Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sant Joan and First Castells de 9!

Hola a tothom,

So it's been a while since that eventful May 8th I last wrote about, and although I've been neglectful in blogging, life has gone on. Now I find myself on the final countdown, with less than a week left in Barcelona, lots to do, lots of people to say goodbye to, and trying to mentally come to terms with the fact that I'm leaving next Tuesday. Nonetheless, I'd like to write one last post, one last snapshot of life in Barcelona, both for you all and myself.

The rest of May and the beginning of June went pretty well, if predictably - classes up until the end of May, exams starting the first week of June, more diadas with Arreplegats at the different universities around Catalunya that have castellers teams (Lleida, Reus, Girona), interspersed every week with practices with both Arreplegats and Poble Sec that gave me a break from academics and a time to be with friends and focus entirely on something I really enjoy. Unfortunately, at the end of the second week of June I got some kind of bad throat infection and ended up being pretty much out of commission for all of last week. I took two different kinds of antibiotics and 600mg ibuprofens, slept a lot, ate soup and yogurt for a week, and finally have almost completely recovered. It was pretty miserable, and unfortunately timed, since I had wanted to use that week to hang out with friends and do a bunch of the things in Barcelona that I've always meant to do but have never gotten around to, and instead I hardly left the house. On the other hand, though, it gave me a lot of time to study for my last exam, which is tomorrow (I had nothing else to do!).

Today is Sant Joan, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, which means that last night was the Nit de Sant Joan, the shortest night of the year and a huge Catalan celebration. All yesterday I was debating what to do, because I really wanted to spend Sant Joan with my friends, but I still didn't feel 100% and didn't know if I could handle staying up all night (which they would probably do). In the end, though, they convinced me, and I ended up going to Comarruga, a beach town a little ways down the coast, for dinner and celebrations. I'm really glad I did, even though it may not have been the most prudent decision ever - as soon as I decided to go, I immediately was in a better mood and felt better than I had all week. Eating dinner with various Arreplegats and friends in Comarruga, I realized how happy I was to be there and how disconnected I had felt while I was sick - I really do think being with good friends can help you physically feel better! The town had set up a stage facing the beach, and there were concerts there all night, accompanied by lots of fireworks - it was a lot of fun, and a really great atmosphere. The best was that four or five of us ended up swimming in the Mediterranean as the sky started to get light, around 6 am! A perfect way to celebrate the solstice.

After our dip, things were winding down, so I went with my friend Sandra to catch a train back to Barcelona. Lack of sleep caught up to us on the train and we both dozed on the way back, still covered with salt water and sand. When I got home, I showered and slept a little bit longer, but not much - the other thing I had planned for Sant Joan was to go to Valls, another town, to see the casteller "derby" between the two rival teams of the city, the Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls and the Colla Vella Xiquets de Valls, which are also two of the best teams all around! I had a moment lying in bed, debating whether to call Dan, a casteller del Poble Sec, who had offered me a ride to Valls, when I thought, "You're crazy, Sarah; go back to sleep!" The thought of the first castells of 9 stories of the season - and my only opportunity to see them - motivated me, though, and I managed to get up, make myself coffee, and head to Poble Sec to meet Dan at 11:30.

Once again, though maybe not the most prudent, definitely the right decision! Turned out that three other guys from the colla, Héctor, Kiki (Cristian), and Yuse (not sure how to spell his name) decided to come at the last minute, so we all five piled into Dan's fairly small car (I made poor Kiki sit in the middle of the back seat, even though I was the smallest!) and were off to Valls! We were running a bit late, but Héctor, who was driving, managed to get us there at 1:00 on the nose, which was when the actuación was scheduled to start. After some doubts as to where to park and wandering through the town, we managed to find the plaça, which was relatively small and packed with people. I saw several other Arreplegats as we threaded our way through the crowd, but didn't get to greet them until afterwards. We staked out a spot and immediately started sweating - it had turned into a really hot midday! - just as the Colla Vella starting mounting their first castell. It turned out to be a 5 de 8 (8 stories, 5 people in each) - impressive, but not that exciting, since it had already been done this season.

Next it was the Colla Joves' turn, and they didn't let us down - the first castell, right off the bat, was a 3 de 9 amb folre!! That means there were 9 stories altogether, with 3 people in each story of the trunk, plus an extra story of pinya (the folre) on top of the pinya to help stabilize the castell. They had to set up the base twice, because the first time it wasn't well squared-off, but on the second try it looked good and they sent up thirds, fourths, fifths, and sixths while the grallas played! I had been looking forward to this moment and had seen pictures and videos of castells de 9, but it was still incredibly impressive being right there in the plaça in front of it! We were close enough that I had the sensation of having to lean my head back further and further to see the top as people kept climbing up! The enxaneta waved the aleta, the castell was carregat, and the canalla started down. I'm not sure what it was - probably a combination of the heat/direct sun, lack of sleep, antibiotics and emotion - but right as the smallest ones started down, a wave of dizziness hit me. I could feel my heart beating faster, and I felt like I got tunnel vision on the castell - actually, it was very much like the feeling I've gotten right before I've fainted, so I was afraid for a moment I would! I couldn't do anything about it because the plaça was so packed with people, so I just stood where I was and tried to breathe calmly, and in a minute it passed and I watched as the rest of the trunk safely came down and the colla celebrated the first castell of nine stories of the season. One of my friends turned to me and asked what I thought, and I said it was fantastic - I realized that although I was grinning and cheering, my hands were shaking and I was breathing hard without meaning to! Even though, like I said, I'm sure the sun and my lack of sleep contributed to it, I really felt shaken by the emotion and excitement of the castell, and it amazed me that it could impact me so much!

Considerately, Dan went to get me a Coke while the Colla Vella began the second round and replied with their own 3 de 9, equally impressive and somewhat less shaky than that of the Colla Joves. The Joves came back with another 5 de 8, evening out the positions. In the third round, the Vella did a 4 de 8 amb l'agulla (8 stories with 4 people in each, plus a pilar of 6 stories in the middle) and the Joves did a shaky but equally impressive torre (two people in each story) de 8 amb folre. In the round of pilars, the Vella stood out with a pilar de 7 amb folre, the second one I had seen, as I had already been impressed by one done by the Capgrossos de Mataró on Sunday in Barcelona. Altogether a pretty fantastic diada, at least from my perspective - it's a lot of fun to see castells of a really high level, well executed and with no falls. Once again, I'm really glad I went and got to have the experience.

After the plaça cleared out, Dan, Héctor, Kiki, Yuse, an ex-Poble Sec member named Joan Pinyes and I stopped by the local of the Colla Joves to chat with friends they knew and get a quick tour (it's considerably better decked-out than ours!!), then went to get pizza for lunch. Although that wasn't exactly what I felt like eating with all of the heat, I ended up enjoying lunch a lot too, because as I sat and ate pizza and felt slightly sick to my stomach, we chatted for nearly an hour about Poble Sec, how our practices are going, our goals for our next diada, how to improve each castell, etc. Kiki and Héctor are both on the técnica, and I really appreciated how they were interested in what we all had to say, including me, and we could all discuss castells together, even those of us with less technical knowledge. Plus it was really interesting to hear what everyone had to say. On the way back in Dan's car - I sat in the middle this time! - as others napped, listened to the radio, or read the lastest issue of the Castells magazine (yes, there is such a thing!), I thought to myself that one of the things I really appreciate and have enjoyed here is making good friends not only at the university, or with people about my own age and with similar styles of life, but of all different ages, occupations, social positions, etc. That's also another merit of making castells - I wouldn't have had any reason to meet, much less make friends with, people like Dan, Héctor and Kiki, but because of the colla I could spend a really enjoyable day with them and not feel awkward being the youngest, the only student, or the only female (or the only American! hah, sometimes I forget that one :) ), but rather feel totally at ease.

I think if I had to pick one thing to take home with me from Catalunya (besides castells, of course - that's a given!), it would be the experience of being integrated into a neighborhood, a barri, like that, and making friends without the criteria - age, occupation, etc. - I would typically be limited by, even if without meaning to be. I had a similar thought the other day at a commercial performance Poble Sec did, when I was sitting with a little girl of 7 named Rita in my lap and chatting with her mother Mercè, who is in her thirties, and at the same time with a couple who were probably in their late 60s or 70s whom I didn't know that well in the colla. It's great to think that on Friday, I'll probably have dinner with the canalla (the kids of the colla), a core group of people in their 20s like me, and people like "my" baix (for whom I am usually contrafort in our castells of 7), Manel Blasco, who is also probably late 60s/70. Even though I love the U of C community, I don't get that there - I primarily live in a university, with other university students and, at a stretch, grad students and professors, rather than in a neighborhood or city (although those are also important). I hope I can remember the different way I've engaged with this particular community here and how valuable it has been.

With that I'll close both this post and this blog, most likely - T minus 6 days until I'm in Nashville, hard as it is to believe! Salut i bons castells a tothom -

Força, equilibri, valor i seny!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pinya del 4d8!

Wanted to share the diagram of the pinya for the 4d8 that Jaume made ... this shows the positions of everyone who was on the ground supporting the castell. I love it because it demonstrates how, besides the people that are so visible climbing up in the tronc and the pom de dalt, everyone really has to work together on the bottom, where it's sweaty and everyone can't see you and cheer for you, to make the castell reality. See if you can find my name!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What It Feels Like to Make History

On Friday, May 8th, at 2:00 in the afternoon, the group of castellers of which I am incredibly proud to form a part, the Arreplegats de la Zona Universitària, changed the history of castells. That sounds overly dramatic, and maybe it is, but it was one of the more incredible experiences I've had, both here in Catalunya and elsewhere. In the best actuación the colla has ever had, we completed (descarregat) two castells never before done by university teams, the 3 de 7 per sota (lifted up from below) and, the biggest of them all, the 4 de 8. To round it all off, we also made a 5 de 7 (one of our best castells for the Anniversary in December, and now it was the smallest!) and two simultaneous pilars de 5. To try to describe to you all what it was like, I'll focus on the 4d8.

I think that the most amazing part of that castell, besides the fact that it was physically really impressive (and REALLY TALL!), was that it was a culmination of what, 13 years ago when the colla was founded, and even 7 months ago when I entered, seemed like a faraway dream. After our Anniversary in December, when we made a 4d7 amb l'agulla, 3d7, and 5d7, the tècnica (the team of people that directs the technical aspect of making castells) started to think seriously about whether we could do it. We had a general meeting - I think it was in February- and debated for a good 3 or 4 hours the merits and risks of aiming for the 4d8. We'd had a great rhythm for the first half of the year, and it felt like nothing could stop us - but of course, there were possible disadvantages. Aiming for the biggest castells meant a lot of work, concentrating even harder and having even more people at practices than in the fall, and sacrificing time that might otherwise go to training new people in smaller castells. Even though we would approach it with the same caution we always have, it could be dangerous - falling from the top of 8 stories of people is a long way to fall, and our top levels are heavier than the top levels in "conventional" castells of 8 stories. And then there was the question of how we would feel if, after all we dedicated to it, we just weren't ready on May 8th - would it be worth it to have spent so much time practicing if we didn't achieve our goal in the end?

After a long debate, we resolved that, despite the risks, the spirit of the Arreplegats was to aim as high as we could, and that all of us would regret it if we didn't go for it when we had the chance. With that decision made, we started down the road to the 4d8. We did our first trial run of the pinya during the joint practice with the Castellers del Riberal when we went to Perpinyà, the last weekend in February. Many practices, many trials of the pinya for the 4d8 and the 4d7 net (without pinya), much recruiting of friends and random passers-by to help spot, and many encouraging e-mails later, we arrived at the month of May. We had a week left: two practices. Time to give it everything we had. Tuesday seemed to be "Bring your foreign friend to practice day" - in addition to two girls from Sweden who had started coming a couple of weeks before, we had a group of Germans who had never come before, plus an entire section of "spectators" sitting on the grass, whom we kept trying to make get up and help us! My friend Vitxi even commented, "Are we in a tourist guidebook or something?? It seems like it, from the number of 'guiris'!" (Guiris = slang for foreigners). Happily, she quickly added, "Of course we don't consider you a foreigner anymore, Sarah!" I had to laugh. It was a good practice; we did the 3d7 per sota, the other big one we were working towards, complete for the first time, a 4d7 net up to acotxador (the 2nd to last story), and a 4d8 up to quints (the 5th story) with the dosos (the 6th) climbing halfway up, then coming down. We all left focused on Thursday, our last practice before the Diada.

By chance, I didn't have class Thursday morning, so I spent the morning anxiously awaiting 2:00. Happily, there were a lot of people at practice, both all of the familiar faces I expected and a good number of unfamiliar ones, whether friends who had been convinced to come lend a hand or legendary past Arreplegats who had come back to help with the final push. It was an intense practice, full of important trials, but we all knew what we needed to do. Several trials of the 4d7 net, the first a bit shaky but then improving, a pinya for the 4d8 that went up to dosos in position, 3d7 per sota up to the acotxador (2nd to last story), and finally the pinya of the 5d7. I was crossa in both the 4d8 and 5d7, meaning my shoulder was under the arm of one of the baixos, the people directly on the bottom of each column making up the castell, and I helped keep them in place and support some of the weight. Needless to say I was a bit sweaty by the end of practice! When we officially ended the practice, Kelet, our cap de colla, announced the program for the next day: we would start with the 3d7 per sota, if all went well go on to the 4d8, then end with a 5d7 and 2 pilars de 5. I headed off to catch the metro as everyone said goodbye to each other with a very loaded "Fins demà!" (See you tomorrow!)

I found myself at home on Thursday night at about 10, needing to prepare for a group project the next morning, but only able to think about what I would be doing starting at 1:30. Several people sent motivational e-mails that gave me goosebumps and really made me realize the significance of what we were about to do. I'll quote/translate a few sections, to give you the gist:

"We've got the technique and the force; let's take advantage of it and work with confidence... I think our only enemy on Friday could be nerves, so let's not let them get the better of us. Arreplegats have, throughout all of these years, overcome all the challenges we've proposed to ourselves and we've never stopped ... let's keep going like that. Let's make history."

"...And that's the Arreplegat spirit. Knowing that everything we want, with strength, balance, courage and sense, we can accomplish. Everything that we propose in this life."

"You dream this dream knowing that many have dreamed it before you, and that it's you, the fortunate ones, who will make it reality. All of the generations of Arreplegats are watching you, don't doubt it. Now, when the dream is about to take form, maybe we realize how incredibly grand it is, not only for the size or the ambition that it implies, but for the quantity of people who have dreamed about it and who in silence, maybe inconsciently, have waited for it for years."

"My position at the UPC allows me to 'legally' be an Arreplegat until I retire ... but I always said jokingly that I would leave the AZUs when my daughter joined the colla in order to avoid complicated situations at the parties! When I started in 1999 all that about having kids seemed really far away, but I've already started down that road and in less than 15 days there will be another project for the Arreplegats! Make me proud to bring to the Arreplegat family a girl who will be born in the post-4d8 era!"

And finally, from Paretas, a biology doctoral candidate who's been an Arreplegat since the colla was founded:

"Tomorrow is one of those days that will make us different from the rest of the mortals.

Because there are people who have enough with just dreaming, and others who really fight and persevere, to keep going upwards, keep going forwards...

And you'll transform with me these dry tears for the people who constructed the colla dreaming about tomorrow, building that to which we have arrived, that which makes possible the greatest, tallest dream..."

And so we arrive at Friday. I got there, to the Campus Nord of the Polytechnic University of Catalunya, feeling a mixture of excitement, impatience, and nervousness, telling myself that above all I needed to be calm. Finally we started, around 2:30. There were lots of people in the plaça, including members of conventional collas that had come to watch and a fair amount of press! We started with the 3d7 per sota, as planned. I watched from the outside as they raised it up from the bottom. It went well; a little bit slow towards the end, but we got it up, then closed pinya, everyone providing pressure to lock it into place, and it was complete. Descarregat. Celebration, everyone yelling "Un pis més!" (One more story!) I went over to talk to some members of Poble Sec who had come and asked them what they thought. They were impressed and congratulated me, but one of them said, "OK, you celebrated that one, now what about the 4d8?" It was yet to come.

We had to wait for all the other collas to take a turn, though it was hard to concentrate on helping them with their pinyas while thinking about our next castell. Finally it was our turn again. The baixos got into position and Kelet squared them off; I already knew where I went, so I stood next to Ubi, my baix. Just like in practice, we closed the pinya: "Contraforts, ens agafem! Rengles a tocar! Cinquena agulla dins! Agulles de davant i de darrere, dins! Altres agulles preparades... altres agulles dins! Crosses preparades ... crosses dins!" That was my cue; I got a firm hold on the bottom of the faixa of the contrafort, Pep, who went right behind Ubi, squatted down to go under the joint arms of the baixes, then came up into the center of the pinya, thoroughly squished between Ubi and his agulla, Adrià. There was some adjusting of positions, then the segons (seconds) climbed up onto the pinya. I heard, "Obriu mans!" (Open hands!), and then the feet of Paretas, who was the segon on top of Ubi, appeared on his shoulders. At this point I couldn't see anything but feet and the face of the crossa across from me, Ester - I was experiencing the castell through sound and feeling.

Terços (thirds) went up, they double-checked that the proportions looked good, then as the quarts (fourths) started up, the gralles started to play. I could feel my heart beating faster and tried to focus on breathing and supporting Ubi as steadily as I could. I heard someone yell, "Dosos col·locats!" Already?? There were only two people left to go up, Neus, who was the acotxador, and Núria, who was the enxaneta. I heard the trill of the gralles - aleta! Carregat! I grinned inside the pinya, but it wasn't over yet - now we had to get everyone safely down. Obviously I couldn't tell who was coming down exactly when, but I there was a moment that I think was in between dosos and quints (fifths) coming down when I heard people yelling, "Va, va, va!" (Come on, come on!) and everyone kind of squished together even more, and I thought for a second, "It's going to fall!"

But it didn't! Quints came down, then quarts came down, then everyone started yelling, including Ubi, who at first was shouting, "Be quiet!!", but then just started to yell in celebration as we all realized that we had done it!!! People started jumping up and down before everyone was even on the ground, and I actually got knocked over - it was the scariest moment of the whole thing, because for a second I was afraid I'd get trampled by the very people I'd just been standing under! But then Ubi was there shouting, "Help her up!" and lots of hands reached down to lift me to my feet, and then we were all jumping and shouting and hugging each other, and Kelet was crying...

And that, my friends, is how the Arreplegats made history. I'm still in awe with it all. I am so impressed with all of these people, with their incredible strength and potential, with their ability to believe in themselves and transmit that belief to others, and above all with the fact that I'm a part of them! When I wrote on my facebook wall, "Sou increïbles!" (You're incredible!), more than one person wrote back, "Sou, no; SOM!" (Not you're; WE'RE!). That's what makes me the most amazed and proud. As Vitxi wrote to us afterward, "History is, definitively, GREEN!"

Thanks to all for putting up with that long and somewhat dramatic chronicle - I hope I've been able to let you have some idea of what it was like. I'll leave you with links to the videos of the castells on youtube:
3d7 per sota:
2 pilars de 5:
And the hymn!

Salut i castells!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I finally downloaded the pictures from our trip off of Hallie's camera - so here you go! Enjoy!

San Sebastián's version of Plaza Catalunya:

Wandering on the beach in San Sebastián:
Our official setting-off, "before" picture!
The road out of San Sebastián and the gorgeous view of the sea (plus me in my hiking ninja outfit):
Day 1: boots already start to die... this doesn't bode well... :)
Go you to Santiago??
Some pretty sweet tarpage, or "Our Seaside View in the Gran Camping Zarrautz"
Don't whistle! You'll make the sheep angry!

Sheep! Fortunately not annoyed with us like the one in the sign.
Little towns in País Basco have modern glass outdoor elevators? Cool...
The first day of tortilla sandwiches, when it was still a fantastic idea:

Dinner with fellow pilgrims in the monastery at Zenarrutz:
Beautiful landscape:
We made it to Bilbao!! The official "after" picture:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Caminando por la vida

Hola a tothom!

I'm overdue for a blog update, and now is a good time since I just got back yesterday from a week-long adventure of backpacking on the Camino de Santiago, originally a pilgrimage route through northern Spain, during my spring break! I could write pages about it, but I'll try to hit the highlights based off of the journal I kept while we were walking. I went with my friend Hallie, and we left Barcelona early on Sunday morning, the 5th, headed for San Sebastián, a lovely little city in País Basco/Basque Country/Euskal Herria. It was about a 6-hour train trip, which wasn't too bad, as it was really interesting to watch the landscape change from the Mediterranean climate of Catalunya, through the pre-Pyrenees, then through a big flat, dry area around Zaragosa, and finally into the green, mountainous País Basco. Hallie and I played a lot of gin, which ended up being a sort of theme of the trip. We got into San Sebastián around 1:30 and, after finding our hostel, explored the city for most of the afternoon. It was a shame that it was kind of cold and gray, as the beach was gorgeous. In the process of looking for their version of Plaza Catalunya so we could take a picture of ourselves in front of the sign (yes, we are ridiculous), we accidentally found a concert of sacred music going on in a nearby church. We sat and listened to most of it, which I really liked and which felt very appropriate for the beginning of a pilgrimage during Holy Week, after all.

We got up early again Monday morning, made ourselves toast and coffee at the hostel, stopped by a grocery store to stock up on provisions, and officially set out. After climbing a big hill out of the city and passing by an old amusement park that looked abandoned, we quickly found ourselves hiking through absolutely beautiful countryside along the sea. We followed a mix of small paved roads and muddy paths between pastures, occasionally passing by sheep, goats, and horses, which watched us curiously, always coming back to the Atlantic on our right. We stopped on top of a hill for a lovely picnic of bread, cheese, apples, and dried fruit (which was delicious at the time but got pretty old after 6 days of eating basically the same thing). One of the best moments of that day was when we found a sign along the side of the road that said, "Santiago 787 km." Just as we were looking at it, a car drove up and stopped, and a woman that turned out to be German got out excitedly to take a picture. She gestured at it and asked us in enthusiastic if a bit uncertain English, "Go you to Santiago??!" I laughed and replied, "No, to Bilbao!" She said back, "Ah, Bilbao...", seeming both relieved and a little disappointed.

We camped out that night in the "Gran Camping Zarrautz", overlooking the ocean and the town of Zarrautz. Of course, it rained, but our tarp held up pretty well. We felt both kind of silly and hardcore, as the majority of spots in the campsite were taken up either by RVs or enormous tents with many useless accessories like porch overhangs. We did have a great view, though...! The next day started out rainy, unfortunately, so, given a choice of two routes, we decided to take the one that went through the town of Getaria, where we hoped to take a break, dry off, and get coffee. Sadly, getting to Getaria involved about and hour and half of walking along the side of the highway in the rain, with cars zooming by the whole time. However, once we got there, we did in fact find coffee, which was in an adorable little café with a heater and a nice lady used to cold, wet pilgrims. Overall a wonderful experience. After we left Getaria the rain let up some, which was really nice, though we still got caught in a few sudden downpours as we wound our way up among more bright green hillsides and tiny towns. We got to our destination for the day, Deba, fairly early, after a long, ridiculously steep downhill stretch that actually ended in an outdoor, public elevator down into the town. Theoretically there was a hostel, but we had read that it only had 6 spots, so we were doubtful as to our prospects. However, we went to ask at the Information Office, and then, following instructions since it was closed, at the police station. They told us that, luckily, there were beds left in the "Frontón," a sort of auxiliary space to the hostel, and gave us the key. We explored the town, which was very cute, ate oranges in a plaza, had an old lady try to teach us in Basque how to use the fountain in the central square, and then spent a very happy night on bunk beds with a nice French man named Daniel for a roommate.

We set out optimistically on Wednesday after coffee and pastries in town. The beginning of the day was nice, though there was a lot of uphill. However, after lunch we had to go down all that we had come up, which was problematic since we both had really sore Achilles' tendons and my knees were starting to hurt. There was once particularly miserable stretch of going down a muddy road, too steep to comfortably stop and rest, through a sea of thorn bushes, for about an hour and a half. We were in low spirits when we arrived at the town at the bottom, Markina. After unsuccessfully looking for a public bathroom and/or pharmacy, we settled on a café, where I ate a mango ice cream bar and then felt somewhat revitalized, despite the odd looks we were getting. We didn't stay long, mainly because of the terribly pop music they were playing, but we did feel better afterward. Also, the trail got a lot more bearable and pretty after Markina. After going through a few more cute towns, including the birthplace of Simón Bolivar, we got onto a very cool, 17th-century stone pathway called a Via Crucis that led up up the hill to the monastery of Zenarrutz. That night we stayed in a hostel run by the monks, which was incredibly idyllic, except for the fact that one of our fellow pilgrims snored incredibly loudly all night... what can you do? :)

We set off Thursday morning after a breakfast of bread and coffee brought to us by monks and a few intents desmuntats (unsuccessful attempts) at making a pilar de 2 in front of the monastery on Hallie's and my part. The weather had turned perfect again, which was really happy. We knew we had a short day, so we planned on getting lunch when we arrived in Gernika around 3. In the meantime, we stopped for "brunch" around 11:30 at an amazing beautiful spot on top of a hill, looking out over the countrysie, with an old stone tower on one side and a view of the sea in the distance. After picnicking on an apple, a bit of cheese, dried figs, almonds, and cookies, and sunbathing for a while, we reluctantly headed back down to the trail. As expected, we arrived in Gernika around 3 - 3:30. Everything was closed until 4, so we hung around a bit and ate ice cream, then went to the Tourist Information Office to ask if we could leave our backpacks there for a few hours, which we were, sadly, denied. Next we went to the Museo de la Paz (Peace Museum), a pretty interesting museum half about the history of the town and its bombardment during the Spanish Civil War and half about the concept of peace in the modern world, specifically in Euskadi (Basque Country). I was really glad we went.

Our challenges began when we realized we had stayed at the museum longer than we'd meant to, so we hurried out to buy food, since our plan was to camp out somewhere just past the city, rather than stay in the hostel there, which looked kind of depressing. However, we quickly realized that there were no supermarkets open at all, as it was a holiday. After debating what to do, we decided to buy some breakfast food in a bakery and then find a bar that would make us a couple of sandwiches to take with us for dinner. No problem there, but by the time we were finally headed out of town, dark clouds were building up on the horizon, a stiff wind was blowing, and rain seemed eminent. Also, we lost the trail going through several really unpleasant construction sites. With the unhappy feeling of racing against time and the weather, we picked a road somewhat at random and started up a hill. However, as we were crossing a bigger road, a car pulled over and a guy got out to ask if we were lost. I was really nervous at first, but he turned out to be really nice and helpful and pointed out to us where the Camino actually went, which was not at all the direction in which we were going. Feeling grateful and lucky, we backtracked, found the trail, and followed it up a different hill until we found a makeshift campsite across a spur trail - not ideal, but it worked. Shortly after the tarp was up, the rain began.

We actually slept well and stayed dry under the tarp. Friday morning, however, it quickly became evident that the rain was not going to let up any time soon. We were absolutely soaked and freezing after a few hours of hiking, hoping that any minute we would come around a corner and find a town with open cafés. Sadly, this did not happen, and we later realized that we had taken the alternate, not-recommended route that skipped all nearby towns. Great. After about four hours of hiking without taking a break, trying to continually generate heat, we reached two small clusters of buildings that we referred to as "G-town" and "L-town," since we couldn't pronounce their names in Basque. L-town did have a café, which we took advantage of - unfortunately, we were still freezing and wet and realized that there were still no open supermarkets or pharmacies to be found, meaning that we still had no food for lunch, dinner, or any other meals in the near future. We kept walking. Around 2:00, we arrived in Lezama, the town which was originally supposed to be our destination. Following the pattern, no stores were open there. Neither was the hostel. We did find a bar that served us marvelous hot sandwiches for lunch while we contemplated our options. Camping out seemed out of the question, since everything we were wearing was soaked and it would be extremely cold and miserable to be under a tarp. The only thing we could come up with was to keep walking until we got to Bilbao, although we weren't supposed to get there until Saturday. So that's what we did.

After we had made a decision, I think we both felt a lot better. It was an extra 10-15 km, depending on which guide you looked at, but that seemed like nothing compared to what we had already done that morning. We hiked pretty much straight through and found ourselves on a mountainside overlooking Bilbao around 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Following the Camino into the city, we ended up first at the Basilica, which we took a "We made it!" picture in front of. Then there was the issue of where we would sleep that night, since our reservation started the next night. Fortunately, there was an open room at our hostel, which the old lady who ran it was kind enough to rent to us. It was so marvelous to be able to take a hot shower and put on (mostly) dry clothing! Needless to say, we went to bed early. Right as I was about to fall asleep, around 10:45, I think, my Arreplegat godmother Maria, who was also in Bilbao with two other Arreplegades, called. We had what I imagine was a pretty funny conversation for her, in which she asked where we were, I said we were in our room, she asked if we wanted to come have dinner/go out with them, and I replied really sleepily in Catalan, "We've walked here from Gernika!"

Well, that was the gist of our adventure. Hope it wasn't too long! We spent a nice, relaxing few days in Bilbao, including Easter. It's a pretty city, though small - I think I can say with certainty that we saw everything there is to see and some things that aren't particularly to see. I did really enjoy the Guggenheim Museum, which we went to yesterday before catching the train back to Barcelona. We got in late, though fortunately before the metro closed, and I was very happy to sleep in my own bed. Now it's back to classes, which isn't too bad, and gearing up for some major castellering in the next few weeks. I'll try to post pictures of our trip soon (they're all on Hallie's camera, since mine is broken)!

'Til then, salut i castells!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

L'Inici de la Primavera

Hola a tothom!

It's really feeling like spring here in Barcelona, which means perfect weather for strolling around a neighborhood in the sun or walking around barefoot at castellers practice, but not such a great motivation to stay inside and study... regardless, things are going along fairly well, both in my classes and otherwise. I really don't have much work, so I can't complain, though I have to keep reminding myself to go check out books from the library for various background readings. The only big project I'm working on is a presentation for my History of the Catalan Language class, in which I have to analyze a text from a certain region of Catalunya (or, more accurately, the linguistic domain of Catalan - my group has Mallorca) and contrast it with the standard dialect as developed by the grammaticist Pompeu Fabra and the Institut d'Estudis Catalans around the 1920s. It's a really interesting project, but a little overwhelming, just because I have basically zero previous knowledge to go on. But I've been reading a lot of articles and, little by little, learning what I need to learn... It makes me even more conscious than before of the language being spoken around me - and I mean language in the sense of the Catalan word "llenguatge" rather than "llengua" or "idioma," the register or manner of speaking rather than which language is being spoken (like when someone says, "Watch your language!"). There are a couple of Arreplegats from Mallorca, and I love hearing them use specific traits of that region, like the "article salat" ("sa" instead of "el" or "la" for the article "the" - ex. "sa gent," "sa poble" instead of "la gent," "el poble") or the form "mos" instead of "nos" or "ens" for the first person plural pronoun. Haha, now I've probably bored you all with too much grammar - it really is fascinating to me, though.

Let's see, what have I been up to since I last wrote? Well, two weekends ago was our big trip to Perpinyà with Arreplegats, which turned out to be pretty fantastic. We all had to get up reeeeally early Friday morning to go up to the Zona Universitària and bring all of our food and supplies down from our office to the bus, which was waiting in front of one of the libraries of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC). I'm sure all the kids heading to class were wondering why on earth about 50 people, at least half of them already dressed in bright green shirts and white pants, were so enthusiastically rolling huge carts stacked with tomato sauce and coke bottles down the hill from one of the buildings at 8:00 in the morning... Anyway, once we finally got loaded up and under way we got to Perpinyà pretty quickly, stopping only once at a gas station to go to the bathroom, give the people who had forgotten to bring food for the potluck dinner that night the chance to buy something, and make the obligatory pilar de 4 in the parking lot.

We arrived at the University of Perpinyà around 12 and immediately had a joint actuación with the university colla there, the Mangoners. They're a very small and new group, but were really enthusiastic and welcoming, which was fun. We each made 3 rounds of castells separately and then did a couple of joint castells, with castellers from both groups together. Because we had less people than we would have at an actuación in Barcelona, we couldn't make any castells of 7 stories, but we successfully made a 5 de 6, torre de 6 (2 people per story), and 4 de 6 amb l'agulla. The most exciting of these for me was the 5d6, because it was my debut as a baixa "a plaça" - in a real castell during an actuación, that is! That's right, I had 5 stories of people standing directly on top of me! I have to admit, it was harder than I expected it to be, even though I had been baixa for castells of 5 stories in practice. The one extra story made a big difference - it hurt my shoulders, but, more than that, just the sheer pressure of that much weight made it physically hard to breathe. My contrafort (the person right behind me, against my back) helped me a lot, though, and together we made it. Afterwards a bunch of people came up and gave me hugs and congratulated me. My "godmother," Maria, asked me exactly where I had been, and when I told her which direction I had been facing she realized that she had been in my rengla, the column of people directly above me - meaning she had climbed up me and neither of us had realized it at the time! It was a good actuación, even if it wasn't one of our biggest; it felt good to be back in the plaça with my Arreplegats.

Group photo: Arreplegats in green (of course), Mangoners in white:

Afterwards we headed to the headquarters of the Castellers del Riberal, the conventional team of the area (a.k.a. not from the university), where we were staying. They had a really nice space, with a big central area for practicing/eating, a kitchen, a bathroom with showers, and two smaller rooms where we put out sleeping bags and slept. Once we settled in, some of us got restless and started making pilars (the normal solution for boredom - hey, we are castellers, after all!), so we ended up having an impromptu practice that afternoon.

Practice at the local of the Castellers del Riberal:

Friday night was kind of crazy but a lot of fun, involving lots of music and dancing, baptism of novatus (including me! I'm an officially baptized Arreplegada now!!), surprise games organized by a few old-timers who came along even though they're not in the university anymore, etc... We also voted for L'Hereu and La Pubilla, which are positions that originally referred to the eldest son and daughter of a Catalan family who traditonally inherited the land/property, and now are sort of like Prom King and Queen, as far as I could tell from everyone's explanations - and I got elected La Pubilla! It was very exciting (and funny, since I still didn't quite know what it was when they announced that I had won it). I was given a ribbon with the red and yellow stripes of the Catalan flag that says "Pubilla Perpinyà 2009" on it to wear around my chest all night, and at random times throughout the weekend people came up to me and said, "Visca la Pubilla!" Oh man, I love Arreplegats...

Most of the day Saturday was devoted to napping, playing volleyball in the parking lot, reading the latest issue of the colla's magazine, the Arreplegator, and generally recovering from the night before (though an intrepid group not including me went into town to a rugby game all afternoon!). Around 7:00 in the evening the Castellers del Riberal showed up and we had a joint official practice. Afterwards we all had dinner together, then we had the annual - and very dramatic - guys vs. girls castell-building contest. After much negotiating we decided on a points system and that there would be 3 rounds of castells and a round of pilars, like a normal actuación. Clearly I was for the girls, but I have to say I ended up being incredibly impressed by the castells everyone made. Objectively the guys won with a 3 de 6 per sota, 4 de 6 amb l'agulla, 4 de 6 net (no pinya!) and AWESOME pilar de 5 amb folre (a folre is a second tier of pinya supporting the pilar from on top of the pinya!). However, the girls also did really well with a 3 de 6, 4 de 6, pilar de 4 net, and a history-making 3 de 6 amb l'agulla, the first time that castell had ever been descarregat (completed) by Arreplegats! It's both pretty amusing and inspiring that our girls or guys alone can make bigger castells than some other entire collas ... just think about what we can do together!

I came back from Perpinyà early Sunday morning to go to a small actuación with Poble Sec in Barcelona, thus missing the cooking of the traditional enormous paella, which tragically got knocked over and half-spilled everywhere (it really was tragic - I've seen pictures :) ). All in all it was a great weekend, and it left me even more proud and grateful to be an Arreplegat, as well as excited about our potential for this spring. Now we're really buckling down in practice and trying to get everyone extra-motivated to prepare for our spring Diada, which will be May 8th. We're working towards some pretty amazing castells - the 4 de 8, the 3 de 7 per sota, and the 3 de 7 amb l'agulla - which have never been made by university collas before. I don't want to jinx anything, because all of them will take a lot of work in the next two months and we're certainly not there yet, but I think we're on a roll. After Perpinyà, I think everyone can feel it. We've got the excitement; now we need to calm our jitters a little bit and really focus during the practices we have left.

Changing the subject slightly, while things are clearly going well with Arreplegats, this last week I've really enjoyed the time I've spent with Poble Sec. Last weekend was the inter-casteller soccer tournament, organized and hosted by the Castellers de Sants, which we played in. I think we ranked 11th out of around 30 collas, which isn't too bad I supposed, but the best thing was that we won the prize for best fan group! We really went all out, with a bunch of people (including guys) dressed up like cheerleaders with short white skirts and pompoms, lots of big signs, and a choreographed routine to our own version of "Mamma Mia!" ("Mare Meva!" in Catalan) courtesy of the 10-year-old girls of our canalla. I didn't dress up, but I went to cheer, and ended up having a really great time and staying all day. It was a great way to get to know a lot of the colla that I had never really talked to before.

Cheering at the soccer tournament (I'm the one in the black t-shirt and not wearing a miniskirt!):

After that, I was really looking forward to our practices this week, and they didn't let me down - I got to climb up to the second story in trial runs for the 4 de 6 and 4 de 7 on both Tuesday and Friday! I was pleased with how well it went both days - not that it was easy, but I did it and felt fairly competent. I was reminded again of how important the psychological factor is; I think the thing I did best was just to stay calm and keep mentally going over all the little things I needed to do (look straight ahead, raise your elbows, flex your knees a little, point your toes, don't lean inward, etc.). I might get a chance to climb up to the third story (Mom, I know that makes you nervous!), because on Friday I was doing an espatllera (practice pilar when everyone is holding onto a wall/pole) and climbed up to the third story on top of Benet, one of our caps de colla, who seemed very impressed afterwards and asked me how much I weighed (not an impertinent question in the world of castellers, since it makes a difference to the people you climb on top of!).

We also had a special practice for pinyas on Thursday, which I enjoyed a lot, even though I didn't climb in anything, since the point was to practice the foundation of the castell. Hector, one of the members of the tècnica, drew a diagram of a pinya in chalk on the ground, and we spent a good while just going over each of the different positions, taking turns explaining to each other the things we each knew how to do well and asking questions. Then we put it all together and made several pinyas very carefully, paying better attention to every step than normally happens during practice. I enjoyed it a lot because I felt like we were really working as a team, learning how to communicate and each be aware not only of our job but of the jobs of the people around us and how we could help them. We went to dinner nearby afterwards, which was also a lot of fun. I'm definitely glad I joined Poble Sec, even though I won't get to spend as much time in the colla - I've having a really good time getting to know a conventional colla as well.

Uff, that was a lot to say! Well, I hope you've enjoyed it - I'll keep you all updated as to how things progress. Two weeks from today is a big actuación with Poble Sec, called Santa Madrona, and then the next week two friends from Nashville, Hunter Claire and Elisabeth, come to visit... lots to do but should be fun! Plus I hope to spend even more time sitting in plaças and/or at the beach as the weather gets warmer! :) I suppose I'll find time to study somewhere in there...fins aviat!

Salut i castells!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Santa Eulàlia


Amics i amigues,
I thought I'd give a brief update on my castellering activities for the Festes de Santa Eulàlia, as they were fairly exciting and this way I won't get too behind on blogging! All of the colles of Barcelona - the Castellers de Barcelona, Castellers de Sants, Castellers de la Vila de Gràcia, Castellers de la Sagrada Familia, and my new colla, the Castellers del Poble Sec - performed together in an actuación on Sunday in the Plaça de Sant Jaume, the main plaça in the old city, between the Ajuntament and the Generalitat. This was exciting for me partly because it was my first actuación with the Castellers del Poble Sec and also my first non-university actuación. It felt really cool to be there in the center of the city, in such an historic place, with the plaça completely full of people watching and even the mayor looking out over the balcony of the Ajuntament. I could have imagined we were in the 16th century as we paraded from Plaça Nova, behind the cathedral and through a narrow street with gargoyles looking down at us, then each made a pilar before officially entering the plaça with a pilar caminant (a walking pillar, which I had never participated in before!). I found it both cool and very amusing that we got to leave our bags and things inside the Ajuntament building, which I had never been inside before, even though they give official tours fairly frequently!

My colla, Poble Sec, got to start off the actuación by making another pilar right in front of the balcony of the Ajuntament, from where the mayor and others lowered a faixa with a loop tied on the end and proceeded to pull the top two members of the pilar up onto the balcony! I have to admit, I was a little jealous of Arnau, the 8-year-old enxaneta who was the first one pulled up - it looked like a lot of fun! Apparently they rotate every year between collas as to which one gets to do it, so it was cool that this happened to be Poble Sec's year. After that, each of the collas except for Sagrada Familia, which I believe was missing key members due to illness or injury, proceeded with the traditional three rounds of castells and one round of pilars at the end. Everyone did well, although we were the only ones to have a castell fall. It was our third one, a 3d6 aixecat per sota, which means it was the kind that is lifted up from the ground one tier at a time, rather than having people climb. The frustrating part is that the lifting, which is normally the tricky part, went perfectly, but then when the enxaneta was passing over the acotxador she went a bit too fast and tipped the whole pom de dalt off balance - and in a flash, they all came tumbling down. No one got hurt, as we were all there in the pinya to catch them, but it was a shame to have such an otherwise-pretty castell only count as carregat, not descarregat. The other two castells we made were a torre de 6 (torres, or towers, have two people in each tier and are thus somewhat less stable and harder than 3s, 4s, or 5s) and a 5d6. According to a newspaper article I read, the Castellers de Barcelona had the best actuación points-wise, even though they had an intent desmuntat of a 5d7 in the third round, meaning that they took the castell down before it was completed because for some reason one of the canalla (the little kids) couldn't climb all the way up. They got to repeat it afterwards, though, and everything went smoothly then, so I think they ended up getting the points for a 5d7 descarregat.

Our 3d6 per sota before it fell:

The best part of the day was that after the actuación, all of the Arreplegats who were there with their other collas (we have a bunch in Castellers de Barcelona and Castellers de Sants, and a couple in Sagrada Familia and Castellers de la Vila de Gràcia, as well as me in Poble Sec!) went and had lunch together, still all in our respective shirts and white pants! Here's a picture of all of us in front of the Ajuntament:It was a lot of fun to me to be able to be with Poble Sec and concentrate most of my energy on the castells we were making, but then in between look across the plaça and see my friends working hard with their collas too, and even to be able to go join in a few pinyas for other collas. My new godmother in Arreplegats, María, was there with the Castellers de Barcelona, and she lent me her mocador with the Arreplegats seal on it, so everyone would know I was an Arreplegat too!

That evening there was a correfoc, which I was extremely excited about after the one during the Mercè back in September, but, unfortunately, I got there late and it was a lot smaller than the one before, so I didn't get to see much. I found Hallie in the crowd, though, and we watched for a bit, then decided to go find dinner. We had been talking recently about how much we missed the Chinese buns they sell in Cobb at the U of C (I still do miss them!!!), and Hallie had heard about a neighborhood with lots of Chinese restaurants and grocery stores in Santa Coloma, so we decided to go check it out! We took the metro almost to the end of the red line, as Santa Coloma is sort of a suburb/almost separate town. I was still wearing my casteller attire, which was kind of embarassing but fun. However, we hadn't taken into account the fact that we had no idea where this neighborhood was in Santa Coloma, so we had no idea where to go when we got off the metro. We wandered around for a good while, getting hungry and cold (and realizing that perhaps a Sunday night was not the best time to go looking for restaurants), until we finally found a random Chinese restaurant and ate way too much (but thoroughly enjoyed it). Sadly, we didn't find Chinese buns... they're still on the to do list. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Now I'm very much back into the routine of classes - I was finally able to matriculate today! I really like both of the biology classes I'm taking, Comparative Embriology and Zoology. The professors in both seem really good. Also, my class on History of the Catalan Language is fascinating, though kind of intimidating. I've been trying to do a lot of background reading to get a better grasp on things like phonetic symbols, morphology and syntax - it's a lot of work, but I actually really enjoy learning about it. Right now I'm really excited about the fact that I'm going to Perpinyà in two days with the Arreplegats! It's our big trip of the year, and it should be a lot of fun. On Friday afternoon we have an actuación at the University of Perpinyà, and on Saturday we have a joint practice with the castellers there, the Castellers del Riberal. Plus lots of other traditional Arreplegat activities, like a costume ball, girls vs. guys castell-building contest, and baptism of novatos like me (hence my new godmother)! I'm sure I will have lots of stories to tell afterward.

Well, I'll leave you with that for now and check back in later!
Salut i castells!