Festa Major de Sants 2016

Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Carrer del Masnou

Street decorated with a Las Vegas theme

Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

We arrived in Barcelona just in time for the start of the annual Festa Major in Gràcia, the neighborhood where we were staying. For a week, we went out late every night, enjoying the bands and other events, got up late and did it all over again. During the days, I worked remotely for my employers in the US; by a happy accident, our 'festival schedule' synchronized nicely with office hours back home.

The Gràcia festival came to an end, but before we could start to suffer from festival withdrawal, another festa major started up, this time in the Sants neighborhood. Sants and Gràcia are quite different. Gràcia is both elegant and hip, and there are some pockets of real wealth in the neighborhood: the Gràcia festa major was a fairly lavish affair, with many decorated streets and showcase events featuring multiple teams of castellers and diables. Sants is a more working-class neighborhood, and the celebrations were more modest, but there was a similar energy to it, a feeling of an anticipated event in which the whole community could take part.

As in Gràcia, the main events included a performance by the local castellers, followed by a correfoc. The only colle castellera represented was the 'home team': the Castellers de Sants, who constructed a few towers, then concluded their performance with a pilar caminat, a walking pillar. The pilar was four levels high, including the pinya or base: the base, a scrum of burly castellers, supported a man who carried on his shoulders a teenage girl, on whose shoulders stood a little boy who looked to be perhaps seven or eight. Once everything was in place, the whole affair took off down the street, moving with surprising speed: not so much walking as galloping.

Almost immediately, the pilar ran into a problem. The street was lined with trees, and some of the branches were low enough to intercept the top of the pilar. The little enxaneta on the top was carried into the branches, tried to fend them off, and lost his balance. The pilar swayed for a moment and then the child and the girl beneath him dropped straight down, falling out of sight with shocking speed. There was a gasp from the crowd and a moment's silence, quickly followed by a round of applause: apparently no harm had been done.

Proving again that Catalan children have no fear, the pilar reformed, the child gamely climbing back up to the top of the shaky structure, and off they went again, rushing across the busy Carrer de Sants and toward the main set of decorated streets at the heart of the festival area. A little further on, the pilar swayed and fell once more. This time, a young woman who might have been the little boy's mother or perhaps an older sister swooped in and grabbed him. For a moment, he looked a little shell-shocked, as if he might be thinking about crying. Someone whisked his helmet off, and his rescuer bounced him on her hip while all the female castellers rushed to cover him with kisses. There was another burst of applause.

The pilar did not form up again after that. Apparently the unwritten rule is that you get to drop the kid twice, but after that it's over. Escorted by a band, the gray-shirted castellers resumed their march to the festival office, without their pilar, but still triumphant.