The anarchic ’diables’ (devils) of Catalunya and their explosive ‘correfocs’ (fire runs) are immensely important features of Catalan culture.
After climbing into their singed black and red suits, the diables romped around the street like deranged puppets on strings.
Clouds of smoke enveloped them as they guzzled beer from plastic cups and chewed on fat cigars.
A gang of drummers rumbled low and steady, the whites of their eyes bright like snow in the oil-slick night.
And then, gently, a tap on my arm. A lady in a floral dress – shimmers of gold and canary yellow.
I thought she was sitting down, but she was in fact standing. All 4-foot-something of perfection.
The drumming quickened. A look of concentration now taking hold of the drummers’ and diables’ faces. Shudders of anticipation.
A yellow ribbon was pinned to the lapel of the lady’s dress. A gentle announcement to the world that she was in favour of Catalan independence. Short locks of platinum hair framed her cracked face, delicately held in place with little clasps of silver.
The drumming grew heavier and faster. The hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention.
A warm sense of pride and gratitude filled my chest. That she considered me, who she no doubt viewed as little more than one of the million other pesky tourists ruining this city, as being worthy of her attention.
That she would even contemplate sharing this moment, or any moment at all, with me.
Her gold-rimmed glasses, and the chains that dangled from them around her neck, sparkled under the amber street lamps.
She smiled at me using only her eyes and pointed with a crooked finger towards one of the diables. He was carrying a huge flaming baton into the centre of the street.
Another smile. This time with her mouth as well as her eyes, and another crooked finger pointing at my camera. She locked her hands together in front of her like an excited schoolgirl. Just you wait and see.
The diables had worked each other up into a frenzy by now and bounced around, whooping and hollering, finishing whatever was left in their little plastic cups.
And all together, and all at once, they dipped their jousts into the flame until they burst into a bright white light.
Plumes of smoke rushed into the air. Screaming sparks rocketed out of the spinning tops. The diables skipped maniacally into the crowds. Blood-red tongues poking out. Eyes burning wide as the sun.
Streams of embers cascaded over the spectators, who frantically ran and hid wherever they could. Genuine shrieks of terror rose above the thunderous drums and explosions.
I crept as close to the diables as I could, hiding my face behind my camera and feeling the embers burn my scalp.
And then, after what seemed like an entire day, the flames fizzled out and the diables’ dance waned. An applaud replaced the shrieks of terror – gratitude for having survived, for feeling so vibrantly alive.
I turned around and peered through the heavy smoke. I could just about make out a pair of gold glasses and a set of pearly white teeth.
She was still there, standing in the exact same spot. Still alone. Still impeccable. Hands clasped firmly in front of her, ready for the next torch to be carried out.
Fiestas del Poble Sec in Barcelona – July 2018
About Catalonia’s Correfocs
The origins of Catalonia’s correfocs date back as far as the 1100s, to the “Ball de Diables” (The Devils’ Dance).
Inspired by the eternal fight between good and evil, this ancient folk dance was used as a way to entertain the rich and royal as their gorged themselves at lavish banquets.
As with the Catalan language, the tradition was banned under General Franco’s dictatorship, along with all other regional traditions that weren’t strictly “Spanish”.
And today, now that the Catalans are free to speak their own language and celebrate their colourful cultural heritage, the locals celebrate this wildly explosive tradition with great fervour.
In Barcelona, and many other parts of Catalonia, each barrio (neighbourhood) will typically have their own correfoc devils and drumming groups. The members of which are banded together by almost tangible sense of camaraderie.
Where to See Catalan Correfocs in Barcelona
Apart from the local barrio fiestas, one of the best times to see and experience correfocs in Barcelona is during the annual La Mercè Festival (every September).
Held in honour of the Virgin of La Mercè, Barcelona’s patron saint, this week-long street party bids farewell to the sizzling summer heat and welcomes the cooler autumn months in spectacular style. See my dedicated post for more details.