It started with gunshots.
At least two, then three, then too many to count. Now snare drums buzz in the afterblast.
There is only one explanation: the Catalonians have finally taken up arms, rebelled against Castilian Spain. Now they’re rampaging through the blood-stained streets of Barcelona with Uzi’s and AK-47’s and . . . no. Jamas. Any Spaniard can tell you that Catalonians don’t much like their Castilian cousins, but they’re not about to secede, much less revolt.
Another string of gunfire. Louder. Closer. Not a revolution, but maybe a firing squad? a riot? I scan the foyer of the budget hostel I checked myself into a few hours beforehand. No one is freaking out, but that’s only because no one else is freaking out. We strike an unspoken accord with our eyes and agree to relax back into our couches as if nothing happened.
Another volley and this time my pulse really kicks into gear. That initial confusion I tried to ignore is now nervous giddiness. I’m getting antsy. But still, no one so much as comments on the ruckus outside, and to a deaf spectator, we’re just a couple bored college kids killing time watching “The Mask of Zorro.” But it’s our under-reaction that is the real mask. It’s all feigned coolness – dead silence while the alley outside echoes with snare and bass and gunfire.
A fresh volley and the sound of the buzzing snare march drawing near. I can’t fake not caring anymore. I skip looking out the window and head straight for the stairs.
“Anyone wanna come with?” I ask the room full of strangers. A few people shake their head no.
“Alguien va a venir conmigo?” I repeat. Still no takers.
“Alright suit yourselves.” And with that I am double timing it down the stairs.
I hit the streets and suddenly the bravado that brought me charging down the steps is wearing thin. It’s much louder down here and the smell of burning god-knows-what tingles in my nostrils. Luckily, other people are heading towards the noise at the end of the alley – I’m not the only crazy drawn to the promise of mayhem. More shots and now we are jogging. This is insane. Ten paces from the intersection. Pounding drums reverberate in my eardrums. Trumpet blasts add to the cacophony. Five steps now. Too much adrenaline to turn back. Three, two . . . and Jesus Christ – fire is raining from the sky.
The scene is surreal. Ten yards down the cross street to my right is the most makeshift marching band I have ever seen: teens and adults banging on drums or blowing horns and little girls twirling batons in the front – all without uniform, all being showered in fire. But not fire. Its sparks that are pouring down on us, and aside from the singed eyebrows, they don’t really burn.
The band passes in front of me and onto the next street. The firing squad shoots again and all of a sudden I feel like an idiot for suspecting a riot. The shots I heard are actually bursts from a line of fireworks strung across the street. About 20 feet in the air and 20 feet apart. As the band passes under each wire they machine-gun fire into life and drench the band in harmless embers. So not a riot.
The parade—lead by a troupe of dancing little girls flanked by the horn and percussion sections—continues marching through waterfalls of sparks. There is no formal audience, but the surprised congregation that has formed is been sucked along with the parade. I can’t process what is happening and with my brain still reeling, I can’t help but follow. Through waves of sparks we march, the performers and spectators merging into one fiesta-drunk mass of people. This is everything I want from Europe. I am a member of an unannounced, reasonless, spectatorless parade and it is glorious. Something is stuffed into my hand: a bass drum mallet. Now I am a bass drummer in an unannounced, reasonless, spectatorless parade, and that is somehow even more glorious than before.
We stop at the next street and form a circle around the intersection. Boxes are placed in the center, their fuses lit. Roman candles are spewed into the sky at completely unsafe distances. More sweat beads on my forehead with each colored shot. Red, green, blue, yellow, white – mesmerizing blurs every one. Now I am spinning in circles, my elbow locked with a total stranger’s. Now another, this time a smiling little girl who nods enthusiastically when I yell “Este es incredible!” And we dance and yell and sing songs whose words I do not understand – all for reasons I do not understand. But I am not so stupid as to ask. I let the moment be, and just keep on spinning.
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