Right on cue, the weather is slowly turning into fall on the last days of the La MercÃ¨ festival in Barcelona. By fall I really mean 73 degrees and rain showers, but here that means people have been putting on their scarves and sweaters.
The La MercÃ¨ festival included a variety of cultural events all week long, the most fascinating of those being the Correfoc this past Sunday. In Catalan, “correfoc” literally means fire run. It reminds me of Halloween in some ways, but a lot more dangerous and a lot more fun. People dress up as devils and parade through the streets with fire. It is a recreation of Hell, and in the end when the parade is finished, all evil is cast out by the patron saint.
Correfoc begins at the “gate of Hell” on a street near the oldest part of the city. Right at nightfall you can hear the beating of drums and see crowds of people swarming the area. Trying to beat the crowd, my friends and I ran through the small passages of the gothic style side streets, which were completely dark, and around every corner a band of devils with drums and pitchforks would appear.
Waiting for the madness to begin, I looked around the massive crowd and saw almost everyone in sweatshirts and jeans with scarves covering their heads and faces. I soon found out why when the devils came down the street.
Following an intense drum procession, the devils held huge sticks and pitchforks above their heads, running and jumping and chanting to the beat. A torch would light the sticks they held, and they would explode and pop like a giant sparklers and firecrackers, throwing glowing balls of fire all over the crowd. After having a handful of these land on my arms and neck, I wished I too had dressed like the others.
Following the parade of devils were huge statues of demonic animals- one was a cat, another a pig or a dragon, and upon being lit they would blow fire all over the street, sometimes aimed at the crowd, for the enjoyment of the devils controlling it. Those of us ill prepared would shriek in enjoyment but also a little out of fear, trying to find cover against the buildings. At first I was hesitant, but by the end I decided, how much can these things hurt? and ran into the street to dance with the devils.
This weekend also included an excursion to Tarraco, an ancient town built by the Romans about an hour and a half away, in the province of Tarragona. It is the second largest preserved Roman city outside of Italy. In its prime thousands of years ago, this area was one of the largest and most important capitals to the Romans, and today people still live on top of where that city existed.
Tarraco is unique because those ruins now make up homes and other modern buildings. Our tour guide informed us that although you can see a good portion of the old city on a regular tour, many things are hidden inside the town as a wall to someone’s house, or as a part of the town square. The ancient Roman buildings were also combined with architecture first by the Visigoths and then with gothic style in the middle ages. It was like a layered cake of history.
Through my study abroad program, I will also be meeting a language exchange partner tomorrow. She is a young teacher from just outside of Barcelona, and we will be setting up times to meet throughout the semester to work on our language skills, and teach each other a little bit about our cultures. I am thrilled to be meeting another local, and hoping it will open up some new opportunities and sights to see.
Even though it’s a grey day, the niÃ±os are still playing in the square below my window after school, and the bell from the old hospital rings 6 o’clock, which means at least 3 more hours until dinner. But I can’t complain, because since I’ve been here I feel like there are so many more hours to a day. It is relaxed, but I think the people here find more time to just enjoy living each day. Â