The Sounds of Fallas 2019

I’ve shared a bunch of photos of different things during Fallas this year. Mostly, other than the bands for the processions, it’s been more of a visual feast. But Holy Batman! It’s loud around here and you can’t really appreciate it until you’re there in person. But I’m going to try to help you get a taste.

Today, I did two things I swore I wouldn’t do. The first was to head down to the Ajuntamento and experience the final and largest Mascleta of Fallas. But my Irish friend, Donna, invited me out with friends she has in town. So I went. WOW! It was a visceral experience. Its not just an assault to your ears, but your entire body. The booms go through you and rattle your belly. You feel it through your feet. I can’t really describe it adequately so I recorded it and sent it to Jeff in Germany. He loved it! NOT. I wanted to wear earplugs I brought but those around me told me not to and to keep my mouth open or I would pop my ear drums. It’s just that bad. If you listen to the audio file it’s like a symphony. There is true art to this pyrotechnic orchestra. You’ll also see the Town Fallas – which this year was celebrating women and street art – my fav. Her construction costs about a million US dollars.

But then we were walking out of the square and came upon another BONUS!! mascleta that was being fired off by a local Fallas organization and presided over by their Fallera, who would light it. I took some photos so you could see how the fireworks are made (in a local work shop) and how they hang them off the ground. Each one is strung together expertly and they fire in a sequence. And it’s the loudest thing I have ever heard. The bonus mascleta was worse than the one in the town hall square because we were so close. I only recorded a little of it. It went on for 5 full minutes.

We did a few other things like lunch and a tour of my favorite church. Then drinks, and I started for home. Only I realized it was now 9pm and it was time for La Crema – The burning of all the Fallas. The infantil near me was being prepared to light up so I stopped to watch before the smoke got so black I abandoned my spot. It was still a fun gathering of the community – even though I disagree with the environmental impact of it all. And I learned the song of Alboraya that they sang while it burned.

Infantil La Crema

Now I am home. It’s a war zone out there tonight. I am adding one last video so you can hear what is going on outside my home. There will be no sleep tonight – I am very sure. But I don’t care. I ‘did Fallas’ today – like a local. Tomorrow we sleep!

Last Days of Fallas

What I said in my last post about noise? Well, I take it all back. Last night was epic on the noise front. Our local Fallas Associations were in full steam until late. I took the elevator down with several Falleras from our building. Some older ladies who had the sash from long ago with full regalia. And the Mantillas – both black and white. They processed endlessly around and around the block with a hundred other people from just around our building. Oopah! Oopah! Bam! Bam!

I walked into town for dinner Saturday night. Every Fallas organization was marching to converge on Colon (the epicenter of Valencia). Complete with their own individual marching bands. Our eldest son, Ryan, called me on the walk in. I kept saying, ‘Just wait until I turn the corner so I can hear you.’ But every turn brought me face to face with yet another group and their band. It was crazy. I had forgotten about this happening last year.

Another Group heading for Colon

Then Sunday was the HUGE procession for Our Lady of the Forsaken. I took some pictures of her before she was covered by all the flowers the Falleras would bring to her from all over the city. But there was no way I was heading into the square by the church this year. Been there, done that last year.

But luckily I got all my photos of the Fallas Infantils last weeks so I’ll include those here. Some of them are pretty cool.

But what happened last night was the best part of Fallas for me this year. We have a neighbor – I think she was one of the people who called our landlord on me for the Infamous Christmas Cookie Situation of 2018. They see me and barely acknowledge me, usually. I see their son come home for lunch several times a week and he smiles and gives me an ‘Hola’, quietly whispered. He’s grown about a foot in the past year.

Jeff left me with some seriously large fireworks. On the order of those he bought for our wedding reception finale, over the lake where we got married on. So they aren’t just small firecrackers. I don’t like setting these things off alone. It’s like swimming in the ocean – do it in pairs. So yesterday, after getting up my nerve, I gathered my fireworks together and knocked on the neighbor’s door. I don’t think they wanted to answer.

A lot of rustling later – whispers – and then the door opened. The Mom and her two boys stood there. They knew who I was but were clearly uncomfortable. In broken Spanish I explained that Jeff was in London and I’d like to light these fireworks but didn’t want to do it alone. Could she and her boys help me? The boys eyes lit up! Then I offered that if they would light them, and let me watch, they could have them. Well, that changed everything.

So at 8 o’clock last night they knocked on my door (prearranged) and we went out on the street. They had some loud firecrackers, but then they got to the ones I had given them. The first batch was lit and a crowd gathered. Another boy stopped and talked to the kid next door. Our kid (yes, I’m aware that sounds strange) seemed very surprised to talk to this kid. The Mom explained – Surprise! – en Ingles.

Apparently, the boy who stopped is ‘Cool’. Our neighbor boy is not. But this cool kid was very impressed with the fireworks they were shooting off and told our neighbor boy that he thought it was really cool he had such amazing fireworks, and he stayed for the show. We watched her very shy son smile from ear to ear. More lighting of things and blowing up stuff. Afterwards I said my good-nights and they all were very grateful. But it was me who was grateful and I told them so. I found a way to crack the ice that had been frozen for the last year.

So the things I’m learning how to do now are more subtle. The fine motor skills of learning how to fit in. I wasn’t looking forward to Fallas this year – and I’ve not made any secret of it. But it turns out to be a crucial part of my Valencian education. Kind of makes me look forward to next year.

Falles 2019 and the Environment: Shades of Things to Come

No matter how much you love Fallas, and people do or don’t to varying degrees, you can’t help but look at these amazing sculptures carved from hardened liquid Styrofoam, and not understand that burning over 700 of these in one night is an environmental disaster. The chemicals and CO2 released as they melt (The Crema), and the black smoke that will sit in the air for days (unless it rains the day after like last year) means breathing for those with a compromised respiratory system will be a hazard. And not much fun for the rest of us.

I’ll be posting more photos of those in Benimachlet and the surrounding neighborhoods further down in this post, but as we walked around this year we talked a lot about how, while some of them are amazing masterpieces, it’s a terrible waste and a nasty pollutant. Centuries ago, the Falla was a pile of old castoffs from the furniture or arts workshops in the city, that had been produced indoors over the long winter. Someone put some clothes on a few of them to make them resemble people and it started marching towards what it is today. A full blown design major at the local Uni, and an industry unto itself.

But there is hope. I’m not a fan of burning anything – thinking back to our Irish Christmas when burning peat and coal to stay warm made my stomach turn (Ireland is changing that rapidly btw). But burning polystyrene for no real benefit is just wrong. And it seems there are those of like mind this year. Some of the neighborhood Fallas associations have abandoned these unfriendly materials all together and have fashioned their Fallas out of unpainted wood. It’s a small group and they’re pretty cool. So I’m featuring them first, before all the other ones we saw in the last two days.

A full pipe organ built from wood you could get at the local BricoMart. Pretty amazing. And one celebrating the Valencia Fubol Club with their badge and the bat. Yesterday we saw another that would be a dragon when it was done, complete with scales – made of wood. I didn’t photograph it because it wasn’t ready but it’s nice to see that there are those getting creative with non-toxic materials. Sure, they’re still going to burn them – so that’s not so great – but they won’t be doing it with chemicals. Just the thin wooden dowels or cut plywood to create the skin of their creations. Everything is baby steps.

I wonder if next year we’ll see even more of these new fangled, eco Falla. Jeff wondered if maybe they have a new ‘eco friendly’ award category. I sure hope so, as I’ll be spending the night of the 19th as they burn, indoors with the air filter blowing. But still, this year there are some incredible Fallas. And I’m posting them for you to see – even though they’re not all completed yet. I was happy to see that most of the Infantils are up. So I focused a lot on those from multiple angles. More on that tomorrow. Enjoy!

You can clearly see there are three categories that each Falla falls into.

  • The local ones – like in Benimachlet. These have no corporate sponsorships or even local businesses sponsoring them. They’re my favorites because they are made with bake sale money, paella dinners and sweat.
    • The locally sponsored ones – where the neighborhood real estate agent, Abogado, or pub, pitches in some cash for a banner on the Fallas tent housing those working on the erection of the effigy. They’ll be a bit more detailed and larger because of the injection of cash. Their designer will be a pro but nothing like the next bunch.
    • The Corporate Sponsored ones – this is where folks like Coca Cola, Netflix, Mahou and a host of other deep pockets cough it up for something that will actually take your breath away. One we saw had a detailed mini version in plaster so you could see what it was going to be when it was completely assembled. Last years was equally amazing.
  • One other thing we noticed this year is the noise. Its warm at night and we like to sleep with the window open. Last year we couldn’t do that and sleep – at all. Sure, we were up at 4:30 this am due to some errant – illegal – fireworks at the crack of dawn. But we noticed that there are exponentially less booming fireworks this year. And the Mascletas aren’t as big as they were last year. I’m not sure why. We barely hear them in Benimachlet and last year they shook the windows.

    Perhaps it’s a combination of a couple of things. We are used to the noise here. The random procession with the full marching band hardly phases us now. Waking up to fireworks on any given Sunday tells us that it’s either a wedding, christening or a holiday we forgot. Or maybe it’s because we’re becoming true Valencian’s. We know our local Fallas group, who our Falleras are, and the number of days until the next major festival. Yep – that’s what it must be. And I’ll take it.

    Next post will be just The Infantils. This year the theme of those seems to be Love and Acceptance. After what happened in Christchurch this week I think we can use more of that.

    First Things First

    I have written alot about Spanish holidays. Because there are so very many of them. This country likes to celebrate. It can be fun and it can be confusing. But there is one thing I find so wonderful about the Spanish way of celebrating holidays that I want to celebrate that! Here they celebrate one holiday at a time.

    In August, the decorations and reminders for the Nou d’Octubre celebration weren’t out in stores. Oh no! They were busy celebrating things like Assumption Day and other stuff. This is a very ‘Live in the Present’ culture. Jeff both loves that and laments it. He’ll be doing a guest blog on that very subject right here very soon – stay tuned.

    It didn’t hit me until we went to El Corte Ingles for lunch the other day. That sounds kind of weird with all the other lunch and beverage options in the city we would choose a department store, but their restaurant it really good and the view from the top? We love sitting up there and having a drink and some snacks and looking out over the interesting roof tops with all the church towers. It’s usually almost empty and kind of a secret – don’t tell anyone.

    We walked into the bottom floor and what did we see in mid-October? A Halloween display. One that wasn’t there two weeks ago. And do you know why it wasn’t there? Because they aren’t stupid. They were busy celebrating, first Valencia Day and then Spain Day on October 12th. That space was taken up with other celebration appropriate stuff.

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    I was so struck by seeing Halloween gear that I started looking around. When we were back in the US in September, Halloween (which isn’t until the end of October) was almost old news. The Thanksgiving/Harvest stuff was out. But what really struck us was that every store had their Christmas displays going. All except Nordstrom who refuses to do it until the day after Thanksgiving. But that means their employees work on Thanksgiving – a holiday supposedly devoted to spending time with your family – to put up Nordstrom’s Christmas regalia.

    Yup. Walmart, Fred Meyer, Target and every grocery store had already turned the corner to Christmas. It makes every holiday seem like it lasts forever and isn’t as special any more. Here that would never happen. They seem to look at their calendars and say ‘Well, lets see what’s next up for fireworks and family gatherings and special food’ and then they go to the store and shop for that one thing. Everyone knows what they’re celebrating and they focus on that.

    So there are no Christmas windows that snuck in before anyone else. Trying to complete for the attention of the population for their limited almighty Euro. No. And I love it! The pace of things seems just right.  Do one thing at a time and do it well, then move on.

    It will be interesting to see how they do Halloween here. I have heard that they don’t do tick or treating with kids, but they do Halloween parties so we’ll see how that goes. I won’t lie. It was sort of nice to see all that cheezy crap piled up in that little space at the store. It’s been colder here lately so its starting to feel a little like home. But those masks and the big Harry Potter display did it for me. Time to buy some Candy Corn and Chromecast a fire on the tv from an app on my phone. OK – now it doesn’t feel like home.

     

    Nou d’Octubre – The Day of Valencia

    Every October 9th, since King James the I of Aragon sent the Moors packing south, Valencian’s have celebrated their freedom. OK, well as much freedom as people who still lived under a feudal system for 100’s of years following this conquest could. But the Spanish population, who were mostly Christians (Catholics) went from being the low men on the totem pole to those in power.

    There is no debate here about the role of Charlemagne or Roland in freeing Spain from the Moors, like there is in Navarra. The Valencia’s are pretty sure it was this one guy and his lucky bat, who showed up right as his victory was clinched, that did the trick. You can see the Valencian bat festooned on manhole covers and futbol jersey’s. The Bat is the thing here.

    Nearly 800 years later they’re still pretty happy about it. And like most celebrations we’ve encountered in Spain, if one day of partying is good, six days is just that much better. Nou d’Octubre is the biggest celebration of Valencian pride, and that is saying something since they have a month-long Fallas celebration in March, too.  But Fallas is an internationally renowned party celebrating the art of satirical street sculpture that attracts visitors (and pyromaniacs) from far and wide. This celebration is for the people of the region.

    We had some friends in town this weekend – who brought more friends with them – so our group pf 10 dove in and we got a bit of the flavor of the festivities that actually started on Thursday the 4th. Like all fiestas, there will be people dressed in traditional dress. Women dressed like they were as Fallera, and men in both traditional peasant and in Moorish inspired costumes performing or just walking the streets.

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    There was a Medieval Market on the Serranos bridge leading to the towers of the same name, selling traditional locally made foods, jewelry, soaps and oils and hand made candies. October 9th is also St. Denis’ Day in Spain. It’s the equivalent of St. Valentines Day. Here men give their lady loves a kerchief full of marzipan sweets to signify their affection. Knowing Jeff would forget his clear obligations to me on St. Denis’ Day, I bought myself a beautiful kimono in the old city. When I showed it to him I explained how I’d helped him dodge a bullet on this most important of holidays. He appeared unmoved at my generosity.

    During these celebrations, old palaces that are mostly government buildings now, are opened to the public for just 2 days. Valencian’s like their bureaucracy so they need a lot of places to house them and the old palaces are the perfect spots. Large, open and with big rooms that once might have been used to house men-at-arms, but now hold large conference tables or councils. A gentleman working in one of them explained the hierarchy to us.

    In Spain, there are 17 autonomous regions (like states in the US). Ours is the Valencia Communidad (Community) – a collection of essentially 3 counties (Valencia, Alicante and Castello) – who have their congress in one palace here in the old city. This is like a state legislature. Then there is the Valencia county (I’m not using the right words but that’s what it is) – that has it’s own council. Kind of like a county council back home. Then there is Valencia, the city (Ayuntamiento) – which has it’s own city council and mayor.

    It’s a little confusing since the name ‘Valencia’ is a loaded one, but you get used to it. In terms of Palaces, each one of these government bodies is housed in palaces that are usually closed to the public, unless you have official business before that particular body. But one time per year, they open them up so that the average person can enjoy the architecture and the stunning art that is housed in them. Sculpture, centuries old paintings and architecture is on full display. It’s easy to see how the aristocracy showed off their wealth and power using their homes as canvasses.

    There was music in the square and, of course, fireworks – both during the day and at night. I swear, if someone invaded this country the inhabitants would think any gun shots they heard were associated to a wedding, baptism or a fiesta they forgot about. You think I’m kidding but you almost don’t even hear them anymore when they go off.

    My favorite place we visited, although it’s open nearly every day so it’s not part of this celebration, was the Church of St. Nicholas. I had seen it before but never ventured in. Yesterday, we were walking by it between Palace tours and decided to pop in. For 6 euros (kids are free), we got to see something that was truly amazing. It’s called ‘The Sistine Chapel of Valencia’. And ironically, the restorer of the Sistine Chapel restored it recently so it was visible in all it’s glory.  Pictures don’t do it justice and it’s worth the visit.

    Parishioners, or anyone in Valencia who needs help with a problem, will leave their home on 3 consecutive Mondays, walking in silence to the church to pray to the effigy of St. Nicholas for assistance. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of charity. The legend has it that he used to anonymously give assistance to many in his community during his lifetime. The precursor to Santa Claus. Promoting the ‘charity is its own reward’ type of approach. This appeals to me on so  many levels and the church is clearly a masterwork in celebrating his life.

    Finally, last evening we were just enjoying a quiet time at home when we heard a procession go by. We barely get up and go to the window anymore when we hear a marching band in the neighborhood but it went on for awhile. So random. And the fireworks went off shortly there after.

    So we’re not actually to the real holiday yet and we’ve fully celebrated it. Now we’ll enjoy a few days of no grocery stores being open until we get a brief reprieve before Spain Day on Friday. It will be interesting to see what that is like here in Valencia. Will the inhabitants be fiesta’d out after a week of celebrating Nou d’Octubre? Something tells me there’s a fat chance of that! More music, fireworks and processions coming up!