Ever since we moved to Spain, Mr. Dame has been talking up this festival called Las Fallas that takes place every year in Valencia. He described it as a huge pyrotechnic festival with floats and fire, firecrackers and fireworks. I was intrigued. Then he said every day there is an event where there’s absolutely nothing to see, but everyone stands around and just listens to explosions. “That in no way sounds like something I’d like,” I said. Still, he was very excited, so he took a week off from work and we took the high-speed train down to Valencia.
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona. I haven’t been to Barcelona yet, but right away, Valencia felt a bit funkier (but less grand) than Madrid. It’s sun-drenched, palm-tree lined, and paella-scented. We used mega Starpoints to stay at a gorgeous Westin for six nights (points accrued during Mr.Dame in Spain’s one-year stay at our hotelpartment in Yemen while it was operating, in the very loosest of terms, as a Sheraton.
Mr. Dame in Spain really threw himself into this trip. I have never seem him be such a vacation planner. He had us walking all over town to check out all the fallas, which are like floats, but made from especially flammable materials (wood and styrofoam) to facilitate burning. Each neighborhood in Valencia has a committee of folks that raise money all year to pay an artist called a fallero to built a falla for the neighborhood. Most are satirical, many are bawdy and lewd, many are political, and most seem to be influenced more than a little by Disney, having a cartoonish look rather than a realistic one. For all the work that falleros put into these floats — lliterally, they work on them for a full year — and all the money that goes in to them, with some costing half a million dollars, according to one longtime Valencia resident, they just burn them right to the ground on the last night of the festival. Mr.Dame even had us watching an IMAX documentary on the history, and touring a fallas museum to see some recreations of fallas dating back to the 1930s.
So that event that is all about listening to explosions, the mascleta, may have been the most bizarre of the Fallas events. Thousands of people gathered in the main square to hear a symphony of explosions every day during the festival week at 2pm. It was a spectacle, that’s for sure, but I’m not quite sure I could discern musicality in explosions. It might be good to point out here that this would be the worst possible vacation for someone suffering from blast-triggered post-traumatic stress syndrome. There are explosions everywhere, at all times of day, in every setting. “This glass of sangria really hits the BOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!!.” “Look at the gargoyles on that old BAAAAMMMMM!!!” “You know, I was thinking CRACK! BAM! BOOOOOOM!” A friend who was with us in Yemen joined us for a few days, and as he pointed out “This is just like Yemen. Perfect weather and constant explosions.”
Finally, on March 19, starting at midnight, the fallas are burned. We watched a few, and man, do they burn fast. And HOT. There was a moment when I thought the burning of an anti-French aristocracy falla would be the end of my face skin as I know it.
All in all, a super interesting trip. Honestly, I don’t quite have it me to hang at a festival for an entire week, what with my preference for sleeping 11 hours a night and not being hungover. Mr. Dame is already talking about going back next year.
One last thought: Can you imagine a week long festival of explosions and fire in the U.S.? How many people would drunkenly blow parts of their bodies off? It’s worth noting that I saw zero injuries, which seems incredible because toddlers were throwing explosives into the streets far from the eyes of their seemingly unconcerned parents. I saw not one person barfing in the street. I don’t know which of these is more remarkable.
The Dame in Spain