Penitent processions and the women’s social club

“Mummy, can we follow the procession?” my younger son asks me.

We’re walking down the street of a seaside town in southern Spain. It’s Easter Sunday, Christ has risen and the black mourning robes of the Good Friday penitents have given way to red. There are women with high mantillas and children in their Sunday best. Bedspreads and eiderdowns are hung from balconies and windows and streets adorned with flowers and rosemary to perfume the air. Yet rosemary will always be for remembrance, although today I’m not quite sure what it is I’m remembering.

We proceed slowly along the cobbled streets to the intermittent outbursts of the town’s brass bands. There’s a sense of belonging that binds and draws this town together in the sun-baked south of Andalucia.

Several weeks later and we’re sitting in the park on the hill where my kids go play. We’re all here today, children, mothers, grandmothers and a handful of older women whose grandchildren have grown or didn’t arrive.

We talk about the usual: so-and-so is pregnant, another has given birth and we’re sorry another has died. Now it’s about religion, brought on by talk of the village priests, for nowhere is religion more alive than in the towns and the villages of the countryside.

On the women speak. I’m in a place without time, of communal washing troughs of times past and smallholdings with their dark kitchens and dark secrets where an elderly woman stirs a pot of polenta and another nurses a child. It’s still the women who are holding the family together, the mother-grandmothers who bring up their children and then bring up a second generation because it’s the only way they make it work in a country that’s generally failing its women.

The children continue to play opposite the dead that lie in the tombs of the cemetery across the road. One day all this too will be lost memory, yet in the meantime we’re in the years of the women’s social club and besides, it’s such a sunny day.

Photo: the old communal washing trough, Naviglio Grande, Milan

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