dissabte, 23 de gener de 2010

La gralla

It was lying there, on the table. It was years since I last played it, and as I was not using it anymore, my father had lent it to a friend of his, and she had given it back to him. And yesterday I saw it lying on the table.

When was it that I last played it? Regularly, more than seven years. Occasionally, perhaps four or five. So, this morning, I picked it up again. I took it out from its hippy leather case and I saw it again. My gralla. It was a present for my (16th?, 17th?) birthday. My father had bought it for me because he had liked what it was made of: olive tree wood. I can remember that when I first took it out of the case it smelled like olive oil and wood mixed together.

My gralla and its case

My memory went back to 1997, when I first set my fingers on a gralla. In the village, there were other people that had been playing it for one or two years and they patiently taught me the basics. Later on, I took private lessons until I did not feel like playing it anymore (as a teenager, sometimes it felt like an obligation).

We rehearsed in what had been the old nursery school of Vilafant once a week, Saturday from 3 pm to 4 pm, just after lunch. We were not professionals and did not aim at it, but we liked to play. Without the company of the timbal and the caixa, the gralla felt lonely. So, these two percussion instruments were also essential in the music played. So, there was always a timbal and a caixa playing with us.

We rehearsed to prepare street parades that took place mainly in the spring and the summer. We were part of a bigger group of people called
COLLA GEGANTERA (literally, "The giants group"). A colla gegantera is a group of people that carry and accompany the two gegants (giants): two big papier-mâché figures up that usually represent the traditional life of a specific village. But this is a whole post in itself... so for now, let's focus on the gralla.

The
gralla is a traditional and typical Catalan music instrument. It doesn't have a translation other languages, not in Spanish either. It has been speculated that its origin has a connection with snake enchanters who play that special flute that seem to cast a spell on snakes. But I do not know if this is possible or not. What is certain is that it is often confused with a very similar instrument called dolçaina (in fact my first step into the gralla world was playing a dolçaina).

The gralla was named after a bird (in English, the name for the gralla bird is "jackdaw"), as its strident sound reminds the song of this bird. Indeed, the instrument has a very peculiar loud sound and it should be this way, as it is a street instrument.

Different gralles

Technically, it is a wind instrument and the playing mechanism is that of a flute: it has 6 holes on the front and one hole at the back, plus two extra holes at the bottom sides that only used to let more air out. Playing music with it consists in opening and closing holes using the fingers. To blow it, you need to use an "inxa" (a reed).
To prevent the reed from breaking lips are pushed slightly to cover the teeth (how many reeds did I tore learning how to blow it properly!).

After playing the instrument is usually humid and it needs to be cleaned, which is easily made with a special feather duster (like the ones that come with a flute) and the inxa and the reed holder, called "tija" (a kind of holding-tube) can be separated from the main body to dry.


One of the first difficulties for beginners is that the gralla is tremendously difficult to blow and it is easy to run out of breath. The lips also hurt after a while and begin to tremble, making a funny sound which sounds like a fart. But if you insist a little bit and don't get discouraged, you can easily play for 1h-1h 30 without having much trouble.



Playing the traditional song "El ball de la civada"
(after not having played the gralla for a long long time)

Bonus videos: the gralla is not that easy to blow :P



I can't believe there was a time when I could play this for 1h 30...



Keep on trying and maybe you'll get the note...

dimarts, 19 de gener de 2010

The eternal discussion

So far I have avoided politics as much as I could, mainly because a) I do not want to create trouble and conflict, b) I do not want to bore you, and c) I do not want to write a political blog. But I think I need to write lines on the sociopolitical discussions between Catalonia and Spain. Not saying a word without it would be like lying, denying a truth that exists and is very present -even in daily life. On the other hand it is a very delicate issue in which I have my own opinions, as everybody has in this country. Therefore, carefulness is needed to avoid offence.

The "battle" between Spain and Catalonia began long ago and will be still here for long. But why so? What happens exactly? Why these discussions exist?


For me the whole Spanish-Catalan question boils down to

1- Identity and feelings
2- Language
3- History
4- Miscomprehension

It seems easy when put into 4 points, but it is really complex!

I do not want to go further into detail today, but if you agree and you wish to learn some more things about it, I will give some insights from time to time, as objectively as I can.

diumenge, 17 de gener de 2010

Frankfurter Buchmesse, October 2007

Two years and a half ago Catalan culture and literature was the centre of one of the most important Book fairs in the World: the Frankfurter Buchmesse. This fair was an excellent platform for Catalan writers to expand to the European -and world- market. It also was a good opportunity to show the world our culture, our language, our traditions.

The poster that was used for promoting Catalonia in Frankfurt's book fair.
The text reads: "Catalan culture, singular and universal".

Within Catalonia this was conceived as a great event and cultural organisations became really involved in it. Since it was publicly known that Catalan culture would be the guest of honour in Frankfurt's fair, great broadcasting of the event began. And also debate and discussion. Which writers would go to the fair? Only Catalan writers who wrote in Catalan? Catalan writers who wrote in Spanish? Both? As always, the never-ending sociopolitical discussions on language exploded. These are so recurring that I do not even remember how they ended.

Time passed by and the day arrived. The square outside the fair's facilities were the scene for parallel cultural activities, as for example, human towers exhibition, traditional music, theatre, etc. The things that were culturally and linguistically origianl were highlighted, like for example, in writing, characters like ny (read like Spanish ñ, Portuguese nh or Italian gn), ç (which also exists in French and is read as s) and l·l (two l pronounced together).

Inside the building, Quim Monzó, a great contemporary Catalan writer was the chosen one to perform the inaugural speech. He build a sublime ironical text about Catalonia and Catalan.s It is so brilliant and well-structured that the best thing one can do is reading it to get an idea of how modern Catalan society thinks. And to have a great great laugh (it is something Catalan usually do: laugh at themselves...yes strange sense of humour, but really funny). It is absolutely hilarious. The text was translated into four languages: Catalan, Spanish, German and English. I strongly recommend you read it. And they say the translations are really good, specially, they praised the German translation of a very typical Catalan tongue twister. Click here to read it. At the end of the pdf you will find information about Quim Monzó in German and in English.

Here you have the video of the inaugural speech (so you will know how it sounded like):



And finally, you can find all sorts of information related to the event here (in Catalan, Spanish, German and English).

"Garbo, the man who saved the world"

This is the title of a documentary film I saw yesterday. A film that I definetely recommend if it happen to be in cinemas of your area. It tells the story of a double agent spy whose strategy was crucial in the result of World War 2. He, together with the British espionnage system saved the world from fascism. The weapon: deception. He fooled Hitler and the nazi regime. Who was then this man who embarked in such a dangerous mission?

It was him:


He was known as Garbo to the British and Alaric or Arabel to the German. But his real name was Joan Pujol Garcia. Joan was born in Barcelona on February 14th, 1912 within a burgeois, liberal family. His father was apolitical and believed in individual freedom so that is what Joan grew up it. As a young men in his early twenties he was a dandy (I guess he could afford to) and used to walk around Barcelona all the time. The Spanish Civil War was a blow for him. He, as many other, was called to fight on the Republican side (Barcelona was one of the last cities to fall under Franco's troops, so it was Republican most of the war). He actually responded the call but he deserted, with the risk of being shot. He hid during some time, but unable to stay closed in the house any longer, he finally went to war with one objective: passing on to the the fascist side. He did so not because he was a fascist but because he wanted to be left alone and Franco was winning the war by then.

After the war he married and moved to Madrid. There he felt he should help somehow in WW2, he wanted to help in fighting fascism, something which he had not done in the Civil War. But he did not want to get hurt. He went to the British embassy in Madrid asking for a job. He was disregarded. He then moved to Lisbon and there he contacted the German Abwehr and began providing information to them. Germans trusted him and his alledged agents: they did not know this information was false and fake. After some time he went to the British embassy again and this time he was given a chance. So he became a double agent. He was a virtuous actor and, as I said gained full trust from the Führer himself. They trusted him so much that he even was award with the Iron Cross and of course, given funds to continue his spy job. Money which, ultimately, was used by the British MI5 (the British secret service) to spy on the nazis. So Hitler was, in fact, paying to be spied on.

The crucial event was Normandy disembarking on 6 June 1944, the D-Day. Joan, well, Garbo, totally fooled Germans by telling them Normandy was a diversion manoeuvre and that the attack would be somewhere else. And he was believed, and thus, D-Day was a success. This was the definite blow to change the course of the war. When asked for an explanation on why the supposed attack did not take place, he simply said it had been cancelled as Normandy had been a success for them. And they, again believed him and even after nazis lost the war thanked him for his "valuable service".

After D-Day, he lost his power position and he mysteriously disappeared and reported death.Until they found him. He had faked his death and he really moved to Venezuela, where he began a new life. Once knowing he was alive he was awarded, on D-Day 40th anniversary, with an MBE, a British condecoration which grants membership in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Joan Pujol Garcia died in Venezuela on October 10th, 1988. He has been the only man who has been in the two sides of two crucial wars in contemporary Europe. And, without shooting one shot, he was a hero.

The documentary film talks about all his life. I gave you the main lines of his life, but the film tells with detail the whole story. Simply amazing. The film is mostly in English, but also there are some German, Catalan and Spanish, so the best option is subtitling. The following trailer is in English subtitled in Spanish (though in the cinema I saw it subtitled in Catalan...except for the Catalan and Spanish bit of course :P).




Note: more info on Garbo found in:
- Wikipedia
-Youtube: simply write "Garbo the spy"
-Film's website (in English and Spanish)

dimecres, 6 de gener de 2010

Smell of Christmas (XI)... - Reis

This is the day that children wake their parents up at the cry "Han vingut els reis! Han vingut els reis" (The Three Wise Men have been here tonight!). They just can't wait to see which presents the Three Wise Men left for them during the night and unwrap them.

If they have been good, they will get nice presents, though not always everything they had asked for. They might get angry, but then their parents tell them that every boy and every girl must have toys and that they shouldn't be so selfish.

If they have been bad, they will get a... coal!!! This wasn't such a punishment for me, in fact I remember asking for coal, as I always knew it would be delicious sugar coal...


Naughty or nice?

Usually, on January 6th a last family meal is held. More, more food, as if we had not had enough! But delicious anyway! Traditionally, for dessert, we eat the Tortell de Reis (or Roscón de Reyes in Spanish). Though being eaten in the whole of Spain, there are local differences in the traditions related to it. In Catalonia, a broad bean and a little king china figure are hidden inside the tortell. The tortell is cut into pieces and one piece is given to each member of the family. If you get the piece with the broad bean inside, you have to pay for the tortell, and if you get the piece of the figure, you are crowned king with the paper crown that is usually placed in the centre of the tortell.

This is the Tortell de Reis

I do not like tortell very much, I think it is because of the cabell d'àngel (a kind of jam made of pumpkin) and the fruita confitada (glazed fruit), and when I was a child I didn't want to eat it also because I was afraid I might find the broad bean and I would cry at the thought of spending my savings on a tortell. But then I also ran the risk of not being crowded queen...

One funny thing I remember about the 6th January family lunch is that usually the tortell box included a small cardboard with the same poem in Spanish and Catalan and my father would have us children read in aloud in both languages, but making special emphasis in correcting our Spanish reading. That's how I learned, my Catalan accent would always be with me when speaking Spanish, but I also learnt that it was very important that I should read Spanish without my tongue twisting at every word :P.

The Reis day, or Epiphany (if we talk in religious terms), are the end of Christmas festivities. So that is the last of the Christmas series of posts. I have liked writing them a lot, as I discovered and learnt new things. Now you might say...no more Christmas series next year? Yes of course! While writing the posts I realized I could not talk about everything, so I had to leave some things for next year! So more on this from December 2010. Thanks for sharing Christmas with me by reading the posts ;).

dimarts, 5 de gener de 2010

Smell of Christmas (X)... - Nit de reis

Wrap yourself up and go out on the street. See the illuminated, happy wondering faces of little children as they pass by throwing sweets at the crowd. Do not forget your paper lamp while you are waiting for them. Why?

Because...ARRIBEN ELS TRES REIS D'ORIENT!, The Three Wise Men are here!. Melcior, Gaspar and Baltasar are here to bring presents to all children!

Prior to Wise Men arrival, children write letters saying they have been very good children, done well at school and helped their parents so they would be really pleased if the Wise Men brought them some presents. And they list the presents they would like to have. This letters have to be ideally given to a royal page that comes to the place some days before. If not, last minute letters are also taken in.

January 5th is the D-day for children. After seeing the Three Wise Men parade, they will have to face the Wise Men: they will sit on one of Wise Men lap and he will ask them if they have been good children. Obviously they will say yes, I've been good and they will get a little gift. Occasionally, a little toddler will cry because he will be scared but his/her parents will smile and tell him, the Three Wise Men are very good people and that he should trust them.

Poster announcing the royal page coming to get the letters
and the Three Wise Men 2010 parade in my village, Vilafant.
I love this poster! :)



Images of the Wise Men parade in my village, January 2009.
In order: the Three Wise Men, a royal page and one moment in the parade.

After the parade and the talk with one of the Wise Men, children must have supper, prepare their shoes (so the Wise Men knows where they have the presents for him), leave some food and drink for their camels, and go to bed early. During the night, the Wise Mean will come to the house (they are magic, so they will be able to come in) and leave the presents.

Núria, my sister, is almost ready (year 1993)

The three of us are almost ready (1993)

Food, drink and shoes...all ready for the magic night! (1993)

I hope you have been good or else... (you will learn what on the next post) ;)!

divendres, 1 de gener de 2010

Smell of Christmas (IX)...Feliç any nou!

Well...I guess New Year is pretty much the same for those who use Gregorian calendar: either you sleep the whole morning after a long party night or you do not party and get up early to do some kind of activity without the annoying crowd. Since January 1st I take the second option and go skiing in Andorra...there is almost no one going down the slopes! Magic!!! And after a whole morning of ski...delicious shower, delicious lunch, delicious chilling out in the sofa.

And you? How do you spend your New Year? Is there any special tradition on that date in your country?

I can not finish without wishing you...


I hope that this new year brings you health, happiness and achievements! :)