Many people back home ask me how I spend my Easter Sunday and I always tell them the same: In a car, on a highway and with a handful of swear words on hand and a head full of ways I would like to commit violent acts.
It’s a reasonable enquiry considering Spain has a big reputation for being such a deeply religious country, with KKK-like brotherhoods parading about scores of towns and cities toting floats depicting anguished images from the passion of Christ. But that occurs days before when everyone commiserates with the suffering of the Savior on the eve of his crucifixion. The part about his coming back to life, the happy-ending resurrection, that triumphant “Hey, he really is the Son of God after all”, is overshadowed by the fear of running into one of the worst traveling days of the calendar. It’s a kind of Sunday after Thanksgiving to the tenth power.
There was a couple of years there when I took time away from this activity and stayed in Madrid, time off to recover from repeated ordeals. But I finally returned to one of Spain’s greatest traditions: Operación Retorno. The photo actually shows traffic heading in the opposite the direction, towards the feared Alicante, but the sense of helplessness it conveys is virtually the same on the way back.
There is really nothing complicated about experiencing this great custom. Just spend a weekend about 500 kilometers away, pack your car, get behind the wheel, and head for the nearest highway that takes you back to Madrid. Then you look for the first traffic jam you can find, pull up at the end of the line and participate.
In the past, returning from a coastal place like Alicante meant the backup usually started a few yards from where my car was parked, some 350 miles from Madrid. It could go on for days. But this time I was regressing from the north, and that made things slightly more tolerable. The electronic panels spanning the road informed the traveler of any impending doom, and on this occasion indicated that we could expect “slow traffic”, which I took as a good sign since it suggested we would be home in two hours instead of the usual four or five it might normally take. The traffic adopted the classic worm effect, crunching and stretching out throughout the countryside of Madrid. Every kilometer we advance counted as victory toward a common goal: reaching Fort Living Room before insanity set in.
To say you returned to Madrid on Easter Sunday without considering homicide is a true indicator of just how involved you are in life here. It’s a necessary part of your training in Spanish culture. It’s like mastering the subjunctive mode in Spanish, or watching from beginning to the final credits of the Eurovision song contest. No one wants to go through with it, and yet everyone should.