- Festival of Sta. Eulalia
Barcelona celebrates the Festival of Sta. Eulalia, a 4th century Christian
martyr and one of Barcelona's patron saints. Little Sta. Eulalia was
only 13 when she was martyred for her staunch (rabid?) Christian beliefs,
in the face of Roman decrees forbidding the practice of Christianity.
Her story is well-known in Barcelona, and includes the tortures she
endured, such as being rolled down a hill in a barrel filled with
glass, stripped of her clothing and finally being crucified on an
X-shaped cross (a miraculous snowstorm came and covered her nakedness).
During Sta. Eulalia's fiesta, one can buy X-shaped donuts or get free
donuts and hot chocolate in some church squares. No snow, though.
We took advantage
of some special free tours during the week of Sta. Eulalia, including
the Ayuntamiento, or City Hall, a beautiful palace that is generally
not open to the public, and of course Eulalia's crypt at the cathedral,
which is only open one day a year. But the weekend festivities were
the highlight, with displays of folk dancing, performances by troupes
of "castellers," parades of "gegantes" and night-time
"carrefocs" with accompanying fireworks.
folk dancing was lovely: dancers from villages and regions around
Catalonia performed traditional dances in traditional costumes,
accompanied by a small, enthusiastic and good orchestra. The commentary
was, alas, in Catalan, so we could only catch random words, but
we gathered that most of these dances are centuries old. One troupe
featured "big heads" -- papier-mâché heads
about 3 feet tall worn on the dancers' shoulders. They could see
through the smiling mouths and did a pretty, intricate dance (though
half the characters were men, we think all the dancers under the
Big Heads were women). One group of men reminded us of Morris dancers:
dressed all in white, wearing leather gaiters fitted with bells,
they held the ends of long scarves and ducked, turned, and wove
their way around each other until the end when, one by one, each
wound his scarf around the waist of the next dancer until they each
wore a different colored "cummerbund." Neat.
The folk dancing
was followed by the Falcons, an acrobatic troupe that made human
pyramids and towers -- sort of like professional cheerleaders, but
with recorder and drum music replacing the cheers! They were dressed
all in white except for their red, blue or green "cummerbunds"
like those of the folk dancers we had just seen. We watched them
put these on: the sashes were about 15' long and about 18"
wide. Performers paired up and one held the end of the sash while
the other rolled him/herself up in the sash, all the time pulling
hard against the companion in order to wrap the sash very tightly
around his/her midsection. The sashes not only served as back supports
but also as hand and footholds for the performers climbing up to
the higher levels of the pyramids and towers. The Falcons were quite
good, but by that time we were very cold, and turned for home before
the grande finale.
On Sunday, there
was a parade or procession of the "gegantes." These are
"statues" made, we presume, of papier-mâché,
as much as 10-12' tall, that are carried by people who get under
them so all you see is their feet sticking out as they walk (or
dance) along. The parade was led by St. Eulalia, of course, (who
was a bit smaller, being only 13) wearing a lovely wreath of flowers.
Other "gegantes" from the city, its various neighborhoods,
suburbs, and nearby towns, represented historical, folk or literary
figures, or people in the traditional costumes of an area. There
were also several animals, both real (horses) and fanciful (dragons).
There were over 30 of these gegantes, each accompanied by a group
of handlers and musicians playing drums and wooden flutes. This
Festival coincided with world-wide anti-war demonstrations, and
almost all of the gegantes wore sashes stating "No to War."
After the gegantes had arrived and ringed the large government square,
the two representing Jaume I (one of Barcelona's medieval rulers)
and his wife came to the center and danced a surprisingly elegant
dance which ended in fast spins. Amazing that no-one fell down!
gegantes were the castellers -- human castle builders. There were
5 troupes from 5 Barcelona neighborhoods. Each troupe wore a different
colored shirt; all wore white pants and those wide, tight black
sashes. Each troupe had its own little band of drums and wooden
recorder-like whistles called grallers. Each made an entrance into
the square by forming a tower 4 persons high: a large group formed
the base, a man stood on somebody's shoulders while hands reached
up to support him around his thighs and butt, another man (or sometimes
a woman) stood on his shoulders, then a small girl or boy climbed
to the top and stood on the shoulders of the 3rd-level person. This
child waved or saluted or, in one case, unfurled a "No to War"
banner. Then the whole tower walked across the square, with the
kid on top still waving or saluting, accompanied by their little
band. And that was just their entry!
build castles 6 or 7 stories tall, with 3 or 4 people standing on
the shoulders of those below making up each "story" from
the 2nd to 5th, then one kid atop that on all fours, and a final
kid climbing atop that one, lifting one arm (very briefly) to signal
they had gotten there, then quickly scrambling down the other side
of the tower. The bases to these castles are enormous stars with
"spokes" of people pushing to the center to provide a
stable base. Both the building and un-building are carefully choreographed,
with the first set (second level) of 3 or 4 people getting well-set
with hands of the base level holding onto their thighs, and their
arms locked together, shoulder to shoulder, before the other levels
start to climb up. This second level is the only one that gets supported
laterally from below; the rest of the castellers simply stand on
the previous level's shoulders (in bare feet) and provide mutual
support by holding onto each others' shoulders. After the second
level is stable, the third level climbs up over the base, then up
the backs of the 2nd level, using their sashes for footholds. As
soon as they begin to stand up, the next level begins their climb,
the band begins to play, and the successive layers follow quickly
(except that the climbers keep getting younger and smaller and as
a consequence, have a harder time climbing up the backs of their
taller supporters). They grab sashes, pant legs and shirts to haul
themselves up and up. And it's quite a climb. We wondered what their
parents must be thinking, but then realized that this tradition
is surely a family affair, and as each child ages, he or she moves
down the castle levels, so mom and dad are probably right there.
There were certainly people of every size, shape, sex, color and
the castle is only half of the difficulty. Now they all have to
come down again in an orderly fashion. The littlest kids almost
slide down, wrapping their legs around torsos, then legs, then torsos,
then legs all the way to the base. All of the people in each of
the next levels must come down together or they'll fall, so they
all release their handholds on each other, then all bend down and
start their shinnying together.
Each of the
5 teams built 2 castles, announced (in Catalan) by name or construction.
Some were 6 levels high and some were 7; some were with 3 people
in a level; some were 4. The most complex castle was a 4 by 7 with
an interior pillar. After the 4th level was built, a single person
managed somehow to stand up in the middle, then a second person
got onto his shoulders. Meanwhile the outside was building to the
5th level, which consisted of 2 girls. The 6th level, one kid, got
onto their shoulders, then the 7th scrambled atop him, lifted his
arm and quickly slid down 2 levels. The 6th level kid went down
one level, then got atop the shoulders of the inside tower. Then
the remaining outside tower peeled off, leaving just the 4 person
high tower still standing. Quite nice. We were snowed.
The towers filled
the early afternoon. After lunch and a rest back aboard the boat
(it's only a 15 minute walk) we returned to the cathedral as night
fell for the final parade, called a "carrefoc." All we
knew about this was that it involved either sparklers or fireworks.
Well, it was both. This parade featured fanciful dragons and beasts,
each representing a town or neighborhood in Barcelona. The beasts
were fitted out with holders at their mouths into which huge sparklers
were set. These sparklers twirled around, throwing sparks 2 or 3
meters in front of them until they expired when (it turns out) they
were actually firecracker fuses, so they went out with a bang. Each
beast was accompanied by a troupe of devils, dressed in capes of
red or black, decorated with flames and the name of their locale,
caps with horns, sometimes pants, but sometimes velvet or multistriped
knickers with long black stockings, and everyone with wide-brimmed
hats to keep their hair from catching on fire from the sparks. Each
devil also had a sparkler/firecracker holder, generally with a spinner.
Each beast had 2 handlers with torches (to keep him going in the
right direction and to light his fuses) and another person pushing
a cart full of sparkler/firecrackers from which everyone got refills.
There was also generally a group of drummers. Each group seemed
barely organized and just wound through the streets around the cathedral.
The general population could join in, and many did, often encouraged
by the devils as they danced and jumped and sparkled around to the
banging drums. We stood in a little corner behind the nave of the
cathedral, watching as first the sparklers, then the leaping and
twisting devils emerged from up the twisting narrow medieval street,
surrounded by sparks and smoke, then the beast itself, with whirling
sparklers. Backed up against a towering wall, we were showered with
sparks. Across from us, the stained glass windows of the cathedral
made strange reflections and the gargoyles looked down approvingly.
The whole smelled of fire and brimstone, and was incredibly evocative
of ancient superstitions.
Much of this
struck us as remarkably dangerous (one casteller group collapsed
onto itself, but seemingly with no bad damage), and we mused at
how impossible it would have been for this to take place in the
U.S. We Americans are lucky to have all those laws and regulations
to protect us (from ourselves?), but we may miss out on a lot of
fun. For us, we're glad we got to see all of this.