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Entries about catalan

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)

Perpignan – perfect for a quaint hit of French culture

sunny 16 °C

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Just a couple of hours north of Barcelona, across the Pyrenees is the charming city of Perpignan, cute, tasty, colourful and perfect for a weekend get-away. It’s so stereotypically French that it’s like being on the set of Amélie, or at a French-themed, mini theme park. The old city centre is full of narrow pastel shaded buildings which during the varying lights and shadows of the day display a delightful spectrum of amber hues, perfectly contrasting with their blue-green shutters. Quaint, winding streets full of fashionable boutiques tantalize the coins in our pockets, whilst sticky patisseries and rustic delicatessens awaken our taste buds with gusts of fine aromas.

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Saturday in the central Place de la République, restaurants are buzzing with locals perched in the afternoon sun, sipping on a bubbly cidre or two and tucking into steaming buckets of mouth-watering muscles and sides of frites. Later they lazily puff on fragrant cigars, always keeping a watchful eye on the televised rugby match, the melody of which flowing like a wave under the din of kitchen clutter and asthmatic exhalations of coffee machines. Every so often, the twee symphony of the old fashioned merry-go-round strikes up and we are transported back in time to days of the belle époque. A short stroll from the square, the crimson-brown castillet sits on the river-side providing Perpignan with a splash of Catalan culture and topping off the medieval ambiance of the old city. Atmospheric market stalls selling tempting local produce embellish the outside, and entice passers by to purchase a little gourmet treat for themselves.

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Sunday morning, and Perpignan is sleepy. The only thing for it is a delicious petit dejeuner and a chance to put our year-seven French to the test. The result, is surprisingly effective, and expectedly delicious. Freshly made creppes with fantastically zesty lemons and a warm café au lait are the perfect start to our day, and set the pace for a laid-back few hours of rambling. Just further out from the nucleus of the old city, a labyrinth of quiescent streets amble to and fro, the sounds of city life muffled behind tall tell-tale houses. Now and again we stumble upon a tiny, forgotten square or an enchanting well frozen in time, and eagerly take photos from every angle in an attempt to capture the perfect arty shot. Our stroll continues through bright, fanciful lanes, and fuelled by exquisite scents of lunch-time preparation we dream about rustic southern French life and moreover, ponder about how much wine and cheese we will realistically be able take back with us.

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Posted by lauracerys 08:06 Archived in France Tagged france french catalan rugby perpignan creppes Comments (0)

The Catalan Castells

A fine balance between bravery and insanity

sunny 24 °C

So it’s that time of year again, and La Mercè festival takes over the city I now call home, Barcelona. A whole weekend of spectacular events showcases the city at its absolute best, and quaint old squares are crammed full of performances and party-goers alike, delighting in the unmissable excitement and revelry. Perhaps none more so than Plaça Sant Jaume brings to life the passion, fervour and unique traditions of Catalan culture with its breathtaking display of els castells, in other words, human castles.

Now, for a British person, the first time you find yourself at a castells demonstration, the effect is none other than jaw dropping. Your thoughts range from “They can’t be serious!” to “What about health and safety laws?” and finally to “Is that a five year old climbing up there?!” You would have thought that this reaction would have somewhat diluted over time, but I can firmly declare that it hasn’t. Are the castellers courageous heroes or just mad? I really can’t tell.

So, the aim of the game (it seems) is for teams to construct a specially designed human tower by standing on each others shoulders and making it as high as they possibly can – and believe me, the heights they reach are astounding!

Hoards of supporters and unexpecting foreign tourists fill Sant Jaume square ready for an unbelievable show. The competitors, who have come from every corner of Barcelona, gather in the centre for pep talks and last minute adjustments, eager to undertake the seemingly superhuman challenge ahead. Then finally the moment arrives, and the first movements are made by the structural members of the groups. A blanket of silence gradually covers the spectators. Nervous tension spreads throughout the square and a wind band starts up with traditional music that seems specifically composed to increase the feeling of anxiety in the air.

The castells grow, rapidly gaining height, and concentration is deep – one foot wrongly placed, even a split second loss of focus could lead to disaster. A tremor of muscles from the castellers and a wobble here and there releases a gasp of horror from the crowd, and the hair on the back of our necks stands on edge. Incredibly however, teams remain calm. The towers, now seven or eight levels high, are nearly complete, but the dramatic pinnacle is yet to come. Suddenly, small children, surely no more than five years of age, begin climbing each construction like monkeys, with petrified though determined looks on their faces. Their task is to reach the top of their tower, climb over the heads of the two highest members, raise their hand into the air and successfully descend the other side. And whilst this is taking place, the castles must remain intact – truly a gravity defying feat!

Excitement and fear grows in the crowd - foreign tourists tearing out their hair in incredulity, local aficionados wondering if teams will reach their personal bests. With a sigh of relief all children have made it down the towers. In one corner a team is successfully and meticulously deconstructing their castle, one by one detaching themselves carefully, as if it were a game of Kerplunk. And finally, a roar of euphoria as all members reach the ground in one piece. Arms shoot into the air ecstatically, in awe of the team who in the eyes of the crowd are superheroes. Suddenly however, something catches our eye. Another castle still stands. But something is wrong. It begins with a hint of doubt. A quiver nervously follows, leading to a slight shudder of a knee which dominoes the slip of hands and heels. A cry of panic from the crowd and the castle turns to ruin, painfully collapsing. Bodies tumble on top of one another forming a mountain of limbs and the audience hold their breath in despair. But, it is revealed that everyone is ok, and the fans cheer in admiration for the fallen. Then it is determinedly announced that they shall attempt the castle again! And the crowd are delighted.

Every time I see groups of castellers creating their human towers I am blown away. They truly are amazing. Crazy yes, courageous no doubt. And so perhaps it is fair to say that the Catalan people have invented with their castells the perfect balance between bravery and insanity.

I won’t be joining a team anytime soon.

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Posted by lauracerys 06:08 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona spain catalonia catalan els_castells castells sant_jaume la-merce Comments (0)

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