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Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Celebration of Unpredictable Worlds, Now Also Known as Mundos impredecibles!

My newsletter subscribers have already heard this news, but I’m thrilled to announce here that my five-star-rated short story collection, Unpredictable Worlds, has been translated into Spanish.

English-speaking readers, please see below the Spanish text for the special way Unpredictable Worlds is celebrating the birth of its Spanish sibling.

El libro con rinocerontes, matrimonios felices, mujeres que encuentran su esencia fuerte, y las miradas más raras al mundo del trabajo ya está disponible para disfrutar en el idioma que dio origen al realismo mágico. Estoy rebosante de orgullo al anunciar la llegada al mundo de la traducción de Unpredictable Worlds al español: Mundos impredecibles.

Encontré a un joven promesa de traductor, Carlos Orlando Castaño Franco, que tiene un don lingüístico genial y ha sabido transformar mis textos más extraños con un estilo ajustado a cada relato. He mirado personalmente la traducción de este colombiano para asegurar un español internacional pero no por ello falto de personalidad.

Estos relatos, que son un reglo ideal para el lector a la búsqueda de lo diferente e impredecible, son disponibles ahora para los siguientes dispositivos:

Amazon.com * Amazon.es * Amazon.mx * Barnes & Noble * Apple * Kobo

Y muy pronto lo verás en Google Play, si es tu mercado preferido.

¡Celebra conmigo! ¡Hazte con tu ejemplar de Mundos impredecibles ya!

Una edición en tapa blanda está prevista para el año 2020, ¡que se acerca!

Seeing Unpredictable Worlds in Spanish makes me feel like celebrating! So for those of you who don’t yet have Unpredictable Worlds in Kindle yet, this is your opportunity! Get it 75% off for two weeks only, now through December 31. The new year will see the price go back up!

Nowhere else can you get so much zaniness for only 99 cents!

You might have 99 problems, but a source for strange stories will not be one!

Makes a perfect Christmas gift for that reader in your life eclectic tastes who you’re never sure has read a certain book yet or not. Trust me, they haven’t read this one yet.

Sale valid in equivalent currencies on all Amazon sites.

My publisher has also decided to end 2019 with a bang. Awash in Talent is only 99 cents in ebook for the month of December. The latest (5-star!) review says, “A great learning experience of perspectives and thought. Stories that explain real-world phobias. Excellent writing.”

Get the 75% discount on Amazon US, and you’ll be all set for some original reading in the New Year.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Tenth Anniversary

The last time I wrote about my wedding anniversary, I made the announcement on this blog that my beloved husband had died.

It's been three years, and I've survived and put together some semblance of life. He was taken from me far too soon, but I've mostly accepted that the summer of 2016 was his time. The thing about this kind of grief is that it always hurts. It's not something you get over. It's something you live with. Or not.

The death of Stanley Arthur Coombs is the worst thing that's ever happened to me, and I don't care who knows it. With amazing help from beloved friends and family, I've moved forward. (Moving on is not the right phrasal verb because it connotes leaving things behind, forgetting. Forgetting is the last thing you want to do when all you have of the love of your life is memories.)

Even so, a world without Stanley still feels sudden and verging on unbearable. Is it worth living in such a world? It's exhausting to have to answer that every morning before I get out of bed.

I've taken measures to make this question easier to answer yes to. Every day, I read a few pages of a book my husband and I had read together. I meditate, a new practice we had discussed many times before he passed away. I live with a friend because although I needed space to grieve when I first arrived here, by my second year, I needed the kind of human contact only living with someone provides. Most dramatically, I moved to Spain.

Moving to a foreign country far from friends and family might not seem like the wisest self-care option. For me, it's the only way to make a world without Stanley tolerable. We had discussed moving to Spain together shortly before he died, so coming here has been, in part, keeping a promise to him. I tried to arrive on our wedding anniversary to ensure that his spirit would stay with me.

Spain is where I've always wanted to live, where I feel (ironically) at home. I keep up with American friends and family through the magic of technology. I go to Manolo Garcia concerts (the best thing anyone can do!). I eat delicious food. I do things I never imagined, like sing in a choir in the Teatro Principal or go on a pilgrimage. I take trips to see the kinds of amazing sights I've always wanted to, sights that make me want to write novels. If I'm feeling down, I can step out into the street and see Romanesque and Modernist architecture, hear beautiful Spanish used to express all manner of feelings, smell the aromas from the bakeries or the burgeoning life in the river, or watch the birds fly home in the soft, changing colors of the sunset over the castle.

These small things don't necessarily make life worth living in and of themselves. But pausing to appreciate them honors what Stanley taught me about what's important in life. These things make getting up in a world without the love of my life a bit less of a burden.

I'm also working on long-term goals, such as ensuring my continued residency in Spain, getting my writing translated into Spanish, and writing new surprising works. All of these activities require enormous optimism I think has always been a part of me, but found its raison d'etre in Stanley, and took a nosedive at the end of July 2016. The optimism is coming back up now, though it may need extra coaxing.

Of course, I always imagined I would celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary with my husband. The tenth, and many beyond that. Perhaps we would watch the now-antique video below and marvel. "That doesn't seem like ten years ago!" Or "We thought we were in love then, but we had no idea! It just keeps getting better! How can this be?" But here I am, with only a blog to mark this special occasion.

Look, my love. Look at those two starry-eyed kids. That was us! 
Start at 57:00 to skip the raw footage and view only the edited cut. 
Knauss & Coombs Wedding from Frank Breen on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Miracles of Santa Maria de Salas

Santa Maria de Salas outside Huesca
Photos in this post 2019 Jessica Knauss unless otherwise indicated 
As we've seen with glorious Villalcázar de Sirga, the Cantigas de Santa Maria have a few favorite shrines the poets returned to again and again, sure they would find another good miracle to tell. The exceptionally powerful Virgin of Villasirga has fourteen Cantigas miracles to her credit. Visiting that shrine in January seemed like the ultimate pilgrimage for a cantiguera like me.

But! I wanted to keep busy in July, and found a week-long course to take on medieval manuscripts at the University of Zaragoza in Jaca. Jaca is at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains in the province of Huesca, in the old kingdom of Aragón. Of course, my friend Daniel wanted to take advantage of being so far from our respective homes in Castilla y León to sightsee. While looking for things to do in the area (there's no lack, believe me!), I found that there is a Cantigas shrine in the outskirts of the capital of Huesca with no fewer than sixteen miracles. Sixteen! Two more than Villasirga!

Romanesque corbels placed up high after a reconstruction 
I had to go. We took an afternoon trip to Huesca and saw the amazing cathedral and museum, but my hopes for seeing the miracle-working image were dashed at the tourist office when the man said Santa Maria de Salas was closed for the foreseeable future.

The front doorway is worth lingering over.
I had to content myself with a look around the outside of the impressive edifice. Without further ado, here are the sixteen wonderful miracles that happened in Salas, Huesca, in the thirteenth century.

A couple uses the enormous arcade as their own hangout. 
Cantiga 43: A couple unable to have children makes the pilgrimage to Salas, offering his weight in wax for candles if Holy Mary will grant them a child. Sure enough, the wife has a beautiful son nine months after their return home to Daroca. But does she give the Virgin of Salas the promised wax? No, she waits seven years, raising her child as if he weren't a miracle for which she should give thanks. When he's seven, the boy catches a fever and dies. His father wants to bury him, but his mother says they should give him to Mary, along with the wax they promised so long ago. Six days later, they lay their son in his coffin before the altar, and tearing out her hair in grief, the wife asks Mary to sympathize with the loss of her son and bring him back. "Help me so I don't annoy you with my incessant pleas," she says! Upon this, the child is heard crying inside the coffin. The whole town comes to see the great miracle.

Salas and me
Photo 2019 Daniel Sanz 
Cantiga 44: A nobleman loses his goshawk during a hunt. After searching far and wide for the valuable bird, the nobleman makes a wax goshawk and presents it to Our Lady of Salas at her altar, asking for the return of his raptor. He stays to hear mass, and before it's over, the goshawk flies into the church and alights on his hand as if it's ready to go hunting.

Having seen the church, I can imagine the way a hawk would fly around inside it. It's the perfect size, as you can see in the photo.

Cantiga 109: Five demons attack a man, relentlessly tormenting him. He heads straight to Salas, but when the church is in sight, the devils don't let him continue. Two friars arrive and help the man toward the church. After an antisemitic exchange of doctrinal value we would question today, the devils figure Mary will make them let go of their victim and head out of their own volition.

Cantiga 114: A woman is a great devotee of the Virgin of Salas. She always places long wax candles at her altar and asks for protection for her dear son. One day, the son's enemies beat him to a pulp, such that it's not likely he'll live to see the next day. His mother takes him home and bandages him, commending him to Holy Mary, who cures him at once. As soon as the bandages are on, the wounds disappear without even a scar. The son tells his mother to take the bandages off, and when they see the great miracle, they go to Salas to tell everyone about it.

Cantiga 129: In a fierce battle, a warrior receives an arrow right through his eye. It reaches the base of his neck, and all his companions think he's dead. But he's not. He tells them he'll make an offering in Salas if he's cured. So they pull the arrow out of his eye, and miraculously, he's fine. In fact, he can now see out of the eye better than he did before. He makes the pilgrimage to Salas, telling everyone about the beautiful miracle.

It looks like time for another reconstruction. 
Cantiga 161: A vintner is in the habit of making pilgrimages to Salas, carrying an image of Holy Mary with him as a talisman. One day in August, at home, he sees a big storm coming. He takes the image to his vineyard and asks Mary to protect his vines. "I consider it to be yours, although my wife and I till it as our own," he says, making a celestially binding contract of fealty. The hail severely damages all the other vineyards in the area, but the one that's been pledged to Mary is spared. Further, tendrils that spread from that vineyard and intertwine with others in other vineyards are also spared, even though the rest of the vines in those other vineyards are broken.

Cantiga 163: A man in Huesca loses at dice and renounces Holy Mary. Upon speaking this blasphemy, he's crippled, unable to move or speak. Through signs, he asks to be taken to Salas, where he's able to speak enough to make a promise never to play dice again. His body is immediately healed and for the rest of his life, the man praises Holy Mary.

This cantiga makes an appearance in Law and Order in Medieval Spain.

Cantiga 164: An innocent monk (a devotee of the Blessed Virgin) is accused of having his own money coined. The abbot, a nobleman with strong ties to Aragonese royalty, decides to have the monk arrested. The monk flees into the church at Salas, claiming sanctuary. The abbot calls the monk outside, and when he dutifully leaves the church, he's seized and thrown out of the churchyard. The image of Mary moves her Child away from her and gives a cry so loud that the earth trembles. Both figures pale and lose all their beauty. Everyone understands these phenomena as evidence of heavenly displeasure. The abbot orders the return of the monk and enters the church with all his men with ropes about their necks in penance. The Bishop of Huesca arrives and declares that amends must be made to Holy Mary. Upon this utterance, Mary clasps her Son to her again and shows that they pardon the abbot. However, the images never recover their color, as a reminder of how much the false arrest displeased them.

Cantiga 166: A man's limbs are twisted and he is paralyzed for five years. He promises that if he goes to Salas and gets well, he'll donate a large measure of wax every year. He is healed forthwith. He's able to walk to Salas nimbly, carrying the wax himself.

This cantiga has an especially fun melody that sounds good in all the versions I've heard. The above video has the advantage of having been filmed inside the sanctuary of Santa Maria de Salas! Watch it to glimpse what I was unable to.

Cantiga 167: The small son of a Moorish lady who lives in Borja dies from a terrible disease. The woman witnesses how the Christians go to Salas and hears of Mary's miracles. She decides to go to Salas herself with a wax son and her son's body. She keeps vigil all night before the altar, appealing to Mary's sympathy. Her son comes back to life, even though he had been dead for three days. The woman converts to Christianity.

This is another of my favorite melodies.

Cantiga 168: A woman in Lleida has several children, but loses them all within a short time. Her grief for the last one is so deep that she nearly goes mad. She begs Mary for him and waits for two days. When she sees he won't revive, she takes him to Salas and raises him up at the altar. The boy comes back to life right there in her arms.

This miracle was found in writing. Finding a miracle on the Iberian Peninsula in writing before the Cantigas got it down is unusual enough that the poets mention it what is almost certainly every time.
Cantiga 171: A barren couple promises to make the pilgrimage to Salas if they're granted a child. Of course, a lovely boy arrives. They raise him for two years and then set out on the promised pilgrimage. When crossing a river on horseback, mother and child fall into the water. Although the mother makes it out, they can't find the boy, no matter how hard they look. The husband thinks they should go home, but the wife says they should continue to Salas and complain. As they continue, the wife prays constantly for the Virgin's help. When they step inside the church, they see their son waiting for them at the altar.

Cantiga 172: A merchant sails to Acre in the Holy Land with a lot of good merchandise. He runs into a serious storm on the sea, and when he thinks all is lost, he promises to make a pilgrimage to Salas if he survives. The storm immediately calms. The mast is repaired, and they sail on to Acre without incident. Once they've sold their wares for good prices, everyone on the ship makes pilgrimages to Salas and also Puy.

Cantiga 173: A man is in mortal agony with kidney stones. He can't eat or sleep, only call on the Virgin Mary for help. No doctors are any help. He promises to go to Salas and falls asleep. (He appears to have a dream, but the text is missing.) He wakes up with a kidney stone as large as a chestnut in the bed with him.

Cantiga 189: A man goes on pilgrimage to Salas all alone. Darkness falls, and he meets a dragon. The man prays to Holy Mary, afraid that if he runs, the dragon will chase him. When he finishes his prayer, he runs at the beast with his sword and kills it. However, the blood that spurts out of the dragon's neck and splatters the man's face is poisonous. The man becomes like a leper. He continues to Salas and weeps piteously until he's cured.

The Cantigas are relentlessly realist within the context of the magical thinking that allows for miracles. This is the only cantiga that has a fantasy creature.

Cantiga 247: A girl is born blind. When she's ten years old, her father dies, and her mother gives the child to Holy Mary because she can't handle being a widow and caring for a blind daughter. The mother says that if Mary accepts, she should give the girl her sight. Although she can now see, the girl stays to serve Holy Mary.

Pyrenees foothills and one of many runners we saw in the area. 
In these cantigas, there's a preponderance of candles and wax that could be used to make them. This Virgin also has a special talent for reviving children, so it's little wonder she enjoyed such wide-reaching devotion. The other miracle cures are likely bandwagon worshipers, who had no children or hadn't lost any but wanted to be in contact with this powerful Mary, anyway.

I had to content myself with an antique sign selfie because the miraculous
image was locked up tight. 
When we visited the site, there was a plaque showing a pilgrimage route from France to Santiago de Compostela that went through Santa Maria de Salas, making the church an obligatory visit for any pilgrim--if it's ever open. Unlike the Villasirga cantigas, none of the Salas miracles mention Santiago. I can think of two good reasons. First, Salas is right on a Santiago pilgrimage route, while Villasirga is a bit off the direct path. Villasirga had to do publicity to draw in pilgrims, but Salas had a steady stream with no additional propaganda necessary. Second, the Cantigas are the product of the court of Alfonso X, el Sabio, King of Castile and León and many other territories north and south, but not of Aragón, where Salas is located. Alfonso X was related by marriage to Aragonese royalty, but why bother to promote an area that wouldn't bring economic benefit directly to one's Crown? That old Castilian pragmatism at work.

I discuss that pragmatism and a couple of these cantigas in Law and Order in Medieval Spain.



Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Weekend in the Life: A Wedding and a Pilgrimage

San Julián de los Caballeros, Toro, after the wedding
All photos in this post 2019 Jessica Knauss
unless otherwise specified 
Though I usually blog about the history I find on trips I've taken, sometimes you can have an extraordinary weekend staying close to home. Especially when you live in Spain. To start it off, on Saturday, my choir, the Coral Ciudad de Zamora, sang at a wedding in Toro. I haven't mentioned Toro on this blog before, but that's my bad. It's Zamora province's second capital and about as packed with thrilling history as Zamora. We carpooled to get there, and the lady I rode with, who sings tenor (although she would like to sing bass), parked next to the castle. This is not something you can do at all in the United States, but isn't worth batting an eye in Toro.

The wedding took place in the Church of San Julián de los Caballeros, a sixteenth-century Gothic structure on the site of a much more ancient sanctuary. Gothic letters on the facade proclaim, "Here the Christian faith was publicly practiced in the time of the 'saracens.'" Alfonso III gave the "repopulation" order for Toro in 910, so this is a reference to worship taking place here in the ninth century and earlier. Such antiquity shouldn't surprise in Toro, which was probably established before 220 BCE.

Gothic pulpit 
We had the chance to look around in the church, change into choir robes in the sacristy, and warm up before any guests arrived.

Hardly anybody came into the church before the ceremony started. A fellow soprano said they were waiting around outside to catch a glimpse of the bride. No way! Rather than follow the rules, the Spanish don't mind spoiling the surprise.

An alto's husband took this photo of us during warmups. 
The groom was handsome, the bride elegant. The choir didn’t make any obvious flubs, and word from the family is that our contribution was thoroughly appreciated. Although there didn't seem to be a videographer, as I've seen at most American weddings, two photographers pestered the bride and groom and ignored us completely. Choirs at weddings in Spain must be so normal as to not need a photographic reminder.

Main altar 
There was mass while the bride and groom were seated. They exchanged vows, rings, and arras, coins symbolic of dowry and bride price, though they said they were symbolic of the fortunes the bride and groom would enjoy together.

The groom's brother carried a cardboard sign nicely lettered with "Don't worry, ladies, I'm still single!" Well, that's a relief!

The groom’s new aunt read a text of blessing as a surprise, and a nervous friend sang a short song, sitting in the pews. It wasn't the performance of the year, as the choir commented afterward, but I was moved by her sentiment.

A meet-and-greet instead of a recessional 
Though we sang an upbeat song by Monsignor Marco Frisina as a recessional, the wedding party didn't leave the church at the end. All the invited friends and family went up to them near the altar to congratulate them. Outside, there were three baskets with different things to throw at the couple when they did come out: rice, rose petals, and confetti cannons.

This is the first wedding I've been to since I became widowed. I almost broke down in tears during the exchange of rings, thinking widow thoughts that would be a real downer to anyone who's been spared losing the love of their life. And then, looking at the happy couple being pelted with the modern remnants of fertility symbols, I couldn't help but feel optimistic. The day was emotionally exhausting because of these ups and downs. Grief always comes back around with the same intensity, but at least I find that now, nearly three years in, I recover from such triggers quickly, with a little rest.

Singing at a wedding on Saturday would've been enough to distinguish this weekend from any other in my life, but Zamora can be relentless. It provided another unique event to transport me to yet another world.

The highway is blocked to car traffic on the morning of Pentecost Monday every year. 
June in Spain is synonymous with weddings, but also with romerías. The translation is "pilgrimages," but yet again, something is lost in that transfer. A romería, unlike what we usually think of as a pilgrimage, is a local affair, something that can be undertaken in a single day by an entire community. It turns out looking like a mass migration to the countryside for the day. The most famous is the romería from Sevilla to El Rocío, but I've seen national news reports on many others all over the country. 

Guess what? Zamora's romería claims to be the oldest continually performed such ritual. The media claims this is the 729th year! In about the year 1290, it's said young King Sancho IV (Alfonso X's son) was out hunting in the area of present-day La Hiniesta when the Virgin Mary appeared to him in a broom shrub (hiniesta). He had the church that is now the center of town built to commemorate that auspicious moment. And people have been making the pilgrimage out here from Zamora on Pentecost ever since. 

Someone who goes on romería is a romero,
so sprigs of romero (rosemary) are required. 
Last year, the romería came up without enough warning for me to consider doing it. Besides, walking seven kilometers there and seven more back by myself in a crowd didn't appeal when I was finishing up my first school year and preparing for an epic journey with my wonderful mother.

This year June 10, a Monday, was a holiday in Zamora and nowhere else. Chatting with my roommate, Fernando, the romería to La Hiniesta came up casually with enough time beforehand for him to consider that since I love Zamora and haven't done it before, perhaps he could do me the extraordinary favor of guiding me through the experience.

The Cross of Don Sancho, one of the important stops along the way 
I needed a local guide because these things are hard to pin down, even if they've published schedules and itineraries. I wouldn't have known what time to be at the church from which the Patroness of Zamora, the Virgen de la Concha (Our Lady of the Shell), makes her grand exit. I also wouldn't have had the motivation to get up so early.

We showed up at San Antolín at 8:30 a.m. Only bakers and romeros (pilgrimage-goers) are up at that hour in Spain. Everyone else I'd talked to about it had said they were going to be away from Zamora on Monday, so I had the impression of a deserted city. That impression was the first thing corrected.

The Virgen de la Concha came out of San Antolín punctually to a march played by flute and tambor, a harsh type of oboe, and bagpipes. These musical groups spread out over the course of the route, but were most impressive when they were all together. The Virgen has been the Patroness of Zamora since 1100, but the current iconographically unique dressing image is from the eighteenth century. She stands proudly with a flag, and her Child stands next to her, united by a silver chain. The shell that gives her her name is also silver and tied around her waist over whatever elaborate robes she's dressed with. Because she's a dressing image, under the robes, she's a skeletal framework, making her relatively light, which must be a blessing on her romería day. Seven kilometers (4.35 miles) to La Hiniesta, a trip around the large church there, and seven kilometers back on the same day would test anyone's devotion.

As she made her way down the sloped street to exit what was once the Fair Gate in the city wall, people in balconies threw confetti. This wasn't just any confetti. It had been cut with care from multicolored paper after being printed with all the Virgen's honorifics: Crowned Queen of Zamora, Crowned Patron of Zamora, Virgin of the Pilgrim's Way!, Mother-of-Pearl Shell, and Crowned Shell were the ones Fernando caught for me.

The idea is not to simply leave the temple and arrive at La Hiniesta in a timely manner. Several diversions, planned and improvised, kept boredom at bay throughout the trip. Among the spontaneous events, some people waited by the side of the road for the procession to pass by, holding flowers. If they held the flowers up while the Virgen approached, the float stopped and allowed the people to make votive offerings of the flowers. One of the brotherhood members would take the flowers and arrange them on the float as he saw fit.

The first programmed stop was just outside the Fair Gate. The Virgen entered the Church of San Lázaro, prayers were said and reverences made, and she made a triumphal exit accompanied by music.

Fernando said when he used to do the romería as a kid, only "four cats" would show up. That's the Spanish way of exaggerating to say "nobody." Monday, the street near San Antolín was crammed with people, more people watched from their balconies, and more and more people joined the parade as it wended out of Zamora. It was truly a community affair. I saw people from my choir, a former student played in one of the bands, and Fernando was constantly running into people he knew.

By 9:30, we'd already arrived at the Cross of Don Sancho, a little wooded area where the procession stopped and prayers were said. 

Then a couple of the brotherhood members ceremoniously unchained Christ from his mother and cradled him reverently for the faithful to come and kiss his feet. Given that I'm not Catholic and Fernando is lapsed (apostate, he says), we only watched. At this point, though we didn't realize it, Christ was taken ahead by car.

We passed the sign that indicated we were leaving Zamora and broke out into open country. I admit to getting a thrill for doing that on foot. I've only ever seen those signs from cars before. Sadly, the landscape looks almost as dry as it did when I first arrived in 2017. Last year, it must've looked much greener after a lot of refreshing spring rain we didn't get this year.

We were able to keep up a brisk pace, and the day was clear but not hot. The highway was closed to automobile traffic, which made for a lot of peace of mind. Red poppies lined the highway.

The fork leading to the route back if you stay with the procession all day 
We came up on the refreshments stop less than fifteen minutes after leaving the Cross of Don Sancho. The free "lemonade" was an insipid red liquid I chose not to do more than taste because restrooms were clearly going to be scarce. Fernando had brought roasted peanuts, and we walked and shelled them, shooting the breeze under the protection of hats.

We entered industrial farmland, and considerate farmers had laid down carpets of rose petals and rosemary to attenuate the "fresh" smell of animals.

At 10:30, we came across an informal stop. "What are they giving out there?" asked Fernando. We looked closer, and it was the car with Christ. They'd stopped to allow for more foot kissing and claimed that donations were welcome. For the brotherhood, of course. I thought it was highly amusing.

Only a little farther on, large groups of people were sitting by the side of the road, eating sandwiches and other second-breakfast items they'd brought. They likely knew exactly how little room there was to do this kind of thing in La Hiniesta.

When we arrived ahead of the procession at the entrance to the village at about 11, we found a place set up with barriers where the action would clearly take place. I said I needed to get a look at the church before it was overrun with pilgrims. We hotfooted it to the center of town and made it just in time to see the Brotherhood of La Hiniesta leaving to meet the Virgen de la Concha at her arrival.

The church, one of the few pieces of Gothic architecture in Zamora province, is spectacular. The grand doorway has the ball decorations no one can tell by sight alone whether they are Romanesque or Isabelline Gothic. In this case, history shows us they are Isabelline. The interior is a single nave with impressive Baroque pieces and three fine Gothic statues. We read that there were Gothic paintings, but didn't find them. They may have been behind the main altar.

The main event is the facade. It's packed with masterful Gothic sculpture you simply don't expect in Zamora, highlighted by colorful paint.

Being Gothic, the scenes are all strictly religious, illustrating the life of Christ. But I could've stared at the sinuous, expressive forms for much longer than the three minutes we spared before running back to meet the procession. Looking at the photos, I dare say this Gothic style is influenced by the Romanesque symmetry all around the province.

Horses weren't allowed to participate in the ceremonies this year,
but they came to watch. 
Back at the entrance, we got a pretty good spot to watch the arrival of the Virgen. The brotherhood members intoned a song. A couple of children doing their first communion read poems including the phrase "I will never forget this day." The mayors of Zamora and La Hiniesta traded the canes that are the symbol of their responsibilities. They trade them back after the mass, before the procession heads back to Zamora.

What everyone wanted to see was this, the dance of the brotherhoods' flags.

Then we processed again, to the church!

Ringing the bells 
The Virgen made a circuit of the whole church, accompanied by the bands and the bellringers, before making a triumphal entry. Not nearly all the pilgrims would fit into the church for the solemn mass, and it seemed as though most didn't try.

Fernando said in the old days, plenty of the town's bars were open to provide restrooms and refreshments to the pilgrims. This time, only an outdoor events place was open--right on the side of the church. They were doing excellent business. Something must've happened over the years to make the local bars give up, because absolutely nothing was open. If not for the thousands of pilgrims, La Hiniesta would've been a ghost town.

One of my devious roommate's ideas for not having to walk back to Zamora was to limp, moaning, into the Red Cross tent, and keep up the act until they take you home in an ambulance. There was no way I was doing that, but the Red Cross had port-a-potties, for which I will be eternally grateful. At about 1 p.m., after an incredible morning, and having our photo taken by someone else Fernando knew, we were confronted with this:

Four kilometers back to Zamora, plus the kilometers from the city limit to our house. On foot. Although the day was fine for walking, the return was tiresome because the highway was now open to traffic and, importantly, it was getting close to time for the midday meal.

We started toward Zamora, and Fernando tried what had always worked before: hitchhiking. "Nobody really hitchhikes anymore, do they?" he said after seven or eight attempts, echoing something I'd said earlier. Then we saw someone carrying an oboe wave down what was obviously a prearranged ride.

"He has a ride," I said, and we ran up the road a way. After they'd turned around, Fernando's trusty thumb finally worked.

Riding with one of the musicians afforded us a conversation about how much the romería has changed and a comment about the way the mayors exchange canes. "Just think, the Mayor of La Hiniesta could make a decree during those few hours and Zamorans would have to live by it!"

And we made it home in time for the midday meal after a nice shower. It was hard to believe the rest of the world, and even the rest of Spain, had been going about normal business on this extraordinary day, the day of the romería to La Hiniesta.