I have a little bit of a confession to make. It’s not going to sit well alongside all of my feminist rants, but I really like watching the Miss Universe pageant.
I know, I know, it’s really not cool to admit this. I hate the idea of the pageant yet it’s like looking at the sun; I know I shouldn’t steal a glance but I do anyway. I like watching it in the same way as the athletes entering the stadium at the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony. I cheer for the little islands, boo the favourites and cross my fingers that the Australian entry isn’t embarrassing.
Quite often at the Miss Universe pageant they have a segment where entrants have to march around in their national costume. I would always rack my brain for what the Aussie would prance around in; a Driza-Bone perhaps? Ugg boots? Boardies?
The Spanish, however, would never have a problem. They’ve got plenty of different regional variants to draw upon, and at Las Fallas you’re treated to thousands of women (and men) of all ages marching proudly around their city in clothes that pretty much scream ‘national costume’.
Walking around Valencia during Las Fallas (or, I should say, squeezing through the crowds), it’s not easy to push aside the traditional side of the festival. The traditions are front and centre: with the two main streets (Calle de la Paz and Calle San Vicente Martir) closed off on the 17th and 18th March for a traditional flower procession towards Plaza de la Reina, you really can’t escape it.
And I mean, really can’t escape it. The parade goes for twelve hours a day (roughly 2pm until 2am) and although it’s all quite jolly and festive for the first couple of hours, at 10pm it starts to get on your nerves. Especially when you’re leading a group full of people from one side of the road to the other, usually a seemingly easy task.
But apart from the logistical problems, it is quite lovely, really. Thousands of Valencians take part in the parade, hailing from all over the city and beyond in the greater Valencian Community (an autonomous state in Spain). Busload after busload would bring them in, and all would patiently wait their turn in absolutely dashing outfits, before taking their flowers to Plaza de la Reina. Here a massive Mary dominates the square and the locals’ offerings create her dress.
So yes, as you can see from the photos there were lots of flowers around. It was only the women who would carry the flowers but there were also plenty of men looking all spiffy too.
I was quite taken with these guys for a couple of reasons. One, I have no idea what’s going on with their outfits. Their shoes looked similar to ones I saw at traditional parades in Kyoto and the knits seemed more Native American than anything else. All the others just screamed ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ to me.
But they were there, in their fancy threads, despite not being the stars of the show. That was left up to Valencia’s women.
The women’s outfits were nothing short of dazzling. They looked as if they stepped out of the sixteenth century that morning, complete with hooped skirts, lace veils and heavy jewellery. Their dresses were all unique, and at around €2,000 a pop you’d want to stand out from the crowd. And get your photo taken countless times; women were quick to pose whenever a camera was raised.
Not only were the dresses beautiful, but so too were their hairstyles. The Princess Leia-style coiled braids cost a lazy €400 to style; no wonder most opt for the clip-on version.
Spain may be a bit all over the place in terms of organisation most days of the year, but the Valencians know how to work a parade. The participants would march with their casal fallers – their individual neighbourhoods – in a planned order; men would often be cradling newborns all in a line, followed by women with strollers (and the children would of course be asleep somehow), toddlers, schoolchildren and finally the adults.
And the kids were absolutely adorable.
This is coming from a girl who hardly notices children, bar my own little cousins. No, I’m the type who turns my nose up at screaming kids and often wants to smack their parents.
But not in Spain. If you’ve been to the country before, you may have noticed how kids are everywhere – in bars, on city streets and at noisy restaurants – at all hours of the day and night. Spaniards are night people and their kids are trained from an early age, almost as mini-adults.
Perhaps as a result, kids just don’t seem so grimey in Spain. They eat their jamon and drink their cerveza with their feet hanging off bar stools, unable to find solid ground. They don’t annoy me. In fact, I catch myself smiling at them and their parents (and often grandparents), warmed by the sight of multiple generations dining out and having a jolly good time.
At Las Fallas, the maturity of these children shone through on countless occasions. Dads would demonstrate how to throw firecrackers (labelled as suitable for ages ’3+’) to their wide-eyed sons. Young girls would stand open-mouthed at the fallas, taking in their intricate details. And all would hold their parents’ hands, led around the city streets until the early hours of the morning.
You just don’t see this in most countries in the world, least not Australia. But I loved seeing the kids out at night; the presence of so many families made the streets more friendly and safe. There were no groups of roaming teenagers. They were all dressed up in traditional costume, taking part in the parade. Everybody – every generation – is present at Las Fallas. Fifteen year olds don’t think they’re too cool to march down Calle de la Paz dressed like a pirate.
And THAT is what I think sums up my love for Spain more than anything else. Traditions are embraced. And nothing stands in the way when it comes to having a good time, at any age.
And we didn’t have to hear any rants about world peace, either.