The Fallas of San Jose

It was my idea to take Carruthers to Spain. Brilliant idea, I thought. Carruthers can almost always be relied on to get us from here to there without getting us lost or having an argument or losing her cool. You don’t get SatNavs with Attitude …yet. (Carruthers? Well, you wouldn’t want any old TomTom, Dick or Harry telling you where to go, would you? )

I’d also had the idea of booking a centrally located hotel in Valencia so we’d be right in the middle of all the action. Our hotel was just off the main square by the Ayuntiamento.  Carruthers would steer us through the maze of streets in the old town. No problem. Another brilliant idea.

From the apartment we were staying at in Alicante to central Valencia took us 2 hours.  It took another 2 hours from central Valencia to … well, central Valencia.  All the roads Carruthers suggested to get us to our hotel were comprehensively barricaded by the police.  Some policemen were helpful.  One even drew a route for us on our street map, although he couldn’t guarantee we wouldn’t meet further barricades…  Inevitably, we did.  Carruthers recalculated and recalculated, never once becoming impatient or raising her voice.  All in vain.  So we pulled the plug, threw her in the glove compartment and turned wherever we could – until we reached a cul-de-sac in the form of a particularly obdurate policeman who faced away from our pleas.

We parked and walked.  Walking turned out to be not much easier than driving had been.  Throngs of people were heading towards the Plaça del Ayuntamiento for the mascletà – ten minutes of fire-crackers – that were due to go off two hours later.  We wriggled, squeezed, pushed, back-tracked, looped and double-looped – and eventually collapsed in a heap in the hotel foyer wondering what on earth had possessed us to come.

The Fallas, that’s what: towering whimsical confections, each with a loaded message.  Whatever is rocking the neighbourhood, the city, the country or the world is ripe for caricature – and to be put on a pedestal for everyone to share the joke.  And believe me, everyone was there to share the joke.  The Fallas occupied road intersections, side-streets, whole squares; they were all over the place, all over the city: clusters of enormous, gravity-defying, fantastic effigies of anything and anyone from Donald Duck to Barack Obama.  There’s debauchery and political intrigue, lascivious old men ogling voluptuous bosoms, nubile maidens cavorting gracefully, grumpy mermaids, footballers, toilets with tongues…  Nothing is sacred.  All your dreams and nightmares are brought to life: in papier-mâché.

Global warming was a theme for many of this year’s [2009] creations. The explanations next to them – written in verse in Valenciano-Catalan but crystal clear for all that: we’re killing the planet. Dogs queued up to pee at the last tree – the same tree that housed the last remaining bird’s nest; a polar bear and penguins, with scant regard for geography, teetered on the last melting fragment of an ice floe; hippos, elephants, giraffes and lemurs clutched their suitcases as they arrived at ‘Hotel Biopark’.


Church bells rang.  Townsfolk, five abreast and wearing traditional brocades and lace, snaked through the city in a never-ending procession to the Plaça de la Virgen, everyone bearing flowers to embellish the skirts of a huge statue of the Virgen in front of the basilica.  Brass bands strutted their stuff and rivalled each other’s musical flourishes.  There were whole streets filled with coloured lights. Pranksters – of all ages from 3 to 93 – chucked bangers in the streets: fusillades of crackles and cracks built to rolling thunderclaps – or very occasionally ended in a disappointing phhht.  Volleys of fireworks in the night woke the neighbourhoods – if indeed they’d even considered going to bed.  Valencia was electric with noise and spectacle.  Did I mention the crowds?

On the final night of the festival, midnight extravaganzas of flames and rockets all over the city consumed the beautiful, the humorous, the grotesque; the Fallas were reduced to ashes.

The next morning it was as though they had never been. Streets had been scrubbed clean.  Traffic flowed.  The city returned to normal.

We reinstated Carruthers on the windscreen and left town without a hiccup.



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