Gegantes, Castellers and Fire – Oh My!! La Merce 2013

One of the reasons that Meghan came this particular week was because it was La Merce weekend.  La Merce has been celebrated in Barcelona (it is a local holiday) since 1871 to celebrate the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy.

And while I’m sure there are some religious undertones here, this long weekend is filled with many other traditions that I absolutely love including gegantes (giants), castellers (human towers) and of course, the correfoc (fire run).  This is probably my favorite weekend in Barcelona and while we missed it last year to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, we’ve been here for 3 other years – and honestly if you have to choose between Oktoberfest and La Merce, do La Merce.  Seriously.

We spent Saturday up on Montjuic where there was a kids circus – not your traditional lions and tigers and a big circus tent kind of circus, but more like a cirque du soleil kind of thing.  Not something the boys were super interested in.  However, next to the circus was an area where kids could try out some of the cool goodies that enhance a circus – a unicycle, balancing a plate on a stick and many other things (all of which had long lines).  Aidan managed to master the balancing of a plate on a stick and while Liam did not conquer the unicycle, he did give it a try and loved it!!

Josh is very into the new filters on the IOS 7 for his iphone camera – can you tell?
These acrobats were amazing – the amount of strength and talent it takes is astounding!
He totally got the hang of this – talented kid!
 
From Montjuic we decided to head back down to town in order to make it in time to see the Castellers performing near the Cathedral.  Josh was really hot to take the Teleferico (cable car) the whole way down, but this involved going over the water something I was not too keen to do (though had done in the past).  Taking advantage of Josh’s lack of knowledge of the city (sorry Josh, it’s true), I “forgot” to tell him we had to get off at the first stop in order to go the whole way down.  Instead we did only the mountain portion which was totally manageable for me 🙂
Josh and Liam on the cable car

This meant that we had to do considerable more walking than he wanted to do but it was a great way to get some energy out of the kids who had energy to spare despite the hot sun!

Playing in front of the MNAC (art museum)

We made it down to the Cathedral just in time before the Castellers started.  Now the program said Av Catedral – but didn’t state where on the street it would start.  Hmmm… so when the Castellers started to walk away from the Cathedral, we decided to follow them and see where they would end up…

Castellers “walking” to their destination on Las Ramblas (they did not walk the entire way but still a good distance!)…
 
The sea of people following the Castellers

The Castellers ended up on the Ramblas in front of the museum where they house the Gegantes and other traditional parade memorabilia. This is not where we expected to end up so it’s good that we followed the Castellers!  They wandered around parts of the Ramblas and we followed to see which groups built the best towers.  By far it was the green, which I believe is from Vilafranca.

A small tower
This is a very hard tower to build.  Yes, it’s only a few people but it grows from underneath where they push the tower up from the bottom.
Admittedly this is the only gegantes we saw this weekend as we didn’t make it to any of the parades – but I can still include them in the title of this entry right???
Part of the parades is this traditional lion
More castellers
Another traditional part of the gegantes parade
This one is Aidan’s favorite… I think it’s because it appears to have breasts… but regardless he wanted a picture with it!

By the time we finished with Montjuic and the Castellers it was getting close to dinner time so we did a quick dinner of tapas at Ciudad Condal and then it was off for home.  Meghan and I talked about going out that evening but it was quickly obvious that neither of us had the strength and we knew that the next day was going to be an even longer day!!

On Sunday we got up and out relatively early so that we could hopefully see the Gegantes (fail) and then the Castellers (win!) before doing the correfoc in the evening.  As with previous years, the crowds for the Castellers was intense.  We got decent “seats” and stood watching the Castellers perform.  There was 2 performances – the first was in honor of Barcelona’s Falcon team of Castellers and the second included several other groups including Vilafranca and Tarragona teams.  By the time we got to the second group the kids were done.  Aidan actually took all of the pictures of the Castellers below with Josh’s phone – I think he did a pretty great job!!

The Castellers were amazing to watch and we kept our fingers crossed that they would build their towers safely and that none would collapse (we’ve seen it happen and it’s a bit scary!).  Thankfully all that we saw went up perfectly and came down the same way!

So we made our way thru the 100 person deep crowd, a little nerve wracking at times, to head down to Ciutadella Park where there were festivities for the kids.  On our way to the park we had a call from our friends Stephanie and Chris who were in a bit of a crisis situation – Stephanie had to rush to the hospital for an emergency c-section (all is fine now thankfully!) and needed us to watch their kids.  So Meghan and I headed down to Poblenou to pick up Mia and Evan and bring them back to the park to meet up with Josh, Aidan and Liam.

The kids played great and ran all around the park.  We could tell that little Mia was about done though and decided to head back to the apartment so she could take a little rest.  We decided that one of us would stay behind in the evening with the 4 kids rather than have a babysitter as originally planned so we could go to Correfoc.  Josh kindly opted to stay home (at least the Patriots game was on) so that Meghan and I could go to Correfoc since that was a big reason why she came this week.

Aidan was actually invited to the kids correfoc and while I was initially hesitant, I’m glad that he got to have this experience before we eventually head back to the States.  He said that it was fun but that his clothes were singed a bit and that it was really smokey.  Meghan and I (and we met up with my friends Michele and Eddy) were there a bit early and caught some of the kids correfoc – I can’t say that there is much difference between the kid one and the adult one other than kids participate in the younger one and that it’s during the daylight hours.  Otherwise, it was pretty much just as intense!!

One of the “beasts” that goes down the street on fire during the Correfoc – this is for the adult one, waiting and ready to go!
Gates of Hell
Part of the kid correfoc
This is all the smoke rising from the kid correfoc… yes the kid one
More of the kid one
Kids, like the one in the dragon suit, participated in the correfoc… 
Kid swinging his dragon all around, thereby spreading the sparks amongst the spectators
Meg looks nervous and this is still the KID correfoc…wait til she sees the adult one!!
That big ball of sparks and flames?  Yup, kid correfoc!
Batucada during the kid correfoc

So Michele and Meghan were slightly mortified during the kid correfoc.  I think they were a little ambivalent about what the adult one might bring!  But despite the dangers that go with attending a correfoc, there is something so profoundly pagan and intense about it that you can’t help but get into it. You are terrified of the sparks shooting towards you and yet, totally on an adrenaline high and waiting for the next round.  The percussion of the batucada just intensifies all that is around you and you can’t help but be drawn in.

The Gates of Hell open to a batucada on a “float” that starts the adult Correfoc 2013
 
Video of the batucada:   http://youtu.be/w4NnaEpGb7k0%
Closer up shot of the batucada opening the correfoc
And the fireworks start!!
 
Video of the fireworks:  http://youtu.be/29FwkKfwpu8

I think a picture says a 1000 words…. do you really need any descriptions on the pictures that follow?

I wish I had a shot of this pig’s face – it’s got the angriest eyes and then add to it that he’s spitting fire…
Correfoc was the end to our La Merce adventure for this year.  We did a few day trips on the last two days of the festival and so missed the happenings in the city.  But like previous years, this was anything but boring!!
Besos,
Julie

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