Ah, Fallas. That crazy time of year when Valencia literally burns itself to the ground. In normal years, it starts at the end of February and builds to a crescendo when, after dark on the final night, over 800 large polystyrene carved statues are set ablaze, in every neighbourhood all over the city, simultaneously. To be a bombero (firefighter) in Valencia is like having your Phd in pyrotechnics and flames. They know how to put out a 3 story raging bonfire that has been set alight, on purpose mind you, while wedged between an ancient church, a 500 year old palace, and a wine shop, all sponsored by Amstel Light. What could go wrong? I’m pretty sure they look at other engine companies scattered around the globe and laugh. ‘You poor slobs. You have no idea how to control a fire.’ One hopes Valencia might use this time to take a step back, and review the impact of burning polystyrene on the environment 🤞I’m not holding my breath.
This year’s cancellation has stung even more than last year. Panic shut down Fallas last March. Some of the construction had already begun to assemble the Fallas in intersections, and plaças throughout the city with cranes. This all had to be abandoned and many were left in their plastic wrappers on the streets until de-escalation for lockdown numero uno began in mid-May. All those left over Fallas have been locked inside warehouses, and the organizations have been banned from even meeting. As we approached the time when Fallas would have begun this year, the noise about missing out on another year has grown louder.
These signs have started appearing where Fallas would have stood. I spotted this one behind the San Vicente church and hospital in the old city. As a reminder of what has been lost, as yet another pandemic arrow has been shot through the cultural heart of the Valencian Community. Walking throughout the city, you will find the outside of the homes of these organizations decorated in honour of the Fallas that never was. Just to mark the moment.
For the past year, we have heard almost no fireworks. This is not normal in Valencia, home to a university degree in pyrotechnics. Early in 2021, there was a decree by the council that fireworks were outlawed in Valencia this year. And police would enforce the regulations. But to a Valencian, living without fireworks is like asking fish to live without water. They don’t know how to do it.
Every day, over the last two weeks it has been building. We hear clandestine bangs when we wake up – just like any Fallas. And last weekend, there was a brief show put off from somewhere in the darkened depths of the local dog park. They can’t help themselves. It’s against their very nature. Finally, clarity was given. Small fireworks will be allowed. Only the junior class so children won’t miss out. Can I tell you how excited I am about this?
Even last year, before lockdown, you’d be sitting in a café minding your own business over a morning café con leche, when a firecracker would go off under your chair. ‘What the F&!@?!’ After you’d finish peeing your pants and wiping coffee from the front of your shirt, you’d notice a proud Dad with his small child laughing as ‘they got you’. Such fun! They weren’t laughing at you, they were laughing with you. It’s not juvenile delinquency. Just keeping up the traditions and passing them down to the next generations. I figure during the weeks of Fallas I should start purchasing Depends. Just in case. It’s good to know we won’t have to forgo that in this year without a Fallas.
The only minots allowed this year are in the Plaça de l’Ajuntment in front of city hall. They´re placed on top of glass recycling bins to promote another of Valencia’s more minor claims to fame. This city is the recycling capital of Spain. And they take it very seriously. In 2021, they’re stepping up their game in keeping the top spot. Since 2015, Valencia has increased recycling in the city by more than 80%. Today, when I went out to take our recycling, I noticed these on the bin.
They are trying to gamify and engage the community, while encouraging and tracking recycling by household. The city is offering prizes on a monthly basis and you are entered each time you scan the QR code on your local bin and then the bar codes of the things you’re recycling. I could win an electric scooter and become one of the cool kids in the bike lane. The city is looking at tracking how well the message is getting out. And how they can begin to target areas with low participation. Kind of genius.
Using our lost Fallas to help promote the program is smart too. Parents will take their kids down to see the few fallas that have been put up by City Hall. And it’s an opportunity for them to talk about the importance of recycling. At the last procession we attended for Three Kings in January 2020, they had scores of people handing out recycling bags and bins for organic collections, right along with handing out candy. They always seem to work it into every celebration.
Have no fear. Fallas will be back next year, after the vaccines have been rolled out. A usually insane festival will be like Carnival on crack when that happens. Madness. And we’ll be long gone. But I’m glad we had a few years of Fallas to experience it before the shutdowns. Valencians loved it before. But now? I think they will never appreciate a Fallas more than they will in 2022. The historic year their beloved Failures finally returned.