Monday, March 21, 2011

Las Fallas: Anything Goes in Spain

The sounds that greeted us as we arrived in Valencia were a direct contraction to the beautiful scenery of Spain's third largest city. Las Fallas, a celebration that occurs once a year and closely resembles a city wide fair, is known for the burning event that occurs on Saturday evening, of magnificent statue-like constructions that are tediously built for a year prior. Upon arrival we were immediately struck by the distinctive similarities between the ear-splitting pyrotechnics and the noise you would expect from a war zone. Loud bangs and pops filled the city streets as people of all ages and from all around the world tossed their firecrackers about the streets and set off a wide variety of armature fireworks, right there on the busy sidewalks. As the night toiled on, the madness increased and we too had to join in on the festivities. Suddenly we were children again, thrilled with deafening crack of each flammable toy. There is something so off about this tradition, but the senselessness seemed to fade as we witnessed countless people roaming the streets, completely unphased, some even with strollers or walking canes. We spent the entire night simply roaming the streets, stumbling over the occasional tented dance party, the tantalizing smell of deep fried churros coming from various street carts, and the main attraction of the competing "fallas", so immaculately created and soon to be a fiery spectacle.

Saturday was kicked up several notches as the streets were packed with herds of people in for the main event. I found my friend who was joined by many of her hostel guests, once again transporting me back to backpacking mode. We wandered through the city in order to take in at least some of what Valencia had to offer outside of the festivities. As we neared the odd, yet beautiful Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias complex, a modern art marvel and architectural wonder, I somehow stumbled over my friends who joined the herd. The day slinked on as we roamed about the giant complex and a surprisingly peaceful park. When night set in, the group depleted, but some of us were fortunate to trip over the most fantastic show of fireworks I've ever witnessed. The magnitude of the show was nothing compared to costly productions I've seen in the past, but the randomness and sheer proximity to the crowd had me completely taken. We stood at the base of an iconic arc monument, sipping beers and chatting, when suddenly fiery blasts of color shot from the top of the arc. Then, as we assumed the short burst was over, a full display of fireworks proceeded to explode directly over our heads as we craned up to see them. While the danger of these little bombs was obvious to me, the crowd so vulnerable to one of these rockets exploding a moment too late, it was well worth the impressive show.

This wet our appetite for the highly anticipated burning of the fallas. At the beginning of the weekend, I admittedly failed to see the thrill in lighting some floats on fire. But after spending the last two days gawking at the marvelous art and how insanely meticulous these spectacles were, I had to see them to the very end. We made our way to the runner up, the Aztec, which was an extremely elaborate scene of Eve with her apple, an Aztec woman whose head was nearing the same height as the adjacent apartment buildings, and a giant, sad Indian man. We all agreed that our favorite element was the group of "half animals", including elephant-giraffe and porky pine-monkey. I must also note the oddly placed Obama wearing a Snow White dress. We stood for almost two hours, watching the firemen set up the show and feeling the heat from the other fallas burning ceremonially in the distance. At last, at close to 2 AM, it was time for our show. The fireworks began to spin, and rockets blasted from out of the statue. Then all at once, the incredible work of art burst into flames. Rapidly the blaze raced up the Aztecs bare chest and engulfed her face. The sad Indian quickly withered away, and a thick, black smoke plume filled the air. Eve was still pensively lounging, her intricately formed body untouched, until at last, the trail of fire crept through her hair, engulfed her face, and at last as the structure weakened, her giant body dramatically toppled to the ground. Our favorite half animal, the elephant giraffe, was the last to burn as the firemen pushed over the little friend to be eaten by the flames.

We walked away from the show as the structure was reduced to simply a burning wood structure. As we mosied through the streets, we stumbled over burning rubble from the other fallas that were once so amazing, now merely ash. The scene now transformed into a wild street party of countless people drinking themselves silly and acting completely insane. As much fun as everyone seemed to be having, I couldn't part myself from the prior experience. An onlooker and I noted, as we watched the last of the fallas burn away, how sad this all was in a way. Another member of the crowd chimed in that this was all part of the tradition and now we make room for the new. But for some reason I still couldn't grasp this completely. How could something so beautiful and built with such tremendous care, be brought down in a moment and celebrated by people getting lost into an alcohol and drug induced oblivion? Something seemed slightly depressing about the whole thing, but also absolutely fascinating.

1 comment:

  1. Denia (a Town just down the road from me), about 100 kms South of Valencia, also celebrates the Fallas, although not on as large a scale. It somehow seems wasteful in these times of austerity to see sculptures - that can easily cost 200k each - go up in flames.