Panaji Takes Over the Streets: A different Sunday

I always wrote here how I love Sundays. And how I love tasting them in a different way. Either a Macau market, or a Melbourne park, Sunday is just a different day. How different? Well, today I woke up with the street noise at 9am. Normally the honks would’ve accomplished in making me open my right eye, but today what startled me was the absence of honking and car noise. What woke me up was the excitement in people’s voices, someone drumming in the distance and a girl singing right underneath my window. I look outside and what I see is not the same bustling road of yesterday. A colorful moving pattern floods it… People everywhere, of all ages claiming the street to themselves. It’s Sunday, no one works, so… why not? “Hey Mrs. let that little girl within come out and play! Hey Grandpa, put on your colorful shirt, yes the crazy hawaiian or Aztec one and grab your racket!” And that’s how I spent my Sunday morning, playing football with the kids, observing a lively cricket match and watching a street theatre play…


A trip to Animatronic Jesusland

Of course I knew that when it comes to religion, the Christian faith is a major player in Argentina. But I was not ready for Tierra Santa, a regular religious Disneyland. The place is just one big stage for some of the most absurd scenes I have ever seen performed in front of me. A surprisingly flexible interpretation onto the greatest story ever told.

“Walk around Jerusalem in Buenos Aires.” During my research of things to do in Buenos Aires, I come across this simple, but startling phrase. It describes a religious theme park in the Argentinian capital, right by the harbor. I am puzzled, trying to picture a biblical amusement park. Do they have an Adam & Eve tunnel of love? Will they invite me to take a ride on the Golgotha roller coaster? With these bizarre thoughts lingering around, I decide to give it shot.

ImageNothing could have prepared me for what is waiting just around the corner from “Puerto Madero.” No, there are no roller coasters or ferris wheels. Instead, what is waiting for me is a Roman soldier, standing proudly with his gladius sword in his hand. Over my head, two angels are guarding the imposing Tierra Santa gates, blessing my entry. I cannot help imagining the angel’s clarions playing as I enter the Holy Land. Inside, I have to rub my eyes. Am I still in Buenos Aires? Palm trees and a sandy beige tone wherever I look.

In this surreal atmosphere I walk on until I reach an intersection. Should I go left to Bethlehem? Or maybe I should go right and witness the Nativity. I like to do things in order, so I start at the beginning, with the birth. The sign is pointing to a dark tunnel. After all, Jesus was born in a cave. Or was it in a barn?? Oh well, anyway, what I didn’t know is that Moses, Adam and Eve, Abel and Chaim, basically all the Old Testament stars and starlets, were there as well. They are definitely here now, stucco statues pointing the way in the eerie light. At the end of the tunnel, I see a lot of tourists getting ready to see a show. I’m told by a member of the tribe of Judah that I’m about to witness a reenactment of Jesus’ birth. I sit down in the back, stretching my legs after the walk, curious as a cat.

As I hear the first notes of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, I realize to my surprise that the reenactment involves no actors. It is all stucco statues once again, but this time they come to life. The three kings, Jesus and Mary, even the donkey, they all move in a robotic, articulated way. Jesus was born within five minutes, it seems. At least that is how long the show lasts. On my way out, the Judah man tells me he is a Boca Juniors fan, and that I should not miss the Resurrection later that afternoon: “We have Resurrections every hour.” I think to myself: “Jesus was just born – does he have to resurrect already?”

ImageI shrug and head to Bethlehem. On the main square, a few belly dancers are rehearsing for their show. Belly dancers in Jerusalem? Oh well, I’m honestly here to take it all in. Tabula Rasa, as a wise man once said. On the other side of the square, on the steps of a big plaster temple, Jesus is being whipped vigorously by a Roman legionnaire. I can’t stop looking at this statue tied to the column with its hyper-realistic expression of pain. I’m so absorbed that I almost trip over a drunk man and his bottle, right there on Bethlehem’s main square. I decide to wait for the Resurrection. Why not? At least I can kill time by observing the Last Supper, an imposing and powerful display of sound and lights, with statues gravitating like moons around planet Jesus. I am also surprised to encounter Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II and… Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi who, as far as I know, was everything but Catholic. But I guess it must be part of this whole new ecumenical image of the new Catholic church, a message of peace, of the healthy fraternizing of all religions.  The message is one of peace… it doesn’t matter where it comes from.  I like it – well done!

ImageA huge statue of Jesus also catches my attention. Colossal in scale, his huge hand blessing me makes me feel so small. Like I am David and his hand is Goliath. But then again, we are kind of on the same side.

Moving on to Mount Golgotha. I stand in front of a huge hill, the top of which I see Jesus on the cross – and an Argentinian flag. I am in Argentina after all. All around the Golgotha, the hyper-realism continues. All the statues of Christ are of an astounding agony and torment. People around me seem hypnotized by them. Right next to me, a family is doing the sign of the cross non-stop, visibly impressed by the scenery. A chill, not too big of a chill, but a chill, runs down my spine. I climb down the Golgotha hill and head towards an amphitheater where the Resurrection is taking place.

ImageA crowd is already waiting. And there’s this electrifying tension in the air you feel when a mass of people is collectively waiting for the same thing. After an eternity of minutes, Händel’s Messiah starts blasting out of the loudspeakers. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” The crowd lets an “awwwww” of admiration go when the tip of a giant head starts peeking out of Mount Golgotha. At first the black hair, then the forehead until the whole face is slowly revealed. A huge statue of Christ is steadily popping out, literally resurrecting from its stucco sepulcher. Once again, the angel’s clarions play in my head, as the 14 meter tall statue rises in all its splendor. I can’t help having mixed feelings about all of this. A massive articulated Christ, coming out of Mount Golgotha? So, when Christ resurrected, he was reborn king-size? I wonder what my old Catholic grandmother would think if she saw this? Would she be impressed and amazed? Or would she think it’s sacrilege? Well, people here seem to love it. A true climax is reached. The crowd is cheering and applauding… a robotic Jesus statue.


Leaving the Holy Land I can hardly feel my footsteps. My thoughts take over. What did I just see? Religious folklore at its best, I guess. Something I’m really not used to see, a modern variation of the austere Catholic Church. Oh well, I’m traveling exactly to see this, novelty and human originality in all its nuances and extremes. I have experienced many absurd stories so far, but also several stories of strife, of ecological awareness, of people making a difference. Today I give you another precious episode from the world of the bizarre.