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Nacho Caravia Nogueras
Festa Major de Grácia
Ricard works on the set for Carrer Tordera
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Nacho Caravia Nogueras
Festa Major de Grácia 2
Grácia residents prepare decorations for Carrer Verdi
For seven days in August, the streets of Gràcia transform into different scenes such as Noah’s ark with its pairs of animals, a salt mine made of more than 15,000 plastic glasses or US Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. This is the Festa Major de Gràcia, the barri’s biggest annual event. There are concerts, meals, athletic competitions and astonishing sets, which are known as guarnits. The tradition started 191 years ago as a party put together by neighbours, and still exists today thanks, in large part, to efforts by current residents. Behind every detail of the decorations there are hundreds of people: those who’ve worked on them all year. Neighbours always know exactly how many days are left until August 14th, the night they dress the streets. And although they always say, “This year we are running late,” they somehow manage to finish everything in the nick of time with satisfying results, year after year.
Joan Martorell is a veteran of the Festa Major. He explained that after he moved to Gràcia with his family, he was surprised one day by some people cutting bottles and painting papers in front of his door. He went with the flow; since then he has actively participated in 10 Festa Major celebrations, the first three years in Verdi de Dalt and the following seven in Verdi del Mig. He has come to learn that initial plans are sometimes subject to change. “We usually decide on the theme by November. Nevertheless, the original idea can evolve or change. This year we had planned to design two big Japanese cities, but it was too expensive and we dropped the project.”
Instead, he revealed, this summer Verdi del Mig will become into a ring for Mexican fighters. The ‘ceiling’ will be covered with 600 figures dressed in black T-shirts all bearing messages related to the Festa Major, and there will be some huge fighters by each entrance. The group will use doors that they have been collecting once a week—the night people are permitted to throw away their big trash—and also old seats from the Verdi cinemas, which were replaced with new ones after its 20th anniversary.
Year after year, Verdi del Mig is among the favourites in the contest. Last summer they won it, thanks to a wonderful recreation of Route 66, with its petrol station, its cactus and sunflowers and its motorcycles and palm trees from California. In 2006, they surprised visitors with a set inspired by H.G. Wells’s ‘The War of the Worlds’, which also took first place.
“The most important reward for us is that people enjoy themselves at Verdi del Mig, that they come to our concerts and activities and stroll around and admire the details of the set,” said Sergi Font, president of the street committee. He is 32 years old, and said that he has been taking part in Festa Major for all 32 years. “My family was already involved, so it was a passion I inherited. I both feel and live the Festa Major.”
Big problems over the last six years for many of those involved have been the lack of inexpensive office spaces to work from and storage space for the scenery. Street committees get money from the Generalitat and the Ajuntament but it is not enough to pay for the bands, the materials and the rent for storage space, amongst other expenses. For the 2008 edition, the Districte de Gràcia has opened the doors of an old school waiting to be refurbished, so that street committees could use it to work in for free. The groups from Tordera, Plaçeta de Sant Miquel, Berga, Plaça de Rius i Taulet, Fraternitat-EFIT and Bruniquer have installed themselves there.
“We applaud this solution,” said Quim Font, a member of the Tordera street committee, who explained that storing stuff in separate places had made it impossible to recycle material. “We have never had our own office space. We have been storing our materials in a space assigned by an association or on different roofs or at our apartments.”
In the classroom where they are currently working, there are hundreds of plastic glasses, bottles and egg containers. Having won the second and the third prizes in 2007 and 2006, they are preparing a vividly colourful scene to try and take first place this month. “The theme has to do with religion, but we prefer not to give any more details, so that people come and see it,” said Laia Martínez.
Both Font and Martínez insisted that Festa Major demanded involvement not just from August 14th to the 21st. “We organise meals for neighbours and sell lottery tickets to collect money for Festa Major. So, it is not just seven days and it is not just the people who work on the scenes, but also these anonymous figures who contribute by selling lottery tickets, or those neighbours who buy them, or those barmen who do not throw away plastic bottles but keep them for us.”
Different streets are known for their perennial themes. Carrer Joan Blanques de Dalt, for instance, always pays tribute to a song: last summer’s was ‘Mo’ by Joan Manuel Serrat, and this year it is ‘Gràcies, Vida, Gràcies’, by Joan Isaac. “The lyrics of this theme are beautifully expressed by the charm of spring and autumn, and this will be apparent in the seasons visitors will see in our street,” explained Ricard Estruch, a member of this street committee, adding that some of the main elements of their set are leaves, ropes and plastic bottles. “We are going to play with lights and contrasts, so it will be a different street at night.”
There are three families collaborating in Joan Blanques de Dalt, said Estruch. In his opinion it is essential to transmit this love for Festa Major from generation to generation. The question is, how can they captivate people? What is it that makes the festival so special? “Why do I love Festa Major?” responded Quim Font, incredulously. “It’s the same as if somebody asked me why I support Barça. It’s just the way it is. It happens.”
For participants, holiday means Festa Major. They do not take August holidays, at least until the festival ends. They stay on at home, working on their streets to make the festival come alive for the rest of us.