March 20, 2012

Valencia's Fallas 2012, the hangover post

La cremà of Falla Na Jordana
Here's a visual recap of the last few days here in Valencia, the madness and glory that is was Fallas 2012. Before I start with the photos, let me just say, this is my third Fallas and I'm still amazed how much I had to learn, how much I still have to learn about them. There is so much going on, one either needs to join a casal, be a fallero all year long, or live through dozens of them to truly grasp the level of detail and variety of activities that happen at this festival. (Note to self: Can Fallas be to "Not Hemingway's Spain" what San Fermín was to Hemingway?)

[Heads up: Starting this week I'm reducing my frequency of posts to once a week... They're each so long, I'm sure you'll still have plenty to read.]

The Dirty Dozen:
I list them in no particular order, but these are the usual suspects, the must-see fallas that everyone was talking about this year.

(1) Ayuntamiento

As usual, politically safe but well done. I'm convinced they chose this
scaffolding design as a way to send the signal that, "We promise we didn't
overspend public money on Fallas this year. Honest!"

(2) Sueca

The real buzz for Sueca was its light display, but the falla was also good.

(3) Exposición

This was one of my personal favorites this year. From what I read, it was the artista faller's
first time building a top category Falla. Well done!

(4) Nou Campanar

With a budget of 400,000€, this was this year's (and every year's)
most expensive and largest falla.

(5) L'Antiga Campanar

While "only" half the budget of its nearby mammoth neighbor, L'Antiga's
"Resurrection" theme was quite entertaining.

(6) Almirante Cadarso

In 2010 this was my favorite falla and discovery. While I didn't like their theme this year,
I still loved their style and execution of it. They are definitely on my radar for future Fallas!

(7) Cuba-Literato Azorín

This was a big year for this falla, for them to score the 2nd place in the Special Section.
And they also had an excellent lights display (see below).

(8) Na Jordana

This was probably the most creative and elegant of the top twelve fallas...
Leonardo DaVinci and his creations. The beard was made of threaded wood,
a technique which is apparently a specialty of the artista faller.
It won the "Ingenio y gracia" (ingenuity and grace) Award, and was well deserved.

(9) El Pilar

Their theme this year was fun: "Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda."
More than the overall effect, what I liked about this falla was it's many playful ninots (see below). 

(10) La Merced

I'm still trying to figure out why locals always list this falla among the
"must sees". It was alright, but I think they could have changed the
orientation of it to better effect.

(11) Convento-Jerusalén

Something tells me I would have liked this falla a whole lot more if it hadn't been
for the cramped viewing space and hoards of people. As is usual for it, the
theme was bland safe, but it was masterfully executed.

(12) [Insert your local falla here]… For me, Trinitat!

My humble barrio had a good year this Fallas. The Falla Trinitat won 1st place in the "ingenio y gracia"
area within its Sección 2A, and its falla infantil won 1st place in Sección 5. Go Trinitat!

The Categories – Who won, and who should have won:
So naturally every year it's about who won the big prizes, but also about who we thought should have won them. So here you go...

• Falla sección especial:

Winner: Nou campanar

Located far from most of the others and with a massive budget, this falla
pretty much becomes its own satellite festival during Fallas.

Should have won: Na Jordana

But in my opinion, fallas shouldn't just be about scale. They should be about ingenuity, creativity,
and beauty. This homage to Leonardo DaVinci was really something different,
and is therefore my personal tops for 2012.

Special mentions: Exposición & Maestro Gonzalbo

While understandably not in the same category of incredibleness as Nou Campanar
and Na Jordana, Falla Exposición was one of two more modest fallas
that really caught my eye this year, and which I think deserve an honorable mention.

But Falla Maestro Gonzalbo really surprised me. What an incredibly charming and beautiful
depiction of a fantasy, fairytale world! Congrats to them for getting 1st in their Sección 1A!

• Falla Infantil

Winner: Nou campanar

Okay, this was easily the biggest letdown for me this Fallas. This won 1st place!?!
It is way too busy. No one can deny the craftsmanship and detail, but part of art
is having an intuition about what is too much, and I think they crossed the line.

Should have won: Na Jordana or Exposición

Whereas the infantil of Na Jordana was extraordinary! For me, normally the
fallas infantiles sort of all blend together. But Na Jordana's reminded me that
they can be beautiful and high art. Its theme was clearly inspired by the classic
Valencian Tale, Tirant Lo Blanc, which only added to its charm.

The infantil of Falla Exposición was just adorable, and quite playfully creative
given that it was an actual functioning Carrousel. I deliberately avoided
the cremà for this falla infantil, since it would have been like watching
my childhood burn away.

• The lights display

Winner: Sueca-Literato Azorín

Actually, I think this light display deserved 1st prize just for the novelty of creating
an Eiffel Tower out of lights. It was the talk of the town throughout Fallas.
Indeed, I hope this will encourage other Fallas to experiment with this area in the future.

Should have won?: Cuba-Literato Azorín
But call me old-fashioned but I just love the light display tunnels, so I'm glad Cuba
got some recognition (2nd place) for its lovely lights.

• The 2012 "ninot indultat"... by popular demand...

La mona chita in the Falla Almirant Cadarso was this year's "ninot indultat",
the ninot chosen by popular vote from all the fallas  to be "rescued" from the flames
and saved for all time in the Fallas Museum. A reader (Victoria) reminded me of this tradition.
Thank you!

Other Important Fallas Festival Elements:

• Political commentary...
I personally think this is the coolest part of the fallas, how they go about stickin' it to the man by turning their falla into a political message about the mess these big whigs have gotten us in. No real surprises in who appeared, but let's all relish the cheap shots none the less...

Falla Maestro Gonzalbo: Spain's late for a very important date with Merkel!

You may have heard that Canal Nou, Valencia's local channel, has upset locals
with its clear political bias and management incompetence... thus making it
a recurring object of political taunts this year in Fallas.

• It's the little things that count...
Chic Soufflé wrote this nice post on the cats that appear in different fallas. This should be a game! What animal, vegetable, or mineral did you find recurring in a bunch of the fallas this year? (Good candidates: oranges, bats, political figures, celebrities.) Anyway, the real joy in falla-trekking is zooming in and looking at the curious, elegant, odd, frightening, bizarre ninots scattered all over each falla. Here are some of my favorite pics...

• Falleros/falleras...
These are the real protagonists of Fallas. They are its lifeblood and this is their moment. So let's post some more photos of falleros and falleras...

A casal from San Vicente Martir was using this handy fallerito-mobile
to get these falleritos back from the ofrenda.

An aside: This year one thing the falleros couldn't avoid... Political protests over recortes at the Ayuntamiento mascletà.

• Street food...
This year I got invited to a friend of a friend's falla's paella street party. (The perks of being more settled in Valencia!) What can I say, our host, Jesus, Sr., cooked some delicious paella valenciana.

This wasn't at our paella party, but when I saw people having fideuà instead of paella
I couldn't resist snapping a photo. Classy!

• La Ofrenda
No, no, no! They do _not_ burn her. (Once again I was asked this by my American first-timer friends.) While I stand by my statement that "la ofrenda" kind of sticks out in the Fallas ceremonies as a bit off kilter with the otherwise non-religious anarchical mood, it is unquestionably a beautiful ceremony. So here are some pics on that...


And after...

• Mascletà and Despertà... daily rhythms...
Pim, pam, pum. Awesome. No disappointments with the mascletàs. These sound fireworks shows were great! Here's my recording of the final mascletà, as well as an early morning despertà in my neighborhood (it was like this everyday at 8:30AM!!!).

Caballer did not let us down with this final March 19th mascletàI'm certain my hearing will be impaired for weeks!

These jokers! Can you believe that each falla's casal has a group whose job is
to pass through their neighborhood tossing loud firecrackers accompanied by
a marching band... at 8AM!?! The result is that 8AM is one of the loudest times
of the day during Fallas... even though everyone is hungover from the previous
night's festivities. These jokers!

• Castillos...
Hmm. I'll be frank. If I noticed budget cuts anywhere in this year's Fallas it was probably here. Nights 1-3 of Castillos were all amazing, bolstering my wife's argument that American's Fourth of July Shows just don't hold a candle to Valencia's fireworks shows. But La Nit del Foc was a bit lackluster. Granted, from my spot I literally only saw half the show (see below on lessons learned). But it was a mere 17 minutes long, not the half hour of legend that my Valencian friends normally go on about. Still, all of this was another level of fireworks splendor. To the extent that my lame video camera permits (blog button idea: "donation" link to get support to upgrade my equipment), fixate on the lower fireworks. This is a signature trait of castillos here which we don't do enough of in the States...

Castillo for Nights 2&3 were, by all accounts, the best this year.
Here's my video for Night 3, pardon the auto-focus trouble.

And this is my partial-view video of La Nit del Foc

• La cremà, or what money looks like when you burn it...
How many years will have to pass for me to wrap my mind around it? They burn them!?! This year I went with Exposición, since it was a wider, more open space...

I first watched the Falla Exposición burning. First you see them dousing the falla with flammable liquid. Around minute 2:25 things pick up. And at minute 5:30 the fire really starts to burn.

And this is the Ayuntamiento's cremà. Things really get going
around minute 1:46.

A friend's recording of the Na Jordana burning, which as you can see was incredible, with the flame going up and inside Leonardo's head. Brilliant!

And then, with almost uncanny timing, it started to rain. Only 15-20 minutes after the Ayuntamiento Falla had mostly burned down it began to gently pour, washing away the ashes... How perfect is that?

Like clockwork: This was the weather forecast just hours before La Cremà.
Note how it predicted rain at 2AM, and God obliged.

Lessons Learned:
As I said, each year I learn something new, so why not share them. Here are some "deep thoughts" I had while living Fallas day-to-day...

1) Beware the Valencian liquor, anís de cazalla!!! Let me splain. No, let me sum up: I tried this stuff and let's just say I had a night to be remembered, or really to be forgot. (Santi, a.k.a. Obelix: Why did I let you talk me into trying it on an empty stomach?) This is strong stuff. Be advised.

2) Arrive to your Nit del Foc viewing party spot early, definitely not just 15 minutes before it starts. Hoards of people watch this —I heard a figure like more than half a million— and there is only so much hoards-of-people viewing space along the river. So if you are intent on watching it without being crushed by said hoard of people, you probably should go 30 minutes to an hour ahead of time and find a good, safe spot.

3) A real aficionado of a Falla goes to see that falla both during the day and at night, because it looks different. Sure, you wanna see them all. But try and see at least one of the good ones twice. It's interesting watching it transform from daytime-mode to nighttime-mode.

4) Go to the lights show in Russafa early (i.e. the night of the 15th), before the hoards of people make it a nightmare to visit. Really, Valencia's population doubled this year with all the visitors, and the streets around the Russafa fallas (and Convento-Jerusalén falla while we're talking about it) become impossible to navigate, and thus enjoy the sights. Be advised.

5) Bikes open up new horizons… like finally getting to see the Falla Nou Campanar! This and L'Antiga are really out there in the middle of nowhere. (Sorry Campanar neighborhood, just saying.) So it was doubly sweet to be able to ride my bike through the River Park and up some bike lanes to see them. It was worth the trip. But then again, any excuse to take the bike out for a ride is a good one.

And that's it. "It's over. Go home." Come back next year. That's right, it's March 20th, so everyone is back to work here (well, excepts those "en paro"), so there's no point in lingering. But don't worry! We'll be back next year, I promise, and the following, and the follow. So the good times will roll again!

Nighty, night!

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