Weary Pilgrim - Fallas - March 29, 2013
Fallas is a festival celebrated in Valencia, Spain, originally intended to honor St. Joseph – technically it lasts five days, leading to the night of March 19th. I know this because I looked it up on Wickepedia. If you ask anybody here, they’ll tell you the simple truth – it’s a holiday which celebrates the eternal need to blow stuff up.
Here’s a hint: last year they passed a law making it illegal for anyone under the age of eight to light off firecrackers. It’s not enforced. Think Mardi Gras in a free-fire zone. Think several weeks ( they like to get a jump on things ) of blowing enough stuff up to make the bombing of Dresden look like three kids with cherry bombs. The first night I heard the last fire-cracker go off at 5:30. And we still had several days to go. There are large collections of flammable statues, call nintos, erected on 600 street corners. They’re flammable because at midnight on the 19th, they light them all off. There are prizes awarded for the best ones, and neighborhood committees spend all year designing and building them. Basically they are painted sculptures intended to make fun of just about anything they feel like. There is a 70 foot tall Trojan Horse at one end of the block, and a thirty foot mockup of the Academy Awards at the other end. I have come to believe that deep in the heart of every grown-up man, and now that I think on it, a lot of women, there is a small child that loves to blow stuff up. Give an older guy a lot of power, like, say, a standing army, and sooner or later, he’s going to tell them to go somewhere and blow stuff up. Just gotta do it. This would account for the large number of wars that this country has waged in my lifetime, most or all of which weren’t really all that necessary. Allow me to point out that, while Fallas has been celebrated in my lifetime, no Spanish army has engaged in a war. They might be on to something here. During Fallas, every day at precisely 2:00PM, between ten and twenty thousand people march into the center of the city for the Mascleta, or The Celebration of Noise, which consists of a ton of high explosives detonated continuously for exactly six minutes. You heard me right – six minutes. Then everybody smiles at everybody else, turns around, and marches home, chattering and nodding. Is St. Joseph the Patron Saint of Din? Not sure, really, but next day everybody comes right back, and they do the whole thing again. My street, along with the entire rest of this district, El Carmen, is closed to traffic for the duration. They don’t have a single parade – they have zillions of them. Crossing the streets in random patterns like schools of fish in a coral reef, never actually colliding, as colorful as the coral, but slightly louder. Each parade starts with a group of folks in traditional Spanish garb, followed by a marching band playing melodies that never seem to repeat, but are faintly familiar. Maybe it’s the sound of an eternally happy people. And the dresses and hairstyles put the runways of Paris to shame: hoop skirts and plaited hair, framed by miles of smiles. The fireworks are never-ending. There is a ‘Petardos’ store on every block – I didn’t have the nerve to peer inside the one around the corner, imagining a bunch of clerks smoking cigarettes, carefully checking the ID’s of everybody under the age of 6, handing out leaflets extolling the dangers of Claymore mines, nuclear warheads, and such, while cheerfully ringing up sales of everything not clearly stamped ‘C-4’. If you think I’m exaggerating, let me explain the situation: my sainted mother, 88 years young, was visiting during this celebration. She barricaded herself in a back room, removed her two hearing aids, and wore earplugs for the last two days. No dice. No sleep. No way. Sorry, Mom. On the last night they burned every last one of these sculptures to the ground. When we walked around the next morning, not only was the city still intact, there was absolutely no sign of their existence. It was if Santa’s elves had swept through the city with magic brooms – indeed, the entire city awoke and went about its business as if nothing had happened. I was told this transformation would take place, but it made the entire Civil War Reconstruction look like a shoddy affair. If they could redo their economy in this Bristol fashion, the Eurozone would rebound like a superball on a marble floor. Which begs the question: suppose they took all the energy and money they spend on this holiday and build, say, a bridge or two, which then they DON’T burn down? But I suppose someone else has asked this before me. And been burned at the stake for their heresy. By the same token, if we took all the money we spend on Thanksgiving and ate crackers and cheese instead, and built a bridge or two with the money we saved, where would we be? Nowhere you and I want to go. So Fallas is a holiday running on two parallel tracks through time: the need to perpetually congregate and celebrate at a predetermined time, and the need to make things go “Boom!” It is also a holiday not marked by the exchanging of gifts. Once again this brings to mind Thanksgiving, which in its own right runs on the parallel tracks of annual celebration and the need to Suspend Dietary Sense for Twenty Four Hours. Throw in the fact that we really do have an awful lot to be thankful for, and one is reminded that Holidays aren’t really about making bridges any more than they are about making sense. They’re about Making Merry. Works for me.