La Cremà, the cream on top, the cherry on your ice cream, the pièce de résistance. Whatever you call it, this event certainly lives up to its name. La Cremà brings to an end the festival of Las Fallas and is the time when they burn all the fallas in the city; all 350+ of them.
Valencia has a published schedule for the burning of the fallas with the falla in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento being the last to burn at 12:30 a.m. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The reality is you aren’t going to burn a 70-foot structure built of flammable materials that is maybe 50 feet away from a seven story apartment building without the help of the fire department. So the way the schedule really works is that the fallas are burned when the fire department can get around to each location.
Our falla, Falla l’Antiga de Campanar, was supposed to be burned at 12 midnight so, in an effort to beat the crowds, we arrived at 10:30 p.m. on a very cold night; 7°C (45°F) to be exact. One of the things that we really didn’t do well when we packed for Spain is plan for winter. Having lived in San Diego for five years where winter is a lot warmer, these colder temperatures have caught us off-guard. Anyway, in spite of the cold, there we stood chilly but steadfast in the front row waiting for the fire to start.
Midnight came and went and so did 1 a.m. We were freezing! We hadn’t planned on standing in cold weather for three and a half hours! Finally the fire department arrived at 1:30 a.m. and began to set up. The entire crowd was cold and anxious and we heard a lot of people whistling (a European form of protest) to get the fire going. Finally, with the fire department ready, the local fallero major and all the government officials present, the stage was set, the fuse lit and up went the fallas!
It was a spectacular fire with all of the polystyrene burning very hot and very fast. The intensity of the heat was surprising even though we were at least 50 feet away from the fire. A number of people standing closer to the falla quickly moved back. We just held out our hands to absorb the warmth.
As the fire burned it was quite dramatic to see some of the wooden framework crash to the ground from 70 feet in the air. The fire department worked feverishly to control the fire that was blowing towards one of the apartment buildings and they did an excellent job as not one awning was scarred. By 2 a.m. the fire was largely exhausted and the cold started to set back in. We headed for the only open vendor selling churros and hot chocolate and happily paid the inflated price. With warm chocolate and fresh churros in hand we hurriedly walked the long mile back to our apartment.
The biggest surprise of all was next morning when we woke up. All was quiet; not a firecracker to be heard. We walked past where the fires had been the night before and there wasn’t an ash or piece of garbage or any type of debris left to indicate what had been such a fabulous display the night before. With everything so clean we struggled to remember just how crazy the city had been the night before. The Las Fallas festival of 2018 was officially over and the only thing left standing to remind us of the last few weeks was the wooden structure of the Virgin still adorned with flowers.