Sunday, March 22, 2009

My lip is on Falla!

Okay, the big story of this week is Thursday, which we spent in Valencia for the festival of Las Fallas. I’ll try to write about the rest of the week after, but it’s essential that I get this out there.

So the Spanish festival is a very unique thing. Spaniards love to party probably as much as they love the Catholic Church, which, if you consider the number of cathedrals in this country, is an exorbitant amount. They will stay out all night and all day and all night again, listening to music and gathering in giant groups and drinking endlessly. Money is not a consideration, and neither is sleep. Also, no one works unless it’s something to do with the festival. Examples of this are the Tomatino, a huge tomato fight; Semana Santa, the week before Easter; the week after Semana Santa, which is just partying, no worries about the church; and Las Fallas, which has been described as a combination of Disneyworld, the Fourth of July, and the end of the world. The festival started last weekend and ended on Thursday night, and since our program has money left over, we rented a bus and took off for the 24-hour-trip of a lifetime. We met at the train station at 7 am, drove the four hours to Valencia, and were dropped off in an arbitrary location. We heard there would be bullfights and they would be good, and since we’ve all wanted to see one since we got to Spain but the ones in Madrid are only on Sundays and not very good, our first stop was the bullring. The cheapest tickets were €38, and when I heard that I automatically crossed it off the list, at least for that day, but one by one people decided to go anyway, and it ended up as a group of 18 students, going to a bullfight in Valencia, Spain, for Las Fallas. Oh also, as we were walking there I saw a ton of people wearing these blue and white bandanas around their necks, and I decided that as soon as I saw them for sale I was purchasing one. Right by the bullring there were stands selling them, so with my bullfight ticket in my pocket and a Las Fallas bandana around my neck, I felt fully immersed in the festival spirit and could not have been happier. We attempted to go to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento, which is basically in the middle of the city, where they were having a firecracker show at 2 pm. There was already a HUGE crowd pretty far back, so we just pushed up as much as we could and waited. We were actually in a really good location, because we could see the show but we weren’t TOO TOO crowded and it wasn’t SUPER loud, like I’m sure it was right in the plaza, plus there was tons of smoke but none of it reached us. After the show we decided to push in the opposite direction of the entire crowd to go see the Fallas that were in the plaza. Oh, by the way, let me explain the purpose of the festival: Las Fallas are these HUGE sculptures [of people, animals, scenes, etc.] made of wood and papier-mâché that people spend ALL year building, and for the week of Las Fallas they are displayed around the city, and the last night they set them all on fire except the best one, which they put in a museum for the year. So anyway, we wanted to look at the ones that were in the main plaza, because we figured they’d be really good ones. We finally got over there, met up with the other people we were with earlier, and proceeded to stick together in a group of 18 for the rest of the day, which is no small feat. We walked around and looked at as many Fallas as we could find [it wasn’t very many] until we went to THE BULLFIGHT.

Okay, this was the most epic thing I’ve done in Spain so far. The three things I REALLY wanted to do while I was in Spain were see the windmills, see a bullfight, and see Morocco. I had already accomplished the first and given up on the last, but there was no way I was giving in on the bullfight front. Our seats were in the sombra [shade], which were the only ones left and means they were more expensive, because in the dead of summer the shade is more desirable, but since it was only March and la corrida started at five, it was actually freezing. But it was still an absolutely incredible experience. I can’t possibly describe what it was like—I would recommend a Hemingway book, either The Sun Also Rises for a novel or Death in the Afternoon for an explanation. But I was SO happy to be there and I felt SO Spanish. The first bull was killed very badly—he took a long time to die and was just staggering around while various weapons were thrust into him. We were all horrified and didn’t know if we could stay for the whole thing if that’s what they were all going to be like. Luckily, the next bull died instantly after two swords, and the rest of them were killed well. One of the matadors got two ears, which means he killed him VERY well, and then he paraded around the ring accepting greetings from people close to the barrera and throwing their hats back. At the end of the fight he was carried out on the shoulders of the people, which was so, so exciting to see. Also, for the first few bulls we noticed everyone staring at someone sitting a few rows behind us, taking tons of pictures and talking about him, and then people started asking for autographs and shaking hands, and we figured out it was Jose Tomas, a really famous matador. Courtney went up and shook his hand, which was hilarious. I took a lame picture like everyone else, and he left after the really good matador received the ears. We all got pretty into the fight, I must say. When a matador makes a bunch of really good passes with the muleta [the red cape], the crowd starts saying “olé!” and we all got really into it. Basically, it was the most Spanish thing we could have possibly done, especially during a festival.

After the bullfight, I was so pumped up I couldn’t contain it and we just started running through the streets, looking for dinner and fun. We ate Doner Kebabs [we would, again] even though Ali and I had heard rumors of people selling paella in the street, which we REALLY wanted. Then we started scouring the streets, looking for more Fallas. We were heading toward one plaza when they put up a barrier right in front of us in order to prepare to set a Falla on fire [by the way, I’m trying to develop the perfect pun for that combination of words and have not yet succeeded], so we decided to wait and see it. They set them on fire by lighting a string of firecrackers that eventually lands on the wooden sculpture and sets it off, and apparently the firecrackers were TOO close to where we were standing, because as soon as they lit it a flame shot off and INTO MY MOUTH. I tried to get it out and succeeded in getting it onto my sweater, and eventually I got it onto the ground and stamped it out, but it was absolutely terrifying. Also, I did not stop, drop & roll. Apparently I learned nothing about fire safety after all those years of coaching. After that we wandered around some more, tried to find more on fire, but they burn pretty quickly so we saw the remains of a lot of them. Eventually we decided to go wait it out in the plaza where the firecracker show was, because there was a really big one there that we knew would burn well, and we heard that it was going to start at 1 am, so we’d have time before meeting back at the bus at 2. Our group went and scouted out a good spot, with enough room to sit down, which was lucky because we had to wait for two hours. We had some interesting companions in this waiting period. There was a group of 18-year-old English boys who thought they were SO cool to be a little bit drunk and out late in Spain, and they attached themselves to us pretty quickly. They thought Kimball and Courtney were drunk, and when they found out we all don’t drink they were pretty surprised but still intrigued. They had a series of interesting conversations with pretty much every person in our group that only ended when the fireworks show started at 1. The fireworks are where the Fourth of July comes in, but these fireworks blew away anything I’ve ever seen with regards to US Independence Day. They would surely be illegal in the States, and with good reason. At one point a giant fireball went plunging into the crowd, but luckily not on our side. It was incredible, and after a good finale they lit the string of firecrackers to set the Falla alight, and then shot up more fireworks as it started burning. Obviously I’m doing a really bad job of describing what was so incredible about it, but it was the greatest display of entertainment I’ve ever seen and SO worth waiting the time that we did. As soon as it was over we started making our way back to the bus, which was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, because even though we had plenty of room where we were standing, the streets and sidewalks and all areas not blocked off were PACKED with people. We made a ridiculous preschool line of 18 people holding onto each other and forced our way out. We got back to the bus on time and started the trek back home to Alcalá and arrived close to 7 am. I crashed in my bed, still wearing my Fallas bandana and still high on the festival spirit.

Compared to that, the rest of the week was a little blah, but I still have some things worth telling. We have a five-page paper due on Monday for History of Spain, which basically kicked my butt all week, so I spent a fair amount of time working on that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. Monday we went to Institute as usual, then the Browns for FHE and played that STUPID flour-castle game. Luckily I didn’t lose, but a girl who is allergic to gluten did, so that kind of sucked for her. Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day, and we also had a surprise bridal shower for the girl here who is engaged. All the girls went over to the Browns house while the four guys plus Professor Brown had a guy’s night out. It was really fun, there was really good food and we played games and gave her the typical presents, of course. Wednesday I went into Madrid to have the best Bocadillo de Calamares in Madrid, and then we went to Goya’s tomb, where his body doesn’t actually reside, by the way. Thursday we obviously spent in Valencia, and Friday I slept until 11:30 and just stayed in my pajamas writing in my journal and talking to Emmaleigh and our madre about the bullfight until 2. I worked on my paper pretty much all day while Emmaleigh went to Madrid, and we went over to Calle Mayor for a little bit at night, but that day was thoroughly uneventful.

Saturday I went for a pretty long run by Alcalingua and saw half the people I know here, including my madre by the store they own. After my run I finished my paper, and Emmaleigh and I went over to the train station to meet Courtney and her dad who was visiting to go into Madrid, but they didn’t come for half an hour while we were waiting and in the meantime we saw Jessie, Tim and Mark going over to the Browns to work on their papers, but Mark isn’t in that class, so he decided to go into Madrid with us. We started in the Plaza Mayor, which is a pretty central location in Madrid, but I had only gone once before, so we went over just to see what was up. We took some ridiculous pictures of things happening there, then walked over to a park by the Palacio Real. Next we went to the Plaza de España, and then went in search of ice cream. We didn’t really have a purpose except to be in Madrid, but it was a fun day. On the way home we decided to go over to the Browns to try to check our e-mail, but they weren’t home and Mark only has a key to the garage, so we hung out in there for a while. There is internet down there, but we didn’t have our laptops, so we had to wait for Tim, who was there ‘working on his paper,’ to finish talking to his sister on Skype. In the meantime I looked at a map of Europe, jumproped, and played “I’m having a concert” with Mark. While I was doing said things, Kimball called and wanted to make plans for the evening. We decided on a night hike up a mountain that some people had discovered another time, and to meet at the Plaza de Cervantes [close to our school] at ten. By the time we made all the plans and informed everyone, it was about 9:10 and we still needed to walk home and eat dinner. On the way home I remembered that I hadn’t washed my hair that day, so I REALLY needed to shower, because we wouldn’t get another chance before church. We rushed home, I jumped in the shower and Emmaleigh got called down to dinner, so I threw on clothes, ran downstairs and shoved my dinner down as fast as possible [by the way, I don’t think eating quickly is a concept here, our madre was SO confused about what I was doing] and tried to get dressed in appropriate night-hike clothes. I didn’t want to wear my coat, because I knew I would be too hot, but I definitely wanted a long-sleeved shirt and a sweatshirt, but my only long-sleeved shirt besides a sweater was a blue-striped turtleneck, so I put that on with my Turket Trot sweater, which was a hideous combination. I then put on jeans, my only pants option, and because the soles of all my other shoes have worn completely down, I put on my running shoes. We got to the Plaza as fast as we could, where everyone made fun of my outfit as much as they could. Also, I was elected to wear a headlamp while hiking, because my outfit was so ugly nothing could have made it worse. The hike up the top was pretty good, and when we got up there we decided to try to watch Nacho Libre, but all we had was a little Macbook and ten people, so it was hard to hear and SO cold. We probably got a little more than halfway through before deciding to finish it another time. We hiked down, waited twenty minutes for the bus before realizing it wasn’t coming, and made it to another stop for another line just in time to catch the 2 am bus. We then went home and crashed once again.

Sunday has been pretty uneventful so far, except Courtney’s dad was at church, which was cool, and Mark and I only have 20 hymns left! We had some challenging ones today, including one that’s only in the Spanish hymnbook. After church we came home and had MASHED POTATOES for lunch, and spent the rest of the time just hanging out as usual.

This coming week is our last trip, and then FINALS week, and then we’re leaving! It’s so weird that this experience is ending, but I really feel like I’ve gotten so much out of it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. Until next week.

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