My first and only time at Las Fallas was March 2003, during my semester abroad in Barcelona. We spent the day admiring the elaborate monuments that each neighborhood had built. Fresh off a Greek homecoming that fall, I knew how hard it was to build something like that. And our tissue-paper-puff floats were nothing compared to these: thirty feet tall, beautifully painted. All but professional. They looked too beautiful to destroy.
But at midnight that night, that’s exactly what they did. Every single one of those beautiful monuments burned down. We wandered the neighborhoods, drinking with locals, watching the fires. Giant bonfires in the middle of the city, one on every block. Fantastic masterpieces up in flames. People rejoicing.
We were college kids. All we wanted was to have a little fun. We pretended that we knew what it meant for these people, we pretended that we understood the history and meaning of this for the people in Valencia. We pretended we knew everything.
Then we went back to the hotel. The middle of the night, drunk, my memory trips me up: the flames, the cities on fire, linked more closely in my mind than they were in reality. The images more powerful than the facts.
We sat in front of a tv in our small, cheap, college-kids-on-a-budget hotel room and we watched the city on fire.
But this time, instead of Las Fallas, fires burned by residents in celebration, we watched Shock and Awe: fires started by bombs, dropped by our country, in “pre-emptive self-defense.” The flames seared into my mind, layered over the flames of Las Fallas. Linked forever in my memories. Continue reading