Spain/Morocco 2010: La Mercè Fire Run and Sardana

October 14, 2010

Whilst wandering the streets of Barcelona admiring the Gaudi’s and sampling tapas was valuable in every respect, the real action this weekend was the annual La Mercè festival.  Being an uneducated tourist, I had little real understanding of the history of the proceedings.  But, that’s what travel is really about. Besides, it wasn’t anything a little searching on the internet couldn’t fix.  My first experience of the festival was to be the “Fire Run”.

Certainly, putting these two words into a single sentence and calling it a tradition had peaked my curiosity.

But, no sooner had I begun searching for this amazing event, I ran into something else.  A large square, filled with people of all shapes and sizes.  In the corner, a stage had been erected and a band was playing.  Brass, flute and tamborine filled the air.  And, scattered throughout the crowds, men and women formed circles of 10-20 people.  As they held each other’s hands they formed a wide ring, and danced to the implicit beat of a traditional tune.

At first, all they appeared to be doing was hopping from one foot to the other.  But, as I watched more closely, the steps took on more subtly.  Arms were raised in the air for uncomfortable durations.

The pain and concentration involved in producing this routine was evident by the sweat on their foreheads and the complaints that followed once the song was complete.

Later, I came to know this dance as the Sardana, a traditional dance of Catalunya which has been danced here for centuries.

A beer and a snack later, and it was time for the main event.  The fire run, or “Correfoc” began like most street parades.  Locals and tourists alike lined the perimeter of the fence-less and un-barricaded street, jostling for position.  Soon enough I found myself a nice spot and played the waiting game.  But, as time passed, I grew worried.  Locals began to appear, wearing hooded jumpers, sunglasses, bandannas, safety goggles, you name it.  Then, a little boy on his father’s shoulders with a Darth Vader mask.  Something wasn’t right.  I had heard that you should try to stay well back if you hadn’t experienced a fire run before, but these people were right next to me.  Was I going to get burned?

But, it was too late for a change of plan.  The fire run had begun.  In the distance, a single firecracker burst, sending the crowd into a minor panic.  Then, it was quiet.  On the sidewalk, the pedestrians couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be closer to the action, or further away as they trotted a few steps forward for a closer look, would laugh like children, and then return to the safety of their companions.

Then, another burst.  More nervous waiting.  Friends turned to friends and lover’s took each other’s hands.  In the distance, the smoke from the burst filtered through the street light and vanished overhead.  Was I in the wrong position?  Should I move?  But there was no where to go.  The streets were packed.  I was on the ride and there was  no getting off until it was over.

And then it began as the drums began pounding in the distance.  The light from a streaming array of Roman candles illuminated the buildings either side of the street.  The crowd hesitated.  Then, as the devils ran down the street and the dragons spewed flaming stars from a phalanx of cardboard and black powder, it was on and the crowd lost itself to the moment.  At first, the devils were tame.  Stars would shower over the brave and the tentative alike, harmlessly absorbed by the cotton of my shirt.

But, as time went by, things became a little more aggressive.  Reckless.  I later came to learn that we had just entered the “adult” part of the fire run.  This was the time of the teenagers.  Donning their hoods, pulling down their long sleeves and protecting their eyes, these ambitious fire runners would run right into the flaming air as stars and powder rained down and across their shoulders.  Some even tried to grab at the devils, their need to be a part of the action so strong that they would wrap themselves around them like they were long lost brothers and sisters.

I don’t know how long this went on for, but it felt like hours.  And, like all good fun with fireworks, the night ended with a fireworks show over the harbour.  But, it was enough.  The entertainment over, the people dispersed, filling the local bars and restaurants in search of that late night Spanish tradition which was dinner.  Mine was black rice with squid.

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Needless to say, it was a big day.  But, there would be no time to lie about for tomorrow were the human towers and it was not to be missed…

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5 Responses to “Spain/Morocco 2010: La Mercè Fire Run and Sardana”

  1. Oh what a wild and crazy night! Squid too! O YUM!!!

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