(Reporting by Sian Thomas at Las Fallas, Saturday 19th March 2011)
The Mascleta at lunch time is by Ricardo Cabeller again and his mastery of pyrotechnic rhythm is greeted by a crowd who jump and wave their arms in the air as it builds in intensity. The noise is incredible as it bounces back at us off the buildings. Apparently there are people who don’t like Las Fallas and they book their holiday each year to coincide. Well, at least they don’t stick around and complain.
At the moment there is a super moon. It is the closest the moon has been to earth since 1992. Under this moon and in the buzz that is building up on the night that the Fallas burn I wonder round on my own in bliss. It is interesting that as a woman on my own I have not had one moment of feeling unsafe or even uncomfortable.
There was a night time fire procession. I was, being from a bonfire town, expecting lots of hand held fire torches. This, however, was a display with hand held fireworks. People in devil costumes jump and dance demonically under hand held Catherine wheels and small gerbs, graceful dancing women on 20 foot high moving stands are wheeled along, caterpillars filed with fire, all with brass and drums. It ends in yet another firework display at a big city arch.
I am drawn back to my favourite Fallas, I am trying to resist saying ‘huge Fallas’ but I can’t, however in Spanish the ‘ll’ is pronounced as ‘y’ and so it really doesn’t sound rude at all. As it is such a popular one, I pay a euro to go inside its barrier and get a closer look at the detail. At one end, just on the other side of the barrier there appears to be a group of Arabic courtiers looking like Mary Pickford in the Fall of Babylon. I look closer, they move slowly up the street, stepping side to side to the accompaniment of faux Arabic brass music, behind them are two camel riders doing tricks and then more Arabic harems and Lawrence of Arabia types, then horses, then a Cleopatra on a giant float. This parade is so exotic that I feel a moment of uncomfortableness with its lack of PCness in terms of racial stereotyping and cruelty to animals. But no one else here feels it, clearly, and I feel churlish for doing so. I force myself to be less English and to see it in its context and I am instantly mesmorised as if a child, the passion in the music and the choreography, the scale and ecstasy of the walkers as they finish just in front of me carries me to the point of feeling that this is the best procession I have ever seen ever!
I find the WTP boys at ‘their’ bar and after a few drinks and chat with the bar owner and his son we head back to the ‘best’ Fallas to watch it burn. We get a good position at the front. As I look up I can’t imagine how they will get it to burn in a way that will be remotely safe. Where we are, the pavement between the barrier and houses is all the space there is. We stand and watch for two hours, as crew from Ricardo Cabeller set, fuse and wire strings of bangers, fountains and gerbs. Whilst I am relieved at the general lack of liability focused Health and safety rules, and the sense that people are responsible and will work it out, I am disconcerted by some of the practice such as the scaffolders who jump with bravado up onto poles above our heads and remove flags and poles with jack hammers. The closeness of the fireworks is, whilst slightly alarming, very exciting. The pyrotechs climb inside the structure and punch at holes at various points to allow air flow. An hour and a half late, the burn begins with fireworks going off, sparks flying into the crowd, though no one gets hurt or panics.
When the Fallas starts to burn, the heat is immense and instinctively we all rush back, only there is no where to rush as the crowd is thick and up against the wall. I put my scarf over my head and am torn between desperately wanting to look at the spectacular of the burning structure and having to turn away from the heat. The blaze quietens and the neat little fire engine that had backed up before it started now runs hoses that hose down the trees around the burn. Spectacularly, the fire drops safely to huge cheers as each large piece falls.
When it is all done, I follow the WTP boys who climb through the barrier to chat with pyrotechs from Canada and we all have our photo taken with the Fallas queen and scavenge the remains of the bonfire for prizes. We find an Aztec chiefs eye and a toe of the reclining woman, I am offered a frieze of a lizard. I am nervous about us getting caught wondering around in the flaming debris, but the Bomberros, (firemen) are not in the least bit worried, not even about the children who are also scavenging the ashes for treasures.
We went back to the bar for a lock in and the WTP boys cooked up a plan to do a social drink moment next year for all the fireworkers and pyrotechs who come from all over the world to this festival.
Overall, I am deeply affected by this festival, the generosity of the city and its people. I feel that Valencia embraces culture in all its forms, with its intensely modern cultural palaces where people of all ages do want to be, the spectacular range of architecture, the flamenco, the bull fights, the tomato fling they have in the summer, and mostly for me, Las Fallas, as a community festival that has managed to remain integrally local whilst inviting thousands to take part.
I have never wanted an ‘I heart anything’ T shirt, but if saw an ‘I heart Valencia’ T shirt right now, I would buy it and wear it with pride, though it would have to be a vest as T shirts really don’t suit me.