Monday, June 27, 2011

Sant Joan in Barcelona (Spain)

Living in a Catholic country means that important days in the church can also translate into public holidays... and yes, will we take'em! Witness our first holiday in June on the 13th was for Pentecost, which gets literally translated as "Second Easter." Another day off was on June 24th for the feast of Saint John the Baptist (Sant Joan in Catalan).

Barcelona celebrates with parties the night before on June 23rd. A few days beforehand makeshift stalls sell one of key components of the celebration - fireworks. Although there seemed to be plenty of ads for the package deals like you get for Independence Day in the States, there seemed to be very few bottle rockets in them, and instead, very heavy on the snap-and-popping kind that crazy folk like to throw at the feet of unsuspecting bystanders... and these tend to come in a giant size, that can blow an iron cover off a drain if aimed and timed appropriately. Firework safety also tends to be pretty lax with individuals letting them off with little regard for the place or people around them. Of course, this tends to make dogs out for their evening walks a bit nervous and people a little jumpy, particularly when the wielders of such explosions are small children of dubious hand-eye coordination.

We watched the antics with the masses that took to the beach. Here and there bonfires sprouted, and you could watch out for those who had shelled out the extra cash for particularly impressive displays. Rich was quite taken with an inventive youth whose trial-and-error with construction resulted in a pop can launching several feet into the air upon detonation, and Rich claims to still be impressed although a piece of the shrapnel came flying into his arm (he was uninjured). The cafe/bars along the beach were also doing great business with little to distinguish the patches of flooring and wood frames besides the choice of pounding music - house, reggae, and sentimental cheese were the options.

The other key component to the celebration was the pastry - the coca de Sant Joan. Traditionally, this is an oblong or rectangular pastry about twice as long as wide. The bakeries and pastisserias all advertise their cocas with special billboards all week, but judging from the crowds, most people wait until the last minute to buy theirs. It's easy to pick out the coca-buyers as the baker packages them in a distinctive carrying case- a cardboard portfolio with handles usually emblazoned with the name of the bakery or pastisseria. Since I have an aversion to radioactively-colored fruit (which I am slowly addressing through repeated exposure to English fruitcakes), we opted for the slightly less traditional coca which comes sprinkled with sugar and covered in pine nuts. It had more of a bread consistency, mildly sweet, and the faintest hint of an anise aftertaste. The coca was fine, but the final verdict was that panallets (the Catalan cookies you get during Halloween) are a much better use of pine nuts.

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