Have Mercy on us La Merce!!

There is no doubt about in my mind, the Spanish know how to throw a mean fiesta!  They are organized, they are festive and they are beyond full of energy.  And at times, they can even be dangerous!  But mostly they are happy and festive 🙂

This weekend was the La Merce festival, the largest festival of the year here in Barcelona.  The opening ceremonies were Thursday night, Friday was a state holiday and the events continue on thru Monday.  According to my trusty Barcelona Yellow website that keeps me up to date on these events, there were actually over 600 events planned over this long weekend with over 2000 artists performing.  So what you will read below is really only a smattering of the things that we had the option of doing this weekend.

So what are we celebrating you ask?  We are celebrating the Patron Saint of Barcelona – the Virgin Mary, also known here as La Merce.  The words “Merce” in Catalan and “Merced” in Spanish mean mercy in English.   Barcelona Yellow states that “According to legend, on the night of 2nd August 1218, the Virgin appeared to the Catalan knight and later Saint Pere Nolasc telling him to form a sacred order of monks in her name, the Order of Merced, dedicated to ransoming ordinary and poor Christians imprisoned by the Saracen pirates during the wars of the crusades, who could not afford their ransoms… Centuries later in 1687 the Virgin of La Mercè is also accredited with banishing a plague of locusts….After the locust plaque disappeared the Council of the City named her patron saint of. she was canonised as a saint in 1868 by the Pope Pius IX.”

THURSDAY – OPENING CEREMONY

On Thursday, Josh left work a little early and we all headed down to Placa Jaume for the opening ceremonies.  Here we were met by huge crowds (and I hate crowds) to watch the parade enter into the Placa.  The parade consisted of all of the primary characters we would witness during the next few days – the Gegantes (the giants), the devils, the Eagle, the Dragon and the Lion.  This event also has traditional dances and uses several instruments that are used only for the La Merce Festival so it is a sight to witness. 

Aidan waiting for the parade to start
However, Aidan and Liam being 6 and 3, were bored after about an hour, mainly because we weren’t in a great viewing position to watch their entrance into city hall.  But we did get the opportunity to see the giants make their way thru the City Hall!  Click here for the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYJ901z6xew
The gegants entering the back of City Hall – they actually had to duck and at one point they had to remove the costume and lay the gegante down to fit him in!
Watching from Daddy’s shoulders

At the end as we were walking out of City Hall we hearding a lot of banging – turned out they were doing fireworks above City Hall Plaza which was fantastic to see!  Glad we didn’t miss that!

FRIDAY – CASTELLERS, CREPES & THE ICE BAR! 

On Friday our grande plan was to be in Placa Jaume for the 8AM kickoff.  Yes, we were shocked that anything here would start at 8AM given that most places here don’t even open til 10.  8AM is VERY early!  And alas, we have become a bit on the Spanish side and couldn’t get our butts out of bed early enough on this public holiday and managed to meander down there around noon.

The Placa, like Thursday night, was already packed full of people.  We started off in a really good location for viewing the Castellers but were over a 1/2 hour early for the event so we decided to walk around for a little while.

The Gegantes are lined up getting ready to head back into City Hall before the start of the Castellers.
Aidan is not super thrilled to be here though in the end he did like the Castellers.

After showing Josh where the oldest stone in Barcelona resides, we attempted to make our way back to our original position, but it wasn’t happening.  The crowds were too thick and getting thru with a stroller was near impossible.  So we got as far as we could, however at this point, I looked back and Josh was no longer with us!  Shit!  At least it was an adult I lost and not a kid, right?  So I decided to push thru the crowd in the hopes to make it to the other side of the barriers.

We got thru the barriers into wide open space that was set for where the event was going to be held.  We tried to walk towards our original destination but were turned around and the ceremony was about to begin!  So as luck would have it we had to push our way thru the front of the crowd, “earning” ourselves front row seats.  This was all well and fine til about a half hour in when Aidan felt the need to pee badly.  For the next half hour we had some excessive whining (I still didn’t know where Josh was – but found that he got lost in the pushing thru the crowd part – we did meet up after the castellers).

Police pushing the crowds back to make room!
Marching band before the Castellers come out!
Some of the characters in the parade…
More characters …
Aidan’s favorite – the Dragon with boobs!
I believe this is a falcon, another symbol of this event.
The King and Queen do a dance before the Castellers begin…
You might be wondering at this point what the Castellers are, right? Well they are human towers. And the Spanish take it very seriously with competitions of this nature. How high can you go?? And literally topping off the tower is always a small child. Now, I’ve questioned a few things here about kids – they don’t wear bike helmets, they ride in the basket of their parents bikes on occassion, the smallest of children are out til the wee hours of the night with their families, they aren’t watched as vigilently as we watch our children at home, etc etc. But over time I’ve put all those feelings aside (my kids still wear bike helmets regardless) because it’s obvious how much they love their children and how much children are a part of the Spanish culture here. However, feelings aside, putting a child on a very high tower like this would warrant a call from DSS at home – it’s just not safe no matter how you slice it. Though if I must defend the Spanish, they are all about tradition and this is most definitely a tradition here. From what I understand we did miss the competition between the different Casteller groups in the city when it came time for us to leave (you would not believe how hard it was to leave going thru this huge crowd with two kids and a stroller!).
Some of the Castellers making their way to the City Hall – they not only are towers but they move as well and are essentially pushed forward by a group of people to their destination.

Here is a video of one of the Castellers groups making their way across the Placa.  I’m annoyed that the video won’t switch to a vertical position so you’ll have to watch it sideways – sorry!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJRqQGMSnT8

After departing Placa Jaume we decided to get some crepes at our favorite crepe place – Creps a Barcelona.  And as we entered the restaurant, who should we run into but the Perssons!  Gina, Jorgen and Adam were checking out the festivities as well and so after much discussion we actually ended up at the … Ice Bar.  Yes, the Ice Bar had nothing to do whatsoever with La Merce.  But only Josh and I had been there and it was a nice stroll to the beach and so off we went!  And it is not unusual here to take your kids to a bar – and no, the kids didn’t drink any adult beverages there either in case you were wondering.  But they all did love the ice!!  In the end it was yet another fabulous day, but the best was yet to come!!!

Aidan, an avid fan of the Simpsons, was ecstatic to see this sand sculpture of Homer Simpson at the beach and had to take a picture of it.  He also requested it go on the blog so here it is!
Aidan obsessed with climbing the jungle gym after seeing the Castellers this morning!
Liam at the Ice Bar – the jacket is bigger than he is!!
Adam and Gina with a little Liam poking his head up next to them!
Josh and Aidan at the ice bar checking out the glass made of what else – ice!
Liam reminding me of the Christmas Story movie – thankfully his tongue did not get stuck!
Aidan in front of Sagrada Familia

SATURDAY – CORREFOC (FIRE RUN), FIREWORKS AND PAELLA!!!

This is the event we’ve been hearing about and waiting for (some more than others I will admit), the Correfoc!!!  You read that correctly, running with fire.  Kind of like putting kids on top of human towers, this is an event that’s not for the weak of heart (and there were MANY children in attendence for this event as well).  This is one of the most popular events of the La Merce festival with upwards of 70,000 spectators expected (enough to make my dislike of crowds heart race).  The “run” starts off with the opening of the gates of hell where the devils then run thru.  These devils then spray the crowd with fire.  Yes, again you are reading that correctly, they taunt you and then spray you with these giant sparklers that are on the ends of their pitchforks and coming out of the mouths of dragons and other fire beast type characters (we saw a dinosaur, an iguana, a pig, a horse, etc).  It is said that about 80,000 fireworks are used for this event and I believe them.

Before arriving at the Correfoc I read up on it and saw that it is important to wear clothing that covers you from head to toe – hats, scarves, 100% cotton shirts (synthetics go up in flames faster apparently – yikes!), long pants and full coverage shoes (no flip flops).  When I told this to Josh he laughed at me and attempted to go in shorts and a tee shirt – thankfully I prevailed and he was well protected.  However, that did not stop my semi-psychotic husband from jumping right into the mix once the gates of hell opened and I will say that the most fantastic pictures you will see below, were ones that he took from the center of “hell”.  You’ll also see some videos below that we took!

Gina, Jorgen and I decided to stay closer to the sidewalk during the “parade” though that didn’t stop us from trying to stay out of the devils’ reach from their spray of sparks.  Both Gina and I did get hit with some sparks and let’s just say, they didn’t tickle.  I don’t know how those in the brunt of the storm managed… Josh??  At the same time, while freaking out about the fire raining upon us, we also couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all and to know that the only place to experience something of this extreme is here in Barcelona and it is one of the things we love about living here.  This city has character – no doubt about it!!!

The start of the Correfoc – the Gates of Hell which will open and let the devils thru!
Working our way towards where we want to stand we come upon some of the “devils” getting their gear ready…
Thankfull we’ve got the Bombers ready to go in case of an emergency – we shall stand relatively close to them!
Gina and Jorgen having a pre-Correfoc drink to get ready!
Let the craziness begin!!

Of the 6 videos we took, 3 are worth posting…

1.  The Gates of Hell opening up and the devils start to come thru: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18WLG6FBVPY&feature=channel

2.  The Devils showering everyone with fire!!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lCpPXHR1NQ&feature=channel

3.  Josh jumps into the mix!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTjxDVGP8Bk&feature=channel

We didn’t make it to the finale where it is said that the devils are sent back to hell.  After a good hour plus of watching the devils run down the street, we’d had enough.  Instead, we went drinking…oh and to the actual fireworks show at the beach!  Let’s not forget, there were still more fireworks to be seen!!

We arrived at the beach just in time for the start of the fireworks.  But after having been in the thick of our own firey display moments before, we headed right for a bar on the beach to watch them.  We were rather surprised to see that most of the beach restaurants/bars were relatively empty while the fireworks were going on so we managed to secure a great table/couch with a fabulous view of the fireworks.  And our timing was great because the moment they ended, the restaurants all started filling up with people just going for their dinner at 10:30.

Fireworks in Villa Olimpica
Having a drinkie (or two) before dinner!

But our night was not yet over, at 11 we were expected at La Fonda for paella with more friends.  In the end, we were at a table of 12 and may not be welcome back after the food throwing that was going on (Gina, Josh???).  We laughed a lot and had an absolutely fabulous time.  2 AM came mighty quick and we were the last ones in the restaurant (they couldn’t have hated us that much).  I believe most of the gang went on to yet another club / bar but it was time for Josh and I to make our way home, those kids wake up mighty early still!

This weekend was definitely full of fantastic events and of traditions that we know we can’t see living anywhere else.  It really made us thankful for this opportunity to live here and enjoy these experiences!

Julie

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