Playboys: how Fallas is celebrated – one of the main holidays of Valencia

Throwing money down the drain can burn you out sooner or later. However, the example of the inhabitants of Valencia proves the opposite: for several centuries they have been annually burning millions of euros in ritual bonfires

One March morning, Valencia wakes up transformed. At its crossroads and squares, strange sculptural scenes grow overnight. Gigantic, above the roofs, brightly painted people, ships, towers, monsters made of foam, wood, cardboard and everything that burns, turn the familiar urban landscape into a colorful theatrical scenery. Exactly five days.

And on the evening of the fifth day, a characteristic hiss of wicks reaching for multi-colored figures is heard throughout the city. The fire, sparkling, steals up to them, in order to turn them into grandiose torches the next moment. The heat from the column of flame burns the faces of the spectators, huge shadows dance on the facades, the puppets writhe on the fire for several minutes, until they settle with a roar in a cloud of black smoke. The crowd exhales, the boys with soot-smeared faces jump from the trees and rush to the neighboring street to watch the next massacre – over the fire that has not yet been set on fire.

Players of life: how Fallas is celebrated — one of the main holidays of Valencia

Falami (Old Valencian falla  – “torch”) in the Middle Ages called ritual bonfires, lit on March 19 in honor of St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, who have always been numerous in Valencia. fire junk accumulated over the year. Medieval carpenters would have marveled at the fact that modern Fallas (Fallas), the most “fiery” holiday of the Valencians, instead of garbage, they burn an army of handmade giants worth millions of euros, which is made by a whole community of professionals in a specially built “City of Masters”. Or that two Queens lead the extravaganza, one of whom is no more than 14 years old, but she is more important than the mayor of the city, at least five days a year. And that all this is accompanied by explosions of ten tons of fireworks in front of one and a half million astonished spectators.

Granddaughter behind her grandmother

Ivan Esgri, director of the historical archive dedicated to the Fallas, was born and raised in Valencia, on San Valero street in the Russafa district. All his childhood, his social grandmother dragged him to the kazal – an impromptu club in an empty warehouse, where, over a glass of red wine, the inhabitants of the surrounding houses, in addition to prices and politics, discussed what would be so harmful and unnecessary for them to burn now.

Creative Valencians gave stuffed features of those who raised taxes, took bribes or dragged after other people's wives. Scarecrows were called, like a festive fire, fallami.

Players of life: how Fallas is celebrated — one of the main holidays of Valencia

When Ivan's grandmother moved into a new building on San Valero Street, the first thing she did was find out where the nearest fall was made. It turned out, ten minutes walk, on the Market Square. The local old-timers, however, did not want to accept strangers. The offended San Valereans had to collect a tidy sum in order to wipe their noses with the “market” ones and put up their own fall for St. Joseph's Day: five ninots (ninot  – “doll”) against three from rivals. Ivan then lost the locomotive promised by his grandmother from his pension, but he learned the lesson: falla for a Valencian is a matter of honor.

It became more and more expensive to defend honor every year. Ivan's grandmother was nostalgic for the times when, as a girl, she dragged stockings and hats from her mother in order to dress the ninots of children's fallya, on which the children collected junk from apartments. Adults, meanwhile, made figures from improvised materials.

Players of life: how Fallas is celebrated — one of the main holidays of Valencia

Ivan grew up in the mid-1970s, when the falla turned from a pair of scarecrows on the topic of the day into a complex multi-figured structure that ridiculed the global vices of society. Both fallies – one from adults, the other from children – were already created by specially trained people in the workshops, and the neighbors, united in the fallery commissions, threw off their fees. “A Valencian will not stand up for money when it comes to fallas. From an original instrument of civic satire, the falli have turned into an element of self-awareness,” explains Ivan.

The phenomenon has spread throughout the autonomous community of Valencia, in its capital alone there are 380 falière commissions of various sizes and territorial coverage: from several tens to a thousand people, from the street to the microdistrict.

Nearly one hundred thousand faliero, members of the commissions, annually by March 15 order 760 cyclopean sculptures from artisans to be burned on the 19th. It is almost impossible to see them all in five days. But you can get some idea at the exhibition. Ivan parks at the pavilion with the inscription Ninot-2019, in front of which there is a queue.

“Keep your ticket until the exit, you can vote on it!” – instructs the cashier at the entrance. Each commission sent to the exhibition one fragment or ninota from a child's and an adult falla, so that the townspeople and guests of the capital would choose the two best: they would not be burned, but preserved for posterity.

Visitors leisurely inspect the numbered ninots. 751st, a human-sized electric plug with a bag of money, hints at the greed of energy distributors; 334th, a dinosaur with a briefcase “Spanish Prehistoric Party”, from which banknotes are pouring out – that corruption is in the blood of Spanish politicians; 112th, fish swimming above the net, where tin cans, plastic bottles and other garbage are tangled – on the situation with coastal waters in the port of Valencia.

Ivan, out of habit, votes for the Ninots from San Valero, although he has not lived on this street for a long time. I am for an “adult” electric plug and a “children's” dog Laika in a helmet with the inscription “USSR”. I don't know what the Fallas are making fun of, but I want Laika to survive.

Life-burners: how Fallas is celebrated — one of the main holidays of Valencia

“From the point of view of common sense, this is absurd. Firstly, we vote to keep what we wanted to get rid of, and secondly, I almost certainly know which ninot will win,” Ivan confidently leads me to one of the figures in the “Special” category, read  — the most high-budget.

The scene depicts a grandmother with her granddaughter on her lap and a cat at her feet. The old woman's every wrinkle is registered, the cat's every hair in the tail. It can be seen that the dolls are expensive. “Our audience is conservative, loves family scenes with grandmothers and grandchildren, and that they are “as if they are alive.”

The tradition of “saving” Ninoty began in 1934, and 40 years later, an abandoned monastery was given over to an overgrown collection&nbsp ;- now it is the City Falier Museum. From the 1990s to this day, touching duets of grandmothers with grandchildren have been the total leaders of the museum collection.

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Vanity Fair

In the souvenir shop of the museum there are cups, T-shirts, pencil cases with inscriptions: “Behind every real faliero there is a grandmother” or “Size matters”. In the sense that the larger the sculpture, the more chances it has to win the general competition – now for the best fall, which will be burned, but the last. For gambling Valencians, the ability to outdo a neighbor is more important than common sense.

Players of life: how Fallas is celebrated — one of the main holidays of Valencia

In fairness, all fallas compete in their “weight”: it is stupid to compare a sculpture with a budget of five thousand euros and one hundred. The winners in each category (there are nine in total) are determined not by the voice of the people, but by a special jury. “It's funny that winning competitions doesn't bring any real benefit,” Ivan says. thousand euros from his own pocket for the largest and most expensive fall in history called “All these are fairy tales.” To portray the flaws of society in the form of fairy-tale characters, 400 ninots were made, the highest of which reached 30 meters.

Falla burned down, like all the others, in 10 minutes. But it burned in the square of the new, remote from the center district of Nou Campanar, which the Armignana construction company had just handed over on a turnkey basis. The Valencians, who came to gawk at the best fella, at the same time came to see the apartments. The apartments quickly sold out, but Armignana went bankrupt anyway, after the following year his falla took the sixth consecutive first prize – as much as 2,000 euros from the city budget.

After this story, the Central Falier Commission limited the budget of the sculptures, setting the bar at 200,000 in the “Special” category. Small commissions like San Valero do not dream of such heights. There are only 155 Sanvalerians, and not a single moneybag who wants to amuse his own vanity.

But there is always a chance to recoup in a parallel program – a competition for the title of the senior falera of Valencia. Of the two candidates (one under 14 years old, the other older) from each commission, the next special jury selects two Queens of the holiday and 12 maids of honor of the retinue.

The current winner (in 2019. — Note. Marina Sivera – from San Valero Street. She poses for a formal portrait in a casala, long since moved from a warehouse to a tidy house next door. “First of all,” Marina explains her triumph, “I have a lot of experience. Of my 24 years, all 24 I have been on the commission. Her parents enrolled her there on the day she was born and now they do not skimp on royal attributes. Three brocade dresses and three pairs of handmade shoes covered with the same fabric appeared in Marina's wardrobe.

A complete set – with a lace apron and gilded combs – costs up to 20 thousand euros. So the once modest costume of the “Valencian peasant woman”, which became the official women's outfit for Fallas, rose in price. True, three cuts of brocade are given by the mayor's office as “lifting”, everything else – themselves. Parents are shelling out: who doesn't want their daughter's portrait hung after the holidays in the Falier City Museum?!

“Secondly,” continues Marina, “in our kazal, I won a song contest, a regional dance contest and raised the most money at a charity ball for the benefit of the poor.” Marina Sivera is a future dentist. She graduated and almost got a job, but was elected to an honorary post and refused the contract with the clinic without batting an eye – this is a selfless act. “They promised to wait for me at the clinic,” Marina adds. “In Valencia, employers understand that such luck comes once in a lifetime.”

Players of life: how Fallas is celebrated — one of the main holidays of Valencia

From the outside, however, the luck is doubtful: for a whole year, the senior faliers have to travel around the region free of charge and take part in all official events with a folklore bias. And now Marina is in a hurry to one of them. With a regal gesture, she releases the artist, and kindly invites me to accompany her.

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120 decibels

The streets in the center are blocked, so the Queen and her retinue and I walk to the square in front of the city hall. Flocks of women and girls of all ages fly out from behind every turn – in similar dresses embroidered with gold and with shiny combs in their hair. Men and boys – in short trousers, knee-length woolen stockings, satin vests. Along the way, they huddle together in smart bunches under the flags of their Falière commissions.

1/5 Creative Valencians gave stuffed features of those who raised taxes, took bribes or dragged after other people's wives

Every day from March 1 to March 19 at exactly 14 :00 one of the most popular ceremonies of the festive marathon begins: the pyrotechnic show mascletá (masclet   – a particularly loud type of firecrackers). It is held in a fenced area in the middle of the square, inside which tracks (traca) & nbsp; are stretched parallel to the ground – garlands of firecrackers tied with wicks, stuffed with 120 kilograms of gunpowder in total. Garlands up to 500 meters long cross, converge and diverge, drawing an intricate pattern and defining a rhythmic pattern.

The show is financed by the mayor's office, so its representatives occupy the best places – on the long balcony of their building. But it is not the mayor who commands the parade, but the senior faliers, in chorus: “Mr. pyrotechnician, you can begin!” The ritual phrase is drowned in the roar of shots and powder smoke. This is the main pyrotechnician of the season, Ricardo Caballer, pressed the button on the remote control, and the shells begin to explode one by one, releasing columns of multi-colored smoke into the air.

Among the jostling spectators, pushed back beyond the buffer zone of several meters, it is easy to figure out the Valencians. They don't flinch with every salvo, they don't plug their ears, they don't wince from the smoke. They enjoy the rhythm and the increasing volume, which by the seventh minute will exceed the noise of jet aircraft engines – 120 decibels. And if it doesn’t exceed, then next year the Valencians will no longer invite Caballera as the chief pyrotechnician, and he will arrange up to 400 “explosive” events during the festivities, including a mega salute on the Night of Fire (from March 17 to March 18): 18 colors and 1200 kg of gunpowder.

But Ricardo Caballer knows his stuff, so the final volleys, called an earthquake, literally shake the ground. A shriveled old woman with a wand addresses her young companion: “Juanito, son, a successful earthquake has happened today.” The old woman is clearly one of those who were upset when the masklet was forbidden to arrange outside specially designated places.

Players of life: how Fallas is celebrated — one of the main holidays of Valencia

Despite the ban, in a wasteland in a remote area, teenagers with naked torsos and with rolled up trousers they pull on a home-made track with a trajectory no less complicated than that of Caballera: bends, inversions, crosses. About a dozen boys stand at the wick, one sets it on fire, and with the roar of the first exploding firecracker, the guys run along the track, trying to overtake the gaps overtaking them.

I understand why the authorities have banned the uncontrolled entertainment of this beloved Valencian entertainment. But here, on the outskirts, in the “City of Faliero Masters”, law enforcement officers turn a blind eye to this.

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Sisyphean labor

In 1968, on the northern outskirts of Valencia, the authorities built fifty hangars, which drove into the studios of fall painters crowded in the basements. The area received the loud name “City of Faliero Masters” and subsidies for the opening of a vocational school. On this wave, workers of a unique profile united in a trade union. Today, its chairman, Chimo Esteve, complains about the crisis in the profession.

Life-burners: how Fallas is celebrated — one of the main holidays of Valencia

In Chimo's workshop, clay figures and plaster casts, which used to be used to make ninots, are piled in the corners. Casts of each detail were pasted over with papier-mâché, then the shell was removed and fastened to a frame of rods, which were previously covered with a wooden falla model. For 30 years now, a more pliable and lighter foam has been in use, but the manufacturing process has not become less laborious.

“Here, look,” Chimo leads me to a photo on the wall. It shows the falla Surreal Bullfight, designed by Salvador Dali in 1954: a huge eagle with outstretched wings holding a bull in its beak. “Before, we showed this to students as a bad example, too cumbersome, difficult to execute, and with current technologies, even this can not be done. But it's time and money. The commissions want a fall on a grand scale, like Dali's, but they don't want to pay a lot. Anyone earns on fallah, but not artists.

The National Statistical Institute calculated a couple of years ago that Fallas-related activities generate a fabulous amount of about 750 million euros, a hundred times the investment. The lion's share of income falls on the tourism sector, especially after the Fallas were declared intangible heritage of mankind in 2016.

Chimo made eight objects of this very property in a season, paid employees for light, materials, transport from the fees and went to zero. Most of his brothers in the workshop, in order not to pay at least taxes, went underground, leaving their workshops: out of fifty, only 12 work.

“Even if we all leave, the falli will remain. They will be worse than ours, but few people care. Faliero degenerated into fiesteros [from fiesta – “holiday”]”, – Chimo refers to the sad circumstance for the masters that many members of the commissions are attracted to Fallas exclusively by the entertainment side: dinners in a casala, concerts, fireworks – in a word, partying. Fiesteros pay dues, but often they don't even come to look at the finished fall. “That's for sure: money down the drain,” Chimo grumbles.

A guy enters the door without knocking. This year, contrary to the trend, he rented one of the empty workshops and made his first fall – for the City of Masters commission. In addition to the masters themselves, mainly emigrants live here, who participate in Fallas with no less enthusiasm than the native Valencians.

“For them, it’s an opportunity to integrate,” says Vicente Julián Garcia, a graduate of the only department in the world of the University of Valencia, where they study to be a fall artist, “and for me, it’s an opportunity to fulfill themselves.” Vicente is sure that it is time to change the theme and style, that it is necessary to return to environmentally friendly materials: wood, recycled paper and cardboard.

Actually, he came for advice: what kind of impregnation is better to cover the surfaces of papier-mâché ninots. Chimo, who at one time had his hand stuffed on cardboard flags, apologizes: they need to hurry. Very soon, on the night of March 14-15, a children's planta (installation of sculptures), and the next night  an adult one.

Life-burners: how Fallas are celebrated&nbsp ;— one of the main holidays in Valencia

Already from lunch on the 18th, firefighters will go to all intersections and water the facades of houses and trees from fire hoses so that they do not catch fire. Pyrotechnicians will put fuel into special holes in the sculptures so that the falla burns correctly – from top to bottom. Valencia will be “baptized by fire” and will have fun all night long, not regretting the labors and not counting the millions spent.

The next morning, only wet sidewalks and 22 times the level of lead in the air will remind you that tons of Styrofoam burned here all night. Spring will come – the Spaniards believe that it begins on March 21 – and will air the city. Those who ran away for these five days from the crowds of tourists and smoke will return home, the faliero -by show, and the craftsmen -by workshops, so that with a fresh head they can start sketching sketches for the next year.

Valencia, Spain

Players of life: how Fallas is celebrated — one of the main holidays of Valencia

Valencia City Square 134.65 km²< br>Population ~ 790,000 people
Population density 5,865 people/km²

Area of ​​Spain 505,370 km² (51st in the world)
Population 47,325,000 people (31st place)
Population density 94 people/km²

ATTRACTIONSthe cathedral where the Holy Grail, recognized by the Vatican, is kept; City of Arts and Sciences; former Silk Exchange; Falera City Museum.
TRADITIONAL DISHES Valencian paella, donuts with pumpkin filling (made only in Fallas).
TRADITIONAL DRINKS almonds), “Valencian water” (champagne with orange juice, vodka and gin).
SOUVENIRS socarrat ceramic tiles, faliero scarf, Valencian rice.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Valencia ~ 3300 km (from 4 hours 45 minutes in flight)
TIME 2 hours behind Moscow in winter, 1 hour in summer
VISA Schengen


The article was published in Vokrug Sveta No. 4, April 2019, partially updated in March 2023< /em>

Anna Papchenko

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