Monthly Archives: September 2015

Kids, Devils and Fireworks. What Could Go Wrong?

If this were America, the lawyers would be on speed dial. Adding to our ever growing list of festival experiences here in Spain, this weekend we ventured out for the kids portion of La Merce, one of the biggest and most raucous of Barcelona’s many special celebrations.

I can’t help but laugh thinking how the EU is known for very consumer-friendly legal standards covering things like food and airline flights, yet a festival promising to light a few kids on fire also gets a green light. Plainly stated, La Merce isn’t a festival for the meek.

The kids parade is highlighted by a correfoc, which loosely translates to a fire run. Costumed “devils” run through the parade route to a booming backbeat of drums while holding blazing sticks that spin and send fiery sparks into the crowd. To make it even more interesting, most of the devils are kids in the 8-14 year-old range.

You got that right. They hand blazing fireworks that shoot out hot sparks to children and then let ‘em loose. Somewhere in middle America, a 100 shysters just sat straight up and started to plot a trip to Spain. Imagine the lawsuits to be milked from setting kids ablaze!

With little knowledge of what was to come, we picked out what seemed like a good spot before the start of the parade and settled in to await the (literal) fireworks. As usual with most festivals, the crowd was overflowing with small fry. The Spanish love a good festival and always have the kids in tow. It really is a very family-oriented and supportive culture.

A sudden boom at the other end of the street heralded the start of the parade. As I glanced down the street, I spotted twin rings of sparks flying in the air about eight or so blocks away. The display continued for an extended period of time, leaving me to wonder would they replicate such a big display all the way down the street? Oh yeah. And more.

By the time the procession reached us, the combined noise of the hammering drums and exploding fireworks was nothing short of deafening. Packs of pre-teens filled the streets, clad in heavy coats and goggles for protection, taking turns lighting their flaming rods and racing through the crowd. And these were no shy sparks, as attested by the sudden burning sensation on the top of my head. I think I sacrificed a couple of hairs to the cause – and I’m already getting a little thin to be giving any more up! No one mentioned I needed to duck from the dragon.

The substantial noise had many kids cowering away from the street, so as a recruitment tool for future “devils,” I’d say this run was not too successful. That said, the rest of the participants seemed to be having the time of their lives, even if some folks on the US side of the pond would be horrified at events.

I may not be 100% behind the whole display, but I have to give the Spanish credit. Any time you can keep the lawyers from spoiling the fun is a good time indeed. Let’s leave the speed dial to Domino’s.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: It seems like every festival here has colorful roots, with La Merce being no different. Its backstory actually includes a plague of locusts and a virgin. You can’t get much more colorful than that… Living next door to an old folks home usually makes for quiet evenings. But I have to admit not loving laundry day when a couple dozen nightgowns start swaying in the breeze right outside our kitchen window. I liked it even less when I spotted that the gowns are hospital issue with a substantial open area in the rear. I could have lived many happy years without that image…

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Lost Years, David Gilmour and a Little Fountain of Youth

My driver’s licence clearly lists my age, but I’m still rather confounded at how it could be true. I certainly don’t feel my age, but then again almost no one does. And no one seems to be able to explain where all the years went. If you could bottle an answer to that question, you’d be rich enough to hire Bill Gates as your butler.

If you think back to your formative years, there were always a couple of things that helped define you. And it’s interesting to see how many of us still have these interests even now when we’re supposedly all “grown up.” For example, I always loved music. Still do. And though my tastes have softened a little over the years, the bands I liked best then are still the bands I like best now – even if I am a little deafer from the experience.

When I was a teen and early 20-something, it was one of the driving forces of my life to go see certain artists. I was convinced that they were creating music that would be important to me for life. Well, I actually was right about the music sticking with me. The scary part is, I still feel the drive to go see these artists, but now it’s more because of the likelihood that they won’t be around much longer. Rock stars are starting to drop like flies. It’s sad to think I’ll never see the Beatles, and it’s even more confounding than my age that guys like Keith Richards are still walking around after so many years of self-abuse. Every year that “Keif” is still chain-smoking makes that rumored pact with the devil a little less far-fetched.

Aging rockers are the best example I can think of that age really is a number. Just look at how many old farts of rock are still up on stage acting like teenagers. Social security and a screaming guitar riff. None of them would have predicted that when they started out. It is an inspiration – even if they are one step from breaking a hip.

This week, I grabbed the opportunity to go see David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. He’s 69, meaning chances to see him play are few and far between. But that hint of sadness dissolves pretty fast as soon as I hear the music and a little flood of youth washes back into my mind. These are songs that stayed with me for decades, made many days better and keep doing so even now. It’s not just a concert, it really is a celebration of years lived. Didn’t you know there’s a setting for fountain of youth just above 10 on the amp. Trust me, I can feel it.

This step back in time was all the more fitting with Gilmour hosting his grey beard audience in a first century Roman amphitheater in a old French town. What a remarkable setting to see the magic of his songs come alive on stage. And what a cross-section of life was present in the crowd.

I’m sure grandfathers outnumbered teenagers. A fair number of hippies were reborn for the occasion, some adorned with Grateful Dead shirts. Ear plugs were passed to companions more often than doobies. And the guy who had to disturb the row by getting up and squeezing past just two songs into the show, well, I’m betting it was more likely about a prostate issue than grabbing another beer.

Yes, the foibles of age were in full display, but there also was plenty to enjoy. Gilmour played a raft of new music that was well received, including a couple of songs that seem promising. He detoured into a torchy, jazzy number at one point that seemed to have much of the assemblage confused, but props to him for not being afraid to experiment.

And the highlights of course, were a handful of Floyd classics that can never be played too many times. Wish You Were Here brought many to their feet in the first set. And Comfortably Numb sent them home happy to end the night. I’m so glad I got the chance to enjoy him again, and hopefully for many years yet to come.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: The video clips were taken with an iPhone from 16 rows up into the amphitheater. Rougher than I would like, but still pretty remarkable that a small tool can do this much… The fervor is building rapidly in Barcelona with elections less than 10 days away. Catalan pride is in full evidence as those wanting a separation from Spain push their agenda with force. Last week’s Catalonia Day attracted well over half a million people to its parade, with separatist leaders calling for a show of support by waving flags and wearing white. I opted for black. The next year is definitely not going to be dull around here…

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Back to School – With Many Intermissions

Back to school time has arrived in Spain after the summer rocketed by at record speed. For a number of the international schools, Sept. 1 marks the start of the year, while most local schools wait until mid-month. After all, Spain does love a good, long holiday.

The new school year comes to a screeching halt in short order as the first of many holidays arrives in week two. That is quickly followed by another couple of days off the week after next as Barcelona’s biggest street party of the year arrives. I wasn’t kidding when I said the only thing the Spanish like more than a holiday is another holiday. They pop up on the calendar about as fast as new rabbits here.

For us, as newcomers, the regular holidays do end up being useful as an excuse to get out and do a little more exploring around Spain and beyond. We’re going to miss the big street party this year to take a little look at one of the nearby coastal islands (Menorca) for a few days. But, literally, there are more days off in Barcelona than you could ever afford to use as traveling holidays.

Liam’s Christmas break this year stretches for more than three weeks, followed soon after by more than a week off in February and the same again in March. Add to that a sprinkling of long weekends and there’s a whole lot of red days on the calendar.

We did wrap up the summer holidays with a couple of day trips. Barcelona is a great city, but its appeal also lays in the fact that there is so much to see and do nearby. A 30-minute train ride took us south of the city to a great beach town for a day on the sand, followed by a really good dinner. The train was only 4 Euros each, so you can’t beat it.

A few days earlier, we ended our week with a car by driving north to a town featuring a 700-year-old castle for a night’s stay. Not that such a thing exists in the US, but if it did, no doubt the experience would cost a king’s ransom (so to speak), but here we booked a great room with breakfast for the three of us and still had change from $200. That’s well above our usual nightly room tab, but well castleworth it to sleep among 700 years of history.

The castle has seen the surrounding lands controlled by many different kingdoms over the centuries and there have been plenty battles, but I was particularly interested in a story from only a few decades back. It seems that the artist Salvador Dali attempted to buy the then-decrepit castle in exchange for some of his artwork. I’m already a huge Dali fan, but hearing this kind of ballsy negotiating makes me even more so. The previous owner of the castle wasn’t swayed by Dali’s offer, but the famous artist did manage to swing a deal for another castle only a few miles away. I’m not sure of the art-only deal was successful the second time around.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Since I’m on the topic of Dali, I stumbled on a piece of fascinating trivia, Dali once stated that he was a big fan of a physicist, Dr. Werner Heisenberg. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Heisenberg was the alter ego of Walter White in the Breaking Bad TV series. You can’t get much more fitting than that… While Sept. 11 is remembered with great sadness in the US, it is a major celebration here in Catalunya. The day commemorates the anniversary (from 1714) of Catalunya falling to Spanish forces and being absorbed into the larger country of Spain, although the dancing in the streets would have you think the result was a victory instead of a defeat. Celebrations are even more heady than usual right now with the push toward Catalan independence gaining steam. That said, I think I can hear laughing from Madrid since Mother Nature is literally raining on the Catalans parade today… Is it just me, or is anyone else watching in awe as the Republican candidates lob bombs at each other? Jon Stewart couldn’t write this stuff any better…

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