Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Pope

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part
Valencia, Spain

The Pope is behind schedule. He was supposed to drive by us in the Pope Mobile at noon, and it´s after 1:00. There are probably 10,000 people here in Plaza de Reina, and a million more distributed along his route. The plaza features tons of police, camera crews, and a large video screen to track his progress, but that screen is 3/4 hidden by a tree. It is stinking hot and shade is at a premium.

Spain is 98% Catholic, so you can imagine that this is a popular event. His timing is good for Valencia, as 41 people died here on Monday after a terrible metro crash. When we hear rumblings in the crowd that Benny has stopped to pay tribute to the families of the victims, we cut him some slack. This does not in any way alleviate our discomfort, however. Squished like sardines along a metal barricade, my friends and I quickly realize that the personal space bubble we so enjoy back home is not available in Spain. We each have a sweaty person pressing his body against us and stepping on our shoes. We thrust elbows back and butt out, which encourages them even more.


I relent and squeeze out to seek shade, and I end up near a pack of seniors. They do their best to find comfort in the heat, with the women fanning themselves non-stop (I position myself directly behind), and the men hoisting their legs over railings to sit the heck down. Their families show up, and the little kids try to weasel their way past abuelo and abuela to get a better view, and they get a stern lecture about how seniors will *always* take precendence over little kids, no matter how cute they are.


Every so often a bus tour of youth group kids from somewhere in Spain will bounce by, all with an inventory of cheers for the Pope. The girls groups are completely together and perform them like an A-school cheerleading squad. The boys get their motivation from the many television cameras scattered throughout the plaza. A brass band hanging out in the shade picks up on one of the cheers and plays along, and the boys believe they've already gone to heaven.

Finally we hear clapping thundering up the street, and since sweat is now dripping down all of our bodies we pray to please deliver the Pope unto us. Since I've now lost my spot against the barricade, I crane to see what I can from senior station. It's not much, and since I'm now dehydrated and shaky, I see exactly the back of the Pope Mobile. We watch him go down the street, get out of the car and wave to people, then go inside the Archbishop's palace for a meeting. And then it's over.

Of course, that evening far fewer people line the street to watch him drive by again. The street that my hotel is on. Where we have balconies. We all feel like idiots for having waited for hours in the sun earlier in the day, but we chalk it up to experience. Benedict and his security crew sail down the street, and we have all the photo opps we can hope for. He gives a mass the next day for a crowd of over a million (I'm guessing, but based on the number of port-a-potties here I think that's safe), who I hope get some spiritual comfort from their number one guy.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: *
Scene: ****
Performer/Audience Rapport: **
Audience Focus: ****

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