Friday, 22 March 2013

Fallas - Valencia's Biggest Festival

Valencia's biggest fiesta is one of the first things Valencians will gush to you about when they realise you're not a native. The word falla is Valencian for torch, which comes from the Latin fax. Each town in Valencia has its own falla and in the city of Valencia there's one on practically every corner. The generally accepted theory about the origins of the festival is that the Medieval carpenters' tradition of burning their offcuts to celebrate the coming of spring merged with the festival of San José (Saint Joseph), the patron saint of carpenters. Over the years, the festival became more satirical and outrageous, until today's gigantic parodies of current events that take a year to create, but are burned on the final night of Fallas.

Fallas is opened with La Crida, a light show at the Torres de Sorrano, complete with fireworks, on the 24th of February. The only non-traditional song they played was Gangnam Style, but we got our first taste of the chanting, Valencian banners, marching bands and uniformly-fleeced Fallas groups. Also fireworks were still a novelty at this point.
After a brief interlude while February finished, la Despertà began: a marching band that went around playing and throwing fireworks at 8am to wake people up. It was hi-larious. Nawwwt. There was also a ten-minute volley of fireworks, called la Mascletà, that was set off every day at 14h in la Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The university area is a good 30m walk from the centre, but it still shakes windows and disturbs lessons to the point where teachers will end them early to avoid the disruption. You can't even see them! It's just a massive load of bangs and whistles with sparks that you can just make out before they add to the ever-increasing wave of smoke, amid cries of VALENCIAAAAA. Still pretty cool though.
From March 1-15, residents of Valencia grow accustomed to seeing toddlers throw firecrackers, and of course to the Mascletà. As the fallas are erected and decorated and the fireworks increase in frequency and intensity, we eagerly awaited for Fallas fever to begin in earnest. 
Having been promised that it was the Carnival (Rio de Janeiro) of Europe, and learning not to blink when you have a firecracker explode near you, the start of Fallas was frankly, quite underwhelming. Initially it was very exciting to see the marching bands and parades of Valencians in traditional dress. But after seeing the same parade sixteen times in four days and hearing yet another brass rendition of Gangnam Style, we were all a bit sick of it.
Even she's had enough
I think it's difficult to fully appreciate Fallas as an Erasmus student here. You really need to be a local to benefit from the collaborative projects, Fallas tents and see/be part of the work that goes on throughout the year. Alternatively, if you visit briefly, you don't have to put up with a marching band going past your window when you're trying to work/sleep at 6am. The best day to visit would be on the Tuesday, for la Cremà - when they burn EVERYTHING. It's very cathartic if those trumpeters have pushed you just a little too far in recent days. I know of some people who visited on the Saturday, which begs the question, why...? Apart from just more fireworks there was not much going on. Bad organizers.

La Cremà kicked off (for us) with la Cabalgata de Fuego, a parade where people were dressed traditionally, in hooded red capes with candles, or as devils running around spraying sparks and fire at people. Lucky devils. They then proceeded to set fire to the fallas infantiles, the children's equivalents of the big fallas. 
As we were watching, I joked that they should light the fire with a firework, which is ridiculous. They lit it with many fireworks! Then once the blaze was under way, the flames discovered the OTHER fireworks they'd put on top of the falla, which were *surprising* when they suddenly exploded.
We missed the burning of most of the fallas because we were studying doing shots in a bar. But we got to the tourist bus falla in la Plaza del Ayuntamiento nice and early to get a good view of the burning and simultaneous firework show. I did get hot ash in my eye, but that made it no less awesome.
On the way home we saw this late-burning falla get out of control. Luckily the firemen were on hand at every fire to prevent it becoming dangerous, which reminded us of both the cost the region invests in public services for the festival and its longevity as an institution: after all this time, they know not to mess around with fire. Though I'm still not comfortable having toddlers throw firecrackers at me.

Other cool events:
The Virgin, seen here as local men weave her cape out of flowers, is situated in la Plaza de la Virgen (obviously). She is offered flowers on the Monday as part of the official Fallas events.
The lights at Calle de Sueca have their own official premiere about a week before Fallas properly starts and continue to have a light show about every eight-fifteen minutes during the festival, choreographed to popular music. Be prepared to hear a LOT of Rihanna and Coldplay.

To see photos of the fallas before they were burnt, click here! I made it separate so this post will actually load. You're welcome.

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