Writer Claudia Jackson was not always a huge fan of Fallas with petardos and fireworks being thrown around willy-nilly and the insane noise morning, noon and night. But this year, after the various lockdowns and toques de queda, everything is changed utterly, and she is unable to watch the parades without a tear in her eye…
It was March 2020, and an unmistakable electricity crackled through the air. Lights were strung across streets, hoop-skirted Falleras began to appear and, after a year in the making, the first sculptures or niñots were revealed to the public. Fallas, the biggest festival on the Valencian calendar, a visual sound-and-light extravaganza of fireworks, sculptures, parades, and parties was about to start.
But there was something else in the air that March. An invisible threat that was about to change the world.
Beginning as a news headline about a country far, far away, COVID 19 had been creeping steadily closer and by early March was spreading rapidly through Italy wreaking havoc in its path. From Spain we watched nervously, waiting for the government response and on 14 March it came. Spain was in total lockdown. Fallas was cancelled, for only the sixth time in its history that stretches back centuries.
The boom of the mascleta and the cracks of petados were silenced. The once buzzing streets were empty. In Plaza de Ayuntamiento, the principle sculpture, the head, and shoulders of a meditating woman seemed to sum up the silence that hung over the city, heavy with the threat of a deadly virus no one knew anything about.
In the 18 months since, life has been anything but normal. Social distancing, masks, hand gel, lockdowns, partial lockdowns, curfews and PCR tests became part of our everyday reality along with the steady drip-feed of spiralling global deaths day after day. Another March slid by with no Fallas. It felt like it would never end. Until now.
This year the build-up has been more low-key than previous celebrations. With most Valencians away during August, and a reduction in the number of tourists thanks to ongoing travel restrictions, Fallas seemed to be the last thing on people`s minds. But slowly, lights began to appear, the niñots were released from storage to take their places around the city and parades of bejewelled Falleras and Falleros marched and drummed their way through the streets accompanied by the whizz and crack of fireworks. Valencia came alive with the sounds of music and laughter and the smell of street-cooked paella and churros.
I have to admit I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Fallas. The noise, the disruption, the chaos…the NOISE! Did I mention the noise? But this Fallas I have been watching the celebrations unfold with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. When I see the parties, hear the laughter and the fireworks, feel the festival spirit, I can’t help but compare it to the eery silence of lockdown. The fear that hung in the air. When Valencians came together in the only way they could, to applaud the bravery and sacrifice of healthcare workers, from their balconies every night at 8pm.
In Plaza de Ayuntamiento, the meditator is back, her face, though damaged by the recent storm, as still and serene as when she left. A metaphor for all we`ve endured over the past 18 months. A silent prayer of gratitude. A thoughtful contemplation of those who didn’t make it. A symbol of humanity`s courage and resilience in the face of an unprecedented global crisis. Maybe above all she represents a deep breath in. The inhale and exhale of new beginnings.
And a timely reminder of the Valencian spirit, that no matter what, the party will go on.