Valencia Says Farewell To Fallas: Valencia Life Photo Essay

They were the best of times, they were the worst of times… Eugene Costello reflects personally upon his first full Fallas while Valencia Life photographer Paul Knowles captures some of the most inspiring Fallas before they went up in flames on Saturday night…

I arrived for my new life in Valencia in February 2020. Shortly after that, during the build-up to Las Fallas, the streets were full of crowds watching mascletas and the sound of petardos was everywhere. I then had to go to Anguilla in the eastern Caribbean for a press trip, leaving the city moving into full-on party mode.

While out there, news started breaking about an imminent and savage lockdown. It was then planes, trains and automobiles to get back while I still could. A boat to Sint Maarten. A flight to Charles de Gaulle in Paris. A connection to London Heathrow. Train to Victoria in central London. Train to London Gatwick. And then several hours in a hospitality lounge waiting to hear whether the last flight to Valencia would go ahead. Thankfully, it did.

Back home to a deserted Valencia

On landing, the taxi drove me back to Ruzafa. Ramón y Cajal and Avenida del Cid were deserted. Streets that had been thronged with people now appeared like the set of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. The reality of el confinamiento and cuarantena was beginning to dawn on me. After only two weeks in Valencia, I would – like everyone else – spend nigh on three months under virtual house arrest without wifi, TV and – most distressingly – family or friends. Of course, many suffered at this time, with deaths and serious illness figures spiking alarmingly.

Thankfully, we came out of the severest restrictions gradually but, needless to say, there would be no Fallas that year and arrangements were made to burn the Fallas at municipal depots.

Brits out for the lads: Brexit story as seen by the casal of Literat Azorin/Cuba © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE

Fast-forward to 2021, and a trimmed-down version of Fallas took place in September. It was a gentle introduction, and I recall we had glorious weather. So this year would be my first full Fallas. Sadly, this would be the year that Storm Celia and heavy rain tried to dampen everyone’s spirits. Here in Ruzafa, it seems, they failed to do so. After two years of restriction, people wanted – needed, arguably – to go all out in the Unesco-listed extravaganza. Up there with the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Fallas is surely among the most famous of festivals in Spain.

Storm Celia failed to dampen spirits

I was heartbroken for the falleros and falleras, the casales and comisiones who work so hard to compete for the Falla Especial prize, engendering neighbourhood pride in a way that few other cities manage. Also really touching are the small fallas on street corners with no pretension to compete but just as devoted to bringing joy to their streets.

Reader, I loved every minute of it. I adored the anti-Brexit, anti-Boris ship-based falla here in Ruzafa, third placed overall. Convento de Jerusalén was a deserving winner, as was second placed Plaza del Pilar.

Give peas a chance: Environmental concerns saw Convento de Jerusalén scoop first prize © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE

I even turned my chocolate labrador Gili into a fallera with a checked bandana tied around her neck. There are naysayers and critics in “expat” (read, immigrant) groups attacking Fallas for any number of reasons. I have even read threads where it is compared to bullfighting.

It reminds me of when middle-class families move into a London neighbourhood to colonise and “gentrify” it, then start complaining to noise abatement officials about the local pub. Next, they start a petition. Finally, the Victorian boozer that has been plying its trade to locals 150 years or more is forced to close since no one continues to use it as a watering hole, preferring instead middle-class dinner parties. Come off it, guys, the pub was there long before you.

I feel much the same about Fallas. It’s been around in one form or another since the Middle Ages. We are guests here. Let’s respect their traditions.

Brexit display at Fallas © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE
An utter Johnson: How the Spanish see Boris © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE

Fallas 2022 – What a show!

Yes, it is noisy. Yes, it can be hard to sleep when it is in full swing. And yes, burning the niñots might not be the most environmentally friendly move.

But it is an explosion of joy and local pride that defines the exuberant spirit of Valencia. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Might get a b&b in el campo next year, though. For the dog’s sake, you understand.

Vamos a ver…

High sea and piracy: A detail from the Brexit falla on Literat Azorin – Cuba © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE
The colours of Ruzafa: The falla at Dr Serrano © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE
The winner takes it all: Approaching Convento de Jerusalén © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE
Give us a second: Plaza del Pilar, a worthy runner-up © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE
First among equals: Convento de Jerusalén © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE
The devil’s in the detail” Close-up at Convento de Jerusalén © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE
Brits out for the lads: Brexit story as seen by the casal of Literat Azorin/Cuba © PAUL KNOWLES / VALENCIA LIFE

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