We turned the corner into a little Spanish square only to be met by a wall of people. But, those behind us pressed forwards and before we knew it we had been sucked into a crowd of hundreds, packed tight and shuffling in a definite direction.
The noise was a low hum, like something was about to kick off and if it did we’d be right in the thick of it, but then all went quiet. Folk were straining their necks to see, then one fella got on the back of his pal – boy, this must be some spectacle for a guy to give his friend such a good vantage point like that. Hang on, there was another one, and another, and all had had the decency to remove their shoes before clambering to stand on the shoulders of their friends.
We had, in fact, stumbled upon a Castell. So that explains the odd dress code – I thought we’d come across some weird kind of homage to a 70’s disco, with their white trousers and deep satin sashes – although not a porn-star moustache in sight. But as this second tier of a human tower was being formed, those at the base shifted and someone in the huddle issued a signal that gave the green light to keep building. A band began to play.
Young men and women, obviously not old enough to carry the heavy paunches from a lifetime of fried pintxos, climbed nimbly up and took their places upon the shoulders of their stockier lower team mates. This stage moved a lot quicker than the creation of the base Pinya, but the idea is to construct a human tower of 8-10 levels, 3 or 4 people per level, and deconstruct it consecutively without a collapse. So, the next 7 or 8 levels need to move quickly before someone looses their balance.
My heart was in my mouth as the castellars became smaller and younger the higher the tower grew and, whilst these youngsters moved with speed and dexterity, the parents looking on have one hand on their mouth, and one crossing their chest.
Across the Plaza d’Espana was another team in different coloured shirts, watching, waiting for their components to fail so that they themselves could be given an opportunity to perform a more creative castell and succeed.
Since 1712 castells have been a festival tradition in Catalonia and in 2010 UNESCO rightly declared them a Masterpiece Of Intangible Heritage Of Humanity. These teams boast generations of castellers and their pride is tangible – their motto of ‘strength, balance, courage and common sense’ is easy to recognise in their focused expressions. Some teams that compete at the bi-yearly event in Tarragona, Spain, have up to 400 members and build towers 3 stories high. Here in the capital of Mallorca, however, the squad is much smaller but this did nothing to ease my indigestion.
The band kept playing and the final child, enxaneta, climbed like a tarantula up the slightly swaying column of Spaniards. Through the gap in my fingers I just about saw her hand raise in signal, 4 digits to symbolise the stripes on the Catalan flag, then the decent began. This child had no difficulty dismounting her peers and off the human platform she jumped into her proud fathers arms receiving praise and kisses. But, somewhere around the 6th level, like a pre-quake tremor, the wobbling began. The 7th tier was almost deconstructed but before the last child was down the whole tower began to crumble and the band abruptly stopped. Slowly the blur of red and white began to unravel themselves from one another and tangled limbs were returned to their owners.
Fatalities aren’t a common occurrence in this kind of competition and every team mate was checked quickly for injuries. Everyone was fine and a buzz of friendly banter transmitted from the pack, they’d had a fail but they were still in play and who knew how their competitors would conduct themselves. Just a small distance away a mass of blue and white formed a rugby scrum, the crowd went quiet and it all began again….
I felt a great pride as a spectator to witness this event, albeit by accident, and I will be the first to admit that the level of camaradarie brought a lump to my throat. To think of the hours and commitment that go into the preparation and practise for this kind of skill, and all for the entertainment of others. But that is the beauty of Spain, this isn’t the first time we’ve stumbled across some sort of celebration or custom taking place in a parc or plaza. It’s like each evening holds a serendipitous opportunity to discover a new tradition or custom if you’re just prepared to venture off the beaten track a bit and walk the neighbourhoods the the natives frequent. Spain has a way of honouring its celebrations and customs and it is a magical thing to get caught up in it all – you could turn one corner and witness an impromptu dance-off between stiff limbed pensioners to a marching band, turn another and see a procession of paper-mache floats going up in flames. Tonight it was a tower of humans – a mesmerizing display that will stay with me forever.
Images : Makamuki0