Fiesta ends as papier mâché statues go up in flames to mark start of spring
THE colourful, comical and gigantic falla monuments across the Valencia region went up in flames one by one last night and in the early hours of this morning, marking the end of another year's spectacular pre-springtime fiestas.
Celebrated to the maximum in the city of Valencia, the Fallas festival, which culminates every year with the cremà or monument-burning on the night of March 19 – St Joseph's Day, and Father's Day in Spain – most towns and even some villages in the province of Valencia also celebrate the Fallas, as do some in the northern part of the Alicante province and the south of that of Castellón.
Outside Valencia, the main Fallas festivals are in Gandia, an hour to the south, where the falla del Mercat won this year, beating the usual winner, the falla del Prado; Oliva, just north of the Alicante border, where the falla Sant Francesc came first after many years of failing to do so, ahead of the serial winner, falla Institut, and Dénia, where the falla Oeste netted first prize after many years of sitting near the back of the queue and watching the falla Baix la Mar clear up.
Benidorm (Alicante province) has two token fallas, but this is mainly to give foreign tourists a taste of the region, and the festival does not take over the whole town the way it does further north.
The monuments feature amusing caricatures of politicians, celebrities and other major figures in the news, and satirise current affairs – far from being offended at finding themselves sent up on a falla monument, most well-known faces are more likely to feel disappointed if they are not featured.
For the biggest, best and funniest fallas and the loudest mascletaes, or gunpowder banger displays which go off at 14.00hrs every day of the fiesta, Valencia city is streets ahead.
This year's winner in Valencia was the falla Cuba-Literato Azorín, named after the two streets where it sits on the crossroads, and was themed on the 'art' of calling out chat-up lines in the bathrooms of the regional government building.
It showed 30 ninots, or individual figurines, including deputy regional president Mònica Oltra (Compromís) sitting on a toilet and president Ximo Puig (PSOE) waiting his turn.
The message behind the scene was that 'chat-up lines [or flattery] are prolific when political parties need to form coalitions to stay in power', said the artist, Carlos Carsí.
Smaller scenes in the same falla feature an elderly lady slapping her husband for chatting up younger girls, and a group of Valencians on a gondola during a trip to Venice.
As the winner, the falla Cuba-Literato Azorín was the last to go up in flames, since those placed first are burnt last and the losers first.
Other fallas sent up the current national government political impasse in a 'circus' featuring Podemos' Pablo Iglesias, the PSOE's Pedro Sánchez (first picture), Ciudadanos' Albert Rivera, and acting PP president Mariano Rajoy letting off balloons.
Local and regional politicians, naturally, featured heavily – ex-mayoress Rita Barberá (PP), head of a party facing corruption investigations, suffered references to Picassent prison and to her grammatically-incorrect valenciano language Fallas opening speech last year (second picture); supermarket chain Mercadona's founder and Spain's third-richest man, Juan Roig, was shown holding Valencia's mayor Joan Ribó (Compromís) and Mònica Oltra on puppet strings; Ximo Puig, Mònica Oltra and Podemos' leader for the region, Antonio Montiel, were seen sitting around a table negotiating, and Ribó's famous entrance on his old and trusty pushbike to Valencia city hall on his first day as mayor was milked with a Local Police officer escort and Ribó himself on miniature tricycles (third picture).
Ceasing to be president of Spain, however long ago, does not mean getting out of being sent up on a falla monument: Felipe González (PSOE), his successor José María Aznar (PP) who reigned for two terms until 2004, and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (PSOE), president from 2004 to 2011 were showed in ancient Greek togas in the 'Olympium of the Gods' (pictured right).
Former Catalunya regional president Jordi Pujol and his wife Marta Ferrusola, both under investigation for allegedly stashing over €100 million in offshore accounts, also featured – the former surrounded by huge euro coins and waist-high piggy banks, and the latter with a suitcase stuffed with €500 notes.
Although yesterday (Saturday) was a bank holiday in the province of Valencia, the north of Alicante and south of Castellón, it is usually March 20 which is the quietest day as anyone directly involved in the noisy, fun, round-the-clock fiestas tries to take the day after it finishes off work to catch up on hours of lost sleep.
Luckily for falleras, falleros and band members, the day after the cremà – today - is a Sunday, meaning the majority will be able to stay in bed, with the exception of street-cleaners who will have cleared away the charred remains and heaps of rubbish at first light, leaving the Valencia region's roads and squares looking as though the Fallas had never happened.