THE FALLAS OF VALENCIA
It was March 19. I barely had time to lift my head towards the void of the night. The stars had disappeared as if sucked into other darkness. The air had suddenly become silent. A man with eyes lit by the Tio Pepe screamed at me by the sleeve. A hot breath pushed me back. From the crowd that surrounded me, preventing me from fleeing, preventing me from seeing, arose an immense clamor. In front of me, Valence was kissing.
One by one the hearths crackled. The bombardment had resumed. Finally, I managed to free myself. Valencia was on fire. The young girls cried, hugging their fathers, and the tears rolled in the starched lace of their festive dresses. Nobody was moving. Every now and then a man would bend down to fan the flames. then, behind me, a fireworks display projected against the celestial vault a panicked cloud of blue and green stars. I was plugging my ears, It went on for hours. Finally, through the thick veil of smoke, a forest of wounded figures emerged on a bed of ash. I had just witnessed, helplessly, a gigantic fire-burning fire.
Valence had just burned her demons as she did every year.
The Fallas begin on February 20 with the exhibition of ninots or mannequins. These little satirical characters are exhibited at the foot of churches, in the streets. Unexpected, obsessive or good-natured groups. A nod to Spanish society. A caricature of everyday life. At the end of a competition, a prize will be awarded to the most beautiful model which will have the honor of belonging to the museum of ninots.
Until March 19, the city will live to the sound of fanfares and firecrackers. Every day, at 2 p.m., las mascletas, loads of powders in bundles or tubes of iron, are set on fire.
Ninots in the streets
In a tiny bar near the plazza del Pais Valencia, Luis, the sad beret, was sucking his jerez. "See you next year," he yelped, raising his glass. Next year ? "How? I didn't know". He rubbed his hands and started the story. An hour later, las fallas de Valence had no secrets from me. Well almost ... It all started a long time ago, around the 16th century. At the time, the carpenters of the del Carmen district were very numerous. They had acquired the habit on the evening of the feast of Saint Joseph, their patron saint ... With us, he added below, we have a saint for everything. Hey! a misfortune happened so quickly. That evening, therefore, they met and burned the shavings and the scraps of wood from a year of work. It must have burned. Think, only wood! later they got slammed. It must be said that they did not have it easy, they worked and the bosses were not altar boys. But we couldn't say anything, so they had an idea. Why not carve out the jaws of those bosses and governors they hated in the woods. Then we would burn them and the anger would pass better. At first, they made little puppets. Then, they grew every year until they became the giants that you saw.
Young girls are the queens of the party. Dressed like fairy-tale princesses, they offer their innocence after derision. Each falla to its goddess, elected by a commission. It is she who will preside over the festivals of her falla. A city jury will elect among them the fallera mayor : the queen of the year, the official representative of all the fallas. The youngest are around ten years old.
The virgin of the helpless
We venerate the Virgin of the helpless in order to be forgiven for her pagan excesses. A procession armed with flowers is organized in the city. all children participate. The procession, a long red and white furrow embroidered with gold, flows through the city.
The Virgin of the Disabled protects the fallas of Valencia. The devotion given to him is commensurate with the feast. A giant dressed in carnations, brought to her feet by 140,000 Valenciennes and which the men set on a wooden scaffolding. Up to forming a 25 ton mantle with 35,000 bunches.
At night, the crema ignites Valence. Fire has a double mission. It celebrates the arrival of spring and the purification. When the ninots burn, they free themselves from all their satirical and critical charge. The fire cancels the offense.
In half an hour, the fallas are burning. All that will remain is ashes which will be collected in small urns. While the young girls dry their tears in the arms of their fathers, the marching bands resume. The thunas, student organizations, march through the streets singing. The music starts again. Valence consoles itself. Later, to erase the sorrow, the whole town will eat donuts and drink thick chocolate, we will dream of next year's fallas .
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Photographs by Jacques Bravo
Texts by Marie Chemorin