Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Prostitutes, oranges and burning babies.

I must confess that I did not see the baby burn; I was probably in the bar at the time drinking fizzy beer and sheltering from acoustic overload.

The event that brought together prostitutes, oranges and burning babies is a Falla. This is a Spanish tradition peculiar to the province of Valencia. Terry, who runs the pizzeria in the next village to ours, had told us that he was going to the Fallas at Benicarlo and we decided to go too.

It was a nice journey through our area of Spain, the Mataraña of Aragon, through a pleasant slice of Cataluña and finally into Valencia. For a while we followed the River Ebro and it is here that we saw orange groves and beside the roads sacks of oranges patiently waiting. Later, as we neared Benicarlo, we saw seated ladies beside the road also patiently waiting.

The ladies and the oranges have something in common: they are patiently waiting for clients. The farmers place the oranges there to make a few extra euros by cutting out the middleman. The pimp who, in a sense, is the middleman places the ladies there, though he may, or may not handle the goods. The oranges are a pleasant sight, the ladies slightly disturbing. However, back to the burning babies.

Terry had told us that Fallas are an annual event where Valencian townsfolk build castles and then burn them to the ground, the whole thing accompanied by lashings of fireworks. But we found no castles in Benicarlo. There they celebrate the feast day of Saint Jose by burning people.

Over the year each area of the town constructs complex sets of cartoon-like figures. The figures are very well made and very colourful. They seemed to be made of expanded polystyrene, but how they achieved such a smooth finish I do not know.

My favourite was a Chinese themed display which centred on a beautiful woman (top half only, yet extending to at least the fourth floor of the (very) nearby flats). Her hands seemed to rise from the ground and encircled a pudgy baby that she looked down upon with great love. The baby was unmistakeably a boy, of course. Arranged around her was a series of larger than life figures including a poor coolie dragging a cart loaded with boxes. Each box had a label: Armani, Gucci, Prado, etc. Behind the central figure, a Chinaman was holding a cat in one hand and machete in the other: dinner.

I did not see the Chinese baby burn. In the confusion I missed that particular conflagration, but I did see others which included babies. I also inhaled the black smoke that rose and fell from the burning ensembles and was deafened both by the firecrackers that ignited the figures, and by the fireworks that were stuck into holes unceremoniously hacked into them just before the off.

It was an intriguing spectacle but the real children of Benicarlo also fascinated me. Most of them carried a small box attached to a strap across their shoulders. Every now and then they felt inside the box, extracted a firework, lit it from a wick or gas lighter and threw it into the street, or down a drain, or down some stairs to get an echoing affect. Most of the fireworks were bangers, though not all. The kids ranged from early teens down to four years or so! Spain can be a bureaucratic country, but the stultifying hand of Health and Safety has fortunately not yet reached its heart. 


  1. Captivating, but what is the actual background to this Falla?

  2. I don't really know. It is held on a Saint's day (Jose) so it is religious in origin. But why they burn effigies of people I do not know. I just relish the experience.


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