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.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
|Photo: © 2009 Johannes Bjørner|
Sunday morning, tired of being extra careful of where we carried money, cards and papers, we found the perfect solution not far from our hotel in the plaza in front of the old cathedral. We were there at the right time, for a brass orchestra had assembled and lots of people were milling about on this sunny and warm first day of November. At some signal that I missed, the music began and several women standing in front of us suddenly dropped their bags in one pile on the pavement, formed a circle with joined raised hands, and started dancing. They were dancing the sardana, a traditional folk dance of Catalonia, more properly called Catalunya.
The dancing went on for a long time--whenever it seemed as though it was coming to a close, the music would take another turn, and dancing would recommence. The sardana is a slow dance, with deceptively simple toe steps. We watched an older woman who could barely move, feeling out the steps as she stood with her daughter, perhaps, on the outer rim of the circle. Her daughter and several other women and men joined the circle, simply by ducking under the upheld hands, depositing their bags in the center, and then clasping the upheld hand of each of their two neighbors in the circle.
Eventually a woman came with a collections tin; she explained that this was the sardana dance, we dropped a few coins in the can, and she gave us a sticker so we would not be disturbed again. But we continued watching for a long time, then went on to visit the cathedral. And when we returned an hour or so later, they were still dancing, and the old woman who had been moving hesitantly had joined the dancing. Bags were still safely piled in the center of the circle.
Other people have captured short clips of the sounds and sights of the sardana on YouTube, though it's not quite as magical as being there and seeing it begin spontaneously.