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!



Theresa Carl said...

I am overwhelmed and teary. What you learned and are going to take back with you is irreplaceable.
thank you for writing it down!

Unknown said...

Oh Sarah this makes me cry. You have had such a great experience, made some great new friends and had a wonderful time that I know it's hard for you to leave. Your blog is a treasure to us all.
We miss you back here and I look forward to seeing you in July!
I love you!
Love, AA