Photos by Christine Scharf
Catalonia is the only place in the world where, as an emblematic part of
the local culture and identity, squads of friends and cousins construct
towering piles of people known as castells or castles. Different troops or
clubs practice and compete to establish records and build ever higher and
more complex and difficult structures.
A typical Monday morning newspaper casteller review might headline ELS XIQUETS DE VALLS CARGAN UN QUATRE DE NOU AMB FOLRE (the Valls Boys Load a Nine-story Four-person Castle with Peak).
These castles are studiously planned feats of engineering using building blocks of bone and muscle. At the bottom level are the barrel-chested forty and fifty year old men wrapped in weight-lifters sashes to support backs and bellies. The next level is composed of lighter more athletic yet powerful twenty and thirty year olds while the succeeding levels are built of descending ages and weights all the way up to the very top element, a The cobla, featuring the oboe-like flaviol, accompanies the proceedings, which are always somehow intensely moving a multi-generational event beginning with granddad in the tightly packed base and building through sons and daughters to the youngest and most exposed player at the top. There is a beauty, watching this community raising this child, a sense of genetic memory in action, of a culture being what it has to be, of lives and times unfolding all at once right before your eyes.
And, of course, if you've ever seen a castle come apart and fall, which they do with some regularity; if you've ever seen the littlest castlers from the uppermost levels floating leaf-like down upon the older generations below, you not only worry about the little fellows, but you sense the metaphor, the truth, of the way our parents and grandparents provide the foundation, the base, upon which we erect our dreams, our castles in the air.