May 23rd to June 1st
May 23rd and 24th:
Ellen and I arrived at the Barcelona Airport on May 23rd, and crashed as part of the usual a jet-lag. We took advantage of a beachfront wi-fi hot-spot to look for shops which sold new and used bikes. The cafe had good coffee, too. We were able to find some used bikes on segundamano.es which looked pretty good, so we sent a couple inquiries to them and received automated responses.
The next day we wanted to actually look at some bikes and Ellen wanted to sketch some details from Gaudi’s Casa Batillo so we took the bus into Barcelona. We left Ellen at the Casa Batllo and headed to a nearby bike shop. The only sold expensive new bicycles and told us that most used bikes in Barcelona were stolen. He told us about two other bike shops nearby, so we thnked him and headed on. It looked like it was not a good idea to buy used bikes. We got the same message from the other two shops, but one of them offered us a deal. If we bought our bikes there for 400 euros each, they would buy them back for 200 euros after two or three months. That sounded pretty good, so we headed back to get Ellen.
By the time we returned the shop was closed for their migdiada, so we walked to the Sagrada Família. It is quite impressive. The sculptural program of the west facade is the Passion of Christ (la façana de la Passió) executed by the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs. On the east facade we see the Birth of Christ (la façana del Naixement) which was realized by several sculptors. It has a Baroque feel to it. The north face is decorated with various figures, including lizards (I do not know what their significance is). The Sacristy is to the south. It appears to be in a different style (it looks closer to the gothic style than the rest) and built of a different stone; it may not be finished.
After seeing the Sagrada Família we returned to the bike shop but couldn’t come to a decision so we returned to the campsite.
We bought our bikes. After considerable discussion we finally settled on five bikes which we found in the Decathon shop (what we call the Foot Locker in Canada). We took them on the train and then rode them (in the dark) from Gavà.
We wanted to get out and go on our first bike trip. We knew that there were prehistoric mines in Gavà so we first went to where they are located. Entrance was a bit expensive (20 euros for a family) and we didn’t know what was there, but we finally decided to go for it. It turned out that we would have to pay 30 euros, so we decided to give it a pass. As it turned out it was the best thing that could have happened there.
We continued on to the next place which we wanted to see, the Ermita de Bruguers ( la Mare de Déu de Bruguers). We expected an uphill climb and that we would find the church between kilometers 8 and 9, but it turned out to be about half that distance. It is a small, unassuming structure, but when I went up to the west facade there were four five-meter tall gegants dancing in the square in front of the church! It turned out to be a local festival. Ellen went back to tell Daniel and Andrea to lock up the bicycles and come up to see what was happening.
The gegants did their dance and leaned up against the west facade of the church. there were lots of people, some in Sunday dress and some in traditional costumes, but it was clear that something was brewing so we continued to mill around like everyone else. A number of people wearing white pants and yellow shirts were busy wrapping long black sashes around their waists. This turned out to be important–I wish that I had paid closer attention to how they were secured.
When they started to make a formation in the middle of the square I knew what they were–castellers! The big, strong, burly guys formed the a circle in the middle of the square and a number of people who looked like spectators stood behind, ready to steady them. Then four castellers climbed onto the shoulders of those on the lowest level and braced each other. Then three more climbed the human tower. It was interesting to see how they were able to climb. The first took a foothold on the back of the leg, just below the knee. Next, a toehold in the sash. This brought them to a place where they could either use the hip or else lift themselves with their arms to the shoulders of the person they were climbing. You could see that it took considerable planning, skill and coordination to keep the structure stable as each level climbed. The people in each level were smaller than the ones in the previous one, until finally two children who were eight or ten years old and were wearing helmets climbed to the very top. The band was playing, everyone was cheering, applauding, and shouting encouragement. The children castellers looked frightened.
When they got to the top they threw up their hands,the band held a triumphant chord, everyone cheered excitedly. Then the tower dissembled itself in an orderly manner (they had to keep it stable as it came down), much faster than it went up. It was a wonderful cooperative community project which everyone could participate in, young and old. And who was the most important ones? Not the big, burly guys on the bottom (who tended to get forgotten), it was the brave little kid who climbed to the top!
The band was a community affair too. There were a number of drummers and tambouriners, along with several musicians who played a double-reeded instrument like an oboe, but very loud! There were a number of children participating, including one who played the “oboe”, and kept on practicing even after the festivities were all over. I wish my students were half as conscientious!
It was clear that the festivities were not complete because there were many young people dressed in traditional white and blue costumes who were milling around with the crowd. They were wearing blue gaiters which had bells sewn on them. and some had hardwood batons which were about three centimeters in diameter and about 50 centimeters long.
Several folk dances followed. The Sardana is the national dance of Catalonia in the same sense as the Polonaise is the national dances of Poland; the Polonaise is in 3/4 where the Sardana is in 2/4 or 6/8. First up were a number of younger girls, some holding tambourines, who did a fairly simple dance to the sardana. Older girls followed, holding brightly coloured ribbons, all held centrally by a human maypole, a woman dressed in white pants and shirt and red sash.
Next came a traditional maypole dance, with one man and several young women dressed in bright blouses and white skirts. Part of the dance involved the man wooing one of the young women, and at that point, two older women came from the audience to act as wooers as well. Some of the wooing seemed a little bawdy, involving sizing up the shapeliness of the young woman “wooee”, including going up under the skirt of one (she had bloomers on for the purpose!)
The most exciting dances involved the batons and bell-begarbed dancers described above. The dancers formed two lines of six dancers each, in three quartets. Within the quartets, they struck each other’s batons in elaborate patterns, low by the hips, up above the shoulders, behind their backs, under their legs, and on the ground. They didn’t seem to miss a beat as one pair would run to the other end of the line and the quartets would re-form. The band accompanied this of course and after a short while, played faster and faster, and the dancers kept time. They were sweating by the end of it. In the last of the three similar dances, one of the dancers broke one of their batons–I guess like baseball bats, it’s hard to get good ones any more!
After all the festivities, everyone lined up on one side of the churchyard where there was a concession stand, to get a dinner of traditional Catalan fare, sausages and beans. There was a third constituent to the meal, but we couldn’t identify it. I asked a lady if this were a special festival, but she said no, it was just an exhibition of folk dances…how lucky we felt to have witnessed it.
I still hadn’t looked at the Romanesque part of the church (i.e. the apse) so I went down to look at it. Here is a picture–you can see that it is very simple, with no decoration. The ruins of a nearby castle was marked on the map. I thought that we could walk the 250 meters and look at it. You can see it if you look closely at the right hand (north) end of the roof of the church, or I have enlarged it so you can see it in the next photo. We couldn’t see a path to it.
After all that, we decided we wouldn’t go further and so had a lovely 4 kilometer coast downhill to Gavà and then a saunter along the agricultural roads (flat) back to the campground. We found Gwen hard at work (as usual) and were sorry that she had missed this unique experience.
Jim and Ellen