A Travellerspoint blog

March 2013

When Catalans go for a picnic.

sunny 20 °C

My Catalan hometown of Terrassa, for a reason I have never fully understood, is an important centre on the Spanish jazz scene, and hosts a lively and popular festival each year. Locals flock to sun-drenched squares and prestigious venues to watch fantastic performances of classics old and new and take in a few rays and a few wines as they shuffle and shake to the invigorating beats. The highlight of the season is surely the ‘Picnic Jazz’, an all-day open-air concert in Terrassa’s central park, which people of all ages seem to enjoy with fervour. The music is unarguably energising and uplifting, but the thing that has always fascinated me most is the actual concept of a ‘picnic’ to the Catalan people, something that completely floored me at my first ‘Picnic Jazz’.

Now, to the everyday Brit, the idea of a picnic may consist of a cheese roll, a packet of Hula-hoops and a Penguin if you’re lucky. So, based on what was available to me in the local shops, I made myself a baguette, packed some Lays (Spain’s answer to Walkers) and threw in a few Estrella’s for good measure thinking that would suffice. (No, they don’t sell Hula-hoops and Penguins in Catalonia). And off I hopped down to the park for a cracking day of music and sunshine.

After an hour or so of smooth, melodic vibes it was time to tuck into my lunchbox delights, and I ripped back the foil and gobbled down my squashed baguette with glee. Delicious! Soon after however, I noticed a group of locals deep in concentration, constructing something that had four legs and a gas canister. They were also un-wrapping no end of utensils, pots and pans. It seemed that they had literally brought the whole contents of their kitchens with them. I was perplexed. What were they doing? Why did they need all that paraphernalia? And then, out came the cool boxes.

Onions, peppers, tomatoes, chicken, prawns… I was more and more mesmerized by the minute! They chopped and sliced, pruned and seasoned, and before long appeared a vast paella dish, and I suddenly realised what they had been so eagerly assembling – a mobile paella cooker! Unbelievable! ‘They can’t be serious?’ I thought. ‘For their picnic they’re gonna make a full-on paella?! In the middle of the park?’ And indeed, they were.

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A fabulous aroma soon took to the air provoking deep within me serious food envy. Team-Paella were officially awesome! They stood around their mobile kitchen chatting and grooving to the music, sipping red wine and cava and stirring their paella now and again, no doubt to ensure their pristine, culinary standards. There before my eyes fresh fish, meat and rice were bubbling away amidst saffron and exquisite Mediterranean flavours. What they were breezily creating was a gastronomic, finest-restaurant-worthy feast. I threw a pathetic glance at my Lays. ‘My picnic is shite’ I huffed to myself.

The organisation and coordination of Team-Paella was truly applause-worthy. Soon their rustic feast was ready, the vivid colours of their saffron infused rice and bright, juicy vegetables gleaming within their heaped, steaming pan. They quickly put together a production line of plates, cutlery and napkins, and mouth-watering mounds of paella were shared amongst the group. They all coolly and unexcitedly tucked in as if coming to a park, setting up a kitchen and preparing a hot, delicious feast were a completely normal thing to do. But then I suppose for them it was. The more I looked around the more I began to notice the standards of other picnics taking place… homemade Spanish tortilla, whole legs of Serrano ham, brick-like chunks of Manchego, fideuà and traditional stews. It was a day of revelations. A day of discovery. A day of deep, cultural understanding as to what it means, and what happens, when Catalans go for a picnic.

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Posted by lauracerys 03:13 Archived in Spain Tagged park catalonia jazz picnic paella terrassa Comments (0)

Més que un club.

sunny 20 °C

Més que un club’, (more than a club) Barça’s motto really is somewhat of an understatement, for it is so much more than a football team. It is a culture, a beacon of hope, a way of life and is inextricably intertwined with Catalan identity. Its political connotations are undeniable, and Barça acts as both a fervent expression and international ambassador of the Catalan ideal. ‘Tan se val d'on venim, si del sud o del nord, ara estem d'acord’… ‘It doesn’t matter where we’re from, be it the north or the south, we are all in agreement’ proclaims the team’s anthem, and true it would seem, as for almost everyone I have met during my time in Catalonia, Barça is one of the main symbols of Catalan culture, one of their proudest emblems and their biggest international export. The pure joy they bring to people can be seen on endless occasions. For me the most explosive expression of true devotion to the team was witnessed whilst experiencing thousands of fans taking over the Rambla in celebration of winning the Champions League – flags, flares, horns and fireworks filling the street like a Barça themed flying circus. It was then that it truly, dramatically and profoundly hit me, that Barça really is more than just a team.

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The intense awe manifested toward the club is captivating, exciting and mesmerising, and never more so than in the run up to and ardent final encounter between Barça and Real Madrid, when bars are brimming, literally to over-flowing point with burgundy-blue-clad die-hard fans. A deep and historic rivalry exists between the two and is passed down from generation to generation, for better, or for worse. For better, in the innocent pride shown by children toward Barça – sometimes they will turn up for English class and shout with bursting joy,Mira! Mira Laura!’ – ‘Look Laura! Today I’m wearing my Barça shirt!’. ‘Y mira també!’ – ‘And look! I’ve got the matching shorts too!’. Their excitement is so sweet that I can’t help but giggle. There is perhaps a ‘for worse’ however. With the increasing hype surrounding the call for a referendum on Catalan independence, Barça has, whether it wanted to or not, become a tool used by many locals to express their political desires. And children have caught on. During a recent match I attended at Camp Nou some (probably no more than) five year olds were (no doubt copying what they have been hearing around them recently) chanting In-De-Independència!’. This made me feel a little uncomfortable, as they probably had no idea what they were shouting but had learnt from those around them that this is what is now the norm to chant during a game.

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Anyway, politics aside, experiencing first hand a Barça match at Camp Nou is unforgettable. As we climb higher towards our stand and finally pop out amongst the sprawling seats, the impact of the sight before us is none other than overwhelming. The feeling that takes over as a miniature us is packed amongst a mighty sea of over 98,000 is exhilarating. And as the Camp Nou gloriously towers around us we really sense the dominating and truly impressive power that is Barça. And then come the goals.

Now, I am by no means a major football fan, but watching Barça play is like watching a smooth, contemporary dance. Between fashionable launches to the back of the net, players pivot and twirl, flick and slide, with an ease and grace more often than not reserved for the stage. But, I guess in one sense that is what Camp Nou is – a stage. A stage for dramatic performances, enthralled audiences, rose worthy triumphs and heart wrenching defeats. And the players, to the football world, are like Shakespearean actors or products of the Russian ballet – seemingly flawless professionals treating the crowds to an unforgettable show with a standing ovation almost guaranteed. What honour the players must feel (we hope) and what an inspiration they are to millions far and wide. And we mustn’t forget the 1.5million euro donation Barça makes each year to Unicef – surely an example to all top league sporting teams.

The figures speak for themselves. Barça is a footballing victory machine. But on top of the endless goals and titles, they represent something much more profound in this corner of Spain. Something that needs to be seen to be believed. Something that needs to be heard. And moreover, something that needs to be felt. The pride, the emotion, the excitement, the expectation – they all form a part of what Barça is today, simply, més que un club.

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Posted by lauracerys 15:18 Archived in Spain Tagged football barcelona spain catalonia barca catalan Comments (0)

The Day of the Book and the Rose

sunny 22 °C

Spring is fast approaching. The floral scent of warmth is beginning to fill the air and the sky ever-changing into a deeper shade of blue. And just around the corner is El Dia de Sant Jordi - Catalonia’s national day, a true spring-time celebration and undoubtedly one of the best occasions on which to visit its vibrant capital city, Barcelona.

The 23rd of April is a special day in numerous countries around the world with Jordi, or George, being remembered and celebrated in many different ways. But the events held in Barcelona really are something to be seen. Las Ramblas, normally a chaotic, tourist fun-fair, is transformed into a romantic, artistic, living gallery filled with vivid colours, endless curiosities and classic charm. And there is an infectious feeling all round of national pride and joy. Relating back to the legend of Jordi, the princess and the dragon, it has become custom for men to present their beloved women with a rose on this day, and Las Ramblas is subsequently abounding with fantastic, captivating and at times awe-inspiring rose stalls. Infinite and exquisite, scarlet petals beckon our attention and hypnotize us as if they had fallen straight out of a fairy-tale. And it’s not only the traditional roses that take centre stage, but yellow ones, blue ones, purple and even rainbow ones - a true spectacle, and fully worthy of their gathering crowds.

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Coinciding with the story of Jordi, the 23rd of April also marks the anniversary of the deaths of both Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare. Of course, never ones to miss a reason to celebrate, the Catalans have added this into the mix as well, and the date has therefore become known as ‘the day of the book and the rose’. And the literary world has of course got in on the action, making it now typical for women to mark the occasion by giving a book to the man of their life. And so apart from the beautiful and bountiful displays of roses on Las Ramblas, book stalls also stretch far into the distance providing a uniquely curious yet enchanting atmosphere. Book signings are common practice and throughout the day across the centre of Barcelona famous Catalan writers and TV personalities can be seen enjoying the festivities and posing for photos with their fans.

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El Dia de Sant Jordi truly is an unforgettable day to be in Barcelona. A magical sense of celebration is felt all round and the pride of local culture expressed to the fullest. It is a perfect opportunity to really begin to understand Catalan identity, and what better way to do so than by wandering the adorned streets of historic Barcelona. All that’s left to do is to hope that someone bestows us with a book, or a rose.

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Posted by lauracerys 13:16 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona spain books catalonia roses las_ramblas sant_jordi saint_george Comments (0)

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