I’ve been on holiday (which explains why I’ve been quiet on here the past week or so) in Barcelona.
The day I arrived was the last day of the Fiesta de La Merce, Barcelona’s patron saint. I dumped off my bags and headed out in the late afternoon sunshine to get my bearings and see what I could see.
I did a loop down La Rambla along the seafront and then back up the Via Laietana. Sitting on kerbstones and on windowsills and barriers all along the street were crowds of people gathering to watch something happen. Being curious, I thought I’d join them. I’d no idea what we were actually waiting for, but in the spirit of exploration and adventure, this didn’t trouble me at all.
Groups of drummers walked past us to the starting point, and people dressed in devil costumes. All the children in the crowd had bandanas over their heads, and some had them tied over their faces too. Odd choice of costume, I thought, observing it all coolly.
Eventually it, whatever it was, started. The crowd became more agitated, more excited, and at the bottom of the street the air was filling with smoke. There were too many people milling about to see what was going on, until what was going on was almost upon us.
The drums were banging and the devils were waving broomsticks above their heads with whirly Catherine Wheel-esque fireworks attached and flaring out wildly. This was ‘correfoc’.
I was still curious, and figured, given that Barcelona is in Spain and Spain is still just about part of the European Union, that these blazing fireworks spinning less than three feet away from me couldn’t possibly contravene health and safety regulations. So I stood right in the middle of the melee and tried to take some decent photographs.
What actually happened next I’m not entirely sure, because the noise and light and smoke and movement all overtook me, I panicked and ran back to the ‘relative’ safety of the pavement. From there I could see people deliberately running their children underneath the fireworks, for fun. Then I realised my foot really hurt, looked down and saw that some hot ash or something had landed on me, got stuck and that I had a small burn that had bubbled up like boiling butter straight away.
Clearly the bandanas weren’t for costume, but for protection. Correfoc means fire-running, and the tradition is at the end of the festival, to chase the demons out of the city, hence the drumming bands which were behind each troupe of diablos.
Fortunately for me, the Spanish are as equally liberal with their health services as they are with their safety measures, and I was given an antibiotic cream over the counter without a prescription. The demons cast out and my bubbling skin treated, it was a fairly dramatic start to a week of holiday and rest!