Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Shop Girl at Las Fallas

Time to write?
Not even a text message.
“Go! Go! Go!” our host cried, as my cousin and I chased after him down the streets of Castellón.
In December, Spanish Sergi had bought a table lamp in my shop.
We’d chatted about his hometown for a while and he’d ended up inviting us over.
It was perfect being only an hour away from Valencia where Rosie and I had already planned to see Las Fallas* (pronounced * fal-yas).
Las Fallas is every pyromaniac’s dream.
It’s a festival that laughs in the face of health and safety inspectors all over the world; perhaps English ones most of all.
Kids exchange footballs for firecrackers.
Grown-ups smoke beside unlit fireworks.
Monumental sculptures, decorating both city and villages, are sent up in flames.
Sergi wasn’t going to let Castellón be overshadowed by its bigger neighbour though.
Sleep had no place in our host’s plans, who was so energetic he put the Duracell bunny to shame.
Three hours after we’d crashed into our beds, we were woken with a latin radio station turned up to breaking point.
“Go! Go! Go!”
It was the midday fire cracker show and Baila La Bamba on top volume was nothing to the explosions we were about to hear.
“No! Don’t cover them!” Sergi said, as our hands rushed to our ears. “Open your mouths or you’ll go deaf.”
The bangs shook our insides as we clung on to each other.
I thought about my date, a sound engineer whose ears were his livelihood.
Rosie thought of her grandparents surviving through the blitz.
But there was no time to dwell on these things.
Onwards we went, to a sun drenched square where everyone drank shots of pink Lambrusco and ate monkey nuts.
So many monkey nuts.
Try saying Pamplona with your mouth full of them; in fact try saying Pamplona with your mouth full of anything.
Ah, the things my cousin and I learnt.
We marched to the edge of the city to see artists working on the Gaiatas; beautiful hand crafted monuments, six meters high and packed out with flashing light bulbs.
They welcomed us with cava; we got so merry we ended up signing their overalls.
And just when we were about to crack from exhaustion we left Castellón and headed to Pego, a small village outside Valencia.
Our next host was Josep. He was a fallero artist we’d met walking the Camino de Santiago.
Sculptures, he called them, when people didn’t understand what fallas were.
Compositions, some as high as five storey buildings, full of colourful figurines.
But they’re more than that; they’re stories, busy with characters, meaning and magic.
They set up a marquee beside two of them and doled out beer and monkey nuts.
The girls dressed in traditional dress; elaborate crinoline skirts and princess Leia hair do’s.
The band never slept and our dancing turned into aerobics as the days turned to nights.
At more than one point, Rosie hijacked the drums.
I think it might be her calling.
And then on the third day, the group of falleros set up a barrier around the two fallas outside the marquee.
They wound strips of firecrackers around all those brightly coloured creations and poured petrol over them.
Two fire men turned up.
The fallera queen stepped forward to light the taper.
“Don’t do it!” Rosie said.
“You’re all crazy!” I said.
And suddenly the firecrackers exploded and fireworks shot into the air and the whole thing went up in flames.
Just like that.
A year’s work reduced to ashes.
“The new year starts now,” Josep said, with more than a trace of sadness.
But there was joy too.
It was another opportunity; another chance to do something for the pure love of it.
Monkey Nuts.
But brilliant.