Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Demons of Barcelona

Visit the “Culture” rubric of the first five cities that spring to mind. You will generally find topics like “Museums”, “Concerts”, “Theatre”, or “Nightlife”. Go a little deeper into the site, and the city’s personality may emerge a bit. But on the whole, the categories don’t differ much between London and Paris, New York and Berlin. So, I was rather surprised to find the following listings on the official web site of Barcelona, Spain:
  • Bestiary and demon groups
  • Folk Music
  • ‘Casteller’ groups (human tower builders)
  • Giants
  • Choral singing
  • Travelling Liveliness
  • Dance
Hmm. We New Yorkers are accustomed to claiming that New York has it all. I admit, I’ve never searched the Yellow Pages back home for demon groups, but I would venture to guess that the listings are limited, at best. In Barcelona, if you’re not particular about which neighbourhood the bestiary and demon group should hail from, you can choose from 159 registered organisations. Who knew?

It turns out that the primary leisure activity of the demon groups is to beat drums and run through the streets with fireworks held aloft on long forks. In a ritual called “correfoc”, or “fire runs”, the costumed demons take to the streets and raise a row, allowing sparks from the fireworks to spray about among passers by. The ultimate correfoc season is in August and September. The Festa Major de Gràcia in August is a weeklong celebration beginning on or around the Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15). The Festes de la Mercè in late September is a citywide celebration of Barcelona’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary (Mercè refers to the the Virgin of Mercy). If you are anxious to find out what is behind cultural categories like Giants and Human Tower Builders, consider a visit to Barcelona during these festivals.

If you prefer to take in local colour without risking setting your hair on fire, consult the concert and opera listings for the rest of the year in Barcelona. Discover the restrained passion of the Spanish guitar, or take in a zarzuela, the Spanish comic opera form, by 20th century Catalonian composer, Amadeu Vives. Try a fiery Flamenco event, or slip into the 19th century home of local pianist and composer Luis de Arquer for an intimate recital. Of course, daring music lovers can have the best of both worlds and simply plan to dodge the flaming demons on the way to the concert hall.

On the other hand, streetlife on the famous Rambla promenade is enough of a spectacle for most travelers, and Antoni Gaudí's jubilant architecture, found throughout Barcelona, is as extravagant as any firework display. And it's a whole lot safer.

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