S booked us into a hotel in Valencia for the last night of Las Fallas as soon as we knew we were coming here at the right time of year. If you haven't heard of it, it is a unique annual festival held in Valencia. A blip is really not long enough to write about it, but in summary hundreds of people spend all year designing, building, and decorating massive sculptures, previously out of paper and card, nowadays usually from polystyrene. They all have some allegorical, political or social message and are decorated with cards with poems and slogans on them (unfortunately usually in Valenciano which I can now tell you is not as much like Catalan as I thought it was, hence difficult to understand). On the night of 15 March, the committees work all night erecting them in the streets, in specific locations. They are admired for four days, prizes are awarded, and at midnight on the 19th they set fire to them all in a fiesta of destruction watched by thousands of people.
Imagine putting so much thought and effort into a piece of art, and then deliberately destroying it. At the end it is gone, totally destroyed with nothing but a pile of ash to indicate that it ever existed. But the point is surely the group experience of creating it, and that is what is left at the end. I like the fact that the physical object is gone but the memory of joint effort remains. It reminded me of the few years when with our friend Michel, we spent months building an elaborate float for the village carnival. It only ever got one outing, two if we went to the next village too, and then it was over, the bits of bric-a-brac we had used to create it recycled or returned to their original use. But the memory of the long evenings of conviviality and cooperation, shared meals with everyone bringing something to the table, the wine flowing, Michel and Gérard playing guitars and singing revolutionary songs, will always be with me.
We talked to the guy who was manning this falla. He hadn't been involved in its construction but, he said, "It's not bad for a second-class falla." "Second class?? It's magnificent!" "Yes, but it only cost 50,000 euros, so it's in the category for fallas costing up to 80,000. The overall winner cost much more than that -- it was paid for by the man who owns Mercadona [Spain's biggest supermarket chain]".
"It's potlatch", said S as we walked away. And there definitely is an element of that. It's also a bit like carnaval, when the carnaval king is condemned and burned at the end of the day, but I've never seen any carnival king have anywhere near as much effort expended on it as this. In fact it seems to pull inspiration from a host of Christian and pagan sources: another element is a procession of thousands of people in elaborate costume carrying flowers to offer to the Virgin Mary, and there's a "Moors and Christians" procession too.
I'm backblipping as we are just back, so I won't write much more now. We had a wonderful time, strolling the streets during the day to look at the fallas, lunching on tapas outside the beautiful covered market, then returning in the evening for long, spectacular processions, more strolling and grazing, and finally the ceremonial burnings -- which have to take place in strict sequence, because every firefighter in Valencia is on duty and they have to go round to each falla to supervise the burning and hose down the surrounding buildings so they don't catch fire (these sculptures are very large, and very close to buildings!).
I have hundreds of photos to go through (of course), so eventually I'll put a set on Flickr. For now, I just picked the one that needed no processing at all!