They start as a solid base. In a star like formation they come together, and from the center, fan out in a support system. Some kneel to make a staircase, and then they start climbing. In the end you have a human tower that can be up to nine levels high.
Castell is a unique tradition that began in the late eighteenth century in the city of Tarragona in Southern Catalonia. They have been ranked as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and are an important part to any festival or celebration.
During festivals, onlookers often join in to support the base of the tower, the part called the pinya. As they say in Catalan, “formar una part de la pinya.” (Literally meaning, “form a part of the pineapple/pine cone”).
With my study abroad group on Tuesday, we had the privilege to visit the Barcelona Castellers and watch them practice their tower building. With a long black scarf held by someone at one end, they would spin around and around, winding up the fabric about their mid sections for support, and to help the climbers hold on as they go up the tower.
The strongest and biggest of the Castellers start at the base, and with the button down shirts they wear, they bite both sides of the collars to prepare for the weight they must hold. The tower goes up faster than you would think possible. After the base follows the first level, followed by the next and the next and so on. Upon the command of the coach, they climb up without hesitation.
To top the tower are the smallest children- usually about 5 or 6 years old. These are the most fearless children I have ever seen. They climb up to what must be 50 ft., faster than anyone else could, thanks to their small size, and two usually meet at the top. Once they make it they sit in their position for no more than a few seconds, raise a hand in victory and then effortlessly slide their way back down the human tower.
Once the tower is disassembled, they cheer and hug in victory, take a couple minute break and do it all again. Castellers are a tight knit community of all ages, and a tradition that is usually passed down in families since they start so young. A man who spoke to us before we watched them told us the core set of Castell values are courage, common sense, balance and strength- altogether they must create a solid team. Seeing the Castellers was enlightening after the events of the week.
On Monday news came out that a nurse in Madrid contracted the first case of Ebola outside of West Africa. Despite claiming to follow the strict sanitation and safety protocols, she contracted the virus from a Spanish priest who died of it last month after returning from Africa.
Panic is spreading after finding out the nurse was on vacation for two weeks before she knew she had the virus. When you turn on the news, that is all you see. The Spanish people as well as the European Union are demanding to know how the Spanish government let this slip through the cracks, as they claimed they were capable of handling the Ebola crisis. Â It has turned into a political issue, and people are pushing for the Spanish Health Minister, Ana Mato, to step down.
But for now life goes on and my travels will continue (well on second thought, maybe not to Madrid any time soon). Â This weekend I’ll be heading into the Pyrenees Mountains, which are the natural boarder between Spain and France and home to beautiful mountain towns and hiking adventures. Summer came back to visit this past week, so I took advantage of it and headed to the small beach town called Sitges, about an hour from the city by train.
Although the world at the moment may seem desperate, I like to think of the quote the Castellers use. Form a part of the pineapple. It reminds me that I too form a part of the pineapple- well figuratively speaking, the pineapple of humanity. We all do, and each day we can do our small part to make it a little bit stronger.