Fire in the Plaça: Catalan Festival Politics after Franco

Fire in the Plaça: Catalan Festival Politics after Franco

Fire in the Plaça: Catalan Festival Politics after Franco

Fire in the Plaça: Catalan Festival Politics after Franco

Synopsis

A study in English of the Patum - a Corpus Christi fire festival unique to Berga, Catalonia, Spain, celebrated annually since the seventeenth century. This work explores the predicament of provincial communities striving to overcome internal conflict and participate in a wider world.

Excerpt

There is nothing else in the world, they insisted, and by the end of my stay I believed them, almost enough to stay for good. Inside the whirling mass in the burning plaça, there is nothing else: the crowd has shaped the axis mundi there on the hard stones, a wheel of smoke and sweating bodies rubbing against the crumbling facades of a provincial capital in the Pyrenees, where most of the factories have closed.

Performed annually for nearly four hundred years, the Patum of Berga has simultaneously celebrated and refused the political order at every turn. Its dancing effigies—giants and dwarfs, Turks and Christian knights, devils and angels, a crowned eagle and two flaming mule-dragons—serve as vehicles for a multitude of allegories. But the festival obscures its own apparent messages through techniques of the body cultivated with special intensity since the last years of the Franco regime: strong rhythms and constant motion, vertigo, heavy drinking, sleep deprivation, and the smoke and dense falling sparks of firecrackers at close range. After five days, symbolic combat ends in physical consensus and the incorporation of both individuals and social categories into a felt totality: metaphorically, a social body. in the 1970s, this body was a proposed democratic Catalonia, and the festival served as rehearsal for the massive demonstrations in Barcelona. in the 1980s, industrial decline and factionalism in this small mountain capital turned the festival into an end in itself, a passionate creation of an immanent unity recognized as ephemeral from the outset. This book, an ethnography based on several periods of fieldwork since 1989 as well as historical research, explores festival as a primary instrument and framework of action—social, political, economic, religious, and intellectual—for a community with limited resources.

The first half of the book describes the synchronic experience of Patum participants, taking as its ethnographic present the years from 1989 to 1992, the main period of my fieldwork and perhaps the zenith of Berguedan public life in the early years of democracy. the second half historicizes that powerful moment, examining how it emerged from the Franco regime on one side and how the liberalism resulting from European integration and globalization is dissolving it on the other.

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