Saturday, September 11, 2010
There is talk and there are posters proclaiming that Catalonia is not Spain, and if anything supports that sentiment, the sardana surely does. Compared to the iconic Spanish national dance, flamenco, it is at the opposite end of the dance spectrum. Everyone knows what flamenco music sounds like and what the dance looks like – fiery, almost violent, full of sexual innuendo and manifesting individual pride. Contrast that with the sardana, and you would assume that the two dances came not only from different countries and cultures, but possibly from different planets.
Another excellent symbol of community spirit is the uniquely Catalan sport called castells. Castell means castle in Catalan -- you could say these are castles or human towers. The towers can reach as many as ten storeys. Each storey is made of people who have climbed up onto the shoulders of those below while accompanied by the music of gralles, a whiney-sounding flute that sounds like a sick seagull.
Once the pinya is deemed solid (by the cap de colla, the director or head of the group) the persons who will make the tower begin to scramble up. Storey by storey they set themselves up, each layer climbing up the backs of those before them and doing it all to the traditional music played by a drum and gralles (small wooden flutes). The castle must be made as quickly as possible – the whole thing takes three or four minutes -- for the weight bearing down on those below cannot be withstood for long. The castle is finished when the top person, called an anxaneta who is usually a small child about 7 years old, holds up his or her hand to signal completion, but the whole thing is not concluded until those who went up all climb back down.
When I watch them make castells, whether in person or on television, they give me goose bumps and inevitably make me cry. It’s an incredible cooperative effort, so suspenseful to watch, and I always find it very beautiful and moving.
Making castells is a popular sport in Catalunya -- children and mature adults all belong to the teams. It is not nearly as big as soccer, but important enough to be covered regularly in newspapers and on radio and TV. Many towns have a team, the bigger towns sometimes have more than one. They hold competitions throughout the season where they earn points for the difficulty of the construction and whether or not they put it up and then brought it back down without mishap. They always participate and are a highlight in the festes. Castells are one of the grand cultural manifestations of Catalunya. There is a video on UTube about the castells, narrated in Catalan, if you don't understand Catalan you can still enjoy the images. If you want to take a look it is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N6gYDTXk1U