I have been putting off writing my entry on the Valencian festival known as Las Fallas mostly because the Consejería de Educación de Madrid ramped up their internet ¨safety¨ settings and Facebook (and thus all of my photos) are blocked at my school – making the whole ¨blogging during siesta¨ thing a little less attractive. That being said…Fallas deserves a post of its own so here it is.
I first heard about Las Fallas when I was studying abroad at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Several of my friends made the trek down to Valencia to watch the large, puppet/float-like decorations be set on fire in the middle of the night. While I was interested in checking it out, I didn´t make it there mostly because my parents were visiting and the more pressing Girl Talk concert at Razzmatazz was the same weekend – and that remains the single best auditory experience I have ever been privy to.
This time around, though, I knew I had to get to Fallas. Valencia remained on my ¨must¨ list, and what better time to check it out than on the city´s biggest weekend of the year?
Las Fallas is celebrated for a week in the middle of March – and according to Wikipedia it is in celebration of St. Joseph. Basically what happens is each small neighborhood works all year raising money to construct their ninot (or puppet – but they look way more like huge, float-like constructions). I kept making comparisons to the Pasadena Rose Parade, but the float similarity is basically where that simile ends. All week long there are festivities, parades, and women wearing the traditional gown and hairstyle of the ¨falleras.¨
We managed to catch the greatest fireworks show I have ever seen, as well as the culmination of a pretty epic parade. The main theme of the weekend, though, was fire. On the night of the 19th, all of the ninots are set on fire late at night. This is known as the ¨crema.¨ A crowd gathers around 10 pm to see the smaller ¨ninots infatiles¨ burn down first. The ninots are adorned with fireworks that ignite before the burning begins. It is truly something you must see to believe – huge billows of smoke, the crack of the fireworks, and small children screaming ¨HACE CALOR!¨ because their parents are Valencianos and think nothing of bringing their toddlers within 10 feet of a huge, open flame.
While this is happening, crowds of young Valencian children are setting off fireworks in the street, with literally no regard for the safety of others – let alone their own. We witnessed children as young as 3 light off fireworks. And no, there was no clear adult supervision. While we jumped anytime a loud firecracker went off, the kids were busy finding fuego for their next firecracker, and didn´t even appear to flinch at any sort of snap or pop.
Around midnight, the stories-high ninots were set on fire. This was truly something – imagine an epicly constructed work of art (usually with an ironic or tongue-in-cheek political theme) going up in flames, with centuries-old buidldings serving as the backdrop. As the ninot went down, the neighborhood who worked all year to construct it gathered around it, with their arms around each other, chanting ¨Queremos Fallas!¨ They also sung as the last vestiges of the construction fell to the ground. I felt a little bit relieved by the fact that the fearless Valencian Bombers (Valenciano for Firefighters) were on guard while all of this was happening.
Aside from the festival, I tried to soak up as much of Valencia as I could, but since the apartment we rented was one block from the beach, that consisted of spending as muc time as possible outside. I enjoyed some fresh seafood, but need to go back to do some serious paella and horchata tasting (both of which originated in Valencia).
Also, culturally Valencia is very different from Madrid. It felt like a toned-down, simpler version of Barcelona, but without all of the modernisme. It felt like going home a little bit to see signs in what appeared to be Catalán, until I remembered that it is actually Valenciano, or the Valencian dialect of Catalán that is widely spoken there (but it is not considered its own language in the way Catalán is…Spanish languages are very confusing).
All in all, Las Fallas was an incredible experience, even if the sleep deprivation , crowded apartment, and constant fear of stepping on haphazardly placed firecrackers were the side effects.