What is Fallas?
Ah, Sundays. There’s nothing better than sleeping in on a lazy Sunday morning, taking your time with breakfast, coffee, the paper. Disbelief and a gratifying sense of shame when you realize that it’s already 1:30 in the afternoon and you’re still in your pajamas. These Sunday morning hours were so peaceful, though! You can be forgiven for wasting them in a haze of comfort.
Wonderful when it happens, but not all Sundays are like this. And in Valencia, the last Sunday in February manages to achieve the polar opposite. It’s 7:30 in the morning, and you’re on the streets, in the middle of World War III.
The Despertà is Valencia’s annual wake-up call for Fallas — the region’s most important festival and one of the biggest in the world. At 7am, thousands of people belonging to organized groups (Fallas Commissions) gather at Parterre Park (location) to collect their ammunition bags for an assault on the city’s sleeping populace. And at 7:30am sharp, all hell breaks loose. These freaks just start throwing firecrackers everywhere.
And I’m not talking cute <pop!> cherry bombs. This is the real shit. 15 seconds into the “parade”, a piece of shrapnel caught me just under the eye. An ugly, fat kid laughed at me before throwing a mini-grenade under my feet. A zombie-eyed homeless guy snuck up behind me, then offered me a firecracker. I think I screamed, I’m not sure, my ears were reverberating, reality seemed skewed. I was beginning to panic, and the Despertà had just started.
But it didn’t take long to succumb to the insanity. By the parade’s end, both Juergen and I were gleefully stomping on unpopped firecrackers, and whipping them at onlookers we decided weren’t having enough “fun”.
As most Valencian parades tend to, the Despertà leads its psychotic participants to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where the final act is a short, intense mascletà.