Barcelona: Celebrating La Merçe in the City

Beth Johnson is a student at Iowa State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Beth is currently studying abroad in Barcelona on an ISA Fall 3 program.

So, Where to start? I have been in Spain for about three weeks now. It has been a very busy few weeks for me. In comparison to the United States, there really is no comparison. How can you compare an apple to an orange, right? When I got into the country I was first in Madrid and next in Toledo. Oh, by the way, they were not lying when they said IT IS DRY THERE! That is not the case whatsoever in Barcelona. I first stepped foot on land at the University of Barcelona across Gran Via de los Cortes Catalanes. I felt like I had stepped into a cloud! No joke, in comparison to the lack of any moisture at all in the middle of the country, I like it a lot more.

My first thought when I saw the city for the first time was… How can anywhere on earth be this beautiful? There are palm trees everywhere, amazing art on every block, in more forms than I thought possible, and buildings older than the entire USA. The one thing that surprised me the most about my experience so far would have to be the fact that everyone I’ve met here is, ironically, not from here! Where am I supposed to find these cool locals? It’s like they all know I’m looking for them. Is this some sort of hide and seek? Come out, come out where ever you are!

I am, however, one lucky duck. I got to spend one of my first weekends here celebrating La Merçe. This festival is so cool, I just might have to make it back here a few more times. I met people from nearly every country in the world. That is pretty cool to me. I have had the opportunity to talk with a lot of Spanish speakers from South America and all over Spain. La Merçe has been an official city holiday since 1871, when the local government first organized a program of special activities to observe the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy, La Mare de Déu de la Mercè in Catalan. This is the festival you may have seen a lot of really cool photos from. They have activities such as, Human Towers, Parade of the Giants (Gegants), Correfoc (people dancing with fireworks in the street), traditional Catalan dances in the Gothic Barrio, and free concerts like you wouldn’t believe.

I was really excited to be able to see The Kooks with some new found friends from Chile and Australia. I also met three people that actually live in Barcelona. Hallelujah! After seeing a really good band from England, I decided I should probably take part in some Spanish activities. The next day (after my much needed siesta) I met my new friends from Barcelona for un cafecito. After talking with them about what to experience I headed out to be surrounded by thousands of people for the Correfoc. “If you are going to experience the Correfoc it is highly advisable to take protective clothing because often powerful sparkler fireworks are sprayed into the crowds.” That is what I had been told by numerous people who had attended before. I however, didn’t want to trek all the way back up to Gracia (mi Barrio) to properly dress, so I made my way there. I have never had an experience even remotely close to the one I had that night! This is a must see/do activity.

People normally bring hats, glasses, and thick long sleeved tops that serve to protect from the flying sparklers. I didn’t get a single burn on me though. I miraculously found some of my fellow study abroad companions after the show who unfortunately did not make it out as untouched as I. One chica even got one in her mouth! Oh the horror. The event takes place at dusk. Normally along and around Via Laietana, a larger street where “The Devils” -a drum line dressed up like devils- come in and march down the street while the fireworks are being lit. The next night was the final night of the 4 day festival. I was lucky enough to see the spectacular firework show from the roof top of a friends place very close to Montjuïc, where the fireworks are lit.

All in all, Barcelona is a city full of excitement, beauty, energy, and good vibes. I wish I could extend my stay here, but, unfortunately, it is not in the cards for me. I will have to just enjoy my one semester here and try to soak up as much Spanish (and of course the good vibes) as I can. ¡Hasta la próxima, adéu!

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