Sunday, 25 July 2010

Masks, Disguises And Make-Believe At The Festa Major

The Festa Major is a time the barri becomes a world unto itself. Even more than usually, El Poble-sec seems completely remote from the rest of the city, the world - and even reality. Beginning on the Saturday 17th July and ending Sunday 25th it combines pleasures, terrors and large measures old and new.

The short video, above shows The Smoking Heads, a performance art piece that took place in c. Blesa, involving actors disguised as skeletal beings, dressed in a way reminescent of depictions of evil capitalists. As the troupe's name suggest, thick black smoke belched from their stovepipe hats while bangers went off and a sinister red light glowed. The symbolism of the iniquities of late industrial capitalism and the coming ecocide was sledgehammer subtle - yet highly effective in creating a  unnerving and disorientating atmosphere amongst the party-goers.

Gigants from l - r: Armand, Rosa and Quimet.

The following day held more traditional diversions - yet they could be just as surreal for those not familiar with Catalan customs. One of my first posts dealt with els gigantes. As a I mentioned then, the couple of Armand, the rich industrialist and cabaret afficionado, and Rosa the vedette represent Poble-sec's glamourous (or seedy, however you see it) past of showgirls and their rich patrons.

Armand always follows Rosa, and always bears two presents: a bunch of flowers and a string of pearls, (pictured, left) which remain hidden. Meanwhile, Quimet - who represents the legendary Quimet i Quimet bar - which according to rumour is Ferran Adrià's favourite - ensures neither of the illicit lovers suffers thirst. Rosa is unique in that she is the only one of her race to have visible legs. She had also changed costume since we'd last seen her, which was even more revealing than usual.

Hello gorgeous! A cap gros leers my way.
Although now most - if not all - barris, villages and towns in Catalonia have their own gigantes, their modern existence in Poble-sec only dates from 1987, when they were very different to now, and a lot heavier. Follow this link to a great interview with Xavier Velasco, originator of the colla, or association,  of gigantes in el Poble-sec in which he speaks enthusiastically (and in Spanish)  about his family's key involvement in this fascinating cultural movement.

The grotesques known as Els Caps Grossos (literally, Big Heads) play second fiddle to the gigants - mainly due to their relative lack of stature and smaller numbers. They are very popular, however, with some of the uglier and more sinister examples creating a frisson of fear in the younger children.

A rose between two thorns.
Joining a parade of such brilliantly realised humanoids does impart a real sense of other-worldliness as they walk among us. Just as alcohol, music, dancing, street decoration and other techniques transform the everyday into the mysterious and wondrous, the gigantes and caps grosses have a major part to play in leading us - pied-piper-like into another realm.

For children of all ages...
Other participants also change their identities with masks, and as in the picture here, face-painting. Others, such as these children are hell-bent on environmental transformations of a not altogether welcome kind. This sort of creative/destructive behaviour is very much part and parcel of the spirit of festa, in the same way that the correfoc is.
Everything's gone green.

In the next post I'll give you an idea of some of the great music we heard at this year's Festa - which has proved to be the best we have yet attended. Fins aviat!

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