Santa Tecla to La Merce
Trip Start Sep 14, 2011
13Trip End Sep 26, 2011
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Gothic Flair Apartment, Carrer d'Escudellers
What I did
Tot d'Inici, projeccions and more
We found a table with spare seats from we where L’Entrada de Músics could be enjoyed
After coming through the arch, the musicians have to cross a busy road and this was expertly marshalled by a single policeman who managed to keep the flow of bands and the flow of traffic going in a cheerful way without anybody getting upset. We kept a careful eye open for my favourites, a couple of musicians who look more like men who would be perfectly at home in an English real-ale pub supping pints of top quality beer in between trips outside for cigarettes, rather than the accomplished players that they are. We weren't disappointed and they soon went by, performing a traditional tune faultlessly on their acoustic instruments.
When all the musical groups had made their entrances we finished our drinks and set off for the cathedral so we could watch many of them arriving at the square and we took 'seats' on the steps in the full glare of the powerful late morning sun. Sun cream was applied because sitting in a spot like this for more than a few minutes would have been to risk sunburn. Time ticked by and we started to think about the next leg of our journey. We had a train to catch so we contacted Tony and Kay and arranged to meet them back at the hotel where we could collect our bags and make our way to the railway station
The hotel called a taxi for us because we didn't want to carry our bags down the hill anymore than we'd wanted to carry them up and I walked with James (about 10-15 minutes) to the station because the cabs will only take up to four people. We thought we'd got there first because we had not been passed by any taxis, but everyone was waiting for us at the station. Tickets purchased we only had to wait about five minutes for our train to Barcelona.
Unlike or journey in 2010 when we were squeezed into the door section of a crowded train with no seats and our bags balanced on our feet, this was much more pleasant. Barcelona Sants Station is somewhat more than an hour away and we all got seats easily and there were no delays. We jumped in a couple of cabs at Sants and were dropped of on Las Ramblas at the end of Carrer dels Escudellers (or did our driver call it Escu-dealers? That would be a strangely English language pun for a native Spanish speaker). Our friend Steve had flown in from Liverpool in the morning and we made a slight detour into Placa Reial to pick him up and within minutes we were being led up the stairs (52 steps, though some days it was 51) to the Gothic Flair apartment. We didn't have much trouble finding it because this was the third time that JD and CC had stayed in accommodation in this same building
The place was fine and with two bathrooms and three proper bedrooms (plus a sofa bed in the living room) provided adequate privacy. The balcony looked out onto Escudellers which is in itself something of an attraction. Escudellers is in what is often described as one of the scarier parts of Barri Gotic, with narrow alleys and Placa George Orwell which is a renowned hangout for the unwashed and disengaged but it is also a lively and thriving area where real people live, with shops, bars and restaurants. There is almost always something going on and we spent much more time watching life in the streets from the balcony than we did looking at the apartment's TV.
There was loads to do and not much time to get it all done in. It was not many hours to Tot d'Inici, the unmissable opening ceremony of La Merce, and we didn't have even a millilitre of vodka so we made our way to the (Carrefour?) supermarket on Las Ramblas. There was an important stop on the way though, to spend some time in the Palau de la Virreina, where there were three things to do. Firstly there were La Merce programmes to get. As in 2010, these were broadsheet newspaper-style programmes printed by El Periodico. They're free but I'd rather pay a euro for a glossy pamphlet-style programme as produced up to 2009
Next there were gegants and beasts. Pretty much all of Barcelona's Seguici Popular is on display in La Virreina during La Merce, when they're not out and about engaged in important work so it is an ideal opportunity for some tremendous photographs, especially if you can get some without other tourists included.
Finally there was FotoMerce. This is an annual exhibition of photographs taken during the previous year's festival. Anyone can entry and this year JD submitted the image that is the title photo for this blog and another one of the Falcons de Barcelona, so we're hoping that maybe one of them will be on display next year. The standards are high and there's a lot of competition, though. One of the most astonishing things about FotoMerce for those who were at the previous festival is how it underlines how much you missed. For us it feels like total immersion - we try to see and do as much as possible, but there is so much going on that really you only see a tiny percentage.
Supermarket next and we bought plenty of stuff to carry back to the apartment
Tot d'Inici always attracts a big crowd and we've been to 8 or 9 previously and watched the event from different angles. In particular we've enjoyed the orchestra, Els Ministrils de Cami Ral who play only this one concert every year and we had read that the opening address was going to be made by Joaquim Maria Puyal, a renowned journalist, television and radio presenter who is particularly associated with the promotion of the Catalan language so we decided that we wanted to get there early enough to secure a good place to stand. There was about 40 minutes to go when we arrive and we found a good spot near the central platform and in front of the main stage. CC and James left the others to keep our spot and walked back down Carrer de Ferran to purchase 6 falafel salad pitas and drinks because everybody was ravenous and having something to eat would help to pass the time. The falafels were rather good and they took a while to eat.
The opening address takes place inside the ayuntament and is relayed to a big screen in one corner of Placa de Sant Jaume
The speech started with JMP talking about his childhood in Barcelona (Julie was helping with the translation) and about the sights and sounds that he grew up with. It was cleverly interwoven with contemporary music and during one clip the camera focussed on one female council member who was smiling self-conciously, so we assumed that she was the singer of the original before her life in politics). Locals sang along with a lot of the tunes. After about 10 minutes, the subtitles included a line that was something like "then in 1959 ..." and perhaps 10 minutes later we got"In 1964 ...". I couldn't swear to it that the years are right, but when some time later we arrived in 1968, the grannies who were shushing earlier had taken to tutting and groaning. The main message of the speech was about the influences, both positive and negative on the use of the Catalan language since 1975 and how the future is now in the hands of Catalan speakers which is an important one, especially in the context of emergent Catalan separatism - but for those of us, Catalan and foreign, who stood through the whole thing from beginning to end on hard cobblestones it seemed that it took a very long time indeed to get the message across
Eventually JMP finished (the entirety of the speech, with Catalan subtitles can be found on the Barcelona city official website, if you feel I'm exaggerating) and that was when the fun began. The Ministrils had gradually taken up their seats on the main stage;the applause for JMP and the mayor had dies down and the lights on the central stage had been turned up - and we were off. La Merce 2011 was beginning.
One advantage of having attended quite a lot of Tot d'Inicis is that JD and CC now know pretty much all the tunes, so can hum or even, for the Gegants de Pi, sing along. Each member of the Seguici Popular has its own 'theme tune' although the very best tune of all is Tot d'Inici itself, as performed at the beginning and the end by Els Ministrils. The closing version of this tune is particularly enjoyable because there's a lot of movement on stage, with the musicians having a whale of a time standing up and sitting down, changing places and in some cases playing behind their backs or over their head. The closing music is also accompanied by a noisy fireworks display that has the audience leaning back to get a better look and occasionally dodging bits of falling debris. It's hard to know where to look. And don't miss the devil dance. This is usually late on in Tot d'Inici, when representatives of various Balls de Diables take to the stage to a sinister, rhythmic drumbeat with flaming, sparking pitchforks raised to the sky and frighten everybody
After Tot d'Inici it is time for the projections show. The Seguici Popular returns to the Ayuntament and the crowd thins a bit, but not enough for us to move back a bit to get a better view. The show this year was called "La casa màgica " and was due to start at 21:15 although I think it was a bit later than that as everything was over-running.
This year's theme seemed to be retro computer games and builders. Videos of the event are ok but you miss the impressive 3D effects. Amongst the highlights of the 15 minute long show were a section where there Ayuntament was transformed into a giant games console, with Tetris down one side, Space Invaders down the other, Donkey Kong in the middle and Lemmings all over the place, Pacman was there, of course and so, inevitably was Mario; a sequence when the building was reconstructed from various different materials including toddlers' building blocks, Lego, Meccano and my favourite, logs in the form of a frontier-style log cabin and a brilliant short sequence were, echoing the false frontages placed over numerous buildings being renovated all over Europe, a number of 'builders' jumped of the top ledge and dragged a fabric replica of the Ayuntament down with them that exactly replicated the front of the edifice. Very clever.
When the projections ended we remembered that we had been on our feet for hours without much in the way of refreshment (ok, we had some flasks of vodka and stuff) and we were getting a bit peckish. La Sucarrena on Carrer de la Merce is one of our regular haunts, despite having some of the least well maintained hygeine facilities in the Barri Gotic and we ordered a couple of plates of Chorizo el Diablo, some pa amb tomaquet and a few bottles of sidra
The Merce programme had details of La Parc de la Llum, the Park of Light in Parc de la Ciutadella, but we were fancying some music. Los Tiki Phantoms were BAM's (Barcelona Accio Musica) offering in Placa Reial at 11 p.m. so after popping in to the apartment to replenish the vodka supplies we went to have a look. There was a decent crowd and quite a lot of them seemed to know their stuff but we weren't overwhelmed. They have a bit of a gimmick, insofar as they wear scary skull masks whilst performing which as a joke wears thin quickly. The tunes are ok. Guitar rock, sort of an updated Shadows without the 'dance'. We dawdled a bit and listened to a four or five songs which was enough for us.
There was also music in Placa de Sant Jaume where Orquestra Plateria were already on stage when we arrived. This was more like it. Aimed at more mature audience, perhaps, but people of all ages were having fun
We stayed to the end, well after 1 a.m. and headed back to bed because we were planning a long day.