Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Sunday, 21 april 2013 | The Guardian


"Catalan human tower dazzles crowd in London" (The Guardian)

Friday 19 April 2013

Sam Jones

170 castellers, aged six to 75, clamber on top of each other as part of weekend of festivities to mark St George's Day

To the bemusement of lunchtime joggers, the fascination of Thames-side tourists and the delight of the odd homesick Mediterranean heart, London sprouted yet another tower on Friday afternoon.

But the structure that sprang up at the foot of City Hall, not far from Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, was built not from stone and mortar nor steel and glass but forged rather from Catalan flesh and bone.

For almost 300 years, the people of Catalonia have been congregating in plaças to try to build the highest possible human tower through a peculiar combination of balance, strength and outright fearlessness.

Though a familiar sight in their homeland, the Castellers de Vilafranca proved enough of a novelty in the capital to draw a crowd who watched – many holding their breath – as the Catalans clambered on top of each other to construct their six-level castells.

The 170 castellers, aged from six to 75, are in London to show off their skills and to help celebrate St George's Day; the dragon-slayer is also the patron saint of Catalonia.

On Saturday afternoon they will be performing on Clapham Common while Sunday will find them by the Millennium Bridge on Bankside and at Borough Market, which will be hosting Sant Jordi celebrations.

Miquel Ferret, a civil servant from Vilafranca and committed casteller, said the tradition – judged by Unesco to form part of the "intangible cultural heritage of humanity" – lay at the very heart of the Catalan identity.

"Building towers is a way of working as a team where class doesn't matter," he said. "We've got the mayor, we've got priests, we've got lawyers and doctors and we've got farm-workers and unemployed people."

For Catalans, he added, castells are both an expression and a celebration of community.

"Some people sing or play sports, but building towers is a mix of lots of things: it's half-culture and half-sport but all bound up with our traditions and our identity as a people," he added. "It's a bit of everything."

Despite insisting that anyone could be a casteller – "whether you're strong, very heavy, thin, tall, or short, everyone has a place" – Ferret conceded that certain attributes were desirable: "You need strength, balance, bravery and sense – you have to know where your limits are.

" All those qualities – and several more – were evident in the diminutive figure of María Mhaf, an eight-year-old from Vilafranca who has been scaling the heights of the castells from more than a year.

Emerging, crash-helmeted, from the base of a dismantled castell to fetch her gumshield from her proud father, María explained that she had wanted to be a casteller from the age of five.

In common with many focused athletes, she was laconic when discussing her motivation.

"When I'm at the top," she said, "I feel peaceful."

(Link here)

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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

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