As I have said many times before, I love the castellers and if I lived in Catalunya permanently, I’d join a colla castellera.  So today I made this poster (11 x 14 inches) with some of the pictures I took during my year in Barcelona.

Here’s a video for you, I always get goosebumps and tears in my eyes when the castell is undone. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be in the main square of Vilafranca del Penedès at St Felix.

Wordless Wednesday

A casteller getting ready before going on to the main plaza of a Catalan town


Don’t know who the castellers are?  Check here, here, and videos here (I always get goosebumps when the music starts). They were my favourite element of Catalan culture and the energy in the square when they succeed in putting together a difficult tower is ubelievable… My husband used to say that if we lived in Catalonia for good, he would have joined a group of castellers.

Festes de Santa Eulália

This weekend we went downtown to take photographs and happened upon the Festes de Santa Eulália, one of the patron saints of Barcelona. Also known as the Festa Major d’Hivern (Winter Main Feast), the Festes de Santa Eulália is dedicated to kids and we founds crowds and crowds of children everywhere we went downtown with every square holding some sort of event – there were traditional dances, games, story-telling, parades, you name it.

One of the themes I like to photograph is children. They are so natural and full of expression that I can’t resist taking pictures of kids playing or simply running around. Photographing people can be very hard, particularly if you are shy like me. I don’t want to feel like an intruder and I’m sometimes worried people will misunderstand my interest or be suspicious of my motives for taking their pictures. My photography teacher back in Toronto told me to be obvious about it – just ask, she said. Even if you don’t speak the language, all you have to do is point a picture at someone, smile and raise your thumb up or your eyebrows in a question-like manner. Nine times out of ten people will comply. Yet, I felt shy most times and I used to try to sneak the odd shot with my telephoto lens. But my new 50mm lens requires me to get right up close to people to be able to get a good shot. So lately, I’ve become a little bolder. And the results have been fantastic! This weekend I would point my camera at little kids, often dressed in costumes, and every time that the parents were around and noticed me, they would tell the kid to look at me, smile, etc. Nobody looked at me suspiciously or were troubled by my interest in any way.  I should have the pictures by the end of the week to share with you… This one I took last year, during the Festes de la Mercè, the other Barcelona patron saint:

Merce 2006

Well, no Catalan festival is complete without a parade of giants, big heads, water-spewing dragons, a presentation of castellers, and some correfocs. You gotta love Catalan culture; it’s so rich!! I’m particularly fond of the castellers, the amazing groups of people of all ages (6-80) who make human towers, which they call castles.

Here’s a picture from the Diada Castellera de Vilafranca del Penedès, this past summer:

Castellers de Vilafranca

The groups are identified by the colour of their shirt. Here in Barcelona there are several neighbourhood groups like the Castellers de Gracia, Sants, Poble Sec, Sant Andreu, etc. There is also the Castellers de Barcelona, who wear red shirts and are up in the higher leagues. All the groups compete in making towers of various difficulties, and I wrote about them a few months ago when we went to check out the best group of all – the castellers de Vilafrance del Penedes.

This Sunday we got right into the group and almost felt part of it. It was great! I got some really near upclose shots and can’t wait to get my pictures back from the lab! Alan should have some on his blog during the next few days.

If we lived here full time, we would definitely join a casteller group and volunteer at the various neighbourhood Festa Major. If we had kids I would definitely look for a place where they could learn the traditional dances. It’s really nice and I’m glad they are keeping these traditions going….

My year in pictures…

Here are some of the highlights of 2006 for me.

In January and February I was in Exam Hell so I would rather forget those…


March 22nd we left Toronto to Montreal, where we spent a week relaxing and visiting family and friends. On the 29th we left for Paris were we spent 4 days before heading down, by train, to Barcelona…

Our beighbourhoodAlan's brother's farmBenjamin Angus


We arrived in Barcelona on April 3rd, and after settling into our apartment, we took a bus tour of the city to get our bearings… The first thing I noticed were the wonderful balconies in the modernist buildings… And the beach of course! And our first Catalan festival – Sant Jordi!

WindowsSant Jordiand more windowsBeach


Our first visitors arrived! Pearl and Al came from Toronto to spend two weeks in Salou, just south of Tarragona. We spent the weekend with them and visited Tarragona and they came to spend a few days with us in Barcelona. At the end of the month, Melissa, a Brazilian friend who was spending some time in Porto, came for a weekend.

TarragonaPearl, Al & MeMelissa at Hospital Sant PauCathedral in Tarragona


This month I had a conference in Madrid. After the conference we spent a few days in Toledo, and it was really worth it! Despite being early June, the area of Madrid was hit was a heatwave that brought temperatures up to 40! Our retreat in Madrid became the park El Retiro. Loved Toledo!

RetiroGran ViaPlaza MayorWindowsToo hot in Madrid, off to Toledo

Toledo train stationJewish pastToledo's Alcazarwonderful foodwonderful people


Summertime! We discovered St Pol de Mar and our friends Gordon, Jean, and Jen came to visit from Montreal.

Sant Pol de MarGordon, Jean, Al & Francesca in SitgesFriends in Sant Pol de Mar


The highlight of this month was a weekend in Delta del Ebre with our friends Jackie, Sebastian, Naomi, and Francisca. The month ended with the Diada Castellera de Vilafranca del Penedes, the best castellers event in Catalunya.

Cycling through the rice fieldsRice fieldsBoatsDeltaDiada Castellera


Our friends Norbert and Carole came for a visit and we had a great time showing them our new city. Norbert and Carole had been to Barcelona before, but that was back in the 1960s… Barcelona celebrated its patron saint in the week-long festival of La Mercè…

La MerceGetting ready to performLittle Catalan feetNorbert & Carole


My parents came for a visit and my little nephew proved to be quite the little trooper ;)

Beach in octoberMatheusMatheus in Paris


We visited Vic and our friend Christine visited from Montreal. Together we explored Girona. Ahh, the wonderful autumn colours

The narrow streets of GironaGironaVic MarketVic


Lisboa!! what can I say? you’ve read it all before… I’ll end with table setting for a wonderful Chinese meal we had at Jackie’s & Sebastian’s

Lotus leaf

PS: I’ll be touching up the layout and the links during the next couple of days. I wanted this to come out today…

Diada Castellera

One of the things I most enjoy doing is learning about different cultures and participating in popular cultural events. After many years suppressed by the Franco regime, Catalan culture has seen quite a revival in the past two to three decades and the region abound with festivals and customs that differentiate it from the rest of Spain.

Every town and, in the case of larger cities like Barcelona, every neighbourhood has its Festa Major, an event that can take a whole week and for which the local people prepare all year. We witnessed a few so far – we saw the giants parade in St Pol de Mar, attended several days of the Festa Major de Gracia, and last wednesday went to see some of the Festa Major de Vilafranca del Penedes, one of the most authentic and considered of national interest.

August 30th is considered particularly important during the week-long Festa Major de Vilafranca since it’s the feast day of its patron saint – St Felix. It is also the day when the Colla Castellera de Vilafranca, the best in Catalunya, gives its most anticipated performance. While the rest of Spain praise the individual courage of the bullfighter, the Catalans value the collective efforts and organization of its castellers. Basically groups of up to 400 1000 people, they build human towers (castles) up to 10 storeys high. The castells (castles in Catalan) are referred to by the number of people at the core of the structure and the number of storeys they reach. On wednesday the Vilafranca group successfully completed a tres de deu amb folre i manilles (three of ten with folre and manilles), basically a ten-storey castle with three people on each floor and two extra bases (the folre and manilla). This was only the second time it had ever been done. You can see the video of the first attempt at their site. It is VERY impressive.

Jargon – there are pillars, torres and castells. Pillars have only one person per storey and they usually walk into the square in this formation:

Preparing the pillarWalking into the square

A pillar of two people per storey is called a torre. This is the first torre of seven done by the Vilafranca group, back in 1969:

Torre de 7

A castell has more than three people per storey. Nine storeys is as high as they get with only the Vilafranca group ever having done one of ten. At the base of the castell is the pinya. An extra base above that level is called a folre and the very high ones often need an extra one on top of the folre, the manilla. Castellers are of all ages – from 6 to 80 – and the younger and lighter go to the top. The star of the show is the anxaneta, a 6-9 year old that crowns the castell. The castell is only considered complete when the anxaneta gets to the top and raises his/her hand. That moment is indescribeable – you have to look at the videos at the site above to get a better sense.

Here are some pictures of the events on wednesday:

quatre de nou amb l'agulla

This one was impressive – it was a four of nine with needle (quatre de nou amb l’agulla). Basically, a four of nine castells – hard in itself – that when undone reveals a pillar in the middle:

Preparing the pillar in the staging area:

symbol of union

walking into the square

After what we saw there, I have to agree with the writing on the wall:

Other major events include the Festa Major de Barcelona on the 14 Sept, then a great competition in Tarragona on 1 Oct and the Festa Major de Girona in November. Can’t wait!!!

Observação para os meus leitores brasileiros – como vocês nunca deixam recado aqui, não sei se realmente visitam esse blog. Me avisem se querem que eu coloque alguma versão em português.