17 February 2009

Eulália

So where was I? Oh that’s right… Barcelona.

I took off last weekend for my first intra-spanish adventure. I’ve just come back to Madrid after three days with a friend in Barcelona: home of Gaudi, The Ramblas, the 1992 Olympic Games, and the most disturbing Sunday school presentation I have ever seen. I had a fantastic time. With it’s oddly shaped architecture and a taste for strange looking modernism, the city has a reputation for being just a little bit wacky and unpredictable. Just the sort of place you might expect to find an out-of-control stunt linguist like me.

Actually, although I realise it betrays me as something of a cultural Philistine, I really wasn’t that excited by the whole modernism and crazy-lah architecture thing. I can respect Gaudi for being so successful whilst being so completely off the wall - full credit to the man – but buildings just aren’t my thing; even really cool buildings. It’s some kind of reverse-psychological symptom of being the son of an architect.

At the insistence of the locals, we did go and check out the Sagreda Familia church, Gaudi’s most famous work. The sculpture decorations were pretty cool, but again, it was just a building. Apparently you’re supposed to go in and climb the towers. We didn’t.

Much cooler than the cathedral in my opinion was Parc Güell, which is a big botanic garden in the north of the city. Gaudi got his hands on that too, and it’s all laid out with stone carvings and bizarrely shaped pathways, as well as buildings that look like they’re made out of marzipan.

The foreshore got a complete overhaul in the lead up to the games, and is really modern, clean and fun to walk around, with weird impressionistic sculptures randomly dotted around the place. We took a cable car from there up to the Olympic Village. We visited the Olympic stadium, the sports museum and the cultural institute. There were some great views of the city from on top of the hill where they built the village.

We spent some time wandering down the Ramblas, which are a large open air mall. The weekend markets were on, which was nice. There were people selling the usual souvenirs and stuff made out of locally produced fabric, but the coolest ones were the pet stalls. They were selling pigeons, rabbits, ferrets, various types of lizard (one shop had an iguana for sale) and tortoises of various sizes. But remember kids, a bearded dragon isn’t just for Christmas.

The attraction of visiting Barcelona this particular weekend was that it was the festival of Santa Eulália, the local patron saint (and here’s a shout out to any Redwall fans out there).

According to tradition, Eulália was a devout Christian girl and the Romans wanted her to recant her faith. She refused, and was subjected to a number of tortures, including crucifixion and being rolled down a hill in a barrel full of knives. Eventually she was martyred by decapitation, at which point a dove flew out of her neck. Make of that what you will.

So anyway, I was expecting a local commemoration with bands and choirs and stalls and things. What we got was a thousand (no exaggeration) children dressed as demons parading through the streets playing drums. It was a little macabre, but fairly harmless until they bought out the fireworks. It was the craziest pageant I’ve ever seen, but after the drumming they gave each kid a stick with a catherine wheel on in it, set it alight and sent them off to run through the streets showering us all with sparks until they exploded. The catherine wheels, that is, not the children.

This went on for about an hour, until they had run out of children. Then a band started playing, and a few of the older generation started doing a kind of traditional dance in a circle. I think they were mourning (or maybe even celebrating, I don’t know, it was all very dark and disturbing) the saint’s death. They must have been, because apart from that, Eulália herself didn’t make an appearance at all, just an army of pyro-maniacal infant drummers. And when you think about it, it’s just the perfect recipe for a great religious festival for the whole family; exactly the right combination of demonic iconicry, fireworks and small children.

Yep, the city sure lives up to its reputation for wackiness. But bizarrely shaped buildings are the least of their worries.

Far from home




Garry with 2 Rs
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