Easter Among the Catholics

Easter has always confused me because it’s not on a precise date. I was raised in the protestant church so I am aware of Palm Sunday and the resurrection, but the whole idea of lent and Wash Wednesday and Mardi Gras evade me. I had to google “lent” to write up this post. I still don’t know when Mardi Gras falls. I think it might be today.

Anyhow, we happened to be in Guadeloupe at around the time of Ash Wednesday. I know this because of the radio. As we toured the islands to explore its wonders, we took to listening to local radio, especially the day-time show of this exuberant woman who would switch from French to Creole on a dime. She hosted a talk show and had asked her listeners to call in and tell us how they “live their lent.” The question seemed completely irrelevant to us two atheists, but the callers’ answers were totally fascinating. Only a few went the way of their parents by abstaining to eat meat. Some women chose not to wear makeup. This one caller explained how she did not wear her favorite jewellery during lent. One man called in and spoke only Creole, so missed his practice of penance. Most answers had to do with flair. Lent was the time of year not to have any.

We arrived in Dominican Republic a few days before “La Semana Santa,” Holy Week. Schools were out and most of the country was closed from the Thursday before Good Friday to Easter Sunday. That meant that the hotel and housing development around our quiet marina suddenly became filled up with Dominican holiday-makers, and the hotel responded in kind. There were painting classes for kids, cocktail hour by the pool and a loud party Saturday night that lasted until 3 AM. They had also arranged services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday so that the guests did not need to forgo their religious practice. In other words, they partied Saturday night, went to service in the morning and then they all mysteriously disappeared. Come Sunday night, the place was deserted once more and the Wifi was no longer saturated!

Yesterday we had a chat with another French sailor who had arrived in the marina Sunday night. “What sort of place is this? There’s a hotel and it’s luxurious, but it looks abandoned… there’s no life…” That’s what we had thought when we first arrived here. It’s only when friends in Santo Domingo explained to us that this sort of development is where rich Dominicans will typically buy a secondary flat or house, and spend all their holidays there, that we understood why the place was so quiet. Easter weekend was indeed proof of their claim.

We do have one unfortunate story related to the Semana Santa. Last week we went to visit an old childhood friend of mine who lives in Santo Domingo. On the ride back, we got pulled over for speeding. Cops were out because so many city-dwellers were driving to their country homes. The cop’s radar read 91 KM/hr, but we were actually going faster so we suspect they were pulling every car over. The lady cop explained how she would give us a ticket for excess speed that we would need to pay in a bank. Then we would need to go to the Justice Department in Santo Domingo on the 19th to clear our record in order to be allowed to leave the country. At the time, our departure date was set for the 15th so we explained that we could not make the court date. She said that we wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country. And so a little back-and-forth ensued until her colleague said that we may be able to pay the ticket right away and avoid the court date. He made a show of calling “his boss” to enquire whether we could just pay it on the spot. We could, and they told us it was 1,500 pesos, roughly 32 EUR.

When I told my friend Rosalie, she was beside herself. “I can’t believe it! They just put that money in their pockets! How dishonest!” Meanwhile, she was also pulled over for speeding that same day, but she managed to talk her way out of getting a ticket.



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