No, not my being self-deprecating although you may well think it an apt title upon reading, but rather an article about the Catalan obsession with, well, crap or ‘caga’. This comes particularly into mind at this time of year as I am surrounded by ‘caganers’, ie crappers. Visiting the stands at the local Christmas market in front of Barcelona’s cathedral you are greeted by the usual suspects: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, but you will also see stands upon stands of caganers. The most traditional caganer is the one wearing his red cap, however, now you can see anyone from the Pope to Obama caught in a compromising position (and no, not the same one Clinton was caught in). Literally, the figurines are all crapping and a pile of poo behind them is included on the figurine.
It could be said that the Catalans have a bit of an obsession with crap. The most famous (or nowadays infamous) avenue in Barcelona, the Ramblas is the riverbed of the Cagallel, literally stream of shit, in reference to the sewer that it once was. And as Robert Hughes mentions in his book on Barcelona, ‘the pleasures of a good crap are considered in Catalunya on a level with those of a good meal; “Menjar be i cagar fort/I no tingues por de la mort”, goes the folk saying: “Eat well, shit strongly, and you will have no fear of death”. Quite.
It is a message the canine population of Barcelona have taken to heart. Whilst we are being constantly exhorted nowadays to ‘look up’, away from our phones, in Barcelona the message is to look down and watch out for the huge variety of dog poo all over the city. Whilst the Parisiennes only have dogs small enough to fit in their handbags, big dogs abound in Barcelona and as we know, the bigger the dog the bigger the….
The next big celebration in Barcelona after Christmas is the Kings, ‘Los Reyes’, on 6th January. It has to be said that when it comes to extending holidays via the popular tradition of making a bridge to the weekend (or, as is the case in most of Spain, an aqueduct) when national holidays fall on say a Thursday, the Spanish know what they are doing. After all, whilst most of the North of Europe will go back to work after 1st January, in Spain they go back to work on 7th as the 6th is given over to parties and processions in celebration of the three Kings. Where the good children receive their presents the bad children receive coal, so far so normal. However, this being Catalonia they also receive shit. Nowadays they have dispensed with the coal and instead you can see brown-marzipan turds sold around the city. There is also the ‘Tió de nadal’ which is an artificial log, with sweets and things you mind find in a kinder egg. The log arrives in Catalan homes on 8th December, the conception of the Virgin Mary, and the children nurture it, believing that the more they look after it, the better the prospect of it defecating good presents. Then, on 24th December, children smack it, just like they do with a Mexican piñata and call out “Caga, tió, caga” (Shit, log, shit!”). The parents have usually asked the children to leave at some point, so that they can sneak some presents underneath the rug of the log.
All that therefore remains is for me to wish you, from the very heart of Barcelona, a very shit Christmas!