LAST week, I wrote about our early memories of fiestas and that it is a tradition of Spanish origin. I thought of writing that piece after I attended the “Fiesta Mayor De Gracia” in Barcelona last week, which made me nostalgic about my fiesta experiences in my youth.
Gracia was once a village outside the walls of Barcelona. It was autonomous and was the typical village with its own town hall, church, and a market. However, as Barcelona expanded its territory, the village was annexed in 1897. When its population grew, Gracia became more urban with new buildings and infrastructure; thus, it took on a modern appearance.
But despite its annexation by the city and its consequent urbanization, Gracia managed to maintain its independent spirit and unique character and historians describe Gracia as a “village within a city” because of its cultural traditions, including the charming architectural character of some buildings that remain well- preserved.
Gracia has been ranked as the best neighbourhood to live in. One main reason is the bohemian, independent spirit, which is reflected in the small locally-owned shops and businesses, colourful architecture, and charming narrow streets, setting it apart from other neighbourhoods in Barcelona. The best international school is found in Gracia – the Barcelona High School. An array of educational options, language schools and universities, together with the several parks and green spaces, that give ample space for children to play outdoors; several supermarkets; health centres and other shops that cater to family needs; and a well-connected transportation for mobility around the city, make Gracia an excellent choice for families to live in. The crime rate is the lowest in the city, due to its neighbourhood watch, well-lighted streets and cctvs. Many artists and intellectuals have made Gracia their home along with many students and young people who help create a vibrant, dynamic community.
In the narrow streets and squares, family traditions and neighbourly connections were maintained throughout the years and they would meet regularly in anticipation of the annual fiesta mayor where the families living in the different neighbourhood streets would compete as to the best decorated themed street. The city annually sets a fund for the fiesta and depending on the number of participants (streets), the budget is equally distributed. The Fiesta Mayor De Gracia is a major highlight in Barcelona’s summer calendar and a must-see event for tourists where they can experience the culture of Catalonia.
Twenty- three streets have been transformed into tunnels decorated with various themes, like the mythical City of New Orleans, the fable of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and the rats, butterflies seeking freedom, Alice in Wonderland, ‘Formigres’ figures, etc. The best decorated entrance and exit of the streets, best use of recycled materials for decoration, were also chosen. The week-long celebration consisted of 900 activities which included concerts in the parks, food fairs, notably paellas and fideua on the squares, parades of human towers, cercavilas, gegants reus, and the like.
Juan Miguel, a Baguio Boy, manages “Le Elegant,” a pub along Carrer de Topazi, one of the many streets in the area of Gracia. He told me that in their area, all the pubs and restaurants were required to connect their sound systems to a city hall server which monitors and limits the sounds in the establishments in order to maintain the peace and quiet in Gracia. During the week-long fiesta, the hours of operation of the bars and restaurants were extended until 2:00 o’clock in the morning but the volume of the music still had to be regulated.
I had a friendly chat with a resident in Carrer de Topazi who has been living in Gracia for some years. I asked him to comment on a graffiti written on the wall of an entrance in Gracia which states, “TOURISTS GO HOME.” He said that there is a growing sentiment among the old folks and many families in Gracia who feel that the essence of the fiesta, which is about the children and the family, has gradually shifted to the attraction of more tourists to attend the event, creating much discomfort, inconvenience, and chaos because people crowded in the narrow streets, restricting the mobility of the residents therein such that the spiritual aspect was no longer the centrepiece of the event. This also disrupted family and children’s programs and activities. The disgruntled elders and families are now thinking of measures to bring back the true essence of Fiesta Mayor De Gracia.
This observation reminded me of the situation in our city during Holy Week and the Flower Festival. The overflow of tourists in Baguio during these events and even on long weekends has created a lot of inconvenience and suffering to the Baguio residents who are not spared of the tourist prices of the goods and services by tourist-oriented businesses. They also must scramble for parking spaces for their cars or to grab a cab. Some cab drivers also would pick their passengers for the right price. We had been to Falafell, a beach resort outside Barcelona, which protects its residents from this undesirable effect of over-tourism. All the residents of Falafell must do is to show their resident card when buying at the market or establishments offering services, and they pay only the price as shown on the price list for residents, as certified by the “ayuntament.” Something worth looking into by Baguio City Hall.