The Power of Perception

I was born and raised in a town with 40,000 inhabitants in the island of Majorca (Spain) called Manacor, more famous these days for being the hometown of tennis super star Rafa Nadal. It was quite a Catholic environment, and even though my family wasn’t very practicing, I still attended the Catholic school of La Salle in my primary education. These days, however, religions and I are not too fond of each other, since I tend to disagree with any beliefs that would condemn groups of other people or differences in lifestyles or points of view.

But I find myself this week of Easter spending time visiting my family near that hometown of my childhood. And I notice how living these days in a metropolis like New York has changed my perceptions on many things, from loving the sense of anonymity only a bigger city can provide, to laughing at what I lazily used to call “walking far away” here (that now seems just around the corner).

On Holy Friday, I ask my mom to drive me to the town to see the religious procession that remembers the crucifixion and death of Jesus. I haven’t seen one of those in many years, and I approach it with more of an anthropological curiosity (to observe people, dresses and behaviors) than one of belief or religious fervor. It’s also my first time seeing one since I’ve become a photographer, with the added exciting challenge of trying to capture some good moments and using nothing else than a smartphone that night.

The most solemn and tragic of all Easter’s processions begins, with the sad music of the local bands and the body language of the penitents marching with stoically slow step. That gloomy energy contrasts with my excitement upon moving around the street taking pictures, reminiscing of old memories of childhood in the town and discovering among the crowd some old known faces I hadn’t seen in years. When I stop a second and turn around looking for my husband Anton (who’s joined me on my trip) I notice some anxiety in his eyes, almost a discomfort. And then it hits me…

Even though he was fully aware of what we were here to see tonight, once he’s seen the endless night march of people under cone-shaped hoods holding crosses and religious memorabilia, his perception of that symbolism kicks in, and suddenly for him (and any other American) the scene doesn’t hold the cultural/religious reverence it has for Spaniards anymore, but rather the horrible reminiscence of the Ku Klux Klan and all the terrible connotation that those views evoke in the collective mindset of America. The suffering of the African-American community at the hands of the Klan, the burning crosses, the hatred.

We move to another area where my mom is waiting for us, on a narrower street. Not many bystanders watching the march there. So you are almost on top of the penitents. By the end of the night, Anton’s perception has switched to a more funny memory, of the scene of the (rather silly) hooded Klan members in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film “Django Unchained”, and he laughs when seeing that -like in the movie- some of these adults and kids here are wearing the hoods so badly that they can barely see, or there are some with their nose coming from one of the holes for the eyes. So Anton ends the night laughing to himself.

Meanwhile, I take the chance to wonder about the powers of symbolism and perception. How one may look at snakes and see the symbol for pharmacy, while others in Spain may be reminded of the anagram for terrorist group ETA. Or the swastika, that has lost most of its positive meaning on Hinduism or Buddhism and instead is associated inevitably with the horrors of Nazism. As they say, I suppose the way you see life truly depends on the color of the glasses you look at it with. And perhaps the best moral is to use the chance to enrich our perception, to realize that not everything is always exactly as we know it or think of it.