Personal Journeys


July 18, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Valencia celebrates with art and fire

By Eduardo E. Chufan


During my Ph.D. studies in chemistry, I lived in Valencia, Spain, for six months. Valencia is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean coast.

Fortunately, my trip coincided with the Fallas Valencianas, a popular festival that Valencia residents celebrate every year in March. The festival is really great -- it's lively and noisy, there is surprising artwork, and ev-eryone has a lot of fun. The event lasts for four intense days.

To organize the festival, various neighborhoods designate a place where residents meet to plan events. The events include activities to raise funds to pay for each neighborhood's falla, a large monument or artwork that is often as tall as a two-story building. Each falla is installed at a central location and represents that neighborhood during the festival.

The falla is designed around a theme and tends to make fun of human foibles. Favorite themes are love and sex, which are treated with a sense of humor and free thinking -- typical for this part of the world. Other themes are more serious: world hunger and the war in Iraq, for example.

At the end of the festival, the fallas are burned. Can you believe it? Art that costs thousands of dollars to make is exhibited for only four days and then destroyed. Valencians explain that burning the monuments amounts to an act of purification.

Each day of the festival starts very early, when a band of musicians takes to the streets, playing loudly so that everyone has no choice but to wake up. There are also a lot of fireworks, including a competition where companies try to produce the best and most colorful displays. Many people dress up in costumes, and everyone is in a festive mood.

It was a great pleasure for me to see the community combining all these elements to have so much fun.

Isn't this a very smart way to enjoy life and celebrate one's community?

Eduardo E. Chufan lives in Baltimore.

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