Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Human Tower - Castellers

Josh got back from the US this morning and it was soooo good to see him (and our American goodies).  Liam was waiting at the front door to our building waving and blowing kisses as Josh got out of the cab.  He was just so excited to see his daddy after 10 days!  And it was so nice to be back together as a family.  Josh travels for work but usually it's 2-3 days here and there, maybe once every 6 weeks.  I know we are lucky in that aspect here as many families I know here have a spouse that travels several times per month.  But Josh doesn't do many 10 day trips, as a matter of fact this was only his second this year, so it was really nice to have him home.

But there is no rest for the weary and after unpacking and taking a shower we hit the road.  It has been raining here pretty consistently for over 3 weeks now and it was supposed to rain all of today so it was an unexpected surprise to see the sun shining. I had seen a post on my facebook from the kids school that there was going to be a casteller festival today at noon. 

We've seen the Castellers before but I always find it so fascinating and this was going to be right in our neighborhood of Gracia.  The kids didn't want to go initially preferring to stay here and veg out.  Part of me didn't blame them, we were all kind of in that mindset.  But in the end, I'm so glad we went.  Not only were the Castellers amazing, but we laughed and played as a family in a way that we haven't in a while.  No one was moody and no one had tantrums.  We laughed and giggled and played tag as we ran up the streets. 

Aidan taunting Josh and Liam to catch him

Playing tag as we walk down the streets of Gracia

I love it when he smiles :)

One of our favorite squares in our neighborhood is the Placa de la Vila de Gracia, or as we call it, The Clock Tower Square. And that's where the Castellers were going to be. Off we went. We got there just in time as they had just started and the crowds weren't as overwhelming as they are when we see the Castellers during La Merce. In case you don't remember from previous entries, the Castellers are human towers. They are primarily in Catalunya which is the part of Spain that we live in. This is a tradition that has been going on for years and has actually been declared by UNESCO to be a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The castells range in size and height but they are ALWAYS topped with a small child. A child that only in recent years needs to wear a helmet for safety (because nothing else will happen/break to your kid dropping 40 feet in the air, right??). The child is the enxaneta and climbs into place at the top and raises one hand with four fingers erect, in a gesture said to symbolize the stripes of the Catalan flag. Amazingly accidents where one is injured or killed is rare and the most recent death was in 2006 and before that in 1983. 

Josh and I each had a kid on our shoulders and my neck and shoulders hurt after just a few minutes and that was with just a 40 pound kid on them. Imagine the weight of several people climbing onto your shoulders? Reminds me a little bit of the Dr. Seuss book Yertle the Turtle where Yertle climbs on the backs of hundreds of turtles in order to rule over all that he can see.

Aidan on Josh's shoulders

The festival starts out with a colla (group/team) walking out to the center of the performance area.  These are usually at least 4 people high with a team surrounding the lowest level to push him forward and to catch the participants should balance be lost. 

Colla walking to the center (the blue building)

And another colla

And another...

Because I couldn't get that close up or a picture from above, I checked online so you can see what the base of a castell looks like:

So as you can see, these teams support each other from all different angles, literally and figuratively.  They hold each others lives in their hands. 

The start to a castell

And here is the video to see them complete the castell: 

And this is a video of another HUGE castell - this is amazing! 

Tower going up...

The next several pictures are stage by stage as the castell goes up!


After about 20 minutes of watching the castellers, the kids were getting bored and so we decided to see if we might be able to get a table at our favorite outdoor cafe, Amelie.  Surprisingly someone had just left and so we snagged the table while still being able to watch some of the castellers that weren't blocked by the clock tower.

Milk mustache

Trying to make a paper airplane with a paper thin napkin

The infamous clock tower...the castellers were on the side where the blue building is

Happy to be home

Best of friends, worst of friends...

I love my daddy!!

While we were enjoying our lunch, we watched the castellers and then suddenly a tower started to shake and it went down.  I defnitely gasped loudly and was rather stunned to hear applause when they went down.  I'm not sure if this was for encouragement, as if, hey, great job, you got that far, now try again!!  Or if it was some kind of disturbing thing where people get off on other peoples traumas.  Who knows.  Regardless, they also clapped when all was ok with all of the participants.  I guess maybe it's because bad accidents don't happen often.  We saw one more tower go down during lunch and then while the kids were playing I went back up to where the crowds were gathered watching (we had lunch on the opposite side of the square) and decided to video tape again. 

And wouldn't you know, the tower collapsed again!  This time I had it on tape.  Thankfully no one seemed to be seriously injured but seeing a small child along with the rest of the tower just collapse down to the ground was unbelievable.  These people have an amazing amount of courage and skill to do what they do.  And to brave the risk of falling knowing that it could happen at any time shows why this is a tradition that UNESCO believes should be carried on. To watch the tower collapsing check out this link:

You can't see it on the video but I kind of saw this collapse coming. One of the men on the bottom level looked like he was really struggling.  His face was so red and I thought he was going to collapse of a heart attack.  I was willing that kid to get to the top and get over as soon as possible because I knew he wasn't going to make it.  And you could tell he was doing all he could to hold it together but unfortunately the tower didn't make it all the way to the end :(

After watching our final castellers it was time to head home and relax - a nice Sunday all in all!!

Aidan saw the tower collapse from here here he was standing up higher than most of the crowds... of course, he thought it was cool...

Liam less than a block from our apartment


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