February 3, 2012

Fallas, a photo teaser, part 2: ... And then they burn it all!

In part one of this teaser series of entries on Fallas I went on about the centerpiece of the festival: the hundreds of art works or "fallas" you will see all throughout the city. But it's not all about the fallas. Fallas is also about falleros and their families, who this weekend will be presenting the "fallera mayor" and "infantil" for each "casal" to the public, thus officially commencing the Fallas season here. 

So Fallas is also about them and their many parades, ceremonies, seasonal snacks, fireworks, and fire, fire, fire! So let me continue on from where I left off... This was a family of falleros that I stopped on the Pont de Fusta to take a photo... I post it for you so that you can see the kind of detail on their traditional fallero outfits.

It is especially fun seeing so many kids throughout the city dressed up in fallero attire! Note the spiral hair braid, which is the traditional Valencian hair arrangement (and which must have been the inspiration for Princess Leia's Star Wars do). They wear a crescent comb in the back of their heads, from which they drape the veils as you can see here.

Here is a group of falleros, i.e. one of the many casals (the neighborhood group which hosts each falla), parading to the Virgin with their ofrenda.

"La ofrenda" – The offering of flowers to the Virgin in the Plaza de la Virgen. It happens on the afternoons of March 17th and 18th. All the falleros throughout Valencia parade to the center of town, the falleras carrying flowers for the Virgin Mary.

Here you can see how they take the flowers and place them around the Virgin Mary wooden structure so as to form her dress.

And below here you can see a "before" shot of the Virgin's scaffolding. In all honesty, this religious ceremony is a fairly late addition to the Fallas festival, according to one source added during the Franco dictatorship in an effort to cover clean up the frequently caustic politic commentary traditions of the older festival. Maybe this is why the Ofrenda ceremony still seems largely out of sync with the non-religious activities that characterize the rest of the festivities.

Here is one example of the hundreds, if not thousands of "churrería" stands that have popped up all over central Valencia this week... all selling buñuelos and churros for the fallas spectators. [Guiri alert!: In 2010, when I had first gotten back to Valencia after having been away for 8 years, I was shocked during Fallas by the sudden appearance of mojito and caipirinha stands. These are _not_ traditional drinks, neither for Valencia nor for Spain. These have appeared in recent years to take advantage of accommodate all the drunk foreigners visiting from out of town. The falleros are surely getting plenty drunk, too, but probably not on these drinks.]

Here is a guy making "bunyols de carabassa" ("buñuelos de calabaza" in Spanish), a fried pumpkin dough dessert, which is a typical street vendor snack during Fallas. It's delicious! I highly recommend you try it, and make sure you get them fresh, just pulled from the fryer and not sitting cold.

Here I am trying the other typical staple during Fallas - "un bocata blanc i negre". It is a sandwich that all the fallero tents cook for their members, which has "morcilla" (black pudding, a.k.a. blood sausage), "longaniza" (a white sausage), and haba beans. (This blanc i negre was eaten at Baldo, an excellent sandwich restaurant located just off the Plaza de Ayuntamiento near all the action.) I'm also dressed up in typical Fallas attire with the blue and white "mocador" ("pañuelo" in Spanish, or scarf) and "blusó" ("blusón"), a traditional overshirt spectators would wear.

And of course what Valencian event can happen without people making paella valenciana? Here you can see the falleros preparing paella the classic way, over an open fire on the street, for their community dinner together next to the falla. I cannot overemphasize how much the falleros basically live, eat, and don't sleep together for the four main days of Fallas festivities.

The final major element of Fallas are the "Castillos", translated literally "castles," but which refer to the nightly fireworks contest. Every night, on March 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, there is a show over the river… each show successively longer and more grandiose, culminating in the March 18th, "la nit del foc", "the night of fire." 

The best fireworks companies from around the world compete to put on the best show… and the result is a show which rivals (or maybe surpasses) the best 4th of July fireworks shows in the U.S. This was for a long time an irritating reality for me, being married to a Valencian when we lived in the States. Every time she and I went to a 4th of July Fireworks show, my wife would say afterwards, "That was alright, but it was really short. I though it would be more impressive." For our last 4th of July in the States, before moving back, I took her to the Washington, DC show, which that year was the third largest in the U.S. Finally, she said she thought it would live up to Valencia's standards. (Note, however, that she didn't say it was better.) The 2010 nit del foc fireworks show was put on by Caballer, who everyone says is one of the best in the world.

One of the things I've been struck by with all of the fireworks shows, both the city's large nightly ones, and the fallas' individual smaller displays, is how much lower to the ground they are. While parts of the shows involve the high in the sky fireworks more familiar to 4th of July shows, those are alternated with segments that are low to the ground... fireworks going off at what seems like only 100 feet above!

And then, on the last night, March 19th... they burn it all!

Yep, that's right. The last stage of the festivities is "la nit de la cremà", the night of the burning. This is when they burn all the fallas across the town, even the prize-winning, hundreds of thousands of euros fallas. (Pictured burning here is a ninot in the Ayuntamiento falla.)

There is a sequence to the burning tradition. At 10PM each falla burns its falla infantil, "early" so that the kids can watch. At 10:30PM the falla infantil which won this year is burned, and then at 11PM they burn the Ayuntamiento's falla infantilAnd then they repeat that order later with the falla mayor: 12AM all the fallas burn except two, 12:30AM the winning falla mayor burns, and then 1AM the Ayuntamiento puts on a show and burns its falla. With each cremà, the falla first gives a brief fireworks show, and then lights a string of "traca" fireworks which explode in a series leading up to light the falla, starting the bonfire. Wild!

The most impressive part of la cremà is the extraordinary preparation and fire control that is exercised... here you can see firefighters ("bomberos") with their water hose keeping the burning fallas under control. With every falla burning there is a stationed firefighter squad. Which is why there are firefighters from all over the world invited to Valencia to help out... including from the United States! (This careful control of the falla bonfires is in stark contrast to the kids who have been throwing petardos, hand fireworks, all around the streets for several weeks, without cease. There is no place in Spain more (in)famous for its fireworks culture and insanity than Valencia.)

... But believe it or not this is all just a small sampling of the full fallas experience. I've only shown you a fraction of the fallas for that year. A smaller fraction of all the falleros and their outfits. And you can't experience a mascletà properly over the internet. Your bones have to shake and your ears rattle from the vibrations to know what one is really like. For that matter, I haven't even taken you into the next level of explanation, the minutia of detail in attire and its significance, the neuroses of obsession in ritual and superstition with which falleros manage to infuse the whole event.

¡Ay, caramba!: Last year there was a debate over whether falleras by tradition _had_
to wear the "banda" sash (shown on the right), or were _allowed_ to wear a newer fashion,
the so-called "caramba" (on the left). You can get a taste of this level of Fallas gossip
and intrigue at the Fallas Valencia page of Las Provincias.

Still hankering for more? Maay-be I'll post some videos I took of Fallas 2010 a little later down the road... so stay tuned! But what you really ought to do is come here and experience it yourself!

And we are already starting to get a sneak-peak at this year's 2012 Fallas at the
Exposición del Ninot, which you can see images of at this El País photo album.


Sensenick said...

Fantastic entries! I've to make some remarks:
- "12AM all the fallas burn except two", that's the official schedule, but many fallas burns at different hours, sychronizing voluntarily with its neighbour fallas (so yo can watch urn 3 or 4 falla in Russafa)... or forced by the firefighters schedule: in the old town (Ciutat Vella), big trucks are unable to operate, so small groups of 4-5 firefighters start at 12AM controlling the burning of one falla, then move in a small van to the next falla... and the next one... it's possible to be at 3AM watching the last falla, and getting wet with thrown water.

PD: petardos

An Expat in Spain said...

Sensenick, thank you so much for your comment! That hadn't occurred to me, but now that you say it it makes perfect sense. I recall walking back from Na Jordana one year after it burned, and seeing other falles starting their burning ceremonies. The coordination of the firefighters on la nit de la cremà is quite impressive.

(Oh, and thanks for the correction on petardos... I should know better, but I have this problem as a Texan of confusing "e" and "i" when I pronounce words. E.g. I tend to say "pen" and "pin" the same. Normally my wife catches these errors when she has had a chance to read the entry. This time you beat her to the punch.)

robin said...

Gorgeous post on what is an incredible event and certainly a must-do when in Spain. This year, yet again, we won't make it as we have other travel plans in March. Hopefully next year...

An Expat in Spain said...

Thanks Robin! We try to alternate years so as to avoid burnout (pun intended).

Mother Theresa said...

Great post! I just love the Fallera outfits, they are so much nicer than what people wear here at San Fermin. And I agree that fireworks here a much more spectacular than in the U.S. Even our kids' school has a firework show that could rival many I've seen at the fourth of July (the school director is from Valencia), and at San Fermin it's amazing. Caballer comes here every year and does a show, and they are indeed excellent.

An Expat in Spain said...

Mother Theresa, that's cool to know that Caballer does shows at San Fermín, too. I only ever manage to watch one Castillo night each year that Fallas passes, since they're so late and I'm usually exhausted from all the street festivities. But maybe this year I'll make a study of them, all four nights. After watching a show here in Spain, particular with several different companies back-to-back, you're left with a real appreciation for what an art fireworks shows are.

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