Steve Reed, Cottey's director of public information, traveled in Barcelona, Spain, with Cottey students, faculty and staff over spring break. He reported back with a series of articles written as letters home to his mother. This is the second of five letters.
Buenos dias, Mama!
Today is another busy day in Barcelona. This afternoon I helped bury the sardine for Lent. I'll back up in just a bit and work through the sardine business. Let's start with this morning, our first day of educational modules. Mine didn't begin until 11:30, so that gave me a little bit more time in bed this morning, and a couple of hours to take care of some work.
At 11:30, Priscilla and I met most of our students in the lobby of the hotel to leave for our module. Three others were already out and about in the city and were going to meet us. We traveled to Plaça Cataluña and crossed onto La Rambla. I stopped to show the students the Fontain de Canellones, a big ornate drinking fountain that is said to have “magical” powers. The magic is if you drink from the fountain, you will fall in love with Barcelona and return again. I told the students it must work because I drank from it in 2012 and here I am back in the city! Everyone took a sip. I guess we'll all be coming back to Barcelona!
We showed the students around the Boqueria, the large covered market, and then turned them loose to purchase food, individually or in small groups, to feed themselves for lunch. The Boqueria carries everything from fresh seafood (including live lobsters) to sheep heads and pig feet. There are also fresh fruits and vegetables, prepared foods, and beautiful displays of candies.
It was interesting to see what the students had chosen for their lunches. Some went immediately for sweets; chocolate-covered strawberries on a stick were popular. Others went for the most food they could get in one serving and chose the paella to go. Paella is a traditional Spanish rice dish, often including meat, seafood and/or vegetables.
Because there is no place to sit in the Boqueria or on La Rambla, we walked down to the Christopher Columbus column and ate lunch together there on the steps. We talked about the food we had purchased and if we liked it or not. All of the students said they planned on going back to eat there again. It is a great place to eat when you’re on a budget, and all students know what it means to eat on a budget.
I came back to the hotel and worked for a bit, then headed back out to explore. About the same time I received a group text from one of our tour guides encouraging us to go to la Barceloneta, a neighborhood near the ocean, by 5:45 for “The burying of the Sardine.” I had no idea what that was, but it sounded intriguing, so off I went.
I knew where the neighborhood was, but not where this event was taking place in the neighborhood. Suddenly I heard the sounds of drums and followed my ears. I found myself in a small square where five young drummers were performing for a nice crowd of people, mostly parents with small children. The children all had makeshift fishing poles (sticks with string) with a paper fish attached to the string. This must be the place!
Several people were crowding around the fountain trying to take photos. I squeezed my way in to find six older women, dressed head to toe in black, holding a homemade coffin with a large likeness of a shiny fish inside. Another woman held a funeral wreath.
Soon, the drummers started down one street followed by the “pallbearers.” The crowd trailed behind as the parade wound its way through the neighborhood. Some people dropped out and others joined in as many residents stood on their balconies and watched the festivities. We stopped briefly at the beach where I thought we would be burying the sardine, but no. It was only a respite before we started back up through other streets and eventually ended up back at the same square where the sardine lay in repose for the rest of the evening.
Everyone lined up on the south side of the square, and we passed a table where women were making something like a sardine sandwich. One woman put a slice of thick bread on a napkin; the second woman spooned fish oil from the sardine cans onto the bread; the third woman put a very generous helping of sardines on the bread; and the fourth woman handed it to you. A man at the end of the table gave you a small paper cup with white wine. I did eat my sardines, but biting into the bread made the oil squish out and run down my hand. I am pretty sure I smelled like sardines for the rest of the evening.
I asked Ana, one of our tour guides, why there was a celebration to bury the sardine. She said it was a symbolic way to "bury" or mark the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent. I asked why a sardine and she just shrugged her shoulders. She said every neighborhood in Barcelona had a similar celebration that evening. I’m sure there is a more detailed explanation for this tradition, Mama; I’ll have to look it up online when I return home.
While walking back toward St. James square, I passed a couple of our students. I asked what they had been doing. Shopping didn't sound nearly as exciting as burying the sardine, but perhaps I'm biased.
It's hard to find anything else to report that would top that news, Mama, but I did have black rice paella for dinner. The rice is black because it is dyed with octopus ink. Don't turn up your nose yet; it was actually quite good. After a filling meal late in the evening, it is now time to turn in for the night.
Your loving son,