La Mercè festival in Barcelona, Spain
Catalan festival featuring gegants, castells, and correfoc.
When I decided to spend my September in Barcelona, I didn’t even know I would be here for La Mercè. Actually, I didn’t even know what La Mercè was until just before I came. Everywhere in Spain they celebrate a festa major, or annual festival. Barcelona celebrates their patron saint at the end of September with a multi-day extravaganza full of events and activities. And thus, I spent the last four days here in Barcelona wandering about and getting a taste of some crazy Catalan customs…
The festivities of La Mercè kicked off on Thursday night with an opening ceremony that previewed many of the events to come. It was a concert of traditional Catalan instruments that used drums and some sort of kazoo-sounding pipe accompanied by performances by gegants and fire-breathing animals and topped off with men spinning fire (causing the old woman in front of me to dash behind and use me as a shield), fireworks, and the most amazing projection show ever on the side of a building that conformed to the architecture and had everything from spies peeking in the windows to Pacman climbing the arches.
I ended up catching the building projection show again the next night. It was pretty fantastic.
BAM: Bedroom Concert
In correlation with La Mercè there were also concerts going on around the city as part of BAM (Barcelona Acció Musical). I caught one of the acts on Thursday night, a folky pop group called Bedroom. I have no idea what they were singing about, because it was in Catalan or Spanish. But I thoroughly enjoyed it none the less. And, really, any concert tucked away amongst old Spanish buildings has got to be amazing, right?
Drum Lines and Fire
After the concert I followed the sound of drum lines and found the fire breathing creatures that were parading about town being led back to their cave for the night. So I stuck around a bit to listen to the music and watch the animals go by.
Saturday was supposed to be the main event of La Mercè. Although the event starts beforehand and ends after, September 24 is the actual holiday. So I dragged myself up out of bed early and made my way to the center of town for some festivities. What I got instead was rain. And apparently in the rain you don’t send your giant creatures out, you don’t build giant towers out of humans.
I managed to see the men lining the square to wake up the neighborhood with gunshots. They woke me up too. But other than that, all I saw were umbrellas.
After a lazy afternoon in bed I headed out again to check out more festivities. As soon as I left the metro station I was smack in the middle of a parade route. It was right there. And because of that you couldn’t really go anywhere but there. So there I went.
BAM: Maïa Vidal
Let me tell you. If a lead singer plays an accordion, toy piano, and recorder during the course of their concert, they will pretty much become my new favorite band. So I kind of really liked Maïa Vidal, whose BAM concert I attended after the parade. It was kind of folksy and whimsical. And I liked it. Except that towards the end it started pouring rain again. I had intended to stick around for more concerts but night Val didn’t take a hint from morning Val and didn’t pack an umbrella…
Castells, or human tower building, is a Catalonian specialty, and is a big draw for the festival. It’s thrilling to watch for the spectacle and danger. People climb on top of one another to build a structure taller than the surrounding buildings in a square full of spectators. The human pyramids are completed by children who hoist themselves over the structure to reach the point at the top. It’s nerve wracking to watch as those on the bottom start shaking or as one wrong move might send a child falling. I screamed when one of the towers collapsed sending people in all directions down.
Correfoc: Hell’s Gate
Sunday night marked the end of La Mercè. And what better way to end a festival than with, quite literally, a bang. I met up with Darren to attend Correfoc – a devil’s parade where they spin fireworks and shoot flames into the crowd. It was intense and scary and amazing. At first we couldn’t see well, because the crowd was thick. But when the action began it soon thinned out as people realized that hey, they’re actually shooting fire right at us. And I guess some people just can’t take the heat (lame joke). After two hours of running from fire and running towards fire and nearly getting trampled by others running from fire, I managed to escape with only a minor burn hole in the arm of my sweatshirt, a bit of smoke in my lungs, and memories of one of the most awesome events ever.