Fascination with Las Fallas

Ninot.
Ninot from Las Fallas.

Author: Robert Dewis

 

 

From work during Holy Week recently, I took a short trip to Valencia. It was my first time visiting the city and I wanted to see and experience as much as I could of this famous place in just a few days. For April, the weather was very pleasant for walking around the city and seeing the sights and just about hot enough for sunbathing and swimming in the sea at Marvallosa beach. Amongst all the beauty and culture that Valencia has to offer, one thing stands out* as the highlight of the trip: the museum of “Las Fallas”.

The museum contains descriptions of the history of Las Fallas, photographs of past festivals, the artistic posters advertising the festival, and portraits of the “Fallera” -the queen of the festival. But the main attraction of the museum is the large display of the ´pardoned ninots´. A “ninot” is the name given to the models of the festival, made by artists. Most of them are burned as part of the celebrations, but one is saved from the destruction by a public vote. On display at the museum are the winners from the 1930s until the present day.

Ninot from Las Fallas.

On first appearance, most of them look silly, with exaggerated features, such as huge teeth, wide smiles and large ears, much like a caricature drawing. But when you stop and look at these scenes, there is much more. For example, one particular model showed an Asian emperor, dressed in royal armour carrying a sword, ready for battle, with his family standing proudly by his side. Another scene shows a man and a woman playing a card game on a small table, a bottle of liquor next to them. On the floor there are 2 children, dressed in dirty rags*. It makes you wonder what stories are behind the characters, and why the artists have chosen to present these particular scenes.

Whilst some of the scenes might be thought-provoking, many of them are humorous. The display with the Asian royal family may look serious, but next to the emperor´s feet there is a little dog pulling at his shoelaces. The emperor may be important royalty, but the dog doesn´t care. Another scene shows an elderly* married couple sitting on a park bench. The man is picking something up from the floor and the woman is looking at him suspiciously over her glasses. What is this innocent old man picking up? Perhaps he´s dropped a cigarette, or he´s collecting his groceries*. But it´s not until you walk around to the other side of the scene that you see the truth: a Playboy magazine. Naughty Grandad.

As you can see, a lot of hard work, effort and love goes into making these charming figures, so why would you want to set them on fire and destroy them? This seems like a tragedy to me. But perhaps this sense of the temporary and the witnessing of their destruction create enhance the beauty and magic. Overall, I found Las Fallas fascinating and I hope to experience the festival first hand* next March.

Glosary

To stand out: to be easily noticeable / to be clearly better than other things flammable
Flammable: easy to set on fire
Nightmarish: like something from a bad dream
Hideous: horrible
Rags: poor clothes
Elderly: old, often used for people
Groceries: food shopping
First hand: experience something yourself

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