Rather than go into a long explanation of the languages of Spain, allow me to begin this post by reiterating the fact that the people of Catalunya speak Catalan, and Catalan is not Spanish. Catalan is still a romance language, and to my mind, it is a mix of Spanish and French.
So it was on our first night in Barcelona, we sat drinking sangria at a cafe on Las Ramblas while I tried to read the Mercé program which was, of course, in Catalan. I was trying to find one of the events I really wanted to see. Since I hadn't remembered to write down any information about it, all I could remember was that people were going to run around swinging huge torches over the heads of the crowd.
"Can you understand any of that?" Mike asked me.
"Enough to know that I don't see anything resembling fuego (fire)," I sighed. I motioned to a waiter and asked, "¿Dónde están los fuegos?" He looked at me sideways.
"No sé," he replied and quickly walked away. Everyone I asked had the same reaction, and in retrospect, since I was asking them where the fires were, their confusion was understandable.
The next night, the hotel's Brazilian desk clerk, Alejandro, told me he had found los fuegos for me. "They are on the beach. You must go to Barceloneta. Be there by 20:00 (8 pm)."
"That makes sense," I said to Mike as we started the three-mile walk to Barceloneta. "If people are going to be swinging torches around, being next to a large body of water is probably a good idea."
We were shuffling through the jumble of people on Las Ramblas when the pounding of drums caught our attention. The crowd around us parted as a mini parade approached. Six or seven bands, each having between 20 and 30 members, strutted down the street. One band member carried his group’s flag, about half of them played drums, horns or tambourines, and the others just marched and clapped. Many wore hoodies, and some had horns poking out of the hoods. Each band seemed to have its own devil theme going. We, and everyone around us, stopped to watch their antics.
Swallowed up by the crowd after the devil bands passed us, we pushed ourselves the remaining way to Barceloneta. Once we arrived, we stood on a boardwalk overlooking the beach. Hundreds of people milled around us, and twice as many lounged on the beach.
"I guess the guys will run down the beach," I said to Mike. I just knew, however, that we were in the wrong place. There were no torches, and there was really nowhere anyone holding one could hide.
Suddenly, the lights went off, and a man boomed an announcement in Catalan over the sound system. The only word I understood was “Portugal,” so when he started to repeat his speech in Spanish, I was happy. He went on and on about the celebrations of la Mercè and ended by telling us that Portugal was sponsoring that night’s fuegos artificiales . . . fireworks. I wanted to kick myself.
"Well," I said to Mike after the fireworks show, "I guess I really don’t even know what we’re looking for. I should have written down the information two months ago." We walked back to the hotel slowly.
We were probably five or six blocks from Las Ramblas when we heard drumming and screaming, and the stinging stench of sulphur and smoke reached our nostrils.
"They must be shooting off fireworks here, too," Mike said.
Little did we know....
Next time: Playing With Fire, II