La Merce: celebrating 141 years of giant puppets and explosions

September 21: After the close of the second (short) day of the PESSTO meeting, I hopped back on the Metro to meet up with my friend Anne Bauer, whom I know from my time at Yale. It took about half an hour after I arrived for us to find each other, because Plaça de Catalunya is a big place. She said she’d be by “the Metro stairs”, of which I counted at least three instances; I wore myself out running between the first two before I found the third!

It turns out Anne didn’t go to La Merce last year, so while she theoretically knew about a lot of the things I’m going to describe now, she hadn’t yet seen them in action. I continually found myself asking, what or who is that? and she’d say, I have no idea!

We threaded through the crowds until we arrived at one of the other open plazas where a talking head was giving a speech on a large television screen. Some people seemed like they were in a festive mood. Others were giving the façade of the Catalonian state government building what for. One of their picket signs showed a scene I knew from a favorite children’s book: a school of smaller fish swimming in a formation resembling a bigger fish, preying on the predators which used to eat them. I have a feeling the caption in Catalan had something to do with the 99% and the 1%. I doubt there’s much the Spanish authorities can do at this point, except plead for mercy or kiss the euro goodbye.

Eventually this all calmed down and the more fun kind of noise began. Rather than try to describe everything going on, and believe me it was a trip, I’ll just link a few videos.

After this we escaped from the main square and joined Anuj Parikh, Anne’s partner, for a tapas dinner. (Like I said, the restaurants in this town don’t even open till 9 pm.) Turns out Anuj does theoretical nuclear astrophysics and therefore knows a lot of the Stromlo crowd, most of whom are primarily concerned with what happens in the interiors of stars (or, in Stuart Sim’s case, what goes on in the interiors of supernova explosions). We talked a bit of shop about how 56Ni is made in SNe Ia, while the wine went down in the bottle and the food disappeared from the plates. Then followed a few glasses of I don’t even know what kind of port (but it was good) from one of the nearby watering holes.

When it came time to say goodbye, Anne and Anuj pointed me in the general direction of La Rambla. I had to make my way through the crowded square once more, the traditional music having been replaced by a Beatles cover band; the square was probably more crowded for that. I actually had to navigate around the side streets in order to get past that one; I didn’t have the heart, or momentum, to trample people just to get home. I finally reached my monk’s cell somewhere around 2 AM local time, and crashed hard.


About Richard

I'm an American scientist who is building a new life in Australia. This space will contain words about science and math, but also philosophy, policy, literature, my travels, occasional rants, all sorts of things I find strange and awesome. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer at the time (currently University of Sydney), though personally, I think they should.
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