Saturday, March 24, 2007

10 Reasons NOT to go to Fallas

Last weekend I went to Valencia with three friends for Las Fallas. What's that you might ask? To put it simply, Valencia's crazy fire festival. Because mi chico is Valenciano, there's always a good excuse to go. I had gone last year with three different friends and had a blast (one of them, now back in the States, said it was her favorite trip from her entire year in Spain), so I decided to return.

This year, however, was a little different, in part because two-thirds of my friends, clearly not too well-informed on the subject, decided, shortly after arrival, that they didn't really like Fallas. What's not to like some might ask? Well, I'll give you 10 reasons why you may not like Fallas. I was a huge fan after last year. This year, I decided it partly has to do with the company. But, in general, I would say it is almost impossible not to have a good time.1. Don't go if you don't like fried food. Valencia in Fallas is like a fried food convention. Every corner has a vendor selling some fried goodness: the typical churros and porras and the more special (and more delicious in my opinion) buñuelos: fried rings of moist, chewy dough made with pumpkin and sprinkled with sugar. All of the above are to be taken with chocolate, por favor.

2. Don't go if you have a problem with loud noises. One of the biggest parts of Fallas is the petardos (firecrackers). Virtually every child, adult, and grandparent is armed with these suckers and a mischievous grin. They'll throw them at your feet, in a crowd, anywhere. My friends have compared this phenomenon to being in a war where everyone's happy. But you won't be happy if loud booms bother you a lot.
3. Don't go if you don't like being around lots of people and sometimes in huge crowds where you feel like you can't move. Valencia's population of 1 million doubles during Fallas. People are everywhere, which to me makes the city seem livelier than normal. But it can overwhelm.
4. Don't go if you don't like to go around looking at huge papier-maché statues that are often political or social satires. If you think that's boring, stay home! Many of these statues are amazingly detailed and are trying to make a statement. There are special artistas falleros who literally work all year creating them--only for them to be lit on fire at the end of it all.
5. Don't go if you don't like fire: playing with it or being near it. As I said earlier, even the tiniest children are armed with lighters and a box of firecrackers, so there are plenty of flames and sparks around. Not to mention that the climax of the festival is the cremá, or the "burning"--every single falla in the city is lit on fire and burned (don't worry, they wait 'til the firefighters are there ready with hoses).

6. Don't go if you don't like fireworks. On the last four nights leading up to the cremá, there is a huge fireworks display known as El Castillo (the Castle) in the old river bed in the center of town. They tend to be quite good. If you like fireworks, that is.

7. Don't go if you don't like paella. Valencia's typical saffron-colored rice dish with meat and veggies is on every menú del dia all over the city during Fallas. There's also a huge quantity of paella being cooked over wood fires on the streets every evening. If you go, you will have a hard time not eating it.8. Don't go if you don't like to drink and dance in the street. To me, this is one of the essences of Fallas, the verbenas: outdoor bars often accompanied by a stage with live music or a DJ and, if you're lucky, a scantily clad young lady dancing up there and shaking her thang. This last bit has shocked many of my friends. All I can say to you is that the Spaniards are very open people when it comes to bodies.

9. Don't go if you don't like gunpowder. Every day during Fallas, there's a huge firecracker display called the mascletá, in which a group of pyrotechnics commissioned by the city release hundred of kilos of gunpowder in an intense aural display that will have your insides vibrating. It lasts about five minutes and is extremely loud. But if you listen closely you'll hear that the pyrotechnics have rhythm: this year we heard one that sounded like a train approaching.10. Don't go if you don't like seeing people in old-fashioned and very elaborate dress. Falleros and Falleras and their dressed-up children are one of the highlights of the whole shindig. The embroidered dresses, lace shawls, fancy shoes, and Princess Leia-like hair-dos make great street entertainment.

Friday, March 23, 2007

El Musical

That's right--this is a musical with a capital "M." What am I talking about? The project we've been working on since October at school. The Wackadoo Zoo!
One of the English teachers at my school visited our "twinned school" in England over the summer, and saw them perform a very cute little musical called "The Wackadoo Zoo" about a zoo where the animals make the wrong sounds and a linguistics professor comes to try to fix them.Since this year we're doing music class in English for the first and second graders, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to prepare a musical with them. What does that entail? We know now. Adapting the musical for our young English students. Teaching five songs as well as some fairly complex choreography(!). Teaching lines to our four narrators and the Professor. Spending lunch hours painting trees, making bushes, planning, organizing, and more planning and organizing. Tons and tons of work. You'd never guess.And sometime right before Christmas we found out about a theater competition for bilingual schools. So we entered. The big performance for the jury (and parents, friends, kids from other schools, etc.) is on Tuesday morning at 10.30 at Colegio La Salle San Rafael (C/ Fernando el Católico, 49 for you Madrileños).
Who knows if we'll win. There are ten other schools competing, some of them veterans of the competition. We do know, however, that every single first and second grader will appear on that stage on Tuesday morning, singing and dancing like a lion, monkey, pig, sheep, or cow and we'll be really really proud of them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A breath of fresh air

The other day as we left school at midday to rehearse the musical with the first and second graders, an elderly man wearing a cap asked R and I if the children were "saliendo o entrando" (going or coming). He asked with a tone of nostalgia in his voice, as if remembering when he left school in the middle of the day to go home and eat. And he proceeded to tell us that he had gone to the school also when he was young, and had many fond memories there. After all, he said, it's where he cut his teeth. He told us stories of playing frontón on the patio and swimming in the indoor pool (which no longer exists).

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he mentioned the year 1934 and some "hijos de puta" in the same breath.

My interest was piqued even more.

"When did you attend the school?" we asked. "Before the war?"

"Before and after the war," he replied, smiling. (That is, the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39.) He described to us the interior of the school as he remembered it. I asked about the twin staircases, one in each wing of the building, that I had been told were from the days when it was separated into a boys part and a girls part.

He explained that during the Segunda República, the boys and girls had been mixed, but when "los hijos de puta fascistas" gained power after the war, they were separated again.

I'm only sorry I didn't ask for his telephone number to really do a thorough interview with him. I'm going to keep my eye out for him.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Of an Italian restaurant

I love a restaurant recommendation, especially when it becomes a new favorite.

An adult student of mine recommended Pulcinella as an Italian restaurant with great Neapolitan pizza and ambiance--enough to pique my interest. My boyfriend and I went Sunday night and shared a pizza and a plate of pasta. I started with the pizza, and it was really quite good--thin, but doughy crust just a little burnt in places on the bottom and fresh toppings. But the pasta was really something else--we had ordered the strascinati alla norma: oval-shaped pasta with requesón (ricotta-like cheese), eggplant, and San Marzano tomato sauce. It was unbelievably good.

But it wasn't just the food that was good. The restaurant has an intimate, homey feel to it and the service we had was really well-executed. We had an early dinner reservation (yes, 9.15 p.m. is early for Spaniards for dinner) and shortly after we arrived the place had filled up. There was plenty of wait staff, our food arrived promptly, and the waiter didn't think twice when we asked for glasses of water (on a number of occasions restaurants here have told me that they don't serve agua del grifo--tap water).

I have rarely, if ever, felt so satisfied with both how I was treated and the quality of the food in a restaurant in Madrid.