Work hard, play hard:  a Catalan summer #2

Work hard, play hard: a Catalan summer #2

Farming and Fiestas: work hard, play hard.

And after all the work that I told you about in my previous article, you must agree that the Catalans certainly deserve to party.

Everyday, somewhere in Catalunya there will be a fiesta happening.  Celebrating the birth, life or death of a patron saint, a religious day or a national day, there will be a reason to party.  Rows of trestle tables covered with white paper are set up under the trees next to the river and clouds of mosquitoes dance and hover in the fairy lights which are strung between the branches, or village-sized marquees are thrown up overnight and the entire population stuff themselves inside for up to a week of celebrating.

Scarlet Jones Travels: preparing to party

For a very reasonable price you can be served three plates of food, with the offerings usually including the local delicacy of blood sausage and the flaky pastissets and of course, plenty of sangria or wine.  There might be a band or a DJ or a mixture of both and people will dance together, cha cha cha-ing or later salsa-ing or grinding away to reggaeton.

Claire serves the sangria

I have described the Corrofoc in a previous article – the adrenaline fueled fire running event (click here if you missed it) which a lot of the towns and the villages host, but there are also parades of gigantes (those massive ‘It’s a Knockout’ style puppets), medieval festivals and Corpus Christi.  And as a birthday bonus, you get extra celebrations rained on you on whatever birth date you share with the saint that you were named after.

Scarlet Jones Travels; the crazy correfoc

One evening almost the whole village decamped to the opposite side of the river and went up into the hills to the Old Station Fiesta.  Years ago a railway line was built up into the mountains but later fell into disrepair.  Now restored and converted to the Via Verde (the Green Way) you can cycle or walk along it for miles, over spectacular stone viaducts and through long, pitch black, bat inhabited tunnels.  A group of local businessmen restored one of the old station buildings and during the summer they open the terrace on the old platform to diners and hold live music events.

The old station building

The fiesta at the old station is a relatively new event which is rapidly becoming absorbed into the timetable of local customs.  A shuttle bus ferried people up and down to and from the village, there were the tables crammed together, cauldrons of food bubbling away, buckets of sangria of course, and music.  I watched and then I was later invited to join in with the local dance called the jota which, believe me, is much trickier to do than it looks.  Men and women dance in snakelike lines moving deceptively slowly while doing some frantic and complicated footwork and elegantly twisting and turning in tune with each other (apart from me of course).  The men wear spotless white shirts with bright red sashes and the ladies wear black, delicate embroidered lace shawls

Scarlet Jones Travels: letting the amateurs loose on the dancefloor

Films and slides were projected onto the side of the station building, some documenting the history of the station and its connection with the village and there was much cheering and shouting as the villagers recognised themselves or their friends and relatives in the pictures.

And then we danced until dawn; spinning, salsa-ing and bouncing until the cry went up that the final shuttle bus was about to depart, and we fled the dance floor at 6am and got back into the village just as the sun came up over the mountains.

The end of a perfect night. And the start of a perfect day


What is the Correfoc?

What is the Correfoc?

What is a Correfoc?

The Correfoc is a Catalan fiesta which translates as Fire Run and it’s certainly not an event for the faint-hearted or for those of a nervous disposition!


parading in the narrow streets

The ‘colles de diables‘ or groups of devils wear costumes decorated with intricate designs, all slightly different and I would imagine costing quite a bit of money to make.  Others wear capes and evil looking devil masks and they all parade in the dark accompanied by groups of drummers who beat out a steady refrain.

The ‘devils’ move to the beat in a shuffley sort of a dance and they carry pitchforks or frameworks like big chandeliers above their heads with spitting, spinning roman candles mounted on top of them and then the devils dash towards the crowds spraying bystanders with sparks.  As the fireworks burn out they blast high into the air with loud bangs and the night is filled with smoke and the smell of gunpowder.

Correfoc 1

posing before it gets dark

The dancing devils are accompanied by men in dragon costumes who have fireworks attached to the dragons’ backs and who snort fire at everybody as they weave their way along the streets of the towns and the villages.

see the video here of the dragons

I took part in a Correfoc fiesta in a little Catalan mountain town, where the narrow cobbled streets echoed and crashed with noise and there was nowhere to run.  Cowering under trees then dashing forwards when there was  clear space, we followed the procession – fire running – to the square in front of the church where the devils regrouped  and doused themselves with water, before returning along a different route for their amazing finale.

correfoc 3

the Correfoc is quite a spectacle

The whole time, children nip in and out and taunt the devils, wearing their own miniature versions of the costumes, complete with scarfs, hats and fireproof gloves and they are also dampened down at regular intervals.

Background to the fiesta

Surprisingly the Correfoc is not an ancient tradition but it was resurrected after Franco’s rule as a way of establishing a Catalan identity.  Sadly, the EU are doing their best to regiment the events which they claim are dangerous and are trying to ban it or at least turn it into a sanitized show piece with no audience participation.

Yes, it can be dangerous.  Yes, there was a big queue waiting for their injuries to be dressed at the ambulance station.  Yes it was scary but wow, what an experience.

If you are going to attend a Correfoc dress accordingly – wear old clothes and cover your hair, and as for the Health and Safety mob – well, if you are worried, stay at home.

The finale

As the procession reached its finale, all the participants crowded together, tightly packed into the square.  The drumming became more frenzied and everybody crouched low and then jumped up in a ritual dance and then, in a last blast, all of the hoses were lit and night became day.

Click here for the video of the finale

Our fiesta went on for nearly two hours and I don’t think that my pulse stopped racing at all.  I don’t know when I have ever sustained such an adrenaline rush for such a long period of time.  I do know that I was grinning as wildly at the end as I was at the start once I realised that I was probably not going to get burnt to a cinder.

Would I go again?  You bet!

correfoc 2

gunpowder and smoke




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