Sunday, September 21, 2014

Too Close to the Maddening Crowd

The gegants

 “...I thought how I hate any kind of mob - 
I hate mobs of sports fans, mobs of 
... demonstrators... I tell you, mankind 
is bearable only when you get him on his own.” 
~ Steve Toltz

I hate crowds. We came to Barcelona for Feste de la Mercé, the major annual festival in Barcelona. Major festival means major crowds.  Major crowds means I am uncomfortable. Majorly uncomfortable. I won't go shopping on Black Friday or the day after Christmas or any day when stores expect a lot of shoppers because I cannot stand being pushed and shoved and being constrained by flesh.

We accidentally happened on La Mercé seven years ago when we first came to Barcelona, so I knew what we were getting into by coming for it.  It wasn't so bad on Friday night, so I was pretty hopeful. Last night we went to the parade of the Gegants (Giants) in the Plaça Sant Jaume (above), and it was packed (below). We were lucky enough to accidentally end up right near where the giants stopped, but people were too anxious to get photos of the giants and pushed and stepped on everyone in their way. Of course, they also raised their cameras, thus raising their arms. That would not have been bad except quite a few forgot to bathe this year, and almost asphyxiated those of us around them.

Plaça Sant Jaume filled for the gegants
At the end, we left with the crowd, inching forward for what seemed like forever until our crowd met another crowd walking in the opposite direction. Everyone was at a standstill. Everyone. A few drunks behind me started pushing.

"Stop pushing me. Where do you expect me to go? No one's moving." I was not happy.  Some idiot elbowed me between my shoulder blades. "#@* &*%^!! STOP PUSHING."  Somehow, Mike got me out of there before I got trampled or I killed someone.

"We're going to have to leave the apartment early tomorrow," I said to Mike as we headed back to the apartment after we escaped.  We were anxious to see the castellars and the correfoç today, and I knew that they were going to be crowded. (Note: The castellars build human towers, and the correfoç are fire runners...I'll explain those in the next day or so.)

"What time do they start?" he wanted to know.

"The castellars are at noon, so we better get there by 10," I advised.  "There are a few other activities, so we can watch those." I was hoping they wouldn't be as popular as the castellars.
Plaça Sant Jaume at 10

We got to Sant Juame at 9:30 or so, and found the plaza relatively empty (above).  We staked out a place across from the city hall because the castellars build the towers in front of it.  We were lucky enough to find a marble pillar that, including the huge ball on top, was about four-feet tall.

"You can stand on this to see better," Mike told me.

"You can stand on it. I can barely stand on level ground if it gets crowded."

Plaça Sant Jaume at 11
 By 11, the crowd had started to gather (above).  The falcons were performing on stage (More on them later, too), and they drew a larger crowd than the dancers had at 10.

Plaça Sant Jaume at 12

 At noon, the plaza was jammed (above).  I have no idea how anyone moved in that crowd. Since we had staked out a place away from the castellars, it wasn't quite as bad as yesterday. A few of the non-bathers showed up again.

"GAG," I said to Mike at one point. "Some people need to take a bath."  No one seemed overly concerned with my comment, so they either didn't hear me or they ignored me. By now, I'm used to both of those.

The Castellars of Barcelona surrounded by the mob

 In the midst of the group in the photo above are the castellars from Barcelona. You can see them with red in the center. We have no idea how they—or the castellars from Villafranca (below) or Tarragon— were able to move into the plaza and form a tower with the crowd crushing them. Perhaps that's a good thing, though.  If they fall, the take out a few crazy tourists.

The castellars of Villafranca building their tower

Tonight we headed to the correfoç (below). Basically, the participants dance down a street twirling huge sparklers above their and the crowd's heads.  There were a gazillion people there, too, but since they're lining a street, they weren't as jammed in on each other as they were in the plaza. The braver—or drunker—ones also danced along with the correfoç. 

The correfoç heading our way

Still, I couldn't wait to get out of there. I got stepped on by more than one person, pushed by a few others, and burned by one of the flying sparks.

"I'm going over there," I screamed above the drums to Mike and ran for cover in an alley away from the craziness. He stayed an videotaped them for a bit and then came to find me.

"That was great," he said.

"It was," I agreed, "but I'm glad to be getting away from the madness."

"What are we going to do tomorrow?" he asked.  I didn't answer because, quite frankly, I don't know.

Whatever it is, however, will not involve crowds.

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