January 30, 2012

Fallas, a photo teaser, part 1: Remembering the fallas of 2010

We are getting closer to the full throttle Fallas season. Just barely six weeks away. (Still time to book a train or flight, and maybe a hotel.) To celebrate the this year's Fallas season, I'm posting some teaser entries, using photos and videos from Fallas 2010 (when I went a bit crazy documenting my first Fallas back after 8 years of being away) to illustrate to you the beauty, creativity, fun, and craziness that is Valencia's Fallas festival. Enjoy!

The daily "mascletà" by the Ayuntamiento de Valencia is what marks the beginning of Fallas each year. Starting March 1st, and then continuing everyday at 2PM in the town plaza up until March 19th, different fireworks companies set off 
what I've taken to explaining as a "sound fireworks show", which generally lasts around 5 minutes.

Here is my zoom-in of the mascletà, to show you the hanging strings of fireworks, fenced off for safety. My friends at the dormant blog Hola Valencia got highly prized balcony "seats" for a mascletà one year. Check out one of their posts about it here.

The Falla Sueca, one of the yearly greats and always very crowded, located in the Rusaffa neighborhood. The price-tag of this falla: 300,000 euros!

The fallas are, of course, the centerpiece of Fallas. In 2010 there were around 700 distinct fallas, each set up by a local neighborhood committee of "falleros," known as the "casal faller". The neighborhood falleros spend the entire year fundraising (selling lottery tickets, for example), organizing, and designing the falla. The fallas are officially set up on March 15th and 16th, during "la plantà".

Falla Convento-Jerusalén, another large and popular falla. Note the enormous height, size, and detail... and bear in mind that they are going to burn this down in just a few days! The price-tag of this falla: also 300,000 euros. This falla won 1st prize in 2010, with its theme of "Rumbo al Paraiso", or "Towards Paradise," designed by artist Paco López Albert to represent the four seasons of the year.

Here, below, is the Falla Na Jordana, another one of the greats. Its "lema" ("theme") in 2010: "Pel que veig estás boig," meaning "So far as I can tell, you're crazy" in Catalan... it is an homage to the nearby psychiatric hospital which is now 600 years old. The price tag of this falla: a mere 140,000 euros.

Below is the Falla Almirant, our favorite that year, with a decidedly 1930s Chicago theme. This falla won 3rd prize in the special section contest!

Here is a close-up on one of the Falla Almirant's "ninots"... a ninot is a paper-mâché puppet or figurine. A large falla might contain hundreds of ninots. They will all be burned on March 19th, la nit de la cremà, except for one ninot from the 1st-place falla, which is saved and placed in the Fallas museum.

Another important Fallas tradition is... political commentary. In the falla close-up shown below, seated on vacation is Francisco Camps, the former Valencian Community President, and the subject of many fallas in 2010. Camps was at the center of a corruption scandal, "el caso Gürtel". (He probably embezzled public money, but for a long time would not step down from office. Update: last week he was declared not guilty by a jury on a 5-4 vote... forgive me if I still have my doubts.) The placard in the back says (in English): "Supercamps: Crisis. What crisis?" Fallas traditionally incorporate playful commentary on such local disputes from the past year into their design.

The origin of these political taunts were neighborhood critiques. Traditionally (beginning in the 18th or 19th century or so) fallas were built out of or on top of the trashed wooden furniture, tossed out onto the streets for spring cleaning... a tradition (tied to the San José Saint's Day) which this creative, and more modest falla used as its theme in 2010. Neighbors would make (in theory playful) references to community disputes from the past year.

A more recent trend is the internationalization of such political commentary. For example, it is a rare year that passes without the U.S. president (as well as EU leaders) appearing somewhere in a falla. Obama is an irresistible subject. Here in the Almirant Falla you can see him in a lifesaver made from dollars with the Titanic made out of euros behind him... on the ship, Spain's former president Zapatero and other European past and present officials, Germany's Angela Merkel and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi for example.

Pictured here is another important part of the Fallas tradition... the "falla infantil". This miniature falla is built separately from the main falla, with a theme targeted to children. The fallas infantiles are burned a couple of hours earlier on la nit de la cremà, so that kids can watch it before going to bed. They also have a separate prize competition for them, which means that neighborhoods with a more modest budget can compete in this, when they might not be able to keep up with the bigger main fallas.

I especially liked this falla infantil, located right next to the Torres de Serranos, because its theme was celebrating Valencia's food markets and the superior quality of Valencia's produce  :-)

The other important element of a Fallas - its light display. All fallas have a series of hanging lights which guide you down the street to their falla. Most are pretty modest, but this one from the Falla Sueca, illustrates how elaborate some can be.

Naturally, the light display has its own competition. This one for the Falla Cuba was the 1st prize winner this year. Apparently it was made by an Italian company, Mariano Light Sculptures, that specializes in decorative light displays.

There is actually a nexus of great falla light displays at an intersection of a several streets in Rusaffa... Sueca, Cuba, Literato-Azorín. I got carried away and took a ton of these photos.

Here was the Ayuntamiento's (the municipal government) official falla. It is the only falla that can not be considered in any of the competitions (for obvious political reasons). And while large and technically impressive, it is also always politically bland... very politically safe and wholesome (for obvious political reasons). Though in 2010 it had a hilarious miniature parade of pigeons dressed up as falleras, and a "bombers" (firefighters) ninot which was a crowd-pleaser.

But did you think this was all? No way! I've only just started to explain what Fallas is. In the next entry I'll explain all the other elements that add breadth to the festival, making it way more than just the fallas. To be continued... 


Tumbit - Mr Grumpy said...

We have a much diluted version of the Fallas down here in Denia. Although I attend every year, whilst impressed by the papier mache figures, I am confused at the needless waste (surely they could be re-used every other year?) and annoyed by the endless Mascletas. Spaniards of all ages and walks of life are unhappy unless they are making noise - and when you have heard on bang you have heard them all.

An Expat in Spain said...

I'm afraid you and my wife are of the same mind about the endless mascletas and petardo noise pollution. She's traumatized by it every Fallas. I must admit that if actual war were to ever break out here during the first half of March, nobody would know it for at least the first 2-3 days of explosions.

But it's Fallas! Bring on the pyromania!!!

Tumbit - Mr Grumpy said...

Your wife is amused and annoyed by Mascletas but you live in Valencia?

Surely you must both be deaf for around 3 months of the year?

Personally, I can understand the passion to follow tradition for one Masceleta, but when each street corber insists on holding their own three times a day over the course of a fornight it becomes a joke. And don't even get me started on the fire-hazard that is igniting the 4-story tall highly inflamable statues in a narrow residential street...

An Expat in Spain said...

Correction: Mr Grumpy, my wife loves the city-sanctioned mascletàs. It's the petardos and masclets set off by crazed kids that drives her crazy.

You'd think setting 3-story tall fallas on fire would be a serious fire hazard. Yet over the 10+ years I've followed the event, I've only heard of a falla-related fire singeing a nearby building once. Given that there are 700+ of these fires taking place all over the city each year... 1 fire accident out of 7,000 burnt fallas is not a bad track record. The firefighters really know what their doing.

For that matter, I'm also always amazed by how few news stories there are (if any) of kids blowing up their hands when using petardos... In the US on 4th of July, this is a news regular. My wife always explains to me: "Well, that's because even _kids_ in Valencia know how to handle fire and explosives better than Americans." A comforting thought, no?

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