We enjoyed the Fallas so much in 2009 that we went back to Valencia the following year for another hit. This time round, no car, no satnav, no problem: first Easyjet, then metro to the centre of town, then a short walk to our hotel just off the Plaça del Ayuntamiento. Judging was due to take place the following morning and we expected to find people scurrying about, frantically adding the last touches to their creations. But this is Spain… It was very much ‘work in progress … all in good time’. Marquees had been set up next to the (unfinished) Fallas and we could hear the sounds of eating, drinking and general merriment coming from inside.
And in the morning, there they all were: effigies of the rich, the famous, the important, the not so important. Comedy villains perpetrated vile acts with knowing grins; scantily clad damsels cavorted gracefully; buxom matrons (soundlessly) berated their weedy put-upon husbands; tiny tots (soundlessly) bawled – all in papier mâché. Street corners, squares, road intersections were taken over by assemblages of the incongruous, the ridiculous, the salacious and the mundane. Everything that titillates was on display; but here also was social comment in the raw. Recurrent themes this year – in no particular order – were dragons, dog poo, women’s breasts, Father Christmas and footballers – as well as the usual toilet humour, debauchery, scandals and political intrigue, sex, money … everything that makes the Fallas what they are.
Throughout the day and until late in the evening a ribbon of music and flowers threaded its way through the city streets as falleros and falleras made their way to the Plaça de la Verge to embellish the floral skirts of a huge statue of Virgin and Child.
As darkness fell, many streets became arched and vaulted cathedrals of coloured lights. We wandered through dazzling arcades of impossible complexity, beneath kaleidoscopic swirls of every imaginable hue. Fairyland made real.
And punctuating it all were the random crackles and cracks of fireworks.
We found it surprisingly difficult to find places to have lunch at in Valencia, as lots of restaurants, particularly those outside the main centre, seemed to be closed at midday. On one occasion it was well on into the afternoon when we eventually found somewhere open, so we decided on a light lunch, otherwise we wouldn’t want anything in the evening. Just a few starters … or tapas. When in Spain etc …
The menu was in Spanish – and only Spanish. A beaming waiter came over, quickly realised our limitations with the language and asked if we’d like him to explain things in French. Or even English. His explanations turned out to be Spanish spoken a little more slowly, with lots of gesticulations and even more smiles, but somehow we got the gist. We decided to share some spicy beans and potatoes – and were persuaded to have some mussels and venus clams as well. Venus clams are apparently a Valencian speciality and the best ones are, naturally, to be found in Valencian waters. Our smooth-talking waiter was eloquent with smiles and gestures, his pencil busy on his order pad – and I’m sure I saw a cartoon ‘diamond’ flash from his teeth as he leaned in for the kill.
The beans and potatoes would in fact have been sufficient, but we acquitted ourselves with dignity with the seafood before deciding we really would burst if another mouthful passed our lips … and those clams were delicious.
I went off to the loo – and came back to find that our plates had been cleared and our places set with more knives and forks. Tony explained that a waitress had reset the table, rather than our helpful waiter; she obviously hadn’t realised that we wouldn’t be having anything more and Tony’s Spanish wasn’t up to telling her.
A few moments later, much to our appalled surprise, a plate of steak was put in front of us. We called our waiter over to say there must have been some mistake. He consulted his notepad … No – no mistake: we’d ordered steak. How did that happen? How on earth could we have ordered steak? Our waiter smiled encouragingly – while at the same time managing to look almost crestfallen. We hadn’t the heart to refuse.
We struggled; we somehow made a slight dent in the steak; and then we waddled off to see more Fallas.
We didn’t see all 750 of the Fallas – although with all the walking we did, it certainly felt like it. We didn’t see the nightly fireworks in the Turia Gardens – at 2 am, bed seemed the more attractive option. We didn’t see the Fire Parade – we were waiting in the wrong street (wondering where everyone else was) and by the time we’d realised our mistake and got ourselves to the right place, the crowds were 20 deep on the pavement. It took us two attempts to see the mascletà – the 2 pm grand fireworks: not so much a firework display as a co-ordinated noise and smoke event. And the earth really does move. The first time it was so crowded we hadn’t a hope of even getting into the Plaça del Ayuntamiento; the second time we had the foresight to have lunch at one of the restaurants in the square so had a bit of an advantage but still got crushed in the crowds.
We didn’t see the burning of the biggest Falla on the last night either. We set out from our hotel at midnight. Plenty of time to walk the 100 yards or so to the main square for the crèma and fireworks at 1:30 am – or so we thought. But again we couldn’t even get into the square. We squeezed ourselves into the fringes of the crowd, craning our necks as best we could. More and more people wriggled their way in but after several minutes – and still a long while before anything was due to take place – some people near us started getting restive, becoming a little impatient, even a little aggressive … People were being jostled. Tony had his pocket felt. (There was nothing in it). Voices were raised. There was a bit of pushing and shoving – and it didn’t seem especially good-natured. And so we made our way back to the hotel – and bed.
There’s always next year …