Travel Essays

In the Days of Fire and Giants

102_0057In the days of fire and giants, my second home was a fairy tale, the kind only found in books so old and forgotten that the pages would crumble at the flap of a butterfly’s wing. Barcelona first tiptoed with the delicate steps of the Catalan sardana dances, then leapt as night fell in Plaça de Sant Jaume. As the sun sunk behind city hall, the giants came out to play. These gegants danced and twirled, their massive wooden frames manipulated by the person who bore their weight on their shoulders. The painted faces of the gegants never moved, unfazed by the cheers that surrounded them. One little boy perched on his father’s shoulders and greeted every single gegant.

“But papá, why can’t the gegants hear me? Why can’t they see me wave to them?”

A volunteer tried to explain to him why the gegant couldn’t hear him, but the child could not escape from the magic of the massive, life-like forms. He waved harder and shouted louder as a lone balloon floated over the crowd, causing other children to tilt their heads skyward and point. Their hands quickly flew to their ears as the drummers reached the plaça.

The drums of La Mercè were different from the hellish drums of the correfoc. The beats of the fire-drums were feral, but the drums that followed the gegants were distinctly masculine and war-making, deep and rib-rattling. They made me want to conquer something for no other reason than to call it mine.

101_9891In the days of fire and giants, men bowed before crowned, carton-pierre eagles and cowered before spark-spewing dragons. Darkness was the only requirement to blast fireworks into the sky, and on Sunday the brave ran under the fire of correfoc. Even with a cap, scarf, long-sleeve shirt, pants, and shoes, I couldn’t play with fire without getting burned. I wore the scabs on my arm like a token of valor, but washed out the gunpowder smoke from my clothes.

As the gegants paraded by, I was surprised to see my former Catalan boy walking alongside the dancing statues. It was a choque, a crash; I was surprised to feel anything. It was a reminder that love came and went on its own accord—I knew better than Jay Gatsby that I couldn’t repeat the past, that the Mercè of 2013 was not, could not, and should not be like the Mercè of 2011.

In the days of fire and giants, Barcelona was a city of gunpowder dreams: sometimes you danced, and sometimes you were burned, and sometimes you got both. I gently shut a door behind me, feeling like a phoenix rising from the sparks and smoke.

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