16.03.2013 - 19.03.2013 15 °C
Back to the time machine! I have given up trying to fit everything in since my mountain is only getting taller and taller, so I will just hit the highlights now! And maybe catch up here someday!
So we are headed to Valencia for the weekend of the 16th to 19th of March, for one of the most famous festivals in Spain, called Las Fallas. We were only able to join for the main weekend, but the festival itself funs for about a month running up to the 19th of March every year. I made the trip down on the train again to meet up with Ross and his roommates, one of whom had just moved to Valencia for work. As such, he offered us a mattress on the floor in his flat, which we were happy to occupy for the weekend.
A couple things about Valencia before talking about the festival itself. Valencia is in its own region of Spain, but alaso has its own language, which is an accented Catalán (as described by a Catalán-- I'm sure that a Valenciano would say the opposite). However, it is not spoken as much in Valencia as Catalán is in Barcelona, so that was a nice break for me. Valencia's other major claim to fame (besides the festival) is paella. Paella is a rice-based dish, typically made with a sweet tomato sauce with saffron and simmered in the oven until the rice is cooked. Many people just buy it wherever in Spain, assuming it is a general Spanish dish, it actually originated in Valencia and the best paella can be found there. And although it is typically thought of as being made with seafood, traditional paella is made with the leftover meat in the house- rabbit, chicken and pork. Consider me your myth-buster today! So an obligatory stop while we were there was to a local restaurant to test some homemade paella! Now, there is a third type that I have not yet told you about, but have a look at the photo--
It's called black rice, and it is made with... squid ink! It was by far the blackest food I have ever eaten, and although the taste was pretty mild, just the color was enough to make me think twice, since food that color is not usually healthy to eat! In fact, the taste was relatively bland, just mostly fishy, and the ink itself was quite greasy, very much like pen ink, so unless I go on a date and she's dying to try the black paella, I'll stay away from here on out. And actually, even then, since it stained all of our teeth! But quite the experience-- also take note that instead of bringing a serving for everyone, they just make a pan big enough for the party. Our skillet was for five, but they were hauling even bigger ones out of the kitchen, for tables as large as 8! That was quite the experience.
Another quick thing about Valencia before the festival: Valencia was one of the cities that really boomed during the Spanish golden years (economically) in the 90s and 00s, so there is a section of town called the 'City of Arts and Sciences' which houses a museum of science, an opera house, a multi-purpose concert sporting venue and an Imax cinema and planetarium, among other things. Just the modern architecture, sharply juxaposed against the older Spanish architecture in the center of the city, is a bigger draw however, and we saw many a tourist like us simply walking around, mouth open. I felt like we had walked onto the set of Star Wars.
Ok, enough with the trivialities, let's talk about the real reason we found ourselves in Valencia that weekend: Las Fallas. The festival itself is held to honor Saint Joseph and lasts around 3 weeks. There are several traditions that go along with the festival, so I'll shoot for least to most exciting. The first is the dress and flower ceremony in the city. There are parades almost constantly all weekend long that involve the 'Falleras'-- girls and women from the city and surrounding towns that have entered into a supremely involved beauty pageant. I don't know all of the specifics, but I heard that the winner might shell out thousands of euros on appearances and events to campaign in her favor. I don't know much about beauty pageants, but all of the women were certainly beautiful, and boy do I get the feeling that George Lucas might have used the Falleras as a model for Leia...
Another major part of the festival is the flower parade, in which these aforementioned Falleras bring bouquets of flowers in to one of the main plazas in the city to be mounted on a huge statue of the Virgen Mary. A long a grueling task for the people actually responsible for putting the flowers in the wooden scaffolding, but with a stunningly beautiful reward.
You may have noticed the fire in the first photo, and if you were wondering if this would be the first major festival here without an element of fire, I'm here to tell you it's not. In fact, the parade during which I caught that photo quickly turned into a toned down version of the Correfoc that I saw in Barcelona back in September. And the parade wasn't all the fire to be had, either. Two other traditions for this festival include La Despertá, which takes place early in the (edit: every) morning and involves roaming marching bands rousing people up for another day of fiesta. And if the band doesn't do the trick, the people following the band throwing 'petardos' (firecrackers) should. In fact, over the four days I was there, the city sounded like a war zone. My ears were quite happy to leave when it came time.
Then, every day during the last week at 1 pm, the city closes down a section of the center square and has a fireworks show, called La Mascletá. Of course during the day, there is not much to see, so the show focuses on making A LOT of noise, and making it in rhythmic fashion. We went the first day and were a little far back, so we improved position the second day, and the noise was so loud you could feel the sound waves concussing your chest. The ground felt like it was moving. Spectacular. And yes, mom, we bought and wore 'tapónes para los oídos'!!
The main attraction of the festival are the Fallas themselves: huge wooden and styrofoam sculptures that get erected around the city. I will sprinkle some photos of them in among the text as I explain a bit about the festival.
Throughout the year, each neighborhood in the city and the towns around it hold fundraisers (usually involving paella) to raise money to pay for their Falla in preparation for getting judged at the festival. This knowledge was a bit of a relief, as I at first assumed the money was coming from the cash-strapped government.
Of course there is one falla funded by the government and it is usually one of the biggest in the city, so my relief was shortlived.
Each of the fallas has a theme, which is oftentimes related to government figures or prominent athletes. Some are more difficult to decipher than others,
and some are more R rated than others.
But all of them are done in lighthearted fun. However, only one falla willl survive the weekend, because the last major event of the festival is the Cremá, or the burning. Starting around 10 pm on the last night, the Fallas begin to burn, watched over by the local fire departments. We went to see one of the biggest ones go, the Adam and Eve that you see above, and were there relatively early so we were near the front. As we waited and waited for the event, we got to talking about how we were pretty close to the Falla and that surely the firemen would back us off. Then, suddenly, they took the barriers away! And then pushed us back a couple yards to about 20 yards away from the giant statue. All the while stringing the thing up with twine and fireworks. It seemed like every twelve year old's fantasy: hastily strung up string and twine to set fire to something gigantic. And then they lit it. And unfortunately, I don't have any great pictures because my and everyone else's reaction basically went from 'oh wow, cool!' To 'yikes this is kinda hot!' To 'Holy expletives, I do not want to be here anymore!' And with that everyone was pushing backwards backwards away from the fire, singed eyebrows and everything. I think the firefighters were probably chuckling to themselves, knowing exactly what was going to happen, but it certainly doesn't give me a lot of post-experience confidence that they just let us learn about fire the hot way. Ok, we probably should have known better too. Anyway, we lived; here is a photo of the immediate aftermath: you can see the burned skeleton of the Falla sticking up into the night air. Shortly after the photo, this toppled over too, and the fire was left smoldering for a while while firefighters doused it with water. One of the more unsafe safe things I have done in Spain, and I call it that because although I felt like I was going to burst into flames myself, I have to hope the firefighters knew what they were doing.
So what a ridiculous way to end a wild and crazy weekend. Fireworks during the day, black seafood paella, three of us on a couple mattresses thrown on the floor, and a lesson in burning huge styrofoam sculptures (which really makes me sad, by the way, I'm pretty sure I watched mother earth die a little bit that night from the fumes), it will certainly go down as one of the most unpredictable and interesting weekends of my time here.
Hope all is well with you and yours, and here's to another post in short order!