Lost in Translation

Online blog of life in Barcelona for a English guy making a life for himself out here and trying desperately to have a good time, become fluent in Spanish, and most of all - not be constantly mistaken for a tourist!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fireworks and Castles in the sky!

OK, for the first time on this blog, I’m now in “real-time” with my posts and the dates shown are accurate. If you haven’t fell asleep since the beginning, you’ll remember that I had a few posts written down before I decided tonight to start an official blog and so I kind of pasted them in retrospectively. Anyway, we’re officially in business now. On with the update then, it’s a good one today!

It’s the La Mercé holiday weekend in Barcelona this weekend, and it’s been absolutely amazing. There’s loads going on around the city, so I’ve only seen a small portion of it, but I reckon I've got two of the best bits under my belt. Last night I went out with a friend to the “Correfoc” (“run” with “fire” in Catalan) which I was told was a firework display. “Oh, that’ll be nice” I thought, ”We’ll be scoffing on our toffee apples, lighting the fuse and retiring to a safe distance to watch the show then!” Or so I believed! When we arrived, and the show got underway with loads of noise from the drummers (not those “tinny” sounding drums like you might hear at the Changing of the Guard, but rather drums that you can feel vibrating in your chest because they are so loud and deep), I wondered why my friend and her mates were all putting on their hooded tops and pulling them tight over their heads. In England, there are only two reasons to do this… either we were going mugging old ladies, or we were planning to get ourselves thrown out of a Shopping Centre for looking like the type of people who probably would mug old ladies! But no, eventually my friend told me with a huge “knowing” smile on her face, that it was to protect them from the “Chispas”!! (the sparks). I was of course dressed appropriately… (not), in a t-shirt!! This wasn’t going to be like a firework display back home where the fireworks are sent into the sky and the crowd point happily, but rather, where the people in the parade come down the street literally “spraying” the firework sparks over the excited crowds while the brave amongst us dance in the shower of sparks!! It sounds incredible, and probably highly illegal in England, but this was all part of the official celebrations. There wasn’t a trouble-maker or rogue teenager in sight trying to spoil things like would no doubt happen back home. The people in the parade make their way down the narrow streets holding sticks with Catherine wheels attached to the top that spin around and cover the area in sparks. And of course, they don’t pay you the common courtesy of holding these sticks straight up and walking slowly, oh no, they dance around and wiggle them about in every direction making sure that no-one escapes the effects! It's brilliant! Anyway, the parade continued and, although I was covered like everyone else all over by the sparks, only two actually got me and did any slight harm – one in my hair which burnt my scalp for a second or two, and another on my knuckle which has left a tiny burn – a small price to pay though! As well as the guys with these sticks, there are large caricatures of dragons and the devil etc with more fireworks lodged in their mouths. These giant “dolls” are mounted on wheels and pushed along, and moved from side to side as they go, again showering the crowds. Unbelievable, but loads of fun! If I’d been dressed properly, I’d have definitely had a dance in the spray, but I had to settle for clutching onto my friend and trying to look brave while being (slightly) scared! Hehe. All this excitement went on for a while, before we headed off, relatively unharmed and fully charged-up for a great meal. The crowds were so big that it took a while to get anywhere and also to find a restaurant which could seat us all. Barcelona has restaurants, cafes and bars absolutely EVERYWHERE, so to struggle like this really does show just how many people were out enjoying La Mercé. Anyway, more about the night in general now….

… Basically, my friend from my office invited me out to enjoy, not just the Correfoc, but also a meal with her friends, who are an incredibly international collection of Germans, Catalans, a French guy, his German girlfriend, an Italian, a Basque, oh yes, and me… the only English guy there! They were all lovely, and the entire night was handled in a mixture of languages but was about 95% Spanish. I was of course very worried about all this, as it was my first real situation where I was going to have to rely on my Spanish in order to have a good time. I know I can get away with a bit of English in the office with most of my colleagues if I’m struggling, but my friend doesn’t speak any, and I wasn’t about to insist that all her friends switch languages for me! Also, I was very conscious of the fact that she had been kind enough to invite me in the first place, and I was going to make every effort to make sure that she was glad she did invite me, and not just because she thought I’m the new guy in a strange town etc and might need taking under her wing. Anyway, everybody was amazing and the night went incredibly well. I spoke Spanish loads (although of course, it was my usual collection of loosely connected nouns and adjectives with a liberal smattering of badly constructed verbs accompanied by various hand gestures and facial contortions!) The important thing was that I spoke loads (even when the pressure was on when the entire table of 13 people was listening just to me!), I got my point across reasonably well (I think), and my friend looked like she was really pleased I came along. I feel like I’ve learnt loads – nothing I could put down on paper, but just extra confidence and ability to understand what people are saying to me much more. After the meal, a couple of the group headed off, but we more than made up for that by having a few new members join us in a bar nearby where we took over an entire section of the bar. Luckily, during La Mercé, the Metro runs throughout the night, as we couldn’t get a taxi due to the crowds, and so got the Metro home (I suppose we could’ve easily walked though) and got in at about 4am I think (having gone out at 7pm). The Spanish approach to drinking seems to have rubbed-off on me though, as I was happily merry but nowhere near as drunk as I would’ve been on a similar night in Manchester (not that nights like this exist in Manchester!)

The fun weekend continued today, as I had told my flatmate that I really wanted to see the Castelleros (human tower builders) at the big show in Placa Sant Jaume and was happy to go even if it meant going on my own. Anyway, he kindly arranged for us to go together with his partner, so even more Spanish was called for, as my flatmate is encouraging me to speak in Spanish with him (despite his excellent English). We’ve sort of fell into a kind of Spanglish around the house, where we flick-flack between the two depending on how important the subject matter is. For example, basic chit-chat is normally in either language with the emphasis on Spanish, but anything important where I don’t want to misunderstand is handled in English, hence English was used the other day when he was showing me how to use the washing machine (crucial stuff!), and also what the arrangements were for the weekly visit from our cleaner! He wants to improve his English further, so it seems we’ve already slipped into a perfect balance of the two. Also, we already seem to have a sixth-sense for knowing when the other is tired, and therefore when we need to take up the slack and speak in his/my language to take the strain off his/my braincells.

The crush of people at the Placa was something I wasn’t prepared for. It was cheek to cheek and it took us a while just to get the last 20 yards into the actual square where we could see anything. The Castelleros (which I think is the correct name, although I think it’s Castellets in Catalan, but again I’m not sure) were out of this world. The basic outline is that a base layer of team members assembles itself on top of which more members climb, and depending on the type of Castell they are building, they follow a different (highly precise and well practiced) routine that’s like a visual geometry lesson in the street. More and more Castelleros climb up and the layers thin out after the first (usually two) thick layers and then the thinner “tower” part starts to go up. The people at the bottom are obviously huge guys, but the further up you go, the slimmer they have to be for obvious reasons. Nothing prepares you for the sight of a small child (probably no more than 7 or 8 years old) climbing to the top of this tower that’s often 8 people high!!! They then raise their arm to officially complete the Castell and the crowd goes mental! Then they slide down really fast. One of the first Castells was built directly infront of the balcony of the mayor’s office, and was a tower where it’s just one person on top of one other person and so on. How they keep their balance with no-one else to counterbalance them on each layer, I don’t know, but they did it, and the child at the top was then pulled over onto the balcony to massive applause!! The next towers were the really big ones, with a huge base and then a central column of 3 people on each layer to create the counterbalance. Only one collapsed while we were there, and luckily no one was hurt. About 2 months ago though, a 12 year old girl died of spinal column injuries when a tower collapsed. It really is THAT dangerous, and often the Castelleros know when a tower isn’t going up properly, and they abandon it and regroup for another attempt (which still gets huge applause – presumably for being so brave in the first place!) This happened just once today.

After the Castells, we went for a meal which was great, and again the chat was 95% Spanish. After that, we went to the cinema to watch an English film with Spanish subtitles. I can’t understand spoken Spanish in movies as it’s too fast and usually it’s colloquial Spanish, but luckily for me, my flatmate prefers to watch with the original voices and then just read the subtitles.

So, all in all, it’s been a fantastic and memorable weekend, and it’s not even over yet because it’s a public holiday on Monday (and I get Spanish holidays while I’m here!) so tomorrow’s agenda is fairly clear but the main highlight is that I have an intercambio language exchange planned (the half-English half-spanish get-togethers with local strangers in order to both improve your languages). I’m not sure if it will definitely go ahead, as I believe my willing victim has got some kind of family issue at the moment, so I’m wondering if he’ll cancel. If he does, I won’t be too worried as I’ve already spoken more Spanish this weekend than I could’ve ever hoped. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish isn’t noticeably any better because of it, but it’s all a confidence thing and just the practice in itself is enough to be classed as a huge improvement.

I’m off to bed now, to recharge my batteries and mull over whether I want to become a Casteller!!! (I think the answer will be no! hehe)


At September 25, 2006 9:48 AM, Blogger Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells said...

Blimey Charlie, you've only gone and done it, i'm so pleased for you, 6 months in Barcelona, I'd give anything for that! I don't even know where to start - the flat is stunning, your experiences sound fantastic, but don't worry, I won't let Brucie know about the Saturday night shennanigans (I hope you meant Bruce Forsyth and not some distant Victorian Uncle or schoolmaster.....)Now watch out for those wretched Pickpocketers down the Ramblas, I lost half a pack of Jelly Babies to some romany acordian playing types when I went a few years ago, and the gutting thing was i'd saved most of the black ones for that moment in the day when you are just so hungry you'll eat a donkey's knob then go back for its knackers! As Queen Victoria would have said if it'd happened to her "We are not Amused!" I went to the gay beach once, it was called Stiges of Stifles or something, it was all krauts with Sandals and warty c*cks, very bad for the appetite when you're eating a salami sandwich! Not a lot happening over here, Richard Hammond off of Top Gear crashed a car at 300 miles an hour and survived, of course all the jokes went round the mobiles before the paramedics arrived on the scene, a baby was killed by two Rottweilers in Leicester (about 5 minutes from where I live, the interview with the neighbour was so pikey and illiterate, he said "i don't believe it, its a tragic" - useless Leicester scum!!!!! Anyway, i'll keep checking the blog, it won't be long before you're hooked up with the Spanish enfanta (Juan Carlos or something) and planning chinese baby adoption et al..... (ps I take it you and Ollie didn't quite work out? I'm sorry)
See you soon

At September 25, 2006 5:22 PM, Anonymous grandma Fernandez said...

Hola Buenos Guten Tag!

Ive faxed the British Embassy and they are flying out the Health And Safety Executive to do a risk assessment of the "Correfoc" as we speak. Ive also spoken to Lynne Folds-Wood, once shes finshed with the hidden dangers of poptarts and curly kettle flexes, she will be commisioning a program called "Fireworks and human pyramids- all shits and giggles or a recipe for distaster". It will be a 1 hour special with a dramatic 999 reconstruction involving the cast of Eldorado.

Following this please standby for the RAF to land on Cassa De Eldorado and fly you out. No, dont thank me, its the least I can do! After all you will be safe in manchester, we have only had 9 shootings, 25 muggings, a lost cat, and a sale at Ethel Austins this weekend, so all in all things are on the up! Oh an manchester won the title of "City with highest rate of car crime". We are proud citizens and are all popping home to "cut-and-shut" the neighbours car and ebay their radios!


At September 25, 2006 9:24 PM, Anonymous Gorgeous in Glossop said...

Oh my god, I think I will need to put my Cathrine Cooksan down and glue myself to the Barcelona Blog !! Boy you can natter ... no wonder there have been no texts or drunken Olla's down the phone. You must have RSI ! Ha ha (;o)

I will have to wait until wednesday to fully read all your gossip .. my ickle head is full of marketing crap at the mo ! The place looks amazing as does your flat, and I cant for one minute believe you are not getting completely rat-arsed and bumpin n' grindin your way around the bars ! (;o)

Will check in again, missin you heaps .. have a G'n'T on me hun.
Love ya xxx

At September 27, 2006 9:13 PM, Blogger Lost in translation said...

Hola a todos!

Thanks for the comments guys! I'll be sure to be careful if I ever go down to Sitges and take a bottle of dettol and some wet-wipes with me! hehe

As for Catherine Cookson... isn't she dead? I'm more of a Dame Sally Markham I think!! "How many pages Miss Grace?" :-)

We don't get 999 reconstructions over here. Well, certainly not with Lynn Faulds-Wood on them at least! Although, I haven't seen any Poptarts in the supermarkets, so maybe her campaign to have them outlawed has worked!

Adios!! :-)

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This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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