The Catalanian tradition of Castells, human towers, is a spectacular display of neighbourly collaboration. After two centuries, the tradition is beginning to earn international recognition. ReAChing foR The skies TexT by Trevor Baker PhoToS by karl Blackwell O eng n a church square in the small, southern Catalonian town of Valls, an eight-year old girl stands at the bottom of a human pyramid, waiting for her turn. She grips on to her father's waistband with one hand, stifles a yawn with the other and shinnies up his back, using his unflinching palm as a stepping stone. She then hauls herself up three levels before finally beaming out at us from the top of this elaborate pile of her friends and neighbours, waving in every direction. The sun, with perfect timing, breaks out from behind the clouds. The child certainly has seny, a Catalan word that literally translates to "sanity," but 30 Blue Wings suMMeR 2011 here it's used to mean something more like "a clear head" or "calmness." It's a quality you need an awful lot of if you're a "Casteller," somebody whose hobby is clambering up and over several levels of people. It also helps that this particular contender may be too young to know the significance of this exhibition. Castells, or human towers, are a movement that began here about 200 years ago. Throughout the '90s and the noughties the movement has been growing in strength at home, but relatively little was known about it abroad until castells were added to the list of the "World's Intangible heritage" by UNeSCo. This March, 57 colles (organisations from different towns and villages) participated in the biggest castell event that Valis had ever seen; 7,000 people participated and thousands more watched. It was also an unusually early starting pistol for what will be the biggest, most important summer of castells in living memory. no selling ouT Castell co-ordinator Guillermo Soler says that the rise in popularity has created the need for an entirely new kind of balancing act. on one hand Catalonia's colles organisation wants as many people as possible to watch; on the other hand the group doesn't want to erode the values that make castells unique. They've already had advertising and sponsorship offers, even ones that would be displayed on the participants' pristine T-shirts, but all of them have been turned down.
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