I am sitting in a Volkswagon truck, the ubiquitous European version of a SUV, wearing my brown-and-white polka dot feria dress. My youngest son rests on my lap. Next to me, is a teenage girl in a feria dress—tall, beautiful, and unaware of her power. Her mother pours a rubujito into a plastic glass. In the front seat, my husband glances askance, wearing a straw hat. And in the driver’s seat, sits our friend, his cheeks flushed, caught in mid-laugh.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and we are traveling to El Pinar.
The religious significance of the festival is a bit of a mystery to me. The Virgen de Regla is moved from her home in the country to a shrine by the beach. People pray and bring flowers. She then returns to her home in the country. All of this processional business involves festive feria gear, carriages and horses decorated with flowers. There is dancing, and of course, celebrating.
We joined the party on Sunday, as the virgin returned to the countryside for another season. We traveled in the VW, stopping along the way to talk, to share a drink, to capture a moment and a laugh.
Once by the pines, my children played soccer in the pine needles, and soared on makeshift swing sets. The gas grill came from a truck, and the air smelled of pork and chicken and salt.
So what? Another story of an American co-opting a traditional holiday, right? Focusing not on the faith, or the story of the virgin, but mentioning the food and the beverages, and the insanity of an entire city getting a free pass on open-container laws.
But that isn’t why I remember that Sunday under the pines, and smile to myself.
It’s because I’m included. People fill my glass, and laugh with me. We kiss cheeks, and tell our stories. We eat foods that remind us of our mothers, and ruffle the hair of the children as they pause for slices of watermelon.
And it would be so easy to not include us, the Americans. But we are there. Sitting in that white VW, drinking a rubujito while holding a child on our lap. Wearing a borrowed straw hat, and calling out buenas dias to our friends. The donkeys wear their flowers and bells, and we follow a statue representing hope and love.
We travel, seeking what is already there, with these people, at this moment.
Holy Volkswagon, full of grace.