01 September 2012

The Rosa Bowl

Like many Americans, I consider college football kick-off weekend a national holiday. Apparently it has become so popular that Peru decided to celebrate as well, and closed everything on Thursday, and some Friday, in honor of the beginning of the best season of the year!!

At least I think that's what I like to think happened... Although it might be more likely that kick-off weekend just happened to coincide with an important Catholic religious holiday here: Dia de Santa Rosa de Lima. (Saint Rose of Lima Day)

Thursday, August 30th, was Dia de Santa Rosa de Lima, the first saint of the Americas, and the patron saint of Lima, so it's a fairly big deal around here. Her liturgical feast was inserted into the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in 1729 for celebration initially on August 30, because August 24, the anniversary day of her death, is the feast of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle and August 30 was the closest date not already occupied by a well-known saint. Pope Paul VI's 1969 reform of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, made August 23 available, the day on which her feast day is now celebrated throughout the world, including Spain, but excluding Peru and some other Latin American countries, where August 30 is a public holiday in her honor. She is the patroness of native Indian people of the Americas; of gardeners; of florists; of the City of Lima; of Peru; of the New World; of Sittard, the Netherlands; of India; of people misunderstood for their piety and of the resolution of family quarrels. Locally she is also the patron saint of the Peruvian Police, so the day after hers was an optional holiday in their honor. 

I'm sure she was a very nice person, but based on what I've read, she was also a little nutso. You can read what Wikipedia has to say about her, but the short version is she was always very "holy" and did nice things for the poor and sick in colonial Lima. She took the name Rose at her confirmation because a servant claimed to have seen her face transform into a rose when she was a baby. She subscribed to intense physical penance and fasting, and when suitors began noticing her beauty, she rubbed hot peppers on her face to try to become less attractive. She eventually became a nun, and a recluse. She died at 31 after supposedly exactly predicting the day of her death. 

According to legend, she threw the key to her chastity belt down a well in downtown Lima, so people write letters to her with their wants and needs and go and throw them down the well. Thus on August 30th, her shrine and the well are utter chaos. Since this is a big deal for Lima and we have several projects about the city in the works, I figured it would be a good idea to go down and take in some of the activity, and boy am I glad I did. Although I've lived in Peru for more than a year, it is easy to live in my own little anglicized (semi-)tidy bubble and miss out on some of the things that help you get a real sense of the country and the culture. 

Traffic was sparse since most businesses were closed, so I waited a bit to find a cab and then overpaid to get downtown. Ah well, c'est la vie! (Oops, there goes my French again.) I asked the driver to drop me in the Plaza de Armas, but a couple blocks away traffic was being diverted for the festivities. I had just missed the big hoorah in the square at the Cathedral it seemed, but fortunately, I hadn't missed all the action. Lots of policemen were wandering about in dress uniform. I followed them backwards like a trail of ants down a side street to the mass of people. Apparently they were in the middle of a procession, but the process-ing was so slow that it was difficult to tell. 

A group of men in robes and capes with stylish rope "necklaces" and all sorts of patches and badges indicating their membership in...?some unknown group?... were carrying a large litter bearing a statue of Santa Rosa piled high with flowers through the crowded streets. Faithful devotees walked slowly backwards in front of the statue, some carrying rosaries or their own emblems of Santa Rosa. Every 50 feet or so, someone would ding a large bell mounted on the front of the litter and the men would stop, lower the conveyance, and a fresh group of similarly dressed men would take their place. Meanwhile a band played religious or festive tunes behind them and a throng of police followed. 

Every 100 feet, the procession stopped for a speech, or some sort of tribute at various locations, marked by colorful floral carpets carefully outlined on the street. Someone with a loudspeaker would laud Santa Rosa and explain what she was the patron of and why they were thankful for her. Some would pray. Each stop was sponsored by a various organization or department, and each had a fancy floral arrangement made. One of the priest guys would pick it up, climb up the litter, cross the statue with the floral arrangement, and then return it to the owner. When the stop was over, they'd walk over the floral carpet, party poppers were popped, the music began again, and on the tediously slow herd would move.

One particularly disturbing stop involved a large floral display with an arch of pink roses and a small statue of Santa Rosa on a table with flowers in front. Well, at least I thought it was a statue...until it moved. I then realized that it was in fact a tiny little girl dressed as the virgin saint, kneeling on the table clutching a rosary and stoically regarding the crowd. 

While waiting for the procession to arrive at the church where the statue was to be delivered, I wandered around the crowd. Very few tourists had managed to mingle over into this portion of the event. Most seemed to be devout Catholics venerating Santa Rosa. Many clutched pink roses to be laid at her shrine later, some wore pins or medallions with the saints image. The benefit of most Peruvian processions and parades I have seen is that they're not great at crowd control, which means as a photographer you have a lot more freedom to walk in the street and move around than you might in other places. If you have a big honkin' camera and aren't dressed like you're trekking Mt. Everest (read TOURIST) then they tend to assume you are involved officially somehow and don't pay much mind, at least in my experience. 

In front of the church two grand floral carpets were surrounded by men in suits, obviously officials of some sort. I wandered around them snapping away and deciding where to stand for the best shots of the coming performance. I took up a position over the shoulder of one of the gentlemen in a suit. While I fiddled with my camera he turned and asked me in Spanish: "How much *garble garble garble.*" Yeah... I didn't understand the second part of his sentence, I just knew he said "How much" and was pointing to my camera. I asked if he wanted to know how much the camera cost. He looked at me confused. 

Oh, you don't speak spanish, he says. 
No, I'm learning, I just didn't understand what you said. 
Ah, I wanted to know what the zoom is.

I show him the 24-105mm lens. 

Ah, that's very nice, he says. Are you French?
Haha. Noo. -I assure him I am not French, but I do speak French.
Yes I thought so! I can hear your accent. Where are you from? 
The U.S., I tell him.
That's an excellent camera. You should be careful with it around here downtown. There is a lot of crime. 
Thank you, I know. I live here.
Oh really!

We pause a while, the procession is moving into place and I am waiting for young children to come out and dance the marinera. Conversations in Spanish are stressful to me so I don't generally encourage them. But this older gentleman seems more curious about the tall camera-toting gringa than the somber religious festival taking place.

How did you learn French? He queried.
I was a student in France.  
Oh really? Where? Lyon? Marseille? Toulon?
That's lovely. And what did you study there?
International relations. 
Ah yes! Like diplomacy and policy?
Yes sir. 
And you live in Peru now? Are you studying here as well?
No sir, I'm a photographer. 
Oh! You should come stand here and get a better view. 

- He scoots over to make a front row space for me on the curb next to him. 

I work for the police, he tells me, as he pulls out polarized sunglasses and slips them on. (It's winter and perpetually overcast in Lima right now, so I can only assume he is doing this for dramatic effect.)
For the PNP, he says, gesturing to where the abbreviation for the Policia Nacional del Peru is spelled out in the floral carpet that they sponsored. 
Oh that's nice, I say, smiling politely. 
We all do! He says, gesturing at the ring of men surrounding the floral carpets. All of the men in suits, he says. 
Again I smile and nod, not really sure why he is telling me this.
See? - He holds up the official I.D. badge. Apparently I hadn't acted impressed enough by his high ranking position with the PNP and he thought maybe it was because I needed more proof? 
Ah, yes. -I ooo and aaah a little over the badge and he smiles proudly.- So if I stand over here, I'm really secure, right? I ask teasingly. 
Oh yes!! He chuckles. 

He keeps up the questioning a while longer, asking what I think of Peru and, of course, what I think of their food. Peru is an up-and-comer in the culinary world and apparently every Peruvian has gotten than memo, because it is invariably the second question I am asked by random people I meet. At least I can honestly tell them that I love their food! 

Do you have a Hotmail? He asks. 

This question catches me off guard. Hotmail is still very popular down here, but out of context and with the accent I almost don't know what he's talking about. I nod. 

Ok! Then I will give you my email, he says.

I dig in my bag and pull out a business card. They are in English but I have 200 of them, and not many opportunities to pass them out, so I try to give them out when I can. They'll only be valid another 5 months, so I have to hurry! 

Ooo! He says, when I pull out a card, impressed that I have something so professional, I think. He pulls a receipt out of his wallet and scawls his name and email on the back and trades me for my card. The children are about to dance, and the conversation stops, but my new friend watches out for me, making sure I have a clear shot and barking at priests who get in the way of my camera angle. I later notice that the very safety cautious police staffer has given me his full name and email on an ATM receipt. Hmm.

Things dissipated from there. Some people followed the statue into the church. I thanked my new friend and walked down the street to Santa Rosa's hermitage where the well is. I was planning on taking some photos of people throwing their letters in the well, but it was not to be. The line to enter either the church or the hermitage stretched out of the church grounds, around the corner, down a city block and disappeared into the masses. People in the line were literally jogging to keep up with the flow into the shrine to drop off their letters. Daylight was beginning to fade and being downtown alone with all my camera gear after dark isn't high on my list of smart things to do. So instead I wandered around in the street, watching people buy cards and pens from vendors to write their wishes to Santa Rosa on them. Nuns mingled with the crowds as cotton candy and chocolate treats were sold alongside "sacred" Santa Rosa figurines and recuerdos (souvenirs) of the shrine. 

With a full memory card in my camera I wandered back through downtown to grab a cab. I got in to head home, "You're French?" The cabbie asked. *Sigh.* Guess too much time away from Peru this summer let my inner Frenchy-ness take over again.  Might as well start brushing up on my fran├žais and just tell them "oui!" 

I hope you had a lovely kick-off weekend and that your teams pulled off a nice win. As always...



  1. Great pictures, Lynds. You really have me wishing that I was with you for this little adventure. I miss you!

  2. Your photos are so beautiful. The festivities in Peru are wayyy more interesting than festivities in Costa Rica, I must say. Much more elaborate.