Total de visualitzacions de pàgina:

divendres, 22 de gener de 2010

The feast, an instrument of participation


Participating, feeling part of the community, can be complex in an urban society. The fiesta is a good instrument for voluntary identification, freely feeling part of the community.
Rituals express sentiments that are invisible in everyday life as a result of the behaviour imposed by social norms. Phrases like this are often used to express some of the added values that we feel in the fiesta, though many researchers have pointed this out before us. Edmund Leach considered that rituals could be understood as the representation of the dramas of a society, expressing its conflicts at the same time as covering them up. Claude Lévi-Strauss and especially Victor Turner were fascinated by the individual emotions that surface in ritual celebrations, clearly showing the communitas, the utopian idea of paradise, of a ideal threshold situation showing the creative force of the ritual process and in which there is a idealised social relationship that is apparently based on equality and solidarity.
The fiesta, all the different sorts of fiesta, is influenced one way or another by this concept, the transfiguration of each and every member of a community immersed in a collective dream in which rich and poor mix up who is rich and who is poor. The fiesta is a symbolic moment when the sage and the fool publicly show their similarity. The fiesta is a wonderful moment when day may become night and night day. It is a sacred time in which the communitas becomes perceptible, a threshold space where marginal expressions are permitted and where those on the margins of society have a role within the exceptional society of the fiesta.
We should not make the error of reducing the concept of the fiesta to a set of artistic events. The fiesta is not a festival, though they have many similar features. The most important aspect of the fiesta is participation. Because the fiesta is a representation of the society holding the fiesta, enlivening it, questioning its norms and revealing its conflicts and contradictions. There is no fiesta without some sort of transgression; the fiesta involves some degree of dissidence and is thus a spontaneous exercise of individual and collective freedom. A fiesta is an authentic fiesta when ordinary people take part, when they make it theirs. And the better a fiesta is, the harder it is for it to be controlled by those in power.
Meeting the challenge of holding genuine fiestas is usually a symptom of social stability and civil liberties. Carnival was even banned in the past, and a comparison has often been drawn between the intensity with which carnival was celebrated and the political situation of Spain at the moment. Promotion of fiestas by local government requires a serious commitment to collaboration with citizen organisations and to effective cultural participation. It is essential because of the important social functions of every fiesta.
Living myths belong to the oral world, where nothing is written. As mentioned above, ritual symbols reveal the tension between social norms and people's emotions. This psychic content of the symbol is what gives it its transformational value. This is the reason why fiestas are moments devoted to the permeability of rites. This is why we should take the trouble to think out a new ritual discourse for the fiesta, a contemporary discourse that can face up to the challenges facing our complex society.
There are other thought-provoking aspects. Our society has been defined as an opulent society that generates frustration in many of its individual members. The perverse phenomenon of the stigmatisation of poverty and of everything that seems humble or mediocre has led western society into a crisis, not into balance. It has never been fashionable to be poor, but not being a winner has never been so out of fashion. The relationship between government and the people seem to be going through a difficult moment in the western democracies, and this has led to frightening recent events, such as the revival of populism, lack of social mobilisation and lack of interest in public affairs. What is called "soft solidarity" has become widespread, but this requires little commitment. However, the movements representing an alternative to the current organisation of the systems of power are making their presence increasingly felt.
In every fiesta, to a greater or lesser extent, social relations become more flexible, allowing us to imagine new ways of understanding life within society. Fiestas have always helped to extend relationships beyond the nuclear family, and even beyond one's social group. And the fiesta still plays this role. The fiesta favours interaction between classes, genders, ages and ethnic groups, something that is now very valuable for our cities. Just as its artistic content represents an important instrument to make culture more democratic, the participative side of the fiesta makes it an important tool for spreading democratic values. At a moment when citizens seem to have lost confidence in the authorities, the fiesta's role as a factor favouring social cohesion and attenuating social conflict should not be forgotten.
A people's fiesta must, above all, be attractive to ordinary people. An elitist conception of the fiesta may mean it is of little interest to the people it is intended for. The people who go to the fiestas in Barcelona are mainly people from groups in the different neighbourhoods, from associations, from recreational groups, etc. They are people who show their creative capacity every year with a proven artistic criterion that should be respected. The informal groups of young people who form a group of "devils" and who participate in the "correfoc" give the fiesta its dynamic feel, its self-organisation, surprise and versatility. They give the fiesta its links with its roots, keeping its feet on the ground.
Coming up with a new conceptual framework for the fiesta may only require paying greater attention to what is present in our society and what is ironically questioned, contravened or disobeyed. Rethinking the fiesta may mean facing up to the fears of our times with contemporary forms of exorcism, such as irony, which has always been a charming attribute of intelligence. It may mean contravention to soothe individual and collective inhibitions.
"This cradle of fiestas" should thus not be treated lightly. The fiesta's content is not restricted to hedonism (something we should fight for in our stressful society), nor is it by any means the most important. How can one think of Pamplona without thinking of the fiestas de San Fermín, Valencia without the "fallas", or Barcelona without the fiestas ("Festa Major") in the districts of Sants, Gràcia, as well as the Festa de San Medir.
The fiesta helps people to feel part of the place they want to identify with, whether they were born there or not. And it allows people to identify in many different ways at the same time. People can feel they part of Gràcia during the Festa Major de Gràcia, and part of Barcelona during the Festa of the Mercè. And one can feel, for example, Catalan and Nigerian at the same time, especially if you participate actively in the social life of a community that deeply loves its traditions. And the more deeply rooted the traditions, the greater their component of transgression and irony, that is to say, the highly personal contributions that always enrich it in "seny" [sense] and "rauxa" [impulse].

Urban festivities: From celebration practices to festival engineering


Western urban cultures are characterized by their festival engineering, typical of our cultural industry, and by the intervention from Administrations or NGOs in the creation of celebrations wherever and whenever there is none. Such fact has propitiated a comparison between what some call "authentic" celebrations and "designed" festivals, although what would expected is to distinguish those celebrations that actually take place from those that do not. A celebration, after all, is an event around which people congregate and nothing more.
In any case, the theoretical distinction between "celebration practices" and "festival engineering" shall be of use. The first refers to those events which make people celebrate spontaneously; and the second defines all the public events that have been deliberately designed, no matter by whom.

Tradition: divine and profane
Festivities are, among other things, ceremonies. They hold large series of profane and magic-religious rituals, activities that are reiterative and very well defined and understood by the performing community. The interpretation given to these signs conditioned by history or, more precisely, by those events that the communities identify as their own. The information transmitted by these ritual signs communicates a series of norms and expected behaviours that are recognized inside the community; thus in time it is the very form of the ritual what prevails over the content of what it communicates. The repetition of all this process is what is commonly called tradition.
Tradition is invented as everything in human culture. It is not immutable and yet there are rituals that prevail beyond their original meaning. Such resemantization is common to all traditions and rituals, and it often takes place in festivities. Even though, for example, the fire during the night of "San Juan" is indispensable for the celebration, it does not have the "purifying virtues" it used to; there are not spellings with the water anymore, nor are vegetables utilized to "get a pretty face" or to "get a boyfriend". Something similar occurs when celebrations are held away from their original setting: Ramadan in Tunisia does not seem like that of Madrid for an illegal alien; Christmas with the family is not the same than Christmas during the military service. Celebrating festivities away brings in new emotions that make us perceive it differently.
This leads us to assume that it is possible to generalize a sort of festive resemantization, to re-think and re-create a new common ritual and symbolic space that allows new identifications; such space I shall call new traditions without placing any contradiction whatsoever.
New rituals just as new myths are typically contemporary urban events, shaped in the paradigm of social complexity: the urban society. New urban ceremonials fill in the communicative space: the end of the millennium, or the Olympic ceremonies, are examples of great events which meaning transcends by large what they represent as a great exercise of collective imagination.

Provoking festivities to visualize conflicts
The need to bring a conflict to the surface in order to critically approach it has been generally accepted. A popular saying describes this as "holding the bull from the horns". Celebrations bring about a momentary dissolution of the established order. The complex mechanisms that intervene in the pacification of social life have been passionately debated, difficult objects of analysis. Were we to joint both assertions, and we would have the following result: visibility of the conflict in a moment of dissolution of the order.
In times of festivities social categories dissolve. Such undifferenciation propitiates a space for pacification among pairs and taints the context to pacify conflicts and favour tolerance. In the end, this is what we call today "to be cool".
Festivities are commonly times of truce, of peace for alliances and reconciliations between families to take place. Why not to use them as settings to approach conflicts between different cultures?
For two communities to co-exist in harmony in the same territory, they must first "recognize" each other. Mutual recognition is the first step to co-existence, and this usually entails overcoming prejudices, to see the other has he or she is, leaving stereotypes and stigmas behind. Such knowledge of the other does not mean to merely accept him. When I claim to visualize a conflict I literally call for spelling the problem out. It is of no use for public instances and cultural managers to avoid situations of conflict between different cultures by mere fear to face those conflicts, for unattended conflictive situations always rise suddenly and with violence. Thus the object of cultural management must be understood as the design of strategies and cultural policy projects from a multicultural perspective.
To find common cultural features, to recognize differences as an added value to plurality are strong ideas that too often seem utopian. Co-existence does not mean to "live together", let alone complicity. The contact between bodies, to find each other, to celebrate together, are thus useful instruments to promote coexistence between different people who nevertheless share what is essential: their humanity.

Festive hedonism and generalized reciprocity: a communitarian culture
We should not forget that one of the main functions of all festivity is "to have a good time". Hedonism, so criminalized by the unconfessed neopuritanism of western postmodern societies, is an essential aspect of any celebration. Unfortunately, mass media tends too often to hold diminishing or criminalizing attitudes about them. Some examples are:
"Mortal carnival in Sri Lanka. At least seven dead and two hundred were injured due to an explosion at the city of Kurunegala (north-east from Sri Lanka) where the crowd celebrated carnivals" Diario Metro, March 2001.
By analyzing the imprecise note, one can see no connexion between the celebration and the explosion. The article does not let the reader know whether it was an attack or an accident with fireworks, making the tragedy look as a simple dreadful coincidence.
Some other examples of headlines are:
"Most of the 18 daily car-thefts in Barcelona take place in partying hours". Barcelona y más.
"Wholly week claims eighteen highway deaths". Metro directo.
Let alone the news in San Juan celebrations: fireman activities, firework injuries statistics, car accidents on the highway, etc.
Once this has been detected, festive hedonism should be seen as an extremely necessary social value for our times and our social environment. For one alone cannot throw a party; two or more are needed to have a good time.
Celebrating means to share emotions, which entails immediate gain for all the efforts used to set it on. Efforts are important because there are no festivities without collective work. As any form of work provides certain economical satisfaction, festivities automatically pay those working in their organization with joy. This implies some reciprocity in the effort and shared benefits for everyone involved. Nobody suspects that others will take advantage of the benefits, and there are not foreigners but guests. Such exercise of common sacrifice-hedonism bases the generalized reciprocity. Just as family members cooperate in order to have a good time with their group, knowing that in the end everyone comes out winning. There we have an expression of communitarian culture.

Art, tradition and people. Cultural standards during festivities
Feasts, as exercises of collective imagination, require creativity: the brief art of decorating a garland with recycled paper, the capacity of transforming an everyday public space in a gentle, natural and magic corridor, the theatrical COMPARSA of Carthaginians and Romans, the chorus-like movement of Muslims and Christians, of demons spitting fire; the plasticity of fireworks painting the skies with light, colour and shapes, these are but the expressions of art over and over imitated by the great creators since the beginnings of times. These events have established a constant, back-and-forth and mutual interaction between the popular and the courtesan. Musicians, painters, choreographers, sculptors, theatre directors, poets, they all have found in popular culture a source of inspiration for their oeuvres and, in turn, they all have reverted their creations to it: Miró, García Lorca, Picasso, Mozart, Dario Fo, Brossa, Maragall, Machado… they all understood festivities as the ultimate frames where their inscriptions could be moulded, the breathtaking experience of leaving in a symbolic world of cognitive domain. The visual literacy of colours in a festivity are only explainable from the artist’s perspective: plastic or poetic, they identify by themselves the cultural context where the celebration is framed. Music and dance are also expressions typical from feasts; they have wandered the back-and-forth trajectory from the popular to the courtesan and vice-versa, understanding them as the two faces of the same coin, needing and complementing one another.
The versatility of the festivity, its capacity to change and adapt to the moment, can only be understood by its condition as a social, collective work that evolves with society. That is perhaps the property that grants it its transversality, that is, its capacity to transgress the social, cultural and standardizing categories through chaos.[1]
Thus the transversality of festivities allows smoothing fixed behaviours and an individual permeability that opens the way to communication and to the circulation of ideas. Moments of catharsis facilitate the introduction of new ideas, new ways of behaving, new relationships, new cultural or gastronomic habits, etc.[2]

Festivities as instruments of cultural change in contemporary society
The outspreading of festivities under the slogan of "diversity", either intercultural or multicultural, demonstrates how significant this issue is in our days. Given its importance, we must be warned about the dangers of "exotization" in the proposals from foreign cultures, as there run is the risk of stigmatizing. Cultural initiatives should be given maximum attention and should be carried out with most dignity; the same for gastronomy, cosmetics, music, choreography, etc. It is not about showing eccentricity or exoticism, but about dealing with these themes as naturally, normally and proudly as our times advice.
Concretely, it would be convenient to take into account the following conceptual parameters as limitations to overcome when scheduling festive activities:
• Non-stigmatization of differences, by avoiding unnecessary ethnifications in the presentation of the agents and participants of the event. The "Floclorization" of a non-local group may have the unexpected effect of stigmatization.
• An excessive differentiation of population sectors in the activity list does not favour interculturality but rather separates the groups and hinders the dialogue between internal cultures (age or gender groups, ethnicities, sexual options, etc.)
The following actions, on the contrary, could explore other potentialities:
• To promote actions directed to the family group. Immigrant cultures tend to hold as frame societies that hold the family as their central core, especially in Africa.[3]
• To promote the participation of contemporary cultural proposals coming from the original settings of the immigrants and performed with maximum dignity. Cultural dialogue takes place as long as there is mutual recognition. To concede importance and prestige to the culture of the minority and let local citizens know it can be a good start.
• To favour the active participation of the organizations that gather the communities of immigrants, integrating them in the production arrangements.[4]
• To schedule festive spaces to perform actions rooted in local traditions.[5] The presentation of signs, symbols, rituals and myths from an open and integrating perspective makes symbolic identification possible by connecting, uniting and reinforcing the sense of belonging to a cultural community, especially among children. The creation of a single collective memory from a kaleidoscopic reality as it is within urban celebrations may favour the prestige of cultural diversity as an influence of mixed and valuable identities, whilst facilitating the identification with a community that is in constant re-creation.

Festivities as reflex and booster of social life: sociability and participation
It has been said that festivities are a reflex of what happens in society. However, their attractive and prevalence suggest something more: a celebration is a real and effective factor of social dynamization.
By focussing on what happens, say, in the kitchen before and after the event, we will see all the great implicit complicities and reciprocities between the members of the community. Feasts always entail communitarian work, collective creation, taking on and distributing responsibilities, prestige and power.
Preparing dinner among street neighbours carries an implicit generalized recognition; the sense of gathering the youth and the elder, kids and adults, reproduces a form of understanding internal differences within the community; differences become oblivious for a few days by those sharing the table, dancing, playing or cooperating, shoulder by shoulder, in the collective creation of the ephemeral fantasies at a year neighbourhood celebration.
Such collective creation grants itself the category of ritual, where those celebrating invent new myths, recreate events that bond themselves to the community, plastically reproducing all sorts of ephemeral fantasies in the form of ornaments and garlands which momentarily transform the urban space and turn into real the utopias of the Jauja Lands in their Carnivals, or recreating the myth of the minotaur in the bulls feast, the myth of the Amazon in Santa Agueda, the horn of abundance during Christmas or the mythical egalitarianism from ancient times of humanity, in every neighbourhood meal.

The specific symbolic dissolution of order. Chaos and creation.
If the image of a popular celebration here evoked seems too utopian for the reader, is because I have presented what it means in terms of social representation, and because this take-on focuses on the perception of reality from a symbolic world.
Carnivals have been referred to as arquetypes of celebrations where the established order is inverted. The fact remains that every festivity means a punctual dissolution of the order, a parenthesis for catharsis where all the members of the community celebrate together in an exercise of collective hedonism that allows social relations to permeate.
Festivities can be understood from this standpoint, as a door for social interaction of classes, genders, age groups and ethnicities.
Chaos and creation have thus been coupled to ancient myths in various religions. The new myths of artistic creation and individual transcendence of the author use to be coupled to chaos anew. Through her creation the contemporary artist should seek a new order to face the chaos of post-industrial civilization.
If we assume that chaos is but a concealed form of order, let us ask whether art can find in festivities the code needed to unravel it.

[1] We should bring forth the theory according to which chaos isn’t but a concealed order.
[2] Squaters’s parties, multicultural meetings, scientific or ecological fairs can be framed in these examples.
[3] Immigrant, single young workers away from their families do not usually participate in the festivities, but rather look at them from the outside.
[4] Little actions like decorating the streets, cooking a typical communitarian dish, a multicultural parade, a dance or children tales can be channels of participation.
[5] In the case of Barcelona, there is a number of activities from all the territories of Catalan culture and language (Valencia, Catalonia, Baleares) which evidences that the construction of identities is also heterogeneous.

Sant Medir


Quan arriba el març, hi ha un dia en que la ciutat es desperta somniant.
Vet aquí com començava la salutació d’un programa de la festa de Sant Medir a la Gràcia de finals dels noranta, que jo mateix vaig escriure amb qualsevol dels pseudònims habituals. La mateixa salutació acabava dient:
La classe es fa avui al carrer i la senyoreta sembla més jove que mai. I una alenada d’aire fresc rep la primavera a peu de carrer.
Sant Medir és una festa que se celebra des del 1830 quan el fred de l’hivern té compassió de les violetes boscanes de Collserola, quan el temps convida les mestres a treure els escolars al carrer a collir caramels i quan, de prop o de lluny, encara ressona el soroll dels saraus de Carnaval.
Una desfilada matinal pels carrers de l’antiga Vila de Gràcia concentra cada tres de març ara com abans les colles de romeus d’arreu dels antics municipis del Pla de Barcelona anexats a finals del segle XIX a la ciutat moderna. Aquestes colles s’agrupen en una superestructura organitzativa que les federa des del 1926: l’Agrupació de Colles de Sant Medir de Barcelona refundada després de la guerra l’any 1951. L’anada a l’ermita als volts del migdia ha estat substituïda per molts per un sempre copiós dinar de la colla en un restaurant. La simbòlica baixada de les colles de Collserola ha esdevigut amb el temps una cavalcada de capvespre al carrer Gran de Gràcia on es llancen caramels a la gent que s’ho mira.
La festa té com a signes característics alguns elements materials que la distingeixen: les faves seques, les violetes, les medalletes del sant, el tortell de massapà amb la fava, les llaçades o corbates dels estendarts de les colles, l’arnés i tot el que acompanya l’utillatge propi de les cavalleries. Conté també elements immaterials com l’àpat comunitari de la colla o el romiatge a l’ermita del sant a Collserola.
Però també cal fer esment de la peculiar vestimenta dels romeus i dels endiumenjats pentinats de les dones que, a cavall, en carruatge o al damunt de camioneta, exhibeixen el bo i millor del seu vestuari. L’ostentació del capital social i econòmic de qui desfila es diferencia de forma evident amb les actituds i amb la indumentària de la gent que cull caramels mentre veu passar les colles. Els signes externs posen cadascú al seu lloc. Sant Medir és una festa tradicional que distingeix de forma ritual les categories socials.
Hi ha entre els membres de les colles el costum d’obsequiar amics i coneguts. Es dónen cigars als homes, pomells de violetes a les dones i bosses de caramels als infants. Però l’element que més es fa notar és la pluja de caramels.
Molts són botiguers que tanquen el dia de la festa per anar a cavall. Aquest fet ha esdevingut un signe característic de la festa, fins al punt de determinar la seva mobilitat en el calendari: quan el tres de març és diumenge, la festa canvia de data i se celebra el dilluns 4 de març.
El paradigma de la indumentària d’un romer és el vestit de muntar que faci senyor, pomell de violetes, medalletes del sant i faves a la solapa amb orles ben bigarrades.
L’equip d’un fester dels qui cullen caramels entre la gent del públic és una bona bossa per omplir-la de caramels, un bon calçat que no rellisqui i que sigui capaç d’esmorteïr els efectes de les embestides de les àvies de colzes ossuts i trepitjar fort. Hi ha també qui, des dels balcons, penja pararigues de cap per avall per a recollir millor els caramels que es llancen a la desfilada.
L’enrenou de les bandes de trompetes i tambors es barreja amb els crits de la gentada que, de tant en tant, reclama l’atenció d’algun conegut que li ompli la bossa:
-Mariaaaa!!! Joaaan!
La música de la festa és diversa, però tota de carrer: Els tambors, les caixes redoblants, les trompetes i els clarins propis del temps de la postguerra, van donant pas als fiscorns, els trombons de vares, les gaites i alguna que altra gralla, que amb prou feines suporta la durada d’una cercavila que comença de bon matí i no acava fins ben entrada la nit.
Una de les llegendes associades a la festa conta que un forner gracienc, Josep Vidal i Granés, va començar la primera desfilada anant a cavall i sonant un sac de gemecs, altres versions hi fan sortir una gralla i un flabiol. Però el cert és que cap d’aquests tres instruments propis de la cobla de tres quartans no ha estat present en cap de les edicions de la festa que avui es recorden.

El Torito Ribeño, patrimoni de la gent i de la Humanitat

El 17 d’octubre de l’any 2003 la UNESCO proclamava solemnement la Convenció per a la Salvaguarda del Patrimoni Immaterial. El mateix any declarava Obra Mestra del Patrimoni Oral i Immaterial de la Humanitat el Carnaval de Barranquilla i la festa de la Patum de Berga.
La Convenció de la UNESCO considera “la importància que té el patrimoni cultural inmaterial, gresol de diversitat cultural i garantia del desenvolupament sostenible.” Reconeix també que “els procesos de mundialització i de transformació social d’una banda creen les condicions propícies per a un diàleg renovat entre les comunitats però d’altra banda també comporten, com els fenomens d’intolerància, un greu risc de deteriorament, desaparició i destrucció del patrimoni cultural inmaterial, degut en particular a la manca de recursos per a la seva salvaguarda.”
Cal destacar el fet que aquest organisme de les Nacions Unides es fixés en dos exemples de patrimoni etnològic intangible on el protagonisme és de la gent, de persones anònimes que mostren sense complexes la seva capacitat comuna de crear artesanies efímeres, on la música i la dansa tradicionals es mostren a peu de carrer, on el treball i la il•lusió desdibuixen les categories socials.
Aquell mateix any la candidatura d’una art tan valorada com el flamenc va haver d’esperar a una ocasió més propícia.
El Carnaval de Barranquilla és la festa d'un dels centres urbans més importants de la regió del Carib colombià. És una festa viva que s'ha anat transformant d'acord a la història social de Barranquilla del mateix Carib i de l'Amèrica Llatina.
La condició de la ciutat com receptora d'expressions culturals de diferents llocs del Carib, permet trobar avui indicis dels diferents períodes històrics de la regió, vestigis de l'etapa prehispánica, colonial, republicana, moderna i contemporània.
També es troben manifestacions que deriven de cultures africanes, com les danses de Congos, que utilitzen màscares de fusta en les disfresses d'animals.
La població africana esclavitzada sota el domini espanyol va celebrar la festa com una forma d'expressió de la seva pròpia cultura d'origen. Les màscares i tambors de fusta que avui s'utilitzen en el Carnaval guarden una relació evident amb les africanes.
El Carnaval de Barranquilla és doncs la fusió d'una triple herència (europea, africana i americana) en les quals les festivitats portades pels invasors espanyols, originades en arcaics ritus pre-cristians del Vell Món, es van combinar amb cerimonials indígenes i ritus seculars africans. L'encreuament entre indígenes, africans i europeus va donar com resultat la pluriètnia i per tant la seva lògica derivació multicultural que es manifesta amb esplendor en el Carnaval de Barranquilla.