Friday, March 23, 2012

An Idiot's Guide to Fallas Monuments

I hate to call my readers idiots. However, I can't write "FAQs" since there technically aren't any questions involved. So pardon the insult and just take it as "A person who doesn't know much about Fallas's guide to Fallas Monuments"

Let me briefly explain Fallas (not the festival, but the actual Fallas monuments themselves):

Casal Faller

Each Casal Faller has two fallas. They have a large one, for the adults, and a smaller one, for the kids. The small one is called the "falla infantil." 
Both are made out of wood and styrofoam, as I mentioned in one of my previous posts (about going to the warehouse where they are stored).

There are many many Casal Falleres throughout the city. Since there are two fallas for each casal, you can imagine how many are sprinkled throughout the many, to be exact? 764. There are 382 casal falleres. 

The two types of Fallas monuments

The large one usually is three or four stories high. They require a crane to set up. They are usually satirical or humorous, because this is all about fun times, remember? They can be crude (as you will see in photos I post of our falla that include, ahem, hair styles for below the belt), rude, vulgar (swearing in fallas caption cards is welcome!), and uncensored (lots of naked bodies. I am a bit desensitized).

The fallas infantiles, on the other hand, are for the kids. They are smaller, only about 10 feet high at most. They are cute and kid-themed. Some themes I saw this year were carousels (like Marina's), babies, Las Fallas festival itself, storybook characters (like ours), the circus, pirates, puppets, etc.

How they are categorized

There is a contest run every year for the fallas, therefore encouraging beautiful, unique and creative designs for the monuments. However, to have a bunch of judges judge over 700 monuments throughout the entire city would probably be exhausting.

First of all, they judge the large fallas separately from the fallas infantiles. They are each in their own field of judging, like how basketball teams don't play against football teams. They are two completely different things.
The fallas are divided into levels, based on cost. Obviously the ones in the highest cost tier are the coolest because they have lots of money to design the best thing ever. Those are the ones with the most visitors, too, since even the locals make an effort to see these higher-tier fallas. It also makes sense to split them by cost, because then you don't have this magnificent one competing against some dinky cheap one, because the winner would be obvious.

The best of the best, or the highest tier of fallas for the infantiles is called "sección especial" and below that is "sección 1," "sección 2" etc. The special section this year contained 13 fallas in the 20,000 to 78,000 euros price bracket. Our casal faller was in the 9th section, which had a cost between 3,500 to 3,515 euros. And guess what? We got first place in our section!

The larger fallas are a little more complicated in their section labelings. Like the infantiles, there is a "sección especial." But below that, there is section 1A, section 1B, section1C, then section 2A, 2B,2C...etc with ABC in each all the way through 7. We were in section 1A and won 7th place  (out of 19). The price bracket we were in was 30,000 to 84,000 euros. The special section's price bracket was between 100,000 and 400,000 euros. Yes, they spent a US graduate's typical student debt on a styrofoam sculpture. Doesn't that make you feel good.

The judging is done based on overall design, and those are the prizes I mentioned. However, there are also creativity or humor awards, but those are just icing on the cake. You want the meaty, overall prize before any of those additional ones, since they don't mean as much.

Where the money comes from

These monuments cost a lot of money. Artists spend several months working on them: sketching, collecting materials, designing, forming the shapes, painting, assembling...and those artists have to be paid. And those materials cost money too.

As I have said, a Casal Faller is like a club in the way that you pay fees and dues. You pay a monthly membership to be in the casal. And your kids pay memberships to be in it, too. And there are many people in each falla. Not all of them participate in the various activities year round (like the little parade we did in February, or Valentine's Day dinners or whatnot). Some people join a Casal just to participate in the 4 days of Fallas, where they join up to eat, walk around in their Fallera dresses, and offer flowers to the Virgin Mary during the Ofrenda (more on this in another post). Why? It's tradition and it's fun. Why do people join knitting circles? Or soccer teams? Because they like it, and they like to meet people and it's something to do. But fallas also has a bit of tradition behind it, which gives it a "I'm a proud Valencian" vibe.

Larger casals obviously have more money, since more people are in them. You can really join any one you like. Cristina and her family changed casals only a few years ago because they wanted a change.

Each casal faller has a place to meet up. They are places specifically for meeting up with the others in the casal. Ours, many years ago, used to be a nightclub. Upstairs there are a couple bathrooms and a kitchen and bar area with dining tables. Downstairs looks like a nightclub with low ceilings (it's a basement) and not much else. There are folding tables that we occasionally use when we are eating there.

So where do the membership costs go? Ours goes to the upkeep of the casal faller, like electricity, water, heat, etc. It also goes to the flower bouquets the falleras carry in the Ofrenda, the food/drinks we consume throughout the year and during fallas weekend, as well as paying the Falla artist and paying for the falla monuments themselves.

What happens to the fallas monuments after Las Fallas

The artist gets an opportunity to pick a ninot, or a doll, from their falla to keep before it burns. Marina, since she makes jewelry with her very distinct style of whimsy, wanted to keep a ninot to put in one of the stores where she sells jewelry. I am not sure which one she chose, but I believe she can pick any she wants. Before she picks hers, however, the fallera infantil (a girl from the casal who decides to be that casal's fallera, kind of like a pageant queen for the casal who dresses up all the time for any casal event) gets first dibs on picking a ninot to keep.

The same occurs for the large falla monument. The artist picks a ninot to keep, and I believe the fallera  mayor (a woman in her 20s, usually, who is also a "pageant queen" of sorts for the casal) picks one to keep as well. I am sure about the infantil one, but this one I am not so sure about.

And then what happens? On March 19th, they burn them.

As I mentioned before, the large ones are aimed at the adults, and the small ones at the kids. Therefore the small ones are burned early around 10pm (yes, for Spain that's early), so the kids don't stay up super late to get to see theirs burn. The fallera infantil lights a string of firecrackers that is attached to the monument and up it goes in flames (we didn't have a fallera infantil this year, so the fallera mayor did it). The large ones are burned around midnight or sometimes 2am.

Before burning them, they have firemen scope out the scene, checking that the barricades are at a proper distance for spectators and that other hazards are taken care of. Then someone sprinkles some kerosene around the monument, strings it with some firecracker-laced wicking, then rolls out a string long enough for the fallera to light it without setting her dress on fire.

The result is a fireworks show that is accompanied by marching band music as the crowd watches the monument burn.

For the larger ones, the firefighters start hosing down nearby buildings, bus stops, and other structures and continue the water flow until the falla monument is a pile of ashes and not emitting much heat, so that stuff doesn't catch on fire.

The fallas monuments are all designed and structured in a way so they will collapse inward, so that 3 story sculpture doesn't just fall plop into the crowd. And the firefighters are there early setting up, checking for weather conditions and stuff. If it's windy, they won't burn it until it calms down.

I know what you're thinking. They burn these things that COST MONEY? Yes. Yes they do. 400,000 euros, spent on something that takes several months to create all to be set on fire. Kind of cathartic, right?

No comments:

Post a Comment