We finished our week in the Torrevieja area, where we used to live, and rode the train to Barcelona from Alicante yesterday afternoon. We could have flown back home to the U.S. this morning, but instead we delayed our departure by a day just to see the sardanas in front of the Cathedral in the old part of the city of Barcelona.
I first wrote about the sardanas in 2009, I've just discovered by searching this blog. We were in Barcelona for our first visit, centered around a meeting of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators. On Sunday morning we happened upon what seemed like an impromptu folk dance in the plaza in front of the old cathedral not far from our hotel. It is, in fact, anything but impromptu. It happens every Sunday, from 11:15 to 1:00 PM, we have learned, and it is a celebration particular to the Catalunya autonomous community of Spain.
We arrived early at the plaza, in time for a café con leche, and when we made our way around the cathedral, we came to the front, where sixteen or so chairs were set up and roped off on the steps in front of the cathedral. Slowly, musicians appeared within the roped-off area and took their seats. They unpacked instruments: a piccolo, clarinet, other woodwinds, but we were standing right behind the man who lugged in a bass, and we watched him place bandages on his fingers, then he sanded the strings of the bass, ran a lit pocket lighter along them ("Don't try this at home," he told us), and then rosin. No director appeared, but at precisely 11:15 (and this the morning of the change from summer to winter time in Europe) the piccolo lead with a couple bars and then the rest of the instruments joined in, and then one, then two, and three circles of dancers formed on the pavement below, and the slow, ritualistic melody and movements combined in the weekly celebration of the old Catalunyan tradition.
The Catalunyan flag was waving behind the dancers and in front of the musicians, not the Spanish flag. Some may look upon this as a weekly political protest, and there is surely some truth in that description. You can also see it as a hallowed, weekly acknowledgement of a culture, and of the idea of vibrant individual cultures within states. We spied an old man dancing who could barely keep up with the movements and during a break asked him how long he had been dancing sardana in the square. Thirty years, he said. We made a date to come back and see him ten years from now, at which point we know he will either be on the square in front of the cathedral, or he will have danced his way into paradise.