Author note: I’m a senior at IU Bloomington studying English and German, and I am interning at LaGrange Publishing this summer. I recently returned from a semester studying abroad in Canterbury, England, when I also had the opportunity to travel around Europe. Here, I’ve written about one of my favorite experiences in Spain. Look for more of my stories throughout the summer.
I’ve never been much of a wild partier in college; I go to hipster parties, as they say. Live music, less screaming, more campfires, dreadlocks, and dancing. I thought you had to choose one or the other, either sloppy club-hopping – which can get embarrassing if you do it wrong – or something much more subdued. When I went to Barcelona, Spain, I learned a new form of partying, one that combines people of all ages, endless energy, and cultural tradition. When my friend Carly and I first arrived in Barcelona, we hadn’t slept in about 30 hours. We’d spent the night in a cold airport and immediately went to sleep when we arrived at our cute little seaside hostel in the tiny Barceloneta region of Barcelona. A little over an hour later, at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I was awakened by the boisterous horns and snares of a marching band. I left my friend to her nap and went out to investigate. I found not one, but two marching bands warming up in different parts of the peninsula.
I waited by one band and asked several onlookers what they were celebrating, but everyone either didn’t know or couldn’t explain in English. Then, around the corner of the seafood bar, a crowd of shiny red shirts appeared, carrying wooden sunshine cutouts and sailboats on long wooden poles. They began to dance, the fun and effortlessly sexy Spanish way of dancing – you know the one. My friend woke up and found me in the crowd. We left the excitement and headed to the old city to see the cathedral and La Rambla, and when we returned to Barceloneta for dinner a few hours later, our peninsula was still partying!
There were maybe nine or 10 marching bands at this point, and costumed dancers accompanied each band. They paraded through the streets, chanting songs and having fun. Men and women carried wooden anchors and ship captain’s wheels and they wore outfits made of fake fruit, flowers, vegetables, and sausages. Kids celebrated as well; even teenage boys, who in America would be sullen or “too cool,” joined in to dance! We wove through the merriment in search of a restaurant when a man stopped us and said, “Please, just give me a little time.” We were confused, until we realized he was a restaurant waiter and was offering us free sangria! We ate in his restaurant, had authentic paella and free drinks, and watched tireless people dancing all around us, getting more and more energetic as the night went on.
The waiter explained that it was the last night of a three-day celebration of fisherman, their families, and their health. The celebration only occurs on the little peninsula of Barceloneta.
After dinner, we walked through the streets, which were becoming wildly crowded. Small barricades were set up when each new group of paraders came to a new location, so that they had room to stop for a more intense dance break. Men sold mojitos and beer in the street and people sang in Spanish (including us, but we pretended to know the words). Everyone, not just the performers, was dancing now. We tried out that spicy Spanish dance, rather unsuccessfully. We met people from Morocco, Austria, Sweden, and all over Spain. An Austrian guy tried to fix my hair by licking it, the pyrotechnics exploded on a laughing crowd, and nobody stopped dancing. It was incredible to me – all these people dancing, but only for themselves. Nobody was trying to look sexy for anyone else or trying to impress. Really, everyone was just enjoying themselves and celebrating some healthy fisherman with their kids, their parents, or strangers. After the fireworks midnight finale, everyone headed to the bars. A Spanish sign-maker I had met earlier yelled, “Where are you going?” and I said, “I don’t know!!” which was a perfectly acceptable answer.
We found a playground with more adults than children playing, and an accordion-clarinet-bass trio nonchalantly played some of the best music I’d heard in weeks. People stood in clusters everywhere – in front of bars, in the middle of the street, on the sidewalk, on the playground. I’d never seen people use the mundane act of standing around as an excuse to celebrate, but I loved it. There were parents out with their friends, their infants asleep in strollers, their toddlers still awake or trying to be, way after midnight. I had never experienced this mixing of children and carousing adults, but I loved that nobody had anything to be ashamed of. They weren’t being promiscuous, they weren’t too completely drunk, and they weren’t trying to impress. Like kids playing on a playground.
Thanks to good timing, a bunch of fisherman, and a strong tradition, I experienced some true Spanish culture and learned how to party Barceloneta-style.