09.08.2013 - 12.08.2013 28 °C
Back again, this time for an excursion out of the city of Barcelona, but not too far. I haven´t managed to collect too many close friends from the Barcelona area since I have been here, as foreigners tend to gravitate toward each other just like the locals do. But one exception to that trend is my friend Edu, who I met playing in a pickup soccer league last fall. He studies at the University of Barcelona, and is from a small town about an hour train ride south of Barcelona called Llorenç del Penedes. Every summer, his town of 2000 throws a massive party to celebrate their corresponding Saint´s Day (each day of the year has an associated Saint, and each person has a saint as well; it amounts to an extra birthday!). It lasts for three and a half full days (the half day would be from Sunday night to Monday morning, during which the party trundles on, thank you very much).
So I got there on Friday afternoon along with another Czech friend and his friend, making us four for the weekend. Soon after arriving at 3 (in fact, I barely had time to put my backpack down), Edu´s parents and sister were putting lunch on the table and ordered us to partake. Food, as you know, is the quickest way to my heart, so I had no colmplaints! In fact, each day that weekend we were treated to some of the food culture of Cataluña. Lunch is the big family meal, so that means two courses and a dessert, with cava (Spain´s version of champagne) and wine throughout. No pictures of the feasts, sorry! As usual I was too busy focusing on the food to take photos. But some of the select dishes included canelons, a large flat pasta rolled around meat and drenched in cheese sauce, and marisco, a stew of all things seafood: prawns, mussels, clams, and hake. I would have signed up just for the food, but the rest of the fiesta was spectacular as well.
As in the fiesta mayor in Barcelona last year,Friday night the town threw a ´Correfoc´ in which a troup of young people parade through the streets with fireworks stuck on the tops of pitchforks, dancing and showering the spectators, alto the hypnotic rhythm of drum corps. There are two 'fire parades', one that takes place in the evening for the younger children to participate, and includes dancing giants and rhythmic stick-thumping dancers, and then one later for the big kids.
Giants and Rhythmic Dancers:
Prepping for the fun:
This year I bought a cotton shirt that doesn´t acquire burn marks as easily, and, better prepared, I entered the fracas of the adult correfoc once or twice. At the end of the parade the dragons come through, with fireworks attached to tail and mouth and wings, lighting up the night with white hot light. The finale of the show lasted all of 17 minutes in the center, with the runners returning time and again to reload their pitchforks.
Edu plays the drums for the big boys:
Dragons spray the night air with sparks:
Me and a more appropriately-dressed friend:
Each night, too, ended with a huge party in one part of the town or another. One interesting thing is that the buildings in the town are much more densely packed than those in a typical US small town. There were no freestanding houses within the center, so the parades and concerts can be seen or heard literally all over town! It would take a parade days to traverse all of the ´major´ roads of Jericho, Vermont!
The following day we woke up late and went to see the Castellers in the center of the town. If you remember from posts about La Mercé from last year, Castellers are the troups of human castle-makers that build human towers up to 10 stories high during the festivals of Catalunya. The ambulance parked auspiciously in the square was a quick reminder of the danger of these stunts, in which large men create a strong base and women, boys and girls form the upper structure, finishing as the tiniest ones, wearing helmets, climb up one side, salute at the top, and slide down the other. At this point, I really started to see the merit of having festivals like this in the small towns: the festival and especially things like castellers form a huge identity and sense of belonging and importance in the town. The age range of castellers must have been around 60 years, from the older men supporting the very outermost supports to the tiny girls charged with scaling to the top. They all take their own job extremely seriously, with the knowledge that one missed step or twitch can take the whole thing down. I really loved this sense of comraderie and town pride. The town even has its own flag!
It should be mentioned, however, that this is really not particularly safe. As is obvious, if one person crumbles, the entire structure falls, and although I have seen a good number of castellers in Barcelona, this weekend was the first time I had seen one fall. In a hemmorage of arms and legs, the structure fell, to the collective gasp of the crowd, and one by one they picked up the pieces. As I was told later, there is actually a technique to falling that is practiced, and people are rarely injured, but it didn't stop one woman in the crowd from confiding in me that she shakes with fear every time castles go up.
The tiny one at the top salutes, signalling the succesful culmination of the structure, with the Catalán flag of independence (a constant theme in the festival) in the background:
Finally a quick trip to the beach allowed for a siesta and a swim and some mental preparation for another night of fun around the town. It was a (slightly) more mellow night Saturday as we were promised that Sunday night would be the biggest of them all. We convened around 10 pm and for 6 € were given a necklace of sorts with a piece of construction paper with six tabs: three for drinks and three for tapas. I watched in amazement as the organizers loaded up a trailer and pickup truck with a generator, big speakers and a computer, and we followed the modern equivalent of the pied piper off into the sunset. Then, at three different houses around the town, we were greeted with tables laden with tapas like skewers of meat and vegetables, or bread with different toppings along with beer and wine aplenty. Again, I was too focused on the food, so I didn´t get any photos of the revelry and you´ll have to use your imagination! Finally at the end of the route, we were led to a clearing at the edge of the town, were a DJ had set up shop and we danced the night away... again!
One interesting thing happened to me with a couple of sisters actually-- two nights in a row I was accosted by one of them solo, who proceeded to tell me every little thing wrong with the United States, in no uncertain terms and without letting me defend myself. It was the first time in Spain that I have had someone openly challenge me about the US. I am sure I have been judged by some people, and maybe some refuse to interact based on that fact, but I can´t know that. Most have been very friendly. But these two were downright combative and I think that there are several reasons. The first is that they really had a hard time balancing the fact that US culture and politics have such overwhelming influence in the world, and yet the general American has such an overwhelming ignorance about that same world. For example, they explained, they spent some time in Ohio, and were stunned when someone asked them if they had electricity in their house in Spain. Their anger is understandable, but certainly not limited to foreigners. Our family once, on a ski trip in the Western US, was asked in which part of Canada Vermont was located. I will absolutely not debate the fact that ignorance is rampant in our country, but I can honestly tell you that every person I know (well, I sincerely hope) is aware that Spain is not a third world country.
Another thing that they could not come to grips with is the fact that many Americans are not ashamed to wear their country on their sleeve and proclaim it as the best country in the world. They were sure that this was the reason for the above mentioned ignorance, and it probably is, but I also argued that it is actually much the same here in Catalonia. You cannot go a day without seeing a Catalán flag, and Cataláns are extremely quick to give you a discourse about why they believe that they deserve the chance to become a country free from Spain. They have their own language, which they press on everyone here, and while they do have cultural differences from Spain I find many of their antics unnecessary. The difference, I argued, is that the world has adopted popular culture from the US, so our culture has much more exposure here, and as such feels threatening to the culture here. People saying how much they love the US makes that threat even more real.
Finally, I called their attention to one more thing. They started and held the entire conversation in English. At the end, I asked them why. I speak Spanish better than they speak English, but they started in English and I respected that. Was it because they would actually prefer to speak any other language besides Spanish, because of their pride in Catalán culture and language? Or was it because they recognize the importance of speaking English in our world and were taking the opportunity to practice? Either way, it speaks to my points above-- that Americans are not so much different from the rest of the world, we just get scrutinized and sometimes stereotyped in ways that are unfair. In the end, I hope, I made them think a bit about their views on the US. Fascinating discussion, though, and I am grateful that at least someone(s) had the energy to challenge me on things that I am sure many people here are thinking.
Sunday promised more of the same: an excellent lunch, followed by a trip to the beach. Then, in the evening we went with some of Edu´s close friends to get pizza for dinner. This turned out to be no easy task, since every single store in his town was closed (I mean everything) so we were forced to make a trip out of it. We picked up the pizza and it was about 11 pm by the time we got to eating it, but I was ravenous and ate the whole pizza. The time and my hunger are important parts of the story, since an hour and a beer later I found out that there was a watermelon eating contest in the central square of the town at 1 am! After seeing how much of his parents´ food I could eat, Edu implored me to enter, and I, of course, couldn´t say no. The rules were: get weighed before the contest, eat like crazy for five minutes, and get weighed again afterward. Doing my best to convince my body that it was still hungry, I set to it. Edu´s Czech friend to my left was eating nonchalantly, as he had confided in my that he was just using the opportunity to try to get the attention of the girl he had his eye on. A petite (and smart) girl to my right was also eating nonchalantly, as she knew that she was the only one entered in the women´s category and therefore was in no rush. But just to her right, a large guy was housing melon almost as fast as they could cut it and I knew I had a serious competitor. Around three minutes I started to feel full and seeing that the juices were still spraying uncontrollably to my right, resigned myself to the slow and steady technique and although I never had to stop eating or felt sick, I know I could have eaten more. In the end, I came in second place, behind said melon-killing animal, having eaten a respectable 3 lbs of melon (he ate 3.75). Plus, the prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd were all the same, so I left the battletable with dignity, a drawstring backpack from the festival, and a dinner for two in the town all as prizes! It was an absolutely fun and zany experience and one that I will remember for a long time. Plus the irony was not lost on me that in the US, I know of hot-dog and twinkie eating contests and have been a part of a pie eating contest, while in spain they opt for the slightly more healthy watermelon. Although I will say I have never visited the bathroom so many times in one night!
Once more, the dancing continued til the morning, and when I started singing ´Here Comes the Sun´ to whoever would listen, I decided that time on this ridiculous weekend was about up. A few hours of sleep was all I could allow myself before dragging our weary selves to the train station for the trip back to real life in Barcelona.
Another highly exciting weekend, and thanks for reading! Until next time!