From the other side of the world
We're now on an island in the middle of the Pacific, and Spain seems like another life away. In the course of a week I was in Barcelona, Oxford, London, Toronto, Kingston and then Maui. It was the longest week of my life somehow, and I still feel a little bit disorientated. We're settling into island life pretty quickly, and as we've been here several times before, we're enjoying just being, rather than running around to pack in all the sights and activities. Also, we're a bit burnt out.
I haven't yet gotten nostalgic for Spain, or England, or Europe in general, though that's probably because I feel like I'm just home for the holidays, and haven't quite grasped that I won't be returning in January. We spent all of our Spain time in Catalonia, so we've got a good handle on that part of the country (though not, sadly, the language). The rest of Spain I hope to explore on another adventure. Catalonia, though, is a really interesting place - lots of history, lots of cultural distinctions from the rest of Spain, and even a separatist movement. One great Catalan tradition is human tower - or castell - building. (Wikipedia link here.) It's incredible to watch - though nerve-wracking! There are teams throughout Catalonia - every town or even neighbourhood has one - and they compete at big tournaments that get televised. Sometimes on weekends, a few teams will meet up for a sort of friendly 'tower-off'. There is always a marching band that plays them into the square where they build the towers (and plays as the higher levels of the tower are built), and the crowds cheer them on.
Team members are all ages and genders, and they wear uniforms of loose white trousers, a waist sash, a shirt in their team colour and often a bandanna. There are always tiny children, who scramble like monkeys up the bodies of their larger teammates to the very top. Apparently they only just recently started wearing the helmets after a child was killed. Sometimes a child will lose his or her nerve while halfway up the tower, and it's heartbreaking to see them struggle with themselves, deciding whether they can do it or not while their quickly tiring teammates desperately urge them on. It reminds me of an ill-fated high-diving-board attempt I made once when I was a kid. Only I wasn't then responsible for the success or failure of a fifty-strong team.
We went to watch a tower meet in Gracia, a neigbourhood in the north part of Barcelona. Jeff knew one of the participants. He told us that it's rare for anyone to get an injury that takes longer than a week to heal. Yikes. The patience, strength and steadiness that this activity requires, not to mention the nimbleness of the small folk at the top, is remarkable to witness. Because the people at the bottom get shakier and shakier the longer the tower is up, the process of building it is swift and methodical, and the people climb up and then back down with incredible speed. There are lots of different kinds of towers - ones built with circles of four people grasping arms, standing on the shoulders of the circle under them, ones with only two people on each tier, and, most incredibly, the ones where just one person stands on the shoulders of the person below. Here are a few photos from the meet we went to.
Here you can see the hands of the people making up the base of the tower. They support the climbers and also catch people who fall. They are at three storeys now, and the people who will make up the higher stories wait in a row to climb the shoulders of their teammates as the tower gets higher (note the decreasing sizes).
Here you can see the little kid who is going all the way up to the top start climbing up - she's wearing the helmet.
The top child just needs to get up to the top and hold up one arm - she doesn't need to let go with both hands and stand upright. I missed snapping the big moment as I was mesmerized - but in this photo she's nearly there.
I might work through a bit more of a Spain backlog in the next few weeks. Around lying on the beach, snorkeling and drinking pina coladas, that is.