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Hemingway Adventure

Valencia, Spain (first day)

Valencia, Spain 
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First sight of Fallas at Valencia.
Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureI'm woken by a series of sharp explosions in the street below. A salvo of fire crackers. Then another, then another. There is a moment's calm and my eyes are gently closing when, with a short warning squeal, a pipe and drum band starts up below the window.

Downstairs on the way to breakfast I ask the hotel receptionist what is going on. She tells me, brightly, that the noise and the music are the work of les despertas, the waker-uppers, whose job it is to go round the city rousing those who might have defied all the odds and fallen asleep during the night.

'They want you to go and see their fallas,' she explains.

She hands me a brochure called 'Living las Fallas', which she says will help me enjoy the festival. A quirkily translated introduction advises the visitor to 'leave your prejudices and timid fears behind' and to 'accept human ridicule in an absurd world'.

Venturing out to accept ridicule I find a city out on the streets and not taking itself at all seriously. Crowds amble around inspecting the various colourful, rude, sexy, satirical papier mâché effigies they call fallas, which are erected in squares and on street corners throughout the city by various neighbourhood groups. There are apparently seven hundred of these sculptures all over Valencia, and all will be set alight at midnight on the feast of San José, which is the day after tomorrow.

The origins of Fallas lie in the middle of the eighteenth century when the local carpenters would burn all their winter shavings, off-cuts and general rubbish in one big fire which they would sometimes decorate with a makeshift figure of some kind.
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  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Valencia, Spain (first day)
  • Country/sea: Spain
  • Place: Valencia
  • Book page no: 117

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