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Fire in the Placa

Fire in the Placa: Catalan Festival Politics After Franco

Dorothy Noyes
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Fire in the Placa
    Book Description:

    Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title Fire in the Plaça is the first full-length study in English of the Patum, a Corpus Christi fire festival unique to Berga, Catalonia, Spain, celebrated annually since the seventeenth century. Participants in the festival are transformed through drink, sleep deprivation, crowding, constant motion, and the smoke and sparks of close-range firecrackers into passionate members of a precarious body politic. Combining richly layered symbolism with intense bodily expression, the Patum has long served as a grassroots equivalent of grand social theory; it moves from a representation of social divisions to a forcible communion among them. The Patum's dancing effigies-giants, dwarves, Turks and Christian knights, devils and angels, a crowned eagle, and two flaming mule-dragons-have provided local allegories for a long series of political conflicts, but the festival obscures its own messages in smoke and motion to enable a temporary merging of opposites. Activists in the 1970s transition to democracy in Spain took the Patum as a model of how old adversaries might collaborate: it helped to shape the mix of assertiveness in performance and compromise in practice that is typical of contemporary Catalan nationalism. The Patum became a focus of resistance to the Franco regime and drew visitors from all over Catalonia, serving as a rehearsal for the mass protests in Barcelona. Later, it provided the newly autonomous region with a vehicle for integrating immigrants and a vocabulary of belonging, culminating in the Patum-derived devils of the closing ceremonies of the 1992 Olympic games. Today, as mines and factories have closed in Berga, the Patum serves as an arena in which provincial Catalans model their relationship to Barcelona, Europe, and the world, and reflects their ambivalence about the choices open to them. Seeking a third way between tourism and terrorism, provincial towns like Berga show us the future of all local communities under globalization. In collective performances such as the Patum, tensions between cultural and political representation are made visible, and the gap between aspiration and possibility is both bridged and acknowledged. In this exceptionally rich ethnographic study, Dorothy Noyes explores the predicament of provincial communities striving to overcome internal conflict and participate in a wider world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0299-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A Note on Catalonia and the Catalan Language
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    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...

  5. Part I. Representing the Festival

    • 1 Between Representation and Presence: The Onlooker Problem
      (pp. 25-36)

      T’hi ficaràs o no? they demanded. Are you going in there or not?

      I was surprised at the insistence of this question in the weeks before the feast of Corpus Christi. Earlier, I had been given lots of advice on how to protect myself at the Patum of Berga. “The first time you have to watch from a balcony. Don’t go into the plaça until you know what it’s about.” “Always move counterclockwise in the plaça or you’ll be trampled.” “Tie up that hair under a good hat or you’re going to lose it!” “Don’t try to do the Patum...

    • 2 The Patum and the Body Politic
      (pp. 37-78)

      A story they tell themselves about themselves? Well, yes, but apparently they don’t listen to it. By the fifth day of dancing and drinking, after multiple repetitions of the Patum in the plaça, the plebeian mule spins into the royal eagle with no sense of disjuncture or surprise. And even at a distance from the confusions of performance, people are reluctant to talk about meaning directly.

      “What does it mean?” is, of course, the classic outsider’s question. As a rule, insiders are more immediately interested in what it does, particularly when “it” is a performance repeated annually in the same...

  6. Part II. Personification and Incorporation

    • 3 The Gaze and the Touch: Personhood and Belonging in Everyday Life
      (pp. 81-107)

      On one of my first evenings in Berga, I was out with the municipal music school colla after a rehearsal. They asked why I wanted to study the Patum, and I tried delicately to explain, without overt references to class or politics. I said I wanted to know how the people who did it felt about it. I proclaimed that understanding was shaped by everyone’s own circumstances and experience rather than some universalizing “meaning” attributed to it from outside; I was not after the Patum, but Patums. Queralt, a twenty-year-old university student, became impatient as I stumbled over my prepared...

    • 4 The Patum Effigies: Attitudes Personified
      (pp. 108-120)

      Respectability and popularity are balanced and mutually defining in the structure of the Patum: its effigies and dances recapitulate the oppositions of everyday discourse. One conceptual pole is embodied in the beauty, distance, and legible social identities of the giants and eagle. The other is the grotesquery, unboundedness, and ambiguity of guites and devils. In the middle are the dwarfs and turcs i cavallets, orderly but humble bodies regarded with affection and without awe for their homely charm. Their dances are the less intense interludes, the framing devices, for the plats forts (main dishes) of the Patum. The Berguedan entremesos,...

    • 5 The Techniques of Incorporation
      (pp. 121-140)

      Whereas the Patum as representation maps the social divisions of Berga in a way that all can read, the Patum in performance collapses all distinctions into illegibility. The Patum is a forcible communion from which no one can escape without actually leaving the space of convivència. This chapter examines the means (focused and intensified during the last thirty years, toward political ends to be discussed in Parts III and IV) by which Berguedans collaborate to create the sense of oneness that is the universally acknowledged goal of the festival; and by which, to continue the Durkheimian language of the last...

  7. Part III. Under Franco:: The Oedipal Patum

    • 6 Return to the Womb
      (pp. 143-158)

      In the first half of this book, I have spoken of the Patum as an articulation of the contemporary Berguedan social body, a role it has performed since its origins in resistance to the exclusions of the Corpus Christi procession. I move now to the more immediate history shaping the event and to the shorter-term historical consciousness of Berguedans in the festival.

      A shift of root metaphor—in fact, to a metaphor of roots rather than members—began with nineteenth-century conservative nationalists, who placed the Patum in a threatened past that needed to be protected by the authorities from the...

    • 7 The Eye of the Father
      (pp. 159-184)

      The Patum and the Mare de Déu emerged in the period after the Spanish Civil War as both symbols and realms of resistance, each experienced as an all-embracing mother whose love does not distinguish between bastard and legitimate, first-born and younger children whose body is the world and is one’s own. The reasons for the maternal invocation are not far to seek. The traditional social structure of Catalonia is invested in the authority of the father: an authority given greater ideological and practical force by the paternalist politics of the Catalan interior since the nineteenth century, by the Franco regime’s...

    • 8 The New Generation
      (pp. 185-212)

      When Mixo of the Guita Grossa, a young peasant in a grimy black smock, challenged the white-haired, white-uniformed Francoist mayor and won, a new generation seemed to have come to power. Armengou had proposed a softening of the patriarchal order, balancing paternal authority with maternal inclusiveness in a synthesis exemplified by the Patum’s balance of balls and salts. Mixo’s victory pointed rather to violent overthrow and the definitive triumph of the coses de foc. The younger generation, tensed between continuity and rupture, played the part of Oedipus during the transition, confronting the father, embracing the mother so long kept from...

  8. Part IV. The Mass and the Outside:: “The Patum Will Be Ours No Longer”

    • 9 Consumption and the Limits of Metaphor
      (pp. 215-236)

      The post-Francoist Patum began as opposition and became an alternative—began as symbol and became sensation. It began by fighting the regime on its own terms and ended in the rejection of those terms. Is this a more radical form of resistance or an abandoning of the struggle? The Berguedans who lived through the Franco period are divided in their evaluations of what has come since. Many would willingly embrace the “primitive” Patum if there were but room in the plaça to enjoy it. Others feel the strictures of Mossèn Armengou to be more necessary than ever. For almost everyone...

    • 10 Reproduction and Reduction
      (pp. 237-257)

      Everyone fears “the last tirabol,” and in fact whenever I use the word “last” in Berga (as in “Could we maybe have one last drink and go home to bed?”) someone immediately interjects, “No, no, the penultimate!” At times the frenetic cast of the festival suggests that participants are treating the Patum itself as la penúltima. But the most committed Berguedans—those who sustain local politics, intellectual life, voluntary associations, and festivals—are working also to sustain the Patum as the keystone of life in Berga, through strategic adaptation to changing circumstances. The strategies are multiple and contradictory, often fragmenting...

    • 11 The Patum in Spain and the World
      (pp. 258-278)

      Berga’s best hope for a viable cultural future with recognizable links to the past may have been the coalition of La Bauma dels Encantats with the Carrer de la Pietat, the most open sector of popular Berga: a reflexive localism willing to make strategic alliances with the outside world in order to sustain itself. But La Bauma fell into desuetude in the mid-1990s. Why was it not sustainable?

      La Bauma was in part the victim of its own success. Its Carnival met with such general enthusiasm and grew to such dimensions that responsibility for it was assumed by the Ajuntament....

  9. Notes
    (pp. 279-296)
  10. References
    (pp. 297-312)
  11. Index
    (pp. 313-322)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 323-325)