Awoken By Explosions In Granada, Nicaragua
From the Knife Tricks Travel Journals:
Thursday, October 25, 2004
Explosions woke me up. Boom cracka boom! The church bells rang and rang.
“Is the revolution starting?” I thought. A sleepy lakeside town seemed an unlikely place to commence a coupe or uprising, but so were Wittenberg and Gdansk.
The din started at 6 a.m. and continued for more than half an hour. Boom. Pop. Pa-bump.
It didn’t sound like gun shots. No rat-tat-tat in quick order, like the movies taught. Each explosion was self-contained and separate.
I lay in bed waiting to hear sirens or alarums or other indicia of civil disorder. I waited to hear crowds shouting or yelling or at least jostling for position as they pulled their burros and wagons out of the city. But – apart from the sound of bombing – everything felt normal.
I fumbled through a shower, loath to admit by my actions that something might be wrong – and walked out of the Hotel Alhambra onto the Parque Central.
Business as usual. Vendors were setting up stalls. Men were sitting in groups. School children in their white tops and dark blue pants and skirts walked along. And explosions every few seconds, eliciting no response from the populace.
“Pourquoi boom boom?” I asked, sleepily using the wrong language but happily falling into an approximation of the correct Spanish sounds.
“Festividad religiosa,” an elderly construction worker, restoring the façade of the hotel, responded.
And so it was.
Across the parque, a crowd of faithful was congregating outside the doors of the cathedral. A statue of Saint Joseph was being prepared for a procession. Children held flowers.
“What holy day?” I asked the man.
“Festividad religiosa,” he repeated. That was all the information he wanted to impart.
I tried to place the day within the Roman Catholic calendar. It was the final week of October, so it was Ordinary Time (which means numbered time, from the word “ordinal”). All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) was the following week, followed by All Saints’ Day nee All Hallows (November 1st). No, there was nothing significant about October 25th in the overall Catholic calendar.
Was it a saint’s feast day? Every day of the year is some saint’s feast day. In the High Middle Ages, the Church tried to take advantage of this fact by declaring that no war or violence could occur on a holy day – which was almost every day. The initiative was as successful as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the 1928 treaty in which Germany, Italy and Japan (among others) renounced war.
The Hotel Alhambra housed a great internet café. The internet part was typical -- older computers with Jessica Alba screensavers running slow dial-up connections. But the café part excelled, with teenage attendants bringing whatever food or drink you wanted. Rice and beans with a coffee cost less than one dollar.
Online, I learned that October 25th was the feast day for at least 15 saints, some with interesting names or stories. Saint Fronto lived in the first century and was a convert from Judaism, baptized by Saint Peter himself. Saints Crispin and Crispinian are the patron saints of shoemakers, cobblers and leatherworkers. Saint Hilary was a man, not a woman. Saint Fructus was the brother of Saint Engratia and Saint Valentine (who, in turn, was not that Saint Valentine). Nobody remembered what Saint Lupus did. None of the listed saints seemed to have an obvious connection to a small colonial town on the shore of Lake Nicaragua.
October 25th had important political significance for a different “Granada.” On October 25, 1983, troops from the United States and six Caribbean nations invaded the island of Grenada – note the spelling – to oppose a coup attempt by Marxist deputy prime minister Winston Coard who had, several days earlier, seized power and executed the Prime Minister. While Operation Urgent Fury had been a success and October 25th was now Thanksgiving Day in Grenada, I doubted that the residents of Granada were celebrating the same event.
I asked the teenage girl working the cash register at the internet café what the firecrackers were for.
“Festividad religiosa,” she said.
There was only one way to get to the bottom of this. I paid for my food and internet time and walked across the Parque Central to the cathedral. Locals, almost all women and children, were milling about. A washer woman was sweeping steps. I looked around until I saw a woman in a nun’s habit.
In my weak Spanish, I asked her what holy day it was.
“Festividad religiosa,” she said.