Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Do You Want To Touch The Sky? (Castellers)

Vols tocar el cel?

Yeah, my Catalan is a bit rough too. It translates to "Do you want to touch the sky?"

About 150 years ago or so people in the Tarragona region of Catalunya (not far from Barcelona) started engaging in Michael-Jackson-style street battles like in his Beat It video. But instead of tying their hands together with a silk ribbon and dancing in circles with knives, they built human "castles". The Castellers (pronounced "cass-tay-yehrz" and meaning "castle builder"), continue the tradition to this day. This past Sunday, after over a year of waiting, I finally got my chance to see it for myself.

The event took place as part of a festival in the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona. Over the course of the year, each neighborhood has a big festival kinda' like a street fair that we'd have in the U.S. There's food, music, and lots of other stuff too. Finding the plaza where the Castellers were going to "perform" wasn't difficult as spotting them on the Metro in their tell-tale white pants and colored shirts was, umm, really easy. The Plaza del Sol was jam-packed with different groups each getting ready.

Each Casteller wraps a wide strip of cloth around their waist to provide support for building the castles. I noticed that each group was very tight-knit and that everyone was talking with everyone else while helping each other wrap up their waists.

Just before noon, the Colles (groups) started leaving the Plaza del Sol and walking down a nearby street on their way to the Plaza de la Vila de Gracia where the main event would take place. On the way, each group built their first castle in the tightly-packed side street. My first official Castellers event!!!

During the construction, each Colle's musical group would play a tune. They're sort of like a minstrel band and they play flute-like instruments and drums. I later found out that they are playing a sort-of Casteller's theme song called the "toc de castels" (castle song) and that they begin to play the tune as the castle construction reaches a certain level, which depends on the castle design and overall height, and continue until the castle is disassembled. There's also apparently a "toc de vermut" that's played at the end of the event that signifies that it's time to go have a vermouth...on Sunday morning!

Once the procession to the other plaza was done, the Colles each took turns building castles. When you look at the photos and videos below, keep in mind how tall these things really are and how much all those people must weigh! This was a three-people-by-seven-level castle built by the Castellers de Barcelona, a Colle from near the center of town:

Diana and I met up with our friend Bea who is an awesome photographer. She was kind enough to let me use a couple of her pictures. I like her photos because they have a very different composition from my typical photos. I particularly like this close up of the connection between the first and second levels of a castle showing how many people and the type of teamwork involved in building them:

The castles were...WOW! Watching how the structures are assembled and how the folks who climb up the outside to the upper levels move is pretty amazing. At the base, called the "piƱa" (pineapple), are lots of "regular" folks who form the support for the upper levels. The next couple of levels were mostly burly dudes. After that, it was mostly women and then younger girls.

The whole thing is topped off by a small child wearing a helmet called a Enxaneta (pronounced "en-sha-net-ta"). He or she, upon arriving at the top of the castle, extends their hand towards the sky to salute the other words..."Tocando el cel" (touching the sky)!

The photo above is another one of Bea's.

I know I'm a bit crazy here but...I'm addicted! I want to be a Casteller! I don't know why...I just do. Let's see what happens!

And finally, I took some video that really shows what's going on. The first is the Colle de Poble Sec who are from the neighborhood where I live.

The next video is the Colle from Granollers, which is located about a half-hour north of Barcelona:

And finally, yes, the castles do fall. It's rare for serious injuries to occur but there were definitely some (relatively) minor injuries this week. This video shows the collapse of the one of the castles of the Castellers de Barcelona:

It was super fun hanging out with Diana, Bea, Lena, and Toni for the day. See if you can find everyone in this photo:

After we left the Castellers, we went for a great lunch at La Paradeta seafood restaurant. I took my family there when they came to Barcelona for the wedding. Thanks to Bea for letting me use the photos and everyone make sure to keep an eye out for a gringo Casteller trying to tocar el cel!

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