Valencia's Fallas 2014, Another Hangover Post

This was my first year Instagramming Fallas, an interesting
challenge. This picture was my most popular post.Another year, another Fallas hangover post. (The hangover was a little longer this year, thus a later post.) This entry serves as my visual recap of the last few weeks here in Valencia, the madness and glory that is was Fallas 2014. I've said it before, but I'll say it again. I've done four of these now, and yet with each Fallas I learn something new, and experience something different. There is so much going on, and what's more Fallas evolves over time, such that I expect to spend a lifetime discovering new angles on and dimensions to Valencia's famous spring festival. 
Fallas Behind the Scenes:This year I did something different. I've long believed this festival doesn't get the appreciation it deserves in terms of its creativity, totality, craftsmanship, and all-around coolness. I've also wanted an excuse to peal back the surface of the mid-March festival fun, and peer a little deeper into the world behind Fallas. So I took on the role of journalist and cultural writer, and arranged to interview people who worked in the various industries that literally put this festival together: the falleros themselves, indumentaria (dress-makers), pirotecnia (fireworks specialists), and artistas falleros (falla artists). (On Instagram I even created a special hashtag, #Fallasbehindthescenes, for my photo posts related specifically to that work.) The product of this investigation was a series of articles and photo spreads that I highly recommend you check out:
1) Xaq Frohlich, "City on Fire" Roads & Kingdoms (12 March 2014) - Discussion of the three main industries behind Fallas and interviews with representatives from each: indumentariapirotecnia, and artistas falleros. 2) Zach Frohlich, "Falla del Ayuntamiento" InVLC (March 2014), pp. 10-17. - Interview with Manolo García, carpenter artístico who did this year's Ayuntamiento Moses falla and Nou Campanar Menina falla 3) Not Hemingway's Spain monthly photo-spread for 24/7 Valencia - March 2014: "Fallas Photos" + "Fallas in Valencia" 4) March 2014: Zach Frohlich, "Valencia's Fallas" Travel Chronicles (March 2014 Issue on "Fiesta") - This is a syndication of my old 2012 Fallas post, but redone in a very classy, professional way.
This is, so far, the most professional thing I've written on Fallas,
and I'm proud of it. If you've enjoyed the blog,
I encourage you to give this a read.
I got a lot of additional material from my research that didn't make it into print, so I hope to keep publishing more about this whole universe behind the scenes for Fallas. (Maybe I'll even eventually write a book.) You can check out my new "Publications" page here, from time to time, to see the things I write for the world beyond this blog.

Another thing I did that was way overdue was to take an old post I used as a reference on Valencia and Fallas, and make a separate, permanent page. So for your future reference on all things Valencia and Fallas, I direct you to this page: "Valencia and Fallas in a Nutshell". This year I added some new bells and whistles, in particular a new map that you can download when visiting Valencia during Fallas, to know where the main fallas are. (I plan to update it each year.)

A map of the 2014 Special Section Fallas entries, where to find them.DOWNLOAD A PRINTABLE MAP HERE
But enough about me, let's get down to Fallas 2014...

A Baker's Dozen:This year I set out with the goal to see all the Sección Especial fallas, and I failed. (I saw 10 out of 12!) Man, are there a lot of things to do in Fallas! The Falla Malvarrosa has become my white whale. I don't know if I'm ever going to manage to see it. I also somehow managed to miss one of my usual favorites, Falla Almirante-Cardaso. Others that I wish I had seen, whose "bocetos" (sketches) looked cool: Maestro Gozalbo, Ciscar-Burriana, Grabador Esteve-Cirilo Amoros, Quart-Extramuros... and more. 

Still, I did pretty well making the rounds, seeing most of the big fallas and a bunch of other classics or up-in-coming stars. I list my favorite 2014 fallas here, in no particular order. Most are the usual suspects, the must-see fallas that everyone was talking about this year...
(1) Ayuntamiento

(2) Nou Campanar

(3) El Pilar – Winner of Sección Especial

(4) Sueca

(5) L'Antiga Campanar

(6) Cuba-Literato Azorín

(7) Na Jordana

(8) Exposición

(9) La Merced[Not sección especial, but one of my favorites this year]

(10) Convento-Jerusalén

(11) Regne de Valencia

(12) Mercado

(13) [Insert your local falla here]… For me, Trinitat!

Other Important Fallas Festival Elements:
• The lights displays... 
Winner: Sueca-Literato Azorín

Should have won?: Cuba-Literato Azorín

Personally, I like a beautiful light tunnel, so for me this year I thought Cuba's light display was more beautiful than Sueca's, though in our group opinion was divided.

The light chandelier was cool!

• The 2014 "ninot indultat"... by popular demand...

I'm pleased to say that this was the ninot I voted for at the Exposició del Ninots. I'm very happy to know that it will live a long, comfortable, flame-free life in the Fallas Museum.

• Political commentary...Once again the big question was how far fallas would go in their political critiques. It's an interesting question these days, given the balance between falleros' desire to keep Fallas clean for a visiting tourist public, and Valencians' genuine frustration and anger over the extended economic crisis, which among other things has hurt their favorite festival. You still had the regulars appearing as ninots. Here's just a small sampling...

Very cool, old-school falla in El Carmen
While the Na Jordana falla had less of an impact overall visually,
it won lots of praise for its sharp play on words and incisive political
commentary on Spain's banks. The theme this year: "Tirant lo banc"
(transl: Tossing the banks), a play on the classic Valencian
novel, "Tirant lo blanch".
"Don Dinero" controlling the marionette bankers in the Convento-Jerusalén falla
Rajoy, dressed only in the envelops his party used to illegally enrich themselves with
Spain's King with bionic legs. The king has had numerous surgeries this year
and yet refuses to retire and make way for new leadership.

• It's the little things that count...
Cats, cats, cats!Examining the details in each falla is the real joy and heart of falla-trekking, the zooming in on and deciphering the curious, elegant, odd, frightening, or bizarre ninots scattered throughout a falla. I had the impression that this year's fallas were a little less baroque than other years, a sign of the economic crisis and smaller budgets. However, there was still too much for the eye to take in, in terms of dozens and dozens of detailed ninots, in dozens and dozens (really hundreds and hundreds) of fallas. You can pick a theme and compare it across fallas. (Chic Soufflé wrote another nice post on the cats that appear in different fallas this year.) Or you can simply admire the random, individually beautiful ninot that stands out. Here are some of my favorite pics from this year...
Elegant quetzal in the Sueca falla
Cute scene in the Convento-Jerusalén falla infantil
An Einstein ninot! Brilliant!
I don't usually pay the entrance fees that some fallas charge to people who want to look at the falla up close. But this year I made an exception for the Nou Campanar Meninas falla, for two reasons. First, half the proceeds of tickets went to a cancer organization, which I think is noble of them. And second, inside the giant Menina's skirt was a hidden exhibit with dozens of miniature meninas each made by a different falla artist student. It was really interesting, and I am now considering making a point of paying the entrance to one or two fallas every year.

This paella menina was made of rice. Doesn't get more Valencian than this!

Other odds and ends...It is difficult to compress into this single blog entry the myriad of other things that pop up here and there in Valencia during Fallas. Here are a couple of pictures of other common distractions one can find here during the festival...

In the last couple of years, this ferris wheel, reputed to be the largest mobile one in Europe,
has become a new fixture of Fallas. I didn't get a chance to go up in it, but I bet the views are great!
A "globotà", a.k.a. balloon mascletà for kids. It is things like this that,
for me, best bring home the realization that Fallas is a total cultural experience
for Valencians. That teachers and parents would think up something
as cute and original as a balloon-popping fest for the little falleros
shows how deep this festival runs.

The look on this kid's face at the candy stand. Priceless!
(Not shown: the look on my face at the candy stand. Priceless!)
Little trinkets I bought this year at the falla markets, to remember Fallas 2014!

Falleros/falleras... La Ofrenda... These are the real protagonists of Fallas. This year, while watching the many, many falleros parading to the Plaza de la Virgen for La Ofrenda, I was particularly struck by how so many unique personal stories all converge together in Fallas. Thousands of stories that together make up this magnificent festival. I truly hope UNESCO takes this into consideration when it assesses Spain's bid to make Fallas a Intangible Cultural Heritage. So let's post some more photos, of falleras...

Little fallerita! Cute!
Caught the fallera mayor infantil getting into her getaway car after one of the mascletàs

Plaza de la Virgen in the evening at the end of the Ofrenda, covered in flowers

This year I wanted to round out my study of Fallas by seeing a few events that I hadn't yet been to, namely the Macro Despertà, La Cridà, and the Cabalgata del Fuego. I had interviewed Jose Crespo, a pirotécnico and owner of Pirotecnia Valenciana, so I was particularly sensitive to the work these guys do behind the scenes to create one of Fallas's most magnificent elements – Valencian fireworks.

The result is that Fallas 2014 for me is the year of fireworks. I saw some incredible feats of wonder from fire and gunpowder. Valencians truly are pyromaniacs, but they do it with class!
• The Macro Despertà... a parade of firecrackers...I made one mistake: I didn't bring a bandana to cover my mouth. The result was that I inhaled a lot of smoke at the macro despertà. But I highly recommend this parade of thousands of falleros tossing petardos (firecrackers). It's incredible, and a bit surreal.

• The Cridà... towers lit up with fire and light...
The opening ceremony of Fallas was alright, worth it above all just to see the Torres de Serranos bathed in colorful lights and then watch fireworks shoot out of it.

Mascletàs... a symphony of gunpowder...Pim, pam, pum! Awesomeness! Never any disappointments with the mascletàs. There is a reason locals call them "a symphony of gunpowder". The point and counterpoint of explosions is both elegant and deafening. I saw more mascletàs this year than ever before, a total of seven! Each one was incredible, and here I share some highlights...

Pirotecnia Valenciana setting up a mascletà
The distinctive Aerial mascletà on the afternoon of March 1st over Alameda.
Moses had to endure numerous mascletàs in the last week of Fallas

Fireworks specialist in the mascletà cage, putting the final touches on a mascletà
Colored smoke like this is a new element in mascletàs,
and I think the pirotecnia companiesare playing with it more and more.

The biggest new experience for me was that I saw my first mascletà from a balcony!!!! It was awesome! (How will I ever go back?) Here's a heavily reduced pixelated the video I took of it. (You will notice a moment in the video when I freak out from the sound, and start to hide behind the window frame. It was intense!):

• Cabalgata del Fuego... playing with fire...
I wasn't sure what to expect with this fairly recent addition to Fallas: a small Carnaval-style parade of fire-demons and firecrackers on the last day of Fallas. Again, much like the Cridà, what made this worth it was the fireworks show at the end, getting to see them fire out of the Puerta del Mar. (The fire demons were also pretty fun, baptizing the crowd in flame.)

The fallera mayor makes an appearance at the Cabalgata del Fuego

I was a little worried my camera might get scorched by these guys!

Weird giant fire beetle.
Beautiful metal and fire dragon.

Castillos... nights of fire in the sky...
This year firework shows did not disappoint!!! I saw the March 16th and the March 18th Nit del Foc. This was my first unobstructed, complete Nit Del Foc. (Three times I've tried before, and three times I've failed: 1st time late because of dinner, the second time a partial view because of arriving at the last minute with crowds, and the third time I passed out in the middle of it!) I never cease to be amazed by the way Valencians play with multiple levels of action in their fireworks shows. (Americans, take note.) There is an interplay of explosions above, in the middle, and below, that is dazzling. This year's Nit del Foc show might be the most elegant, beautiful fireworks I've seen in my life.

La cremà, or what money looks like when you burn it...
This year I chose to watch the Ayuntamiento Falla cremà. I had interviewed the artist who built it, Manolo García, and had even been inside the wooden structure for Moses, when Manolo invited me to check it out in his workshop. So it seemed fitting to be there when they burned it.

Inside Manolo García's fallas workshop
Beautiful wooden structure interior of the giant Moses falla for the Ayuntamiento, itself a work of abstract art
Me inside the base of Moses! I was very excited and surprised when
Manolo invited me to go in. And he's a joker, because at one point he closed and sealed the door
behind me. Though I joked that I was fine staying there until the cremà.
This year la cremà took on a new feeling for me. After a month of covering fallas, interviewing, reading, and writing about it, I really was ready to watch it burn. So I think I'm beginning to understand why the falleros need this. It really is cathartic, the turning of the page and close of chapter. I woke up March 20th happy that Fallas 2014 was behind me. Ready for the start of Valencia's new year!

Lessons Learned:As I said two years ago, each year I learn something new. I made a list there of "lessons learned", worth a glance for any of you Fallas newbies. Here I share a few more insights I've picked up this year...
1) Don't try to see everything. Just come back again. There really is too much to see in just four days. Heck, this year I cheated and saw a lot of things pre-Plantà. Your best bet is simply to plan to return to Fallas another year, and make a list of top choices for this one. This year my focus was on the fireworks elements. I think next year I'm going to focus on the fallero community... maybe the dresses, the street parties, who knows! But, trust me, you can't see it all. So relax and try and take in as much as you can.
2) Beware of crazy outsiders who have no sense of etiquette with firecrackers. No, really. Have you ever noticed how it is almost never the falleros causing trouble with petardos?!? It's sad, but this kind of reckless behavior is what creates Fallas-haters here. If you're a crazy outsider reading this, please take note: don't ruin everyone else's party. Be respectful. Be safe.
Beware of these crazed lunatics during Fallas, tossing petardos every which way!
3) If you can see an event with a Fallas first-timer, do it! This year various friends visited, some from Madrid, others from the States. Needless to say, I could not resist going with them to their first mascletàs. There is no look quite like the expression of disbelief, fear intermingled with childish excitement, on the face of a mascletà first-timer in the final 30 seconds of terremoto. It's a rush! I also never get tired of hearing Americans agree that 4th of July fireworks shows got nothing on Valencia's Nit del Foc. Sorry patriotic Americans, but it's an indisputable fact.

And that's it. "It's over. Go home." Come back next year. That's right, on March 20th everyone goes back to work and doesn't look back much. No lingering, no wistfulness. I used to think the cremà burning on the 19th was the end of Fallas, but not anymore. Now I know it's the start of next year's Fallas. Like the mythical phoenix, Fallas 2015 is born from the ashes of Fallas 2014. So there's no need to be sad about it. It'll be back again next year. Hopefully you will, too!

Por qué quemamos las fallas? Why do we burn fallas?
Answer: because we can't start on next year's Fallas until we do!