Sitting in a Tapas bar in Sitges in September, the thud of explosions outside made us put down the ice cold Estrella and take a look.
Nobody does loud fireworks quite like the Catalonians. I can think of countries in the world where health and safety and risk assessments would stop this but the celebrations in Sitges for the Festival of Santa Tecla are just one example of Spanish fireworks, up close and personal.
In Spain, it seems they never need much prompting to break out the loudest ones…..
Sitges is better known as the gay capital of Spain, so there are plenty of immaculately groomed men strolling about, holding hands. Brilliant for people watching, but if you’re homophobic, perhaps it’s not for you. For me, one of the most remarkable places was Autodromo de Terramar, around 2 kms from the beach. You can read about the amazing 1920’s speed oval on Historic Racer.
But back to the crazy pyromaniacs approaching outside. The occasion was the Festival of Santa Tecla. We can hear the heavy beat of a troop of drummers giving it all they’ve got. Each burst of drumming lasts around 30 secionds before a pause. But cutting through the beat, coming closer, was the most piercing scream of fireworks, followed by a collossal bang.
As the prosession grew closer, the barrage of sound grew louder and louder, the fireworks lighting up the narrow streets, as rounding the corner into view came a group of men clad in sack cloth outfits, wearing crazy head gear and each one holding aloft what looked like a pitch fork. A pitch fork with fireworks attached….. No barriers, no health and safety, no high-res jacket clad event staff. Just an entire street full of crazy Catalonians, hammering drums like there was no tomorrow, attaching the loudest, screaming and exploding fireworks to their wrought iron staffs and walking through the crowd in the tight confines of the old medieval streets.
As is often the case, the best camera is the one in your pocket. The sequence was shot entirely on the iPhone 6, then edited in Premiere CC. The colours and detail stood up pretty well considering how dark it was. I would have loved to have done something about sound recording, as next morning my ears were ringing as if I’d been at a rock concert, such was the decibel level. This doesn’t come across in the soundtrack as the iPhone’s auto gain cut in. I had no idea if the iPhone mic would manage it, but to get the drum sound as accurately as I could, I rolled the camera and just concentrated on getting a full sequence of drumming to use as the base soundtrack, discarding the video later.
It was fantastic to feel the heat of the evening, the nip of the firework sparks landing in my hair and drilling through my shirt and the thump in your chest from the beat of the drums and the fireworks as the crazy Catalonian kids danced around the pagan like procession.
The air was full of the smell of cordite and cooking sausages from the nearby Tapas bars as I resisted the temptation to take a few steps backwards and stayed in amongst the throng just to experience the full on effect.
It seems that in any Spanish town at almost any time of year, you will be able to find someone, somewhere finding a reason for a festival. Indeed, Googling Santa Tecla Festival unearths a whole raft of fascinating facts about the history of Spain, Catalonia in particular, with the history of religion running deep through it. A fascinating subject that shows there’s far, far more to the country’s coastline than just high rise hotels and sunburned Brits.
As for my shirt? It was a write off, full of tiny holes the following morning as with ears still ringing, I reflected that it was useful that it had been cotton, not man made fibre…..