Residents of Torello in the Osona region of Catalonia may be able to boast of having a Barcelona address, but they are as far removed from the smirking statues and fast fingered felons of the Ramblas as they are from the slippery slopes of Andorra. Between a rock and a hard rocking place it maybe, but life in this small town, hidden amongst the sweeping hills of the Vall Del Ges, is anything but a drag. Or is it?
Every year, the generally reserved and peaceful people of this unsung pig farming province, ham it up in a festival that encompasses more ugly sisters than a Cinderella convention.
Catalonia's largest inland carnival, known as the "Carnival De Terra Endins" starts with a ceremony which makes The Wicker Man look like a Methodist’s picnic. It features a giant called Margalef who is paraded in to the old town square. Prayers are offered to his testicles and then his massive appendage is chopped off and fed to the local villagers. I shit you not. However, the really scary stuff starts on the following Friday evening when Torello really kicks open the closet. Any male - man or boy (and probably beast) - are required by moderately recent tradition to taste the tender treats of transvestism, or as one local cheerfully put it, - "We all dress up like girls".
Senyoretes Night was first introduced in 1985 when eight friends, bored with only having a one day carnival, decided to extend the festivities by grabbing their handbags and tottering out in to the night. "We wanted to include something that went totally against the macho Spanish image ...and to see what it felt like on the other side", co-founder Eduard Fontsere carefully explains.
Proceedings are eventually closed on the following Wednesday with the burying of the Carnival King, who is solemnly submerged into a shallow grave... clutching an erect sardine to his groin.
Every year thousands of men literally let their hair down and prise themselves into skirts, stockings and suspenders. And these lady boys are seriously dedicated to their art. Hours are spent preening, perfecting and pilfering the wardrobes of their loved ones weeks in advance of the big night. Make-up is proficiently applied, wigs are tortured and teased into statuesque pillars of curls and the metamorphosis doesn’t always end there.
"I waxed my chest and legs", one brave participant boasted, although it’s important to remember that whilst you’ll often spot a number of very well turned out “ladies”, what makes Senyoretes more fun than glamorous events held in places like Sitges is that literally anyone of any age, size or sexual preference joins in. Meanwhile, local hairdressers and beauticians rub their hands with glee as trade doubles and shops and market stalls suddenly stock a fine selection of wigs, false eyelashes and huge plastic breasts. The streets and bars on "Senyoretes" are a sea of giggling he/she's pouting, posing and occasionally exposing their carefully packaged assets in a riot of gender bending revelry. The climax to the event is a beauty parade in the main square where hordes of hirsute hermaphrodites are cajoled along a huge catwalk to the lusty roars of a crowd that was last year estimated to be in the region of 80,000 people - over six times the town’s population. Of course you don't have to join in with these Catalonian cross dressers, but be warned that any "real men" in attendance can be subject to very unwelcome advances from a bevy of pissed up, stubbly faced "ladies".
The following, and more archetypal day of the carnival provides enough entertainment to satisfy the most seasoned of festa veterans. All manner of colourful costumes mingle in the pretty central plaza against an intoxicating background of flickering strobes, loud music, dancing and general gluttony, but even the more traditional elements such as these, and the procession of floats, are of the type that would make Ron Jeremy look impotent. You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve landed on Planet Penis as a train of caricatures featuring huge male phallus’ are waved and wheeled between the fire breathing dragons, pirate ships and dancing dwarfs. Proceedings are eventually closed on the following Wednesday with the burying of the Carnival King, who is solemnly submerged into a shallow grave... clutching an erect sardine to his groin.
Torello. All in the best possible taste.
Carnival De Terra Endins starts on the 3rd March. Senyoretes is on Friday 4th March. Trains to Torello run from Sants station in Barcelona, or take the N152 in the direction of Ripoll.
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