Seasonal Scents

Processional Carpet (photo César Tián)

Processional Carpet (photo César Tián)

Breathe deep and enjoy some of the rich scents of this Lenten season! Enjoy the odors of Holy Week, with two pungent yet pleasant smells standing out in your memory. Use all your senses at the processions. See the colors of the carpets and vestments, hear the funereal bands and shuffle of feet, taste the incense smoke in the mouth, feel the press of the crowds (just watch out for the press of a pickpocket against you, please). And don’t forget to smell the roses, quite literally as thousands of rose petals will decorate those elegant alfombras, the intricate carpets made along procession routes.

Carpets can include citrus peels, chrysanthemum blossoms, spicy carnations, sweet hyacinth, each scent distinct yet blended pleasantly.

Great bundles of pine needles give base to many alfombras as they give off the smell of nearby forests. Sawdust, collected all year from local mills and furniture factories and dyed to give intricate detail on many alfombras, adds its own earthy odor.

The two standout smells that you’ll always identify with this season? One is the intense, sweet odor of a sticky golden fiber from inside the pods of several different types of palm trees. The pods themselves, several feet long and carried up from the coast, then split open in the shape of boats, are often used on carpets. The fibers scooped out from inside form crosses for doorway decorations. They are woven together with statice flowers to form gold-and-purple symbols of the coming Crucifixion, blessed and sold at the doorway of churches on Palm Sunday. Palm fibers are also used as borders and edges along many of the alfombras. You’ll never forget their distinct odor once you experience it.

Neither will you forget the pom incense, the crystallized tree sap burned to smudge and bless the procession routes. Some of the incense-bearers get particularly enthusiastic in swinging their braziers with smoldering pom, and the streets get thick with smoke. Sometimes the pom catches fire, the flames coming out of the silver container until the cucurucho swinging it snuffs out the fire. The incense is the other odor of your memories of Holy Week.

Yes, there are some less-pleasant odors too. The Roman soldiers, or rather their horses, add some farmyard piles on the cobbled streets as they ride before dawn on Good Friday to announce the Crucifixion. Cleanup crews with Bobcats and dump trucks sweeping up after the processions add unpleasant diesel smoke, though Antigua city government is converting most of their vehicles to a bio-fuel that’s much more pleasant, with their trucks smelling like burgers and fries.

Carry home lots of photos and videos of these holy celebrations. And carry home memories of the pungent scents, too. You’ll never forget the experience.

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