Barcelona spotlight's its hidden lure
The Catalans' seemingly endless enthusiasm for festivals and
parties means that there's scarcely a week in the year that
doesn't include at least a couple. These range from the full-on
traditional knees-up, with giants, dwarfs and dragons wheeling
through fireworks, to gentle street fairs selling artisanal honey
and sausages, and perhaps laying on a bouncy castle.
The array of religious events and old-fashioned pageants, all of
which spotlight what makes Catalonia unique, are supplemented by
a wide variety of more modern celebrations. You're just as likely
to stumble across a festival of rock documentaries, graffiti art,
hip hop or cyber sculpture as you are to see a traditional
parade: Sónar alone attracts 80,000 people each year.
The key annual events are September's Festes de la Mercè, the
main city celebrations that offer a wild variety of events. The
Mercè and the other 30 or so neighborhood festes share many
traditional ingredients: dwarfs, castellers (human castles), and
gegants (huge papier-mâché/fiberglass giants dressed as
princesses, fishermen, sultans and even topless chorus girls),
and two unique exercises: the correfoc and the sardana.
The correfoc ('fire run') is a frenzy of pyromania. Groups of
horned devils dance through the streets, brandishing tridents
that spout fireworks and generally flouting every safety rule in
the book. Protected by cotton caps and long sleeves, the more
daring onlookers try to stop the devils and touch the
fire-breathing dragons being dragged along in their wake.
The orderly antidote to this pandemonium is the sardana,
Catalonia's folk dance. Watching the dancers executing their
fussy little hops and steps in a large circle, it's hard to
believe that sardanes were once banned as a vestige of pagan
witchcraft. The music is similarly restrained; a reedy noise
played by an 11-piece cobla band. The sardana is much harder than
it looks, and the joy lies in taking part rather than watching.
To try your luck, check out the sardanes popular held in front of
the cathedral (noon-2pm Sun Jan-Aug & Dec; 6-8pm Sat,
noon-2pm Sun Sept-Nov) and in the Plaça Sant Jaume (6pm Sun
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