I am sitting amidst the grasses on the Playa de Rodiles watching my children, Carson and Celia take a surfing lesson on a glorious day, even though the temperatures may not rise above 60 degrees. It doesn't seem to matter in Northern Spain, where it doesn't really warm up for very long during the year. Their instructor, Pablo, owns and operates the Special Surf surfing school. Pablo is not only amazing with kids, but is a professional surfer. He and a few others teach a successful surfing camp during the summers and private lessons in the spring and fall. During the winter he supplements his income by teaching yoga and pilates. He chooses to stay here because it is the place of the biggest wave in Spain, which is highest during the winter months. He has a
We began our northern road trip by trading in the mini we have been using all year for a regular size car. Although a mini is the prominent car in Spain and has served us well for our short trips and school pick-ups, it is difficult when you have one child that is bigger than both parents. So, to everyone's relief, we upgraded for our 8 hour drive to northern Spain. We began with a drive through the La Rioja Wine Region. The land is still flat for the most part, and the colors of the earth are brown and light green.
As the wind whips our hair up into the sky and the whitecaps fill the usually calm harbor of Maó, I am grateful for the idyllic charm of the Jardi de ses Bruixes Hotel on the island of Menorca. The white washed and stone interior, with high airy ceilings, blue highlights, and country decor, make it an ideal place to hang our hat during cooler weather. The food is exquisite and made from scratch.
It's hard to fathom the spectacle that ends Las Fallas. We would never see such unmonitored danger anywhere in the United States, but in Spain, it is taken in stride. The burning of every Fallas statue in almost every plaza in Valencia, as well as many plazas in all the surrounding towns at midnight is what is known as La Crema. Keep in mind, most of the Fallas are around 40 feet or more and right in the middle of urban squares, often less than several feet from a wall or business. I wasn't sure what to expect or how to envision the final burning. However, there is an order to the madness. The burning of the Fallas begin at midnight and take place one at a time, until the final Fallas in the main town square is lit at 1:00 am. So, the fire department does go to each Fallas as a precaution. When they get there, they spray the neighboring buildings with water. Each Fallas has a rope around a small area surrounding it to keep people from actually getting too close. Before each Fallas is lit, fireworks are set off above the Fallas that is about to be set ablaze, notifying the crowds of its location. Then fireworks are lit inside the Fallas, setting it on fire.
Just like holidays everywhere, part of the fun is the lead up. There are very specific traditions that accompany Las Fallas that the local residents do before the more than 1 million visitors descend on Valencia for the actual three days of Las Fallas. Las Fallas can be daunting for a newcomer because of the vast number of activities, some of which are only meant for the people in the Fallas Communities, so it's hard to know what to do. It also takes one full Las Fallas to understand what things mean and the order things happen. And, finally, calendars of activities are in Spanish or Valencian and not always updated. Thanks to our Spanish friends, we got a complete list of the things we should do before Las Fallas began. Although our high school son, Carson, took full advantage of staying out in Valencia until 3:00 am with all the other highschoolers, it was nice to participate in other activities that fit my nine year old daughter's schedule (and frankly, mine, as well).
Yesterday's Las Fallas activities switched over to a different view into Spanish culture through a celebration of community and tradition called The Gift of the Flowers. It was a reminder to me to pause and recognize the moment. I felt like I could be living in the pages of a National Geographic article. But, after living here for almost a year, it changes your perspective when you know people that are participating. It reminds you that the people you see aren't just symbols of the past, but lead regular modern lives, while consciously keeping their traditions alive.
I embarrassed my family yesterday in Valencia while we were waiting to cross the street. A loud boom that rattled the street signs went off behind me and I screamed. Now, this would seem like a reasonable response to most people, unless you live in Valencia. The festival of Las Fallas is a festival of fire, but it has morphed into a festival of all things explosive. Even though Las Fallas officially takes place every 15-19 of March, it really starts at the end of February. As we have learned in Spain, it's not just the party that matters, but the lead-up to the party.
It is 2:00 in Valencia on March 11 and loud booming can be heard throughout the city and into the countryside. A massive plume of blueish smoke rises above the old town and spreads across the city. For anyone that does not know what is going on, awful ideas could fill your head: a bomb, a city fire, an air strike. But, looking around, most people seem unfazed. This is because the booming marks the beginning of the annual Valencian celebration of Las Fallas.
Before coming to Spain, our family primarily followed football and baseball. We enjoyed soccer, mostly because our daughter plays it. And of course, we were aware of famous names such as David Beckham, Mia Hamm, and Pele. However, nothing quite prepared us for the obsession the Spanish have with soccer (or futbal in Spain). Sure, Spanish people play other sports. In fact basketball is popular and a lot of kids play tennis. But, futbal trumps everything and all the country's resources go towards supporting it. For Spanish boys, futbal skills are cultivated early. They can rise through the ranks of the club teams to maybe one day reach the Spanish pinnacle: La Liga.
Part of getting to know people that live in another country is learning the basic interactions that friends and acquaintances use. In this column and on my blog, I am trying to focus on the differences between visiting a country and really getting to know what people and culture are like beyond the presentation. One of the things that has been a joy to learn, is how emotional and affectionate most Spaniards tend to be to those they know.
Sally and her family have moved to Spain for a year starting July 2017. They are living in a little town called Puzol, which is about 12km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, are attending the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family is to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish. This blog tracks their travels and experiences.