El Caganer

The Stinky Twist of a
Catalan Nativity Scene

A quirky centuries-old tradition is an integral part of every nativity scene worth its hay in parts of Spain. Somewhere behind Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus himself, there’s the none-too-holy figure of a paesano, relieving himself with not a worry in this world.
The Caganer, a bare-botton icon that originated in Catalonia, is now a familiar sight this time of the year in Portugal and Italy too. And unlike other oh so pious Christmas symbols around the world, it never ceases to draw a little smile from tourists.
It’s no wonder. Most celebrities – not just Spaniards – have their own, and love it too. President Obama has it. The Pope? Sure. Queen of England? Definitely. And, we suspect, a certain vomit-yellow haired American lout may soon be getting one too.
Artists, politicians and footballers, they all have their own little squatting clay statues, sold in souvenir shops. And those who don’t, well, they may be wondering just why not, or whether there’s something terribly wrong with their agents, right Justin?
You better believe it. Even though, the Caganer may be a tad too anarchic for the sanitized tastes of contemporary culture. The social and political subtext that the figure came to evoke may be completely lost for mainstream artists and typical crowds of our times.
The Caganer also conveys fertility and good fortune, as insurance for plentiful produce crops for those who keep one at home. That could be the context connecting such a rich, secular tradition to the Christmas lore and its rural tale of a dispossessed boy born in a manger.
Its addition to a Middle-East religious representation is also a throwback to Spain’s Muslim past, but in the form of some kind of social, almost satirical commentary. And as such, the contrast (more)
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* St. Nick of Time
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Bull-Headed Return

Spanish TV Resumes
Its Corrida Broadcasts

It didn’t last long. When bullfights stopped being televised in Spain, six years ago, it was the start of a movement that eventually led to a full ban of toradas in Catalonia, and a hard won victory for animal advocates. Many exaggeratedly called it a battle for the soul of Spain.
As aficionados of the bloody sport filled stadiums over the weekend, though, even that ban looked fragile at best. It may also help that the momentum inside the country is considerably darker, compared to 2006, when the broadcasts were halted.
To be perfectly fair, even before it, the popularity of bullfighting in Spain had already been waning, and demographics became a factor, as its enthusiasts are already in their greying years. The vibrant, culturally engaged Spanish youth has stayed away from the tradition.
The use of animals for public entertainment may be also on its way out throughout the world, specially when they may wind up killed, as they do in bullfighting. Despite a rich cultural and literary tradition in the past, resuming the toradas at this point may have to do more with local politics than with the march of time.

Talking about literature, for Americans the corrida de toros will always be identified with Ernest Hemingway, who wrote extensively about it and even called it not a sport, but a tragedy in a famous column about the one he attended in Pamplona, in the 1920s. Accordingly, he Continue reading

Keep it Down

Mass Squid Stranding May Help
Understanding of Whale Deaths

Despite extensive research, and the suspicion that noise pollution has a lot to do with it, the reason why whales, dolphins and other marine species beach themselves to death remain elusive.
The odd phenomenon, which has been recorded since Aristotle times, has been attributed to a number of causes, from increased human activity, to shifts in deep-sea currents to geological changes in the seabed. But none of them has been considered a determining factor.
The picture is clearer when it comes to squids, though. Recent experiments have proven that noise does affect the physiology of cephalopods and in many cases, lead them to beaching.
After thousands of squid washed up along the shores of Spain, in 2001 and 2003, Continue reading

Best Of

12 Colltales Stories Published in 2010

Overcoming a Chockful of Prejudice:

* Papa Was a Soccer Star

Elephants May Point to End of Zoos:

* Wild Life Behind Bars

Break a Sweat and Save the Earth:

* Fair Trade

Brooklyn Bees Had Their Own Stash:

* Syrup Junkies

Your Cellphone Funds Child Slavery:

* Blood Calls

Torada Ban Brings Catalonia to 2011:

* Joy to the Bulls

When Bad Ideas Occur to Pet Friends

* My Wife Is a Dog

World to Save Water or Waste it and Die:

* Thirsty Future

Fate of Tiger Hangs on Human Folly:

* Vanishing Goddess

Space Travel May Go Back to the Imaginary:

* Last Shuttle Home

Abandoned Horses Litter Irish Countryside:

* The Saddest Ride

You Say Organic, I Say You’re Pulling my Leg:

* Rotten Eggs

Joy to the Bulls

End of Toradas?

Struggle for Cultural Independence
Frames Catalonia Ban on Bullfighting

An old cultural Spanish tradition may have its days numbered as the parliament of Catalonia voted to ban the torada, the practice of killing bulls for public enjoyment. What is also known as corrida has been part of Spain’s national image for centuries and it’s celebrated as an art form. Nobel Prize Winner American writer Ernest Hemigway was one such enthusiast and once wrote, “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.”
Almost as old as bullfighting is Catalonia‘s struggle to reaffirm Continue reading

El Caganer

Catalan Nativity Scene
Has One S(tin)neaky Twist

It’s a two-century tradition. Pretty much all famous people, celebrities, politicians and artists have their own little squatting clay statues known as the “caganer” in Spain. Christmas, since it’s a high season for well, everything, is one of the biggest selling times for this very twisty and humorous local creation.
President Obama has one. Michael Jackson had one. The Pope and Superman have theirs, which may or may not explain some recent derogatory “feet of clay” claims against one, and serious bone breaking associated with the other. Justin Bieber should have one too. Hey, even the Queen of England and her family each has their own. No comment.
The caganer, which one blushed American tourist euphemistically described as “a person doing the #2 outdoors,” right before cursing like a sailor for not being able to pronounce the word properly, is a symbol of fertility and good fortune, a guarantee for a plentiful vegetable crop for those who keep them at home. And make sure to include them in their nativity scene at this time of the year.
For Spanish children, Christmas day has an added attraction, besides the excitement of opening up gifts: finding the caganer, discreetly placed behind Jesus, Mary and Joseph manger. Or on the side, watching, like the one above, still the most popular, a traditional peasant figure in his floppy red Catalan cap.
But isn’t placing a caganer in the crib disrespectful – however far he squats? “Not at all,” said another tourist, offering her own twisty theory about it: “It was the only thing the little shepherd boy had to give the Baby Jesus. So it’s a great gift.”