After an extensive
trip to the U.S. which included Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas
with friends and family, we returned to Barcelona on Dec. 26-27th,
on a seemingly endless flight from Los Angeles via London.
arrived in Barcelona at about 10:00 PM, and soon discovered that
the holiday season was far from over. When we left Barcelona in
October, we had been driven to the airport by a guy in the marina,
a much less expensive alternative to taking a taxi. "Call any
time," he had said in parting, so we called him when we arrived
back in Barcelona. "Sorry mate," he said over the background
noise of the bar, "I can walk, but I can't drive tonight."
Good thing Barcelona has great public transit. It took us over an
hour lugging some heavy suitcases, but we got safely back to the
marina and fell into bed to recover from jet lag.
Spain, Christmas Day is more of a religious than secular holiday.
Neither Santa, Father Christmas nor St. Nicholas have really taken
hold, though their images are seen. (We heard about a strange Catalan
alternative, a character shaped like a Yule log which spurts gifts
from one end when struck like a piñata, which kids do on
the 25th, but never witnessed this so we'll discount this rumor.)
Instead, there are the Three Kings, who arrive on January 6th, the
twelfth day of Christmas (Epiphany) and bring gifts to good children,
and lumps of coal to bad ones. So when all the stores in the U.S.
are having post-Christmas sales, the Christmas shopping season here
was still going strong!
after our short stay in Spain, we knew that the Spanish stay out
late, and we reckoned that for the New Year, this would be even
more true. On New Year's Eve, dinner doesn't begin until 10 p.m.
or so, and then the partying starts after that. We old folks hoped
to get a leg up on this by taking a nice long nap from 4-7 p.m.
Around 11:00, as we were leaving to go into town, we encountered
the Brits from the boat alongside us, all dressed up in tuxedos
and long dresses. They were clearly off to a different sort of New
Year's party than we could afford! They warned us that upon their
return they might renew an auld Scottish custom called "first
foot", in which a dark-haired neighbor shows up at one's house
with a lump of coal and some spirits, to bid good morning to the
new year. Then off we all went, they to their high-class event and
us to Miguel's, a local bar.
is at least one bar per block here, often 2 or 3, where Spaniards
can be found from 9 a.m. until 3 a.m. or later (many discotecs and
night clubs don't open until 2 a.m.). Miguel's (it has a real name
which no-one uses) has lately become a favorite among the yachties,
so we expected a warm welcome there. When we arrived, we found the
iron gates drawn across the door, but we guess we looked like yachties,
so they let us in. Miguel announced (in English, though he also
speaks Spanish, Catalan and German) that there would be 2 parties
that night: "the party" in the bar area, consisting of
us yachties, and "the party party" in the restaurant downstairs
which would start later, last longer, be louder, and have dancing.
We were welcome to join that as well, if we liked. "The party"
would cost 9 euros (essentially $9), which included one glass of
Cava (the local champagne) plus a drink and some snacks. Also included
were 12 grapes per person; it's a Spanish custom to eat one grape
for each clang of the church bell as it tolls midnight, thus ensuring
good luck for the new year. We had seen little cans containing 12
grapes for sale in the stores -- a great example of entrepreneurial
effort, as these cans cost about 80 euros each, while bunches of
grapes sell in the market for 1.60 euros a kilo! Not knowing that
Miguel would provide grapes, we brought our own.
20-30 cruisers in the bar area included Americans, Canadians, Dutch,
German and Brits, none of whom we had met before (though their boats
are all in the same marina as ours), and all but two over the age
of 50. At midnight, we drank our cava (which cannot be called champagne
because France controls that name -- you may know the cava brands
Freixenet and Cordoniu, which are exported to America); and some
of us ate our 12 grapes as the bells tolled midnight. Strangely,
we forgot to sing "Auld Lang Syne", the first New Year's
in our memory we haven't done so. We heard lots of fireworks, but
decided we preferred to stay put indoors. "The party"
continued merrily with cava flowing, while "the party party"
began to heat up downstairs. The cava went to Andi's head far too
quickly, so Rob escorted her back to the boat around 2 a.m., then
rejoined "the party". He also stopped in briefly at "the
party party," discovering that the latter consisted of Spaniards
in their 20's all dressed in black and dancing to rock music. While
they were friendly enough, he was assuredly out of his element.
By 3:30 a.m., he felt that he'd sufficiently welcomed 2003 and wandered
back to the marina, leaving some cruisers behind at "the party"
while "the party party" kept going strong. (Miguel told
us later that it broke up around 7 a.m.)
came aboard Akka just after the folks from the boat next door had
arrived and had begun to play guitar and sing along. So he grabbed
some scotch and carried out "first foot" (though he had
to apologize for not bringing any coal). Andi slept on. The next-door
get-together broke up around 5 a.m. We've seen the photos; it wasn't
managed to get up about 1:30 p.m. for a walk around town. Rob reluctantly
got up at 4 p.m., mainly to be able to say that he had seen the
light of day on the 1st. We were not alone in sleeping late; as
far as we can tell, no-one was up that morning, unless it was before
they went to bed.
the U.S., that would have been the end of the holiday season, but
remember, we still had the Three Kings to come. For the next few
days the stores were packed, as Barcelona shopped and shopped. We
spent some time looking at a few of the many "pessebres"
or crèches set up around the city, including about a dozen
in a special exhibit at the Museum of the History of Cataluña.
These pessebres varied in style from primitive paper cutouts to
detailed realistic figures, and in size from finger sized figures
to full scale, and were quite interesting. But by far the most remarkable
feature, present in about half the pessebres around the city, was
the "caganer" or shitter. This is a small figure, usually
behind the manger, who is squatting with his pants pulled down.
Under his ass is a little pile of shit. According to our Barcelona
guide book, "Catalans value regularity and value the well-formed
stool as the ultimate good, the sign of fertility and fortune."
As Dave Barry says, we're not making this up.
the afternoon of January 5th, Barcelona's harbor was officially
closed so that the Three Kings could sail (well, motor) into town
on the big three-masted schooner "Santa Eulalia", which
was built in 1908 and is berthed a little way down the city embarcadera
from our marina. At 5:30, a series of rockets went up, giving a
21-gun salute to the arriving Kings, who disembarked at the base
of the statue of Columbus, right at the bottom of the Ramblas (the
wide avenue filled with kiosks and tourist attractions, running
from the waterfront to the center of town). The mayor welcomed the
Kings with the keys to the city (so they can get into peoples' houses
and leave the presents) and some long boring speeches. We don't
know what he said, of course; it was all Catalan to us.
the Kings got into four antique cars (we're not sure who was in
the fourth car; maybe the Mephistopheles character, about whom more
later) and moved off, escorted by 8 uniformed guards on horseback
who looked for all the world like the guards at Buckingham Palace,
only younger. We were a little disappointed that the show seemed
to be over, but as we walked back along the embarcadero toward our
marina, we noticed that the crowds, far from dispersing, were getting
thicker, lining both sides of the street that runs along the water.
So, as darkness fell, we took up positions behind 5 rows or so,
about half of whom were children, and waited to see what would happen.
Soon we were rewarded by a parade of floats, each elaborately decorated
and carrying groups of costumed people, with others in the same
costumes walking and dancing in the street in front of each float,
waving big banners -- we had the feeling they might be members of
some kind of fraternal orders, like the Masons. The people perched
on the floats had bags of plastic-wrapped candies, which they tossed
into the crowd. Every time a barrage of candies pelted the crowd,
the spectators all scrambled to pick up the candy that hadn't been
caught. This gave us a good view of the floats, as the crowd in
front of us were all on their hands and knees! Even after more than
half an hour, we looked down around our feet and saw that there
were no candies lying there.
the Three Kings arrived, each on his own float, to great applause.
Of course, they threw even more candy to the crowd. Then came a
float with a human skeleton half-buried in a pile of coal, with
people all dressed as skeletons; they threw no candy, and the crowd
was pretty subdued. That float was followed by another, carrying
a man with a microphone who was haranguing the crowd. His remarks
were met with loud boos and whistles. He ended by asking the children
"¿Have you been good?" to which they all shouted
"¡Si!" He was followed by yet another float with
a skeleton in a pile of coal. All three floats were labeled in English,
"Mr. Moffatt". We're not sure what all this was about,
other than its obvious relationship to the myth that bad children
receive no presents, only lumps of coal. Is there a fourth figure,
in addition to the Kings, who goes around distributing all that
coal? Is this some form of Mephistopheles (note the similarity of
were more floats, and much more candy, and everyone had a great
time. If the children ate all that candy, there were some sick kids
later that night!
repaired to Miguel's for some tapas and cava before retiring. We
hadn't written any letters to the Kings and forgot to leave out
our shoes with treats for them and their camels, so received no
presents or lumps of coal. Just delightful memories of Barcelona