Pia Labalme is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for our Campus Reporter program. Pia comes to SYA from The Hotchkiss School (CT). Her most recent blog talks about her experience at Festivities del Pilares. Read more of her work throughout the year here.
The already culture-infused city of Zaragoza comes alive on another level during its Festivities del Pilares—a celebration in honor of the city's patron saint La Virgen Pilar (The Virgin Mary of Pilar). In early October, people come from far and wide to celebrate the weeklong holiday with family, friends and loved ones. With the city's population nearly doubling in size, the streets are filled with vendors selling their products, stands doling out delicious Aragonese treats, and gente (people) from all over the world.
Dressing Up and Dancing
For me, and the rest of our SYA class, it was incredibly special to be able to experience these festivities. However, not only did we experience them, we were a part of them. As current Zaragoza residents we were able to live the holiday in a way that most tourists weren't. We were able to learn its history not through Wikipedia, but through first-hand learning. In a conversation over dinner, my host family explained to me the history of Pilares, and how their relatives celebrated it hundreds of years ago. We were able to not only observe the traditional Aragonese dress, but actually dress up in it too. I remember laughing with my eight-year-old host sister, Emma, as she tried to pull up her medias, the frilly white stockings that are a part of the traditional outfit. We were able to attend the Ofrenda de Flores to add a bouquet to the ever-growing shrine. We were able to eat the comida Española, and even use our Spanish skills to learn more about the food. I remember taking Emma out for churros one morning, and spending twenty minutes watching the man make them, asking what ingredients went in and how long they took to make. Many of us were able also to participate in the other activities, like the dances and parades and ferias. One of the highlights of my Pilares experiences was walking along Paseo Independencia with friends and stopping to watch a performance of the Jota, a traditional Aragonese style of dance. Very unexpectedly, two friends and I were pulled into the center of the crowd by three dancers who needed partners. Of course, none of us had any idea how to dance the Jota, but we went along with the lively music and enthusiastic cheers of the spectators.
In all, my experience of Pilares was truly incredible and very illuminating. Not only did I learn plenty about the city, but also about myself too. It really helped show me the progress I've made since being here both in terms of comfort with the language and the city. For example, when I was asked by an elderly Spanish couple how to find Calle Don Jaime, and I realized that I could actually give them directions, it was a milestone for me that I'll never forget. I felt clearly, for one of the first times, that I belonged at SYA. I belonged here in Zaragoza.
Truly Living As a Resident of Zaragoza
Though all of the experiences we've gone through in these past two months have been fun, educational, inspiring, challenging, funny and unique, Pilares definitely ranks right up there among the most memorable of them all. No longer did we feel like tourists, we felt like residents. No longer did we have to withstand the crowded main streets, we could weave through the smaller calles around our neighborhoods and avoid the large masses. No longer did we need to risk waiting in line at that one café by school, but could enjoy our daily doses of caffeine at the small spots we've all discovered near home. No longer are we visiting Zaragoza, we are living in it.
I think it's safe to say that all of us here at SYA loved our time during Pilares, and eagerly await more pivotal and spectacular experiences just like this one.