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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Las Fallas - The Unsung Heroes!

The Cleaners

Fallas has come and gone for another year. Valencia has celebrated its greatest festival of the year in very cooperative weather and by all reports it was another great success. The time between last year and this has passed so quickly that it seemed to me that the ashes from the 2013 event had hardly time to cool before it was time to do it all over again.

It's a little strange to actually live here where fallas attracts more than 2 million people to the city from all over the world. My wife and I are becoming to be like lots of Valencians: when its Fallas we often leave the area or simply ignore the whole thing. At least we will not participate in subsequent years unless we have visitors. It tends to become too much of a good thing.

The continuing economic crisis in Spain is putting tremendous strain on festivals of this sort, but Fallas has a continuous record of celebrating the end of winter. The city becomes an incredibily noisy place from the first day of March until the 19th, which also happens to be Father's Day. Fathers around the world usually celebrate the day in a dignified manner, but not in Valencia. That is the last day of fallas when we set fire to the monuments, most of which cost the equivalent of building an average size house. We blow them up and burn them down to get rid of them, which is kind of a shame, but what else should we do with them? Our excuse for making so much noise is to chase away the old man of winter. By March 31st it usually does work, so we keep doing it.

There are many players who are crucial to Las Fallas being what it is. Most central are the artisans who design and build the monuments. For them this is a full time career, and as soon as this year's fallas have concluded they begin work on next year's. There are the Falleras, the ladies who dress in those terribly expensive dresses and their men, and the clubs who support them; and the bands who provide the marching music, the police and especially the firemen, and everybody else who make a contribution. We get to see them and to interact with them, but I want to focus on a group of hard working people who are all but invisible, but without them the difference would be intolerable.

During fallas some 650 monuments are erected and then burnt, at which time the spectators walk away without so much as a backwards glance. If they did look back they would see the advance of the cleaning brigades who move onto the smoking mass and within minutes the entire mess is cleared away so that others passing by have no evidence that anything at all had happened. At the height of the burnings the overhead view of Valencia City is that of a great disaster in progress. By the time the sun rises over the city all is clean and quiet once again. To watch the cleaning process in action is a wonderful spectacle, equal in my opinion to all the other action but I couldn't even find one mention of the wonderful work that is done by these very dedicated people.

It's a shame that mayor Rita Barberá doesn't read my blog because if she did I could appeal directly to her to correct this oversight by shedding some well deserved light on the subject. Of course, for this to happen I would have to write in Valenciano Spanish, which is the language of choice for the Mayor.

Perhaps that might happen one day.

Copyright (c) 2014  Eugene Carmichael