The essay I wrote when applying for the MFA program at Murray State was about my first trip to Barcelona. As you may or may not know, I majored in Spanish and English in college and lived in Mexico for a semester. Spain, for some reason, was never on my radar.
For our 30th anniversary in 2007, Mike suggested we do a repositioning cruise from Amsterdam to Barcelona. Six months after that first suggestion, we were standing on Plaça Catalunya (main square in Barcelona) looking for our hotel since we'd decided to spend three extra days there.
As luck would have it, we were there during Festes de la Mercé, one of the largest festivals in both Barcelona and Catalunya (the province), and the streets were crowded with revelers. Crowds are not exactly my thing (as you might have guessed if you've read any of my blog), and I was quite anxious yanking luggage down a main street in the midst of a bunch of screaming people. Luckily, we'd walked only a few blocks before we saw the hotel.
La Mercé, as locals call the festival, is the grandest annual celebration in the city and province and honors the Virgen of Mercy, patron saint of Barcelona. The story is that the city suffered from a plague of locusts in 1687, and the residents prayed to the Virgen to deliver them from the pests. She drove them out, and the city honored her with the festival.
While the actual feast day is 24 September, the festivities span a number of days. In addition to parades, concerts, dances, fireworks, food, and wine, La Mercé also includes the castellars, the gegants, capgrossos, and the correfoc. The castellars are human towers (center photo), a Catalan tradition. The gegants and capgrossos are paper maché giants (photo below) and big heads. The correfoc are "fire runners." (I'll tell you more about these in the next few days.)
One of the reasons I was so happy to be finally going to Barcelona was because I speak Spanish. Castilian Spanish (castellaño) differs from the Spanish I learn/speak in much the same way as British English differs from American English. What I didn't stop to think until long after I arranged the trip was the fact that the residents of Barcelona do not speak even castellaño. They speak Catalan. If you look at the foreign words in this blog, you'll notice that the words are not Spanish. Oops.
When Franco was dictator of Spain, he forbid all of the provinces from speaking their languages and required everyone to speak castellaño. Anyone who broke that law and got caught was thrown in jail. Castellaño is still the lispy national language of Spain, but since Franco's death in the 70s, Spaniards have been permitted to once again speak their own languages. Catalunya actually requires all business and government documents to be in both castellaño and catalano.
Confused? Just wait.
Speaking of language (What a segue!).... If you ever watched Seinfeld, you might remember the Soup Nazi episode where Newman sniffs his soup and skip-hops down the street while sing-songing, "Jam-ba-LY-a." That's how I refer to this wonderful city. All together now: Bar-the-LOW-na!
Tomorrow: Gegants & capgrossos