Lost amongst the crowd and the Giants

If you’re ever fortunate enough to find yourself in Barcelona during the annual Merce festival, held each year around September 24th, you will not be disappointed. The festival is a 5 day long event that is held in honour of the Patron Saint of Barcelona, Our Lady of Mercy, La Mare de Deu de la Merce, who saved the city from locusts in the 17th century.

On my way to see the Human Ladder competition, I had been advised to arrive early at Placa de Sant Jaume, stake out my seat on the edge of the fountain and wait for the spectacle to begin. Mistakenly thinking that it would be a pleasant stroll through the winding narrow medieval streets of the Barri Gotic, instead, I got hopelessly lost.  Map in one hand, tourist guide book in the other, I sought to find the quickest route out of the maze of cobblestoned laneways, each leading to a different square or monument.  Surely this can’t be happening to me, I fumed. This was not my first visit to the Gothic Quarter, having shopped and dined there the previous day. Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken that shortcut through the picturesque alleyway where there was a handbag shop that I wanted to take a snapshot of, so that I could return later that afternoon.  Always one to search out landmarks in order to navigate my way through the medieval passageways, I broke the cardinal rule of sightseeing and deviated from the trodden path.  It was now getting late and there was no way that I’d be able to snag that up close and personal view of the Castellers (human towers) from my desired vantage point in the square.

 My travel buddy was somehow able to squirm her way into the throng and get a bird’s eye view of the Human Ladder competition that was about to start. I, being a mere 5 foot 3, was already starting to feel somewhat claustrophobic and wrongly imprisoned in this ever growing sea of humanity. More spectators were trying to edge their way into the square and I was starting to feel like a sardine. If I don’t get out now, then I’m on my way being mush....and it won’t be pretty.


Feeling slightly overwhelmed, I knew that I needed to escape and get some air.  It also didn’t help that I was headed in the completely opposite direction than everyone else! Elbowing, shoving and pushing my way through the crowd would have been the quickest way to make my getaway from the swarm but not the most dignified. After all, there were babies, grandmas, old folks and just plain nice folks amongst the horde, spectators like myself, merely desiring to partake in the festivities.

The streets, flooded with throngs of onlookers, jostled for space with the paper mache giants, dragons, musicians, circus acts and street entertainers of all kinds.  Tourists, grandmothers pushing strollers, people in wheelchairs, rollerbladers and local dignitaries were just a fraction of the sea of people who were nestled in the tiny medieval square.

What felt like hours later, tired, cranky and miserable, I had successfully managed to forage my way through the mob. Exhausted, I proceeded to plop my pink sneakers down on a street corner, praying that the strollers (steered by persistent mothers determined that their newborns witness the festivities) would not mow me down. Yikes!! I’m gonna meet my end by being trampled to death by a baby carriage!

Little did I know that I had now secured one of the most desired viewpoints and was delighted at having the opportunity to observe the parade of Giants up close! My disappointment with not having been able to witness the Human Towers was transformed into awe and giddiness as I gazed upon the giant paper mache figures that now filed past me.

Walking, dancing and spinning, the towering figures enthralled and entertained old and young alike. Babies squealed, children hollered and the older folks were just as captivated by the merrymakers, as if experiencing the excitement for the very first time.

Swathed in regal robes, kings, queens and nobles spun around and around, showcasing their magnificence to the crowd.  The 16 foot tall gegants (giants) represented all members of the community, as bakers, cobblers, seamstresses, farmers and senoritas danced and twirled alongside the royal entourage.  No parade is complete without some type of marching band and it was fitting that flute playing musicians and drummers frolicked amongst the revellers, a steady rhythmic beat resounding through the streets.

Standing on the congested pavement, shoulder to shoulder with the rest of Barcelona, I contentedly immersed myself in the gaiety and the joie de vivre that contagiously spilled out into the streets, permeating the hearts and souls of all.

My pink sneakers and I couldn’t have been happier to have gotten lost and to have stumbled across the magnificent spectacle of the Parade of Giants.

Come enjoy the Catalan festivities with me...come travel with me...


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