March 15, 2013

Fallas and Valencia, Before the Storm...

"Senyor pirotècnic, pot començar la mascletà!!!"
—Traditional statement by the fallera mayor to commence the daily mascletà
Awesome way to weave Valencia landmarks into Fallas ninot:
Torres de Serranos, Oceanografic, Miguelete, Agora, Basilica.
Today is la plantà, the official start to Fallas! Today the fireworks really start and the festival really takes off. But in truth, for locals, Fallas has been well under way for a while. Today I'm going to post some of the pre-festivity highlights, in part because they give you a glimpse of things to come... but also because —Confession!— I won't be here for Fallas this year! Yep, that's right. In what is also a time-honoured Valencian tradition, I'm leaving town. Much of Valencia runs away retreats from the chaos of crowds these four plus days, and also takes advantage of the Valencia-unique holiday to do some offseason-priced tourism when others can't.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE Fallas! But my wife and I have an agreement that we do Fallas every-other-year. That way she doesn't burn out (and maybe so that I don't either). Last year I did Fallas, so this year we're doing... Sevilla! ¡Olé!

Don't worry! A visiting American student at my institute has
agreed to write up and cover Fallas 2013 for me. So stay tuned!

Not planning to do Fallas this year has meant I could focus on the pre-festive events, an not have to save up my energy. Here I give you the highlights from: the Exposición de Ninots, the various mascletàs I've gone to –remember they start on March 1st, and happen everyday, so we've already had 2+ weeks of them–, and the work by fallas artists to put up the giant fallas, which now take weeks days to be assembled out on the streets where they'll be on display.

Lots of fun to be had around Valencia, though this week Valencia is not its normal self.

Before we start, Fallas novices, please review these links for more info and advice on the festival:
My summary page on Fallas and Valencia
My suggested itinerary at The Spain Scoop
• A four-part series I wrote on what to see in Valencia, which starts here...

"Valencia, es la tierra de las flores..." Commence the Fallas festivities!

I also recommend you dine at some of these spots, rather than leave Valencia thinking its cuisine is limited to fried dough:
The typical fallas food to try and must-see fallas
5 restaurants I recommend (The Spain Scoop)
5 restaurants recommended by local blogger Chic Soufflé

Las Provincias, a Valencian newspaper, published this nice map and guide to the
most important fallas throughout Valencia as part of a smart promotional campaign.


The Exposició de Ninots ended yesterday and now you will have to go out into the streets and see them in situ! But here I'm posting pictures from the expo, because sometimes it's easier to appreciate the detail of these creations when you're not overwhelmed by the crowds and the competing sensory overload. (Ninots, for those of you who don't know, are small individual statues taken from the larger fallas... What!?! You don't know what a falla is? "Let me splain... no let me sum up": see this glossary that I wrote here for an explanation.) If you've been following me in Instagram or my Facebook page, most of what you see here won't be new. But for the rest of you, it gives a nice glimpse into Fallas 2013. (FYI, for all you "igers"out there, I highly recommend the "Lo-Fi" filter for fallas... something about it really brings out the colors on them.)

________________ NINOTS FROM THE FALLA________________ 

So the big story this year was the politics, in particular the protests from fallas artists angry about how the new tax hike to 21% meant fallas budgets would be squeezed even further. This issue was possibly the reason for why so many (more than usual) ninots had overt political themes...

Lots of hilarious political targets, like this ninot of
Rita Barbera, Valencia mayoress. #recortes #brokenpromises

Spain President Mariano Rajoy back from Mount Sinai with the Commandments.

Whatever your politics, admit it, this ninot by Falla San Juan Bosco - Duque de Mandas is hilarious!
#MarianoRajoy #Rubalcaba #PPSOE

Mariano Rajoy appears in a lot of the Fallas ninots,
but this is one of the more flamboyant versions.

"¡Viva el vino!" Say what you want about the politics in Spain,
but we tolerate it because the wine is so good! #MarianoRajoy

Does this need a caption? #Bankia #ladrones #indignados

Always good political fun at Fallas. Falla Lo Rat Penat spoofs
infamous gaff by Spain's king with this ninot.

Germany and its leader Angela Merkel took a lot of hits this year...

This woman (Merkel) has had much of Europe jumping through hoops the last few years.

Angela Merkel, a.k.a. supreme leader, appears a lot throughout the ninot expo.

This ninot is a nice commentary on the problem in Spain of "fuga de cerebros"
(brain drain) and youth unemployment. #Willkommen

Such tasteful depictions of Germans and women at Fallas.
Not a great year for Spanish-German relations.

No surprise that "el paro" (unemployment) is a theme this year at Fallas,
but this ninot's "Bar Cenas" (i.e. Bárcenas) was witty.

And the award for dullest, safest falla ninot goes to... the Falla Municipal!
La Once, really? Are you trying to tell us you're gambling with our money!?!
Anybody going to make the obvious jokes... #flyingblind #justiceisblind etc.?

Of course, many ninots were not overtly political, but simply playful and suggestive...

I really loved this fallerita holding a naranjo (orange tree) in the ninot of
Falla L'Antiga de Campanar (often overshadowed by its bigger,
richer neighbor). Also a nice homage to "bombers" (firefighters),
oh so important to Fallas!

¡Olé! Yep, flamenco dancers also subjects for Fallas ninots. #typicalEspanish

A lot of Valencians have been identifying with this ninot fallera in recent weeks.
It's been raining a lot these days in Valencia. While I loved the little girl with the broken umbrella,
I'm conflicted about the use of the Native American in this falla.
But I suppose that politically correct is an American preoccupation.

Naturally I found these three posh ladies from the Falla Nou Campanar in the 'Secció especial'.

You have to admire the detail of the Falla Na Jordana ninot.
Note the toy Trojan Horse... they are probably reading the Iliad!

The #ninot from Falla Sueca is petty cool, given it's the UN International Year Of Water Cooperation.
#Antarctic #Fallas #GlobalWarming

I also really liked Falla Cuba Literato Azorín's falla ninot:
"Amor imposible"... "Un elefante se balanceaba..."

My favorite two ninots I save for last...  

The Falla Almirante Cardoso's "lema" (theme) this year is
a look into the future, with lots of great humor.

In the regular falla category, one of my favourite ninots was the Almirante Cardoso,
very creative and thoughtful!

Went to the ninot exposition specifically to see the Paco Roca one.
(I know, I know, I'm obsessed.) Very cool!

The gem of this ninot was that they have Paco Roca
in true form sketching an image of cartoon Paco Roca.

________________ NINOTS FROM THE FALLA INFANTIL________________ 

So for the falla infantil, designed with the casal kids in mind, the key factor in executing themes was cuteness, though many still managed to insert nice social statements into their ninots...

One of the big polemics this year at Fallas are the restrictions on kids
using certain hand fireworks (petardos). I think this falla infantil ninot is
an adorable play on that. #WheretheWildThingsAre
"ATRONA: Associació de Trons No Agressius" Brilliant!
Falla Blanqueries is also fairly witty.

Awesome to see the "iaio flautas" featured in this falla infantil's ninot.

The Valencia Municipal falla infantil ninot is very elegant,
and the historical theme, "La València Daurada" (Valencia's Golden Age), is promising...
but it kind of reminds of Na Jordana's superb falla 
infantil last year.

"Falles, Patrimoni del món!" Falleras chickens in this fun ninot.

This guy is either a plumber or the personification of nighttime noises
("soroll" in Valencian). Whichever, I like the style of the
Mercado de Castilla's falla infantil ninot.

Gotta have the Valencian staples at Fallas, like horchata and fartons, in this ninot.

I was personally big on any that featured cats, cats, cats... 

I'm a sucker for the cats. This falla infantil ninot is cute!

Hello kitty! A cute Hello Kitty themed falla infantil.

This is one of the more tasteful ninot images of women.
Let's face it, Fallas is not tops on positive depictions of women.

Anglophones have the Tooth Fairy, Spaniards have the Ratoncito Pérez.
The other night I watched the highly entertaining animation film
"Rise of the Guardians" about classic kids' folk figures
(Santa, Easter Bunny, Sandman, Boogieman),
and was pleased to see a cameo by Pérez!

I really liked this falla infantil ninot on time and the seasons:
primavera, verano, otoño, invierno. Fallas is, after all, about a changing seasons.

I like the ambiguity in this ninot between sewing and acupuncture. #pincushion

This was one of the more eye-catching ninots in the falla infantil section:
candy canes and (a Johnny Depp) Willy Wonka!

I think the Falla Na Jordana falla infantil ninot was one of my favourites
 at the exposition this year. They are always so original in style!

The months of February and March are good ones to carry an umbrella in Valencia.
Though you might get carried away by the wind like this Mary Poppins!

Teatime! Very cute falla infantil ninot from Falla Malvarrosa!

There were a good number of oriental themed ninots, like the falla infantil ninot
from Falla Cuba Literato Azorín. Year of the snake? #cute

Loved the detail on the falleras dresses in the Falla Grabador Esteve falla infantil ninot.

As I noted a week ago, lot of people liked the falla infantil ninot
by the Falla del Regne de València, excellent detail! And sure enough,
this is one of the two ninots indultats.


It's not too hard as a local to slip away from work midday to catch at least one or more mascletàs. It's an opportunity to see the falleras court...

This year I tried something different, and photographed a mascletà. The truth is I always describe them as a sound fireworks show, but the visual effects are a feast for the eyes...

I personally like the challenge of trying to capture these puffs of
black smoke clouds, which for me are a distinctive feature of the mascletà.

There is always the moment towards the end, usually about 30 seconds before it ends,
when the explosions magnify and the Plaza de Ayuntamiento is swallowed by the
cloud of "pólvora", gunpowder smoke. 

Digression: One of my students this year told me that a couple of years ago the European Union said that Valencia's mascletàs were not legal under EU codes on explosives or noise pollution... and Rita Barbera (Valencia's rough-and-tough mayoress) basically said fuck you we don't give a damn! Hah! No kidding! If I had to choose between the threat of EU police invading Valencia or a fallero revolution, I'd take the European Union police any day! Hell hath no fury like a fallero scorned!

... but I also did record a couple of them...

<<I posted an mp3 of an audio recording of the 
Day 7 mascletà here at  I encourage you to give it a listen.  
It's very different just listening to a mascletà... 
which kind of sounds like a percussion show.>>

<<And on my facebook account, 
you can watch the Day 13 mascetà here>>

<<Also on my facebook account, 
you can watch the Day 15 mascetà here
recorded from a friend's rooftop view from above!>>


One reason locals complain about Fallas is because, more and more every year, "la plantà", the official moment the fallas go up, seems to creep earlier and earlier. This year, many streets were blocked, bus routes rerouted, and parking spots disappeared as early as March 8th, a full week before the usual official start on March 15th!

This pre-plantà presented opportunities and risks. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to see many of the big fallas before the festivities formally began. However, this week in Valencia we've had horribly strong winds, which have blown over many an unfortunate falla, damaging some of them.

For me, the fun was seeing casals and fallas artists hard at work all over town, assembling these mammoth works of art and feats of architecture...

Calle Sueca (in the Russafa neighborhood) in preparation for the
Fallas lights display "iluminación" show... which started March 8th!

And now imagine it all lit up and sparkling.

Interesting to watch all the work and care that goes into final assembly
 of the Fallas, some several stories tall. Complicated architecture!

I can only imagine the stress these guys are dealing with.
(Worse than putting the star on the Xmas tree!)

This girl has really lost her head over La Plantà. (Falla Ribera)

Overall, though, the Municipal falla is not bad.
I like the Torres de Serranos and "La Peineta" bridge.

How the Valencia Ayuntamiento imagines guiris.
Sigh, perhaps we deserve this. #FallaMunicipal #desperatefortourists

All these wrapped fallas around town, feels like Christmas!

Falla del Pilar is also one of the big ones, and I'm particularly impressed
with its theme "lema" of "la fauna Ibérica" (Spanish fauna). 

And what is more representative of Spain's unique fauna than bulls and political bullshit?
Brilliant ninot from Falla del Pilar: Spain's politicos dancing around an angry bull!

One can see artists putting the final touches on fallas, like here at the Falla del Pilar.
Beautiful! Also gives you an idea of the scale!

Fun to see the artists' paint tables next to near-finished fallas. 

Falla Convento Jerusalén, another of the big ones, had the theme this year of Arabia.

I'm really a fan of Falla Almirant Cadarso, always elegant, well-designed #fallas. 

Childhood innocence and wonder, what could be  a better theme for a falla?

A future enfemera and funcionario in Spain?

Pay attention to the Falla Maestro Gozalbo. It is always good! #Pirates

Steve Jobs in the Garden oEden enjoying an apple with Adam and Eve
(at the Falla del Mercado). #Takeabite

Of course, for me the highlight of Fallas this year, and maybe every year, is to see what wonder and innovation Falla Na Jordana will think up and surprise us with. This year it is a massive wooden Trojan Horse. Truly magnificent!

Na Jordana is just so classy! This TrojanHorse is brilliant,
and will probably make for an incredible cremà.


... there's the street food, and above all buñuelos de calabaza!!!

Back from a delicious buñuelos break at Mari Toñi with the family,
because it's Fallas session! #porelbarrio

Valencia smells of buñuelos. Mmm, buñuelos de calabaza... #hungry Fallas #snackfood

This street, not far from the Estación del Norte, which leads up to the
Falla Convento Jerusalén, will be packed with people during Fallas.
So it was a relief to me to wander it beforehand while it was still empty.

La ofrenda to the Virgin Mary in the Plaza de la Virgen...

"La Virgen desnuda" at the Plaza de la Virgen in Valencia.
She'll get her gown of flowers soon. #LaOfrenda

And plenty of bullfights, which I here are top quality, though I've never been to one myself...

Oh yeah. And then there's this whole thing happening during Fallas, bullfights (toros). #notmything

This taxidermy bull display outside Valencia's Plaza de Toros was a little morbid
for my tastes, but clearly popular with the tourists. ¡Olé!

And that's all for now. If you're in Valencia, don't spend your weekend at home staring at the computer reading about Fallas. Go out and experience it, even if only a little bit. And for the rest of you, I hope you enjoyed this small taste of Valencia's magnificent cultural treasure.

This in no way resembles me whatsoever, not at all. #computeraddiction

Oh, and while you're wandering Valencia's streets, don't forget to check out its other amazing art ephemera street graffiti art and its beautiful Río Turia Park and Bioparc!

The city of Valencia is a canvas of incredible street art. Keep an eye out for it!

Hehehe... When you're out and about, beware of this guy. Falleros with petardos.


Mr Grumpy said...

Another week of loud bangs, late nights, Horchata and Pumpkin fritters.

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