Mosaic / September 25, 2008

Catalan Chronicle: First steps in Spain

The Knox crew in Spain has ventured into their first week of classes. We have all made it through orientation, moving in with our host families, and everyone seems to be adjusting well to the new culture and customs. Our first week we stayed at Hotel Rialto in the Barri Gòtic, (Barrio Gótico in Spanish, Gothic District in English) a neighborhood known for its historical architecture, street artists, throngs of tourists on the street of Las Ramblas, and of course accompanying pickpockets. But don’t worry — your friends have kept a close eye on their bags.

Barcelona is a very beautiful city, and I think many of us have fallen in love with it. The beach boasts topless women and warm waters, and the nights host hot clubs, and many bars. Wandering around many of us wonder if anyone actually works in the city, or if it’s just one big siesta fiesta.

For those of you with limited knowledge of Barcelona, it is located in the Cataluña region of Spain. Here they speak Catalán and Castellano (Spanish). The people are very proud of their Catalán heritage and, though granted autonomy by the Spanish constitution, many seek independence for the region.

Starting last Friday night and running through Wednesday, September 24, Barcelona celebrates La Mercè: one of, if not the most, significant celebrations for the city. It is in recognition of the Roman Catholic Saint, Our Lady of Mercy, or La Mare de Déu de la Mercè in Catalán. The holiday has been supported by the city since 1871, and is growing in popularity. One can find festivities all over the city including lots of free music, fireworks at the beach, fountain displays, light shows, and more. Wednesday is the final day of La Mercè, so many will celebrate for the whole day (I know I will be, as our classes at the University of Barcelona have been canceled). On Wednesday, many museums around the city offer free entry. A “pyromusical”: a water, music, light, and firework show, in the evening will bring the celebration to a close.

My absolute favorite part of the celebration so far has been Correfoc, (Correfuego in Spanish, Fire Run in English). This is an amazing event that proves the Barcelona government is either raving mad, or fantastically open about what its citizens do. During Correfoc Barcelonans dress as red and orange devils carrying pitchforks with, get this, lit firecrackers spewing sparks into the cheering crowds that line the streets.

There are no barricades or fences separating the crowds from the devils and fire. In fact, many people run into the fire and dancing devils to march along with them. The event also has dragons and demons that breathe fire. I joined in with the devils ducking away as best I could from the sparks, smoke, and popping. The whole run went on for about an hour and was very large. Though my favorite holiday is Halloween, Correfoc puts up an unbelievable second. Now the question is, how can we pull this off at Knox?

Klayr Valentine-Fossum

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