Monday, January 30, 2012

Becoming A Casteller

Ever since I first moved to Spain I've fallen in love with the idea of being a Casteller. Castellers, if you don't remember from the post I wrote back in November, are people who build human towers called "castells" (castle in English). The word Casteller itself essentially means castle builder in Catalan. Human castle building is a Catalan tradition, which goes back at least 150 years, where teams called Colles (koy-yahz) stand on each others' shoulders to see how tall and complex the structures that they build can be. I'm not sure why I'm so fascinated by them but I think it has something to do with wanting to be involved in an activity that's both physically and mentally challenging while also being uniquely Catalan.

I had first seen a Casteller practice about a year ago with the first real public display during the Diada de Gracia festival (same link as above). One of the groups that build castles that day were the Castellers Del Poble Sec, which is the colle from the neighborhood where I live. I went to join the group back in December and was able to practice with them for only one evening because they break for the holidays. After I returned from Christmas in Philadelphia, I went back during their first practice of the new year full of energy to part of this unique group and activity.

During our three-times-a-week meet-ups, the group practices building different castle configurations. Because I'm a newbie, I'm pretty much limited to being on the ground as part of the base support structure called the "piƱa". On a few occasions, I was part of the tower itself, meaning having people stand on my shoulders, as well as being up on the second level a couple of times (and with someone above me once when I was on the second level). This photo shows us getting the start of the second level in place (I'm off towards the right side with my hands raised):

There's been a few challenges to joining the group. First, almost everything the group says including 95% of the instructions are in Catalan, which I still don't understand very well. I am learning the Casteller vocabulary and instructions fairly quickly and folks have been great about speaking to me in Spanish and/or English to make sure I understand. It's also challenging to "break into" an established group that's been practicing together for some time. Again, the leadership and a bunch of other folks have been super gracious and welcoming. In this photo, three levels are in place and the fourth is on her way up:

It's funny because, while the majority of people are local to Barcelona, there are a handful of people from a bunch of other countries like Canada, the United States, France, and even Pakistan. I guess the desire to be part of the local culture isn't uniquely mine. :-)

I'll write more about my experiences as a Casteller as I learn more and have more chances to interact with the group. So far, it's been a lot of fun to learn something new and to be a part of such a warm and welcoming group.

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