Sunday, March 22, 2009

Las Fallas, Day 2 - Burn, baby, burn!

After a few precious hours of sleep, we hit the streets, looking at the many floats across town and searching for breakfast (which was pretty much over now that it was noon!). I managed to find a vendor selling "bunoles de calabaza", a very traditional pumpkin fritter covered with sugar, which helped me temper my stomach from the night before. We then made our way back to the Ayunamiento to see the mascleta again - but this time up close. We got there early and positioned ourselves about a block away from the plaza so as not to go completely deaf from the explosions. This time the mascleta delivered and we could feel the shock waves from the powerful explosions and we all roared in approval. Satisfied, we went out in search for lunch and took a nice leisurely 3 hours. We then all went down to the Plaza de la Virgen to see the flower offerings, which were brought by representatives from each neighborhood to adorn a giant wooden statue of the virgen mary with child looking down somewhat sadly onto the plaza. We stopped to look at a few more floats before heading back to the hotel for a final "descanso" (rest) before the big finale - la crema, or the burning of the floats - signifying the end of Las Fallas for another year. At about 11 pm, we headed back to Juanjo's falla, where there was already a huge crowd lined up. The main intersection was completely blocked off by a metal fence on all four sides of the street, so the crowds could not get in to close. But before we knew it, Juanjo was waving us in and we found ourselves right in the middle of the intersection with front row views of the falla, which was now heavily laden with explosive fireworks. We were all looking at each other in shock - how did we get so lucky? Only the workers and their families were supposed to be on this side of the fence, but somehow, there we were. Suzanne asked Juanjo if he was sad to think that his piece of art would be burned and his answer was perfect; "when you cook a beautiful meal, are you sad to see people eat it? The burning is simply the final step in the process..." The floats started burning across the city at midnight but the larger ones were saved for last. Nothing happened for about an hour until suddenly there was a roar from the crowd behind the fence and a fire truck slowly backed up to take position next to the float. The crew of firemen, or bomberos, laid out their hoses and spread out along the intersection. Amazingly, we were still standing only 10 meters from the float and nobody seemed to pay much attention to us. But we heeded the advice of others and started to move back, as apparently these suckers can get pretty hot. Then the fallera (young girl representing this float for the neighborhood) stepped up and was given a ceremonial lighter to light the first firework. There were a short series of bursts as fireworks shot into the air in increasing numbers. Soon the very top of the float caught fire and within seconds, the whole thing lit up. The bomberos started hosing down the trees and buildings along the intersection as the heat began to get intense. We kept walking backward away from what was now a huge tower of fire. Finally, the structure burned through and collapsed and people started inching closer again to see the last remains of the float burn to the ground. It was amazing to think that a year's worth of work was gone in a matter of minutes - by choice! Fortunately, a small section of Juanjo's creation was selected to be displayed at the Fallas museum (the pope piece), so all was not lost forever. It was truly an amazing spectacle. As the crowds dispersed, we could see the cleanup crews already working away - within a few hours, all traces of 700 burnt floats would be completely removed and the town would be back to normal, as if nothing had transpired over the past nights and weeks. We laughed to think about what it would take to pull something of this scale off in the United States. Perhaps Burning Man comes close - but try doing it with 700 floats in a major metropolitan city! Event planners could certainly learn a thing or two from the Spanish! Scott and I joked that the whole process represented a sort of "organized chaos". It was crazy and insane, but somehow everything ran smoothly, people remained nonchalant and civilized and it never felt out of control or dangerous. Well, except for those "borrachos"...."viva Espana"! We will forever be grateful to Vincent and his wife Nancy, and Scott and Dee, and all the new friends we met over this whirlwind 40 hours who helped make this an experience we will never forget.

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