is an ongoing series of images and text on 3QuarksDaily by Randolyn Zinn. Click below for the first installments and feel free to engage with me in the comments section below. Hasta pronto!