Saturday, May 13, 2006


Spent one evening last week at castellers practice in Barcelona, and decided on the spot that of all the symbols of Catalan identity (the sardana, the striped flag, the Barça), those precarious towers of men are by far my favorite.

The first thing I realized upon entering the gym-like (polished cement floor, bleachers, smell of sweaty socks) space, is that they're not all men. Women, it turns out, make for perfect upper tiers. Children are on top, and they scramble up the adults like monkeys.

I learned a lot of things. That a bandana tied around the waist, for example, makes a good foothold. That the music that accompanies any tower-building display has signals in it that tell the guys on the bottom when the kid on top is ready to come down. That teams of castellers do not compete against other teams, but that the local papers rank them anyway. And that some people think castellers got their start in the Middle Ages, as a means of seeing what was going down on the other side of the castle walls. But that, says Toni, head of the Barcelona castellers, is the romantic version.

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