Pooping log

Christmas is around the corner and with it, it comes a myriad of traditions. Each place has its distinctive customs. Here in Catalunya there is the Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log) or more commonly known as Caga tió (pooping log). As with all traditions, families have adjusted this one and some details of it may vary from household to household.

The Caga tió used to be a regular log but nowadays it is a smallish wooden log with stick legs, has a happy face, wears a red, Catalan ‘barretina’ hat and is covered in a blanket. The log poos lollies and small presents at Christmas though it is not as simple as just that.

From the 8th of December (Día de la Inmaculada Concepcion) the log “appears” in the house doorstep or found in the woods. From that day onwards, children must feed and look after the log until Christmas eve. Sometimes the feeding is recommended to be dry bread, orange peel or dried beans. Others, turrón (nougat). Sometimes parents might replace the small log by increasingly bigger ones as time goes by to make the children think that the log has grown after being fed.

On Christmas Eve, the tradition becomes bizarre and quirky. In order for the Caga Tió to produce its gifts, children are to beat it with another smaller wooden stick and sing to it, ordering it to poop presents. Whilst the words may vary from town to town, the tune stays the same, and translated to English it goes something like:

Poop, log,
poop nougats (turrones),
hazelnuts and cheese of mató,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
poop, log!

The song should end with a final load cry of Poop log! (Caga tió!) to command to the log to poo. The children then reach inside the Caga Tio’s blanket and find whatever the log has defecated. In some households children must go to a room to pray that the log has pooped something.

Traditionally, the Caga Tio produced relatively small gifts that were for all to share, and not individual gifts. The most common droppings offered by the log include turrón (nougat), small sweets, biscuits and dried fruits.

When the log has nothing left to evacuate, it finishes the feat with a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion, or it ‘urinates’ by leaving a bowl of water. If there is a fireplace, the Caga tió can be burnt afterwards. Though these days many people keep it for next year.

It is said that the origins of this tradition date back to the days when the fireplace was a central and important part of family life. The ashes of the burnt log were kept and spread by crops and near the stable and even on the beds as a rite to promote fertility. Others say that the log symbolized the gifts of warmth and light that were given by the earth in the form of wood.

Whatever the beginnings, in this corner of the world, comes Christmas eve, many children will be wacking a log with a stick to make it poop presents and lollies.

A house or a clinic?

This place, which has been frequently visited by me, is also known as Quinta San Isidro, it is a 1920-21 building by Joaquim Lloret Homs. The opening of the Avenida JV Foix where there used to be an old torrent, has given it a great prominence. Some might not believe that the beautiful residence now houses a medical centre.

Urban legends

Wandering and walking Barcelona never seizes to surprise me. This Catalan city is full of history, old buildings and leyends, like the Modernista Torre de les Aigües building designed by architect Josep Domènech i Estapà in 1907. The octagonal 45m shaped tower has a brick roof, ornamented with Trencadís made of tile fragments. It was built to allow the pressure of the water to increase.

Being an architect Josep Domènech i Estapà didnt know how to carry a pumping installation so he contracted his friend to do the designs who in turn had no time and delegated to a student. The engineering student took this project for two years.

It is said that due to delays, equipment that was ordered and used from England was not able to be tested in time for the inauguration of the tower. When trying to set up the pumping station, it failed. The newly graduated engineer could not handle the supposed humiliation and died of suicide throwing himself from his first and only work: the tower of the Waters. It was discovered, days later, that the design was perfect and the fault was in a valve as being from England, the opening direction was in reverse than the ones from Europe. It is also said that when the area is in absolute silence you can hear the work of an engineer banging his hammer and scrambling with his toolbox inside the Tower. Another urban legend says that the British who visit this site can never see their real colours.

Really a Castell?

Sitting on top of Monjuïc, in an ideal place for a defense vantage point, sits the Castell de Montjuïc. With wonderful 360º views of the city below, this place was built in 1640 during the Reapers’ War. Since then it has served as a fortress, military prison, weapons museum and now used for cultural activities and displays.

The castle can be reached by a funicular and cable lift, which offers a magnificent view of Barcelona.

A notable death was the execution by firing squad of the president of the Catalan government, Lluís Companys, executed on the 15th October 1940 at the castle after being deported by Nazi Germany and handed over to Franco’s troops.

The only real question is, has it ever been used as a castle as its name suggests?

Twice a month

Right in the city center, in the midst of Ciutat Vella, lies a plaza that can be traced to the X century. Once a cementery of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, the plaza nowadays hosts (and from 15 years ago) a little market for artists, craftspeople and artisans on the first and third weekend of every month. All products are handmade and range from cheese and honey to sausages, wine and biscuits. Next to the plaza, a painters display is set.

The Plaza del Pi gets its name from its literal meaning, Plaza del Pino. The story says that a pine tree was planted in 1568 and lasted until the war. Since then, a new pine is planted when the current one gets sick or dies. The one currently standing in the plaza was planted in 1985.

A regional (not national) dish

Paella is originally from lake Albufera, a lagoon in Valencia and dates back to the mid-19th century. In Spain, paella is considered a regional dish and not the national dish we all think it is.

According to Valencian tradition, paella should be cooked over an open fire, fueled by orange and pine tree branches along with pine cones which imbues the rice with the aromatic smoke. Said to be a dish of poor peasants due to its filling and cheap nature from ingredients from the countryside.

Paella, above anything, is a rice dish which means when the rice is cooked well, paella will be good, no matter what is in it. Normally “bomba” rice is used and stirring is definitely forbidden. 

Its name comes from the pan where it is cooked in and from the Latin word for ‘pan’ or ‘dish.’ People eat it straight from the pan. 

Well cooked paellas have a lightly toasted layer that remains at the bottom of the pan once finished. This layer must be crunchy but not burned and never burnt. The socorrat, as this layer is called, is a privilege for whoever gets to eat. 

Italian or Catalonian?

This 60 meter high monument, the Christopher Columbus Monument, was built in 1888 in homenage of the explorer and discoverer of America. The monument is in Plaça de la Porta de Pau (Square of the Gate of Peace) and took 6 years to complete. The 7 meter tall statue of the standing Columbus points towards the sea, thought strangely enough, it is not in the direction of the “new world” he discovered. 

Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. However, some historians in the nineteenth century claimed that he was Catalonian and thus a reason why this monument is placed in Barcelona.

The monument has caused some debate as whilst with Colon’s discovery of America the exchange between America and Europe began, it also meant slaughter, suppression, enslaving and destruction of the indigenous people, their culture and the theft of their treasures.

I shall give you

The construction of the Sacred Cor church, which gives the Tibidabo its distinction from the city, started in 1902 after an eclectic design by Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia; replacing an earlier chapel from 1886. The church took about 60 years to build. 

Sagrat Cor is perhaps the most apt of Tibidabo’s attractions as the local legend says it is where the devil tempted Jesus. The name Tibidabo comes from a piece of the Latin version of the bible, Matthew 4:9 and Luke 4:6. ‘Haec omnia tibi dabo si cadens adoraberis me’ was the phrase supposedly said to Jesus by the devil as they looked down from a mountain on the kingdoms of the world – All this I shall give you if you kneel and worship me

The highest of them all

The Tibidabo is easily recognisable not just for its height, but for the iconic combination of church of the Sagrat Cor and the multi-colored ferris wheel of the amusement park, both sitting at the top of the highest summit of the Collserola mountain range. The mountain, at 512 meters tall, borders Barcelona to the North and for those who trek through the national park to its summit get rewarded with beautiful panoramic views of the whole city and the Mediterranean Sea.

The longing business

Salsa from the latin salsus and the verb sallere, to put salt. 

In Mexico, salsas are part of everyday life  they provide a contrast or compliment for the palate and a seasoning to the soul. No decent Mexican meal is absent of salsas. With this, the business of the exporting a bit of Mexico to the world exploits the longing people have for their home. In Spain, the number of inhabitants born in Mexico has increased 38% in the last decade, being around 52,500 in 2016. Anyone who really knows the Mexican culture would then appreciate finding this in the alleys of a foreign city thousands of kilometres from Mexico.