I kept wishing I’d worn the scarf Aunty Barbara bought me for Christmas.
Less than a week ago I’d been stretched out on Playa Jardín, turning intermittently like a chicken on a spit. Now I had my collar turned as high as it would go and my ears hadn’t been this cold since I spent an October night at the Alta Vista Refuge 2,500 metres above sea level.
But that’s La Laguna for you. Even at the height of summer you think twice about coming here without socks and a sweater for insurance. This was 9 pm on Good Friday and even a rollneck sweater and jacket were no match for the cold wind that was coming in from the north and racing down the narrow streets between tall buildings creating mini tornadoes of litter that danced along the cobbles.
There were considerably more people here than I’d expected. Last Easter at the Magna Procession there were no more than a dozen people at any one point along the route. The Silent Procession wasn’t due to start until 9.30pm and already the route was reaching capacity. Like me, most people had opted for the relative shelter of the narrow streets rather than the open space of Plaza del Adelantado where the wind had nothing else to do but seek out the gaps in people’s collars.
I made my way along the route looking for somewhere to squeeze into and settled on an intersection where a group of schoolgirls were gathered, all of them at least 2 foot smaller than me and so no object to visibility. I moved in behind them and waited. Around me people shuffled their feet and re-arranged their scarves, chatting and greeting friends in the usual holiday atmosphere.
Amber lanterns cast a flaxen glow over the seventeenth century buildings and the cobbles, lending the scene a Dickensian aura. Above the end of the street the full moon hung like a Chinese lantern, the last wisps of clouds scudding across its face in their haste to vacate the firmament and abandon it to the cold.
Suddenly the lamps went black and darkness fell like a blow across the street. Everyone stopped talking, as if their voices had been light-activated. In the silence, the bells of La Concepción rang out and heads turned to watch the top of the street.
First came the sound; a soft, rhythmic beat like an army marching in slippers. Then came the torches, swaying in the wind high above the heads of the Brotherhood torch-bearers. The rhythmic beat grew more audible as the group drew closer and I could see that the noise was coming from the way they were walking; each foot brushing the ground before creating an arc and returning to repeat the manoeuvre.
In the torchlight, the tall conical hoods cast two storey high, menacing shadows that crept along the walls of the buildings opposite. The noise changed. The steady beat was replaced by a grating of metal on stone as the shackled ankles of the barefoot Brotherhood dragged their chains behind them.
For forty minutes I stood in that cold street in La Laguna along with hundreds of others while Brotherhood after Brotherhood filed past in the dim torchlight and no-one broke the silence.
With the whole of the old quarter blacked out and barely a Policia to be seen, no-one tried to pick a pocket or steal a car.
When the Procession had passed, the murmur of conversation resumed and shutters and doors were thrown open to allow the warm glow of lights from bars and restaurants to spill onto the street in invitation.
In the absence of Aunty Barbara’s scarf, they didn’t have to ask me twice; a shot of rum was just what I needed to bring the feeling back to my fingers and ears.