“Fire in the Plaça” is the first full-length study in English of the Patum, a Corpus Christi fire festival unique to Berga, Catalonia, Spain, celebrated annually since the 17th century. Participants in the festival are transformed through drink, sleep deprivation, crowding, constant motion, and the smoke and sparks of close-range firecrackers into passionate members of a precarious body politic.
The Patum became a focus of resistance to the Franco regime and drew visitors from all over Catalonia, serving as a rehearsal for the mass protests in Barcelona. Later, it provided the newly autonomous region with a vehicle for integrating immigrants and a vocabulary of belonging, culminating in the Patum-derived devils of the closing ceremonies of the 1992 Olympic games.
Today, as mines and factories have closed in Berga, the Patum serves as an arena in which provincial Catalans model their relationship to Barcelona, Europe, and the world, and reflects their ambivalence about the choices open to them. Seeking a third way between tourism and terrorism, provincial towns like Berga show us the future of all local communities under globalization.
In collective performances such as the Patum, tensions between cultural and political representation are made visible, and the gap between aspiration and possibility is both bridged and acknowledged. In this exceptionally rich ethnographic study, Dorothy Noyes, an associate professor of folklore and English at Ohio State University, explores the predicament of provincial communities striving to overcome internal conflict and participate in a wider world.
— University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on October 2, 2003