Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Night of Fire

This is a repost of a previous  trip. Just to get my blog going.

The event does happen annualy on March 15th. So read on and see how you can attend the
Hottest Party in Spain.

The Night of Fire
Las Fallas
Valencia Spain

Fires are burning all over the city. I cannot glimpse an intersection that is not ablaze.

Bombaderos , firemen dressed in black turnout, stand by just waiting with tanker trucks full of water, and portable pumps. I inhale the acrid smoke with gusto, awakening the latent pyromaniac within. My heart races as I turn left and head down Calle De Trafalgar. An elaborate archway of carnival lights, designed like the onion tops of a Russian Orthodox Church, frames the narrow entrance to Falla Parotet. The ninot at the end is smaller than most, but it has not been set afire. I push my way assertively through the crowd.

I want a front row seat. I want to feel the burn.

I am in La Nit del Foc - the night of fire.

An unseen hand tosses a burning carton at the base of the twenty-foot high purple-clad mermaid. The pack cheers and jostles forward. It is only minutes before the whole statue is in flames. The inferno makes my face feel sun burnt as I stare into the fluorescent orange serpent. It engulfs her blonde hair, revealing a timber skeleton. She bends forward, and then summarily crashes to the ground. The nearest spectators flinch from the sparking embers. With a whoosh, the collapse sends its dragon breath, a foehn wind,rushing past me down the alleyways. The crowd stays late, watching as the fire withers into embers, the dark of the night sneaks in and covers what once was a roaring inferno.

I arrived in Valencia, Spain the day before hoping to get to Plaza del Ayuntamiento by 2:00 p.m. when the daily mascletas are lit. At the bullring, Plaza de Toros de Valencia, I join the mob. It carries me along shoulder-to-shoulder like a molecule in the ocean. Seemingly without my feet touching the ground, I am swept along by this human wave moving towards the plaza. I hear the pops, then the echo and rumble of large firecrackers, mascletas. I am still six blocks away. Hundreds detonate at once, and then silence. I am too late.

The press of flesh is already dispersing. I escape the last of the horde on the next side street past the Estació del Nord. In front of the Farmacia, a rotund bride carrying off a drunken, skinny husband faces me. Cupid makes sure there is no mistake. It is a silly sight. They are here for Las Fallas, a five day festival in honor of St. Joseph. Celebrated each March 15th , paper-mache ninots like the bride and groom are sacrificed at the end of the week in a blaze called cremà.

As I dive further off the main plaza, I discover the Casals faller, the individual neighborhoods. Each one creates their own paper-mache effigies; some traditional, some irreverent, and some politically satirical. All compete for best-in-show and notoriety.

In one, a mutt mounts a coiffed poodle from behind in a strict interpretation of screw-the-pooch. The mixed-breed has its eyes crossed and tongue hanging out in an obvious grimace of pleasure.

Another tableau depicts a gay couple holding hands, getting confirmed in matrimony- a slight bearded fellow with parsnip pointed nose and goatee is paired to a chubby older fellow with rouged cheeks.

Grids of twine crisscross the streets, and I realize that each casal has there own mascleta celebration. The secret to Las Fallas is spurning the main plaza and probing these little enclaves.

I return to the casal early the next day. The Caballeros FX (pyrotechnicians) deftly handle little explosive sausages, scissors in their hands and brown paper fuses in their mouth. They secure the colorfully wrapped mascletas to the grid. These “clotheslines” drape across the streets with barely enough room for cars and pedestrians to glide comfortably beneath.

Little boys, not more than eight years old kneel purposefully next to a car’s bumper arranging their own fireworks in an intricate pattern. Nervous hands holding a piece of smoldering rope spark the fuse. They take a few steps back and cover their ears.

On another corner, a lit cone erupts in a shower of sparks. A teenage girl sends a text message nonchalantly nearby. A little three year old girl in an all pink outfit, including stockinged legs, stands not six feet away from the incendiary display.

The steeple bell marks two o’clock and in seconds the ritual begins. At first, just a couple of mortars spew skyward, and then the strings of mascletas join in. As loud as cannons, these are no ordinary firecrackers. A smattering at first and then in a flash, hundreds were exploding at a time. I feel the percussion in my chest. The throng backs away- I move closer. The pungent smoke fills the constricted streets and alleyways. The pyrotechnicians but silhouettes against their ignition flares as they walk from fuse to fuse. I can no longer see the next intersection. The fuses sparkle, the paper and twine are ablaze. A deafening roar echoes between the buildings. I sit inside an erupting volcano.

The day yields to dusk as I walk along Paseo de la Alameda. The fireworks will be ignited in the main plaza, but the best viewing is from the bridges that span the dry river bed. I select a spot on Pont de Monteolivet. This bridge is near Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, an incongruous campus of ultra-modern architecture set in this medieval city. The City of Arts and Sciences houses a museum, an aquarium and a domed cinema.

What the nightly pyrotechnics lack in variety is made up for in quantity. It is an inexhaustible grand finale right from the start. The skyline lights up in crimson bursts for over an hour. The smoke eventually muddles everything to a pastel nacarat glow. The city parties long after the echo of the last titanium report fades away.

The next day I amble to the beach. The smoke has cleared, but in the air there lingers the distinct sulphurous scent of gunpowder.

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