Thursday, 14 February 2013

Christmas in Copacabana

As predicted. A loving San Valentine’s Day, (In the US, more cards will be purchased and sent today, than at or on any other occasion) and a belated report on Christmas in Bolivia.

Ever wondered what happens to old European lorries? No,
neither had I. However, part of the answer lies in Latin America, and in particular Bolivia. A place of reincarnation, where they take pride in displaying the original plate, the previous owner’s business name, telex number and style of operation. Iberian, Low Countries, Scandinavian, ex-camions predominate. It’s a game to try to spot that tell tale euro-blue square to the left of the plate, or the script on the head board. Hanzen+ zons Bv., Pers Jurgensen, Akerieri; Island; Narvik, Norge, then to try to decipher where they originated. These lorries have already served a lifetime on the motorway, autopistas and autobahns of Europe; now they’re expected to resurrect, to operate in the world’s highest country. Climbing, and more problematically, descending the long Andean hills. They require the continual assistance of the resuscitationists; the talleria, the llanteria, the frenoseria, and the priest. Magicians in workshops, with tyres and brakes and when these fail, the Church and Faith.

If your vehicle is new, or just new to you, it requires the final arbiter and a place in the long, festive queue outside the Cathedral del Candelaria, Copacabana, Lago Sagrado. There for the Bendiciones de Movilades, the blessing of the automobiles.

It would appear that much of our serendipitous Bolivian experiences are connected to the local plaza. We’ve sat and watched so much of local life go about it’s business. This occasion will be no different. We’d already spotted an ex-Northampton unit, parked up and hoped that it might offer up a story. Were not to be disappointed.
The stalls along the cathedral walls are strewn with an association of the ecclesiastical, the votive candle sellers, the rosary bead vendors, the glass cupola virgins. The paraphernalia for auto benediction: red gladioli, yellow gladioli, green ferns, reed boats, glitz and sequined toppers, fizzy plonk, fire crackers, coloured confetti, digital photographers. A floral centrepiece of nationalist hue is pinned to the grille, below the open bonnet. The arrangement a representation of the Aymaran processional mask. The floral red mouth, the reed boat chin, the tentacle green horned fronds, with the pale yellow bunches of gladioli, angel wings, tied to the wing mirrors. An amalgam of Christian and pre-Columbian faiths. Set down in front of the vehicle, is mammon, a wish list for a prosperous new year. A new car. This element has more to do with another Bolivian festival: ‘Alasitas’, a prayer that the real thing will appear later in the year. Only it’s Christmas and you’ve paid the clergy, so you might as well cover all your bets.

The priest emerges from the
Cathedral, brown cassocked and baseball capped, with blue toilet brush and holy water bucket. He approaches the green GB plated lorry and the loo brush flicks the sanctified water over the engine, into the cab, onto the wheels, over the simulated cargo of bagged puffed corn, and finally over the hands of the owner and his family. A solemn benediction, then he moves on to the next minibus, whilst the lorry’s guardians complete the less than reverent ritual of spraying the wheels and the tyres with bubbly cider, to bless, celebrate and glue the red and white confetti over the bonnet, the windscreen and the fifth-wheel. Now the photographers step in, to immortalise the event. They even carry a printer over their shoulders, to produce an instant image for immediate sale, as a rattle of fire crackers reverberates around the surrounding hills, and a reek of cordite drifts through the unflinching, Budda-esque, crafting local woman, crocheting finger puppets and woollen llamas.

An event that is a blaze of colour  and pagent, another mix of faiths, an assimilation that the church aquiessed to, helping to spread their faith. Still, I can't quite see a minister for the Kirk o' Scotland preforming a similar service for a newly purchased J. Deere combine outside St. Giles. If only because it would hinder the hordes of visitors ascending to the castle.