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.

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…

Catalan language and poetry

Sept 11th was an important holiday for Catalunya. While the rest of the world talked about terrorist attacks and the loss of liberties those entailed, Catalans remembered the date in 1714 when its armies surrendered to the Spanish forces led by Felipe V. Many foreigners laugh and shake their heads – “why commemorate a defeat?”, they ask. Because it wasn’t a simple defeat. The date marked the beginning of suppression of Catalan language, culture and institutions by a centralizing Spanish monarchy that wanted to punish Catalunya for picking the wrong side on the war of succession to the throne. So the date has become an important day to commemorate freedom (llibertat) and Catalan culture.

Young Catalan at Sant Cugat Flags at Saint Cugat

As Alan mentioned on his blog, when we took the train that day to go hiking nearby, we were given a little hardcover book of Catalan poetry. It is entitled Catalunya en vers: mil anys d’història a través de la poesia and it is basically a collection of poems that mention Catalunya as a nation. Since nationalism was the criteria, most of the poems hail back from the nineteenth century, that golden age of nationalism.

I have to say I was very disappointed. For a book that wants to talk about “a thousand years of history”, it completely ignores the middle ages. The oldest poem in the book is from the seventeenth century. As a medievalist, I cannot let that pass without saying something. There was no dearth of poets and writers writing in Catalan between the 13th and 15th centuries. Just think of Ramon Llull or Ausiàs March.

It always amazes people when I tell them that not only Catalan is a language in its own right (and not a dialect of Castilian as some assume), but it is also one of the oldest of the current languages spoken in Europe. Scholars hail about the early development of English citing the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare. Well, Ramon Llull was writing his mystical novels one hundred years before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales just as Ausiàs March and his contemporaries were writing beautifully a hundred years before Shakespeare.

Here’s one of Ausias March love poems:
Així com cell qui en lo somni·s delita
e son delit de foll pensament ve,
ne pren a mi, que·l temps passat me té
l’imaginar, que altre bé no hi habita.
Sentint estar en aguait ma dolor,
sabent de cert que en ses mans he de jaure,
temps d’avenir en negun be’m pot caure:
aquell passat en mi és lo millor.

Del temps present no·m trobe amador,
mas del passat, que és no res e finit.
D’aquest pensar me sojorn e·m delit,
mas, quan lo perd, s’esforça ma dolor,
sí com aquell qui és jutjat a mort
e de llong temps la sap e s’aconhorta
e creure·l fan que li serà estorta
e·l fan morir sens un punt de record.

Plagués a Déu que mon pensar fos mort
e que passàs ma vida en dorment:
malament viu qui té lo pensament
per enemic, fent-li d’enuigs report,
e, com lo vol d’algun plaer servir,
li’n pren així com dona ab son infant,
que, si verí li demana plorant,
ha tan poc seny que no·l sap contradir.

Fóra millor ma dolor soferir
que no mesclar poca part de plaer
entre aquells mals, qui·m giten de saber
com del passar plaer me cové eixir.
Las! mon delit dolor se converteix,
dobla’s l’afany aprés d’un poc repòs,
sí co·l malalt qui, per un plasent mos,
tot son menjar en dolor se nodreix.

Com l’ermità qui enyorament no”l creix
d’aquells amics que tenia en lo món
e, essent llong temps que en lo poblat no fon,
per fortuit cas un d’ells li apareix
qui los passats plaers li renovella
sí que·l passat present li fa tornar;
mas, com se’n part, l’és forçat congoixar,
lo bé, com fuig, ab grans crits mal apella.

Plena de seny, quan amor és molt vella,
absença és lo verme que la guasta,
si fermetat durament no contrasta
e creure poc, si l’envejós consella.