An unexpected phone call leads Olive Press columnist – Craig Scott, into one of his weirdest assignments yet!
WHEN IT COMES to weird and wacky festivals, I´ve certainly earned my stripes. From chasing cheese down vertical slopes, to eating nettles and snorkelling through bogs of stinking water – I´ve given it a go, and somehow lived to tell the tale.
Okay, so it´s hardly swimming the Channel, or fighting TOWIE´s “Arg” for his last pack of Quavers, but, nevertheless – these dares still required a degree of cajónes.
For instance, in 1997, Gloucester quacks treated 33 “cheese-chasers” for sprains and broken bones? Some participants decided their cheese-rolling days were over, but most didn´t give Edam! (Sorry… that was cheesy, even by my standards).
Anyway, just when I thought I´d seen it all, I received a mysterious phone call from an old Mallorcan mate. After a quick chinwag – he asked if I was heading to Valencia for Las Fallas… “the biggest fiesta in Spain.”
Wringing my hands in anticipation, I immediately circled the dates in my diary. After all, in a country that counts tomato-chucking, goose-swinging, and rat hurling as bog-standard festivals, what madness would be on offer at the créme de la créme? Babies in wigs? Naked nuns… jetskiing through rapids of red wine? Maybe even an endurance contest, where folk have to try and stare at images of Belén Estéban without vomiting.
Imagine my disappointment then, when it transpired that Las Fallas was a “festival of fire” – a sort of Rio Carnival meets 4th July, with enough firecrackers to wake the dead. Well, whoopee do!
For me, fireworks are expensive, pointless, and ridiculously dangerous (a bit like paying for “chaca-chaca” in a Toledo puti-club). Unlike in other EU countries, where folk are forbidden from lighting fireworks within 15 metres of the public – Spain takes a more bombastic approach.
Arguing that this law would threaten their “cultural heritage”, Spaniards can pretty much aim boomers and bottle-rockets at anything they want. Unsuprisingly, firework-related injuries are rife here, with 26 “taken out” during one Elche fiesta (Jesus… who´s directing these things- the U.S. Army?)
In 30 years of life, I think I´ve witnessed one memorable firework display, and that was when my dad tumbled down the rockery – seconds after igniting a Roman Candle. I don´t know which was louder, his screams of agony, or the expletives coming from next door, when the fiery vessel crashed into their Oriental fish pond!
Due to my dad´s badly broken wrist, we spent most of that year´s Bonfire Night in A&E. As he fretted over his cricket career and ability to complete crosswords, I wandered the wards – witnessing an endless array of nightmarish visions. I saw people rushed in with sealed-up eyeballs, singed scalps, and faces like a Four-Cheese pizza.
Then, in 2003, I became a burns victim myself. While Catherine was away on business, I got rat-arsed and decided to rustle up a late-night, microwavable curry. Unfortunately, as I removed the piping-hot tray, the contents spilled out – covering my midriff in scorching sauce. The next morning, I awoke in agony, and found a huge, yellow bubble attached to my chest. When I showed my GP, she asked if it was a “chemical burn”, to which I replied: “No… Chicken Jalfrezi.”
Physically and emotionally scarred, I spent the next decade refusing to so much as hold a sparkler. Therefore, the sudden prospect of spending hours in a car, and fistfuls of dollars – simply to watch an army of sozzled Spaniards, filling their lungs with gunpowder and sulphur – wasn´t exactly lighting my fire.
“But Fallas is unique,” Miguel argued. “You don´t see the firecrackers, you feel the firecrackers, you dance the firecrackers. “But I can´t dance, Miguel,” I explained. “Stacey´s Soloman´s fag breaks have better timing.”
Perhaps it´s a British thing, as choreographers for the London Olympics STILL can´t find enough rhythmic blokes for next summer´s Opening Ceremony. What a lead-footed lot! And yet, here´s my pal in Palma, urging me to “feel the firecrackers”, which would probably land me in court back home.
In the end, however, I bowed to peer pressure and agreed to join the pilgrimage. If I´ve learned anything from my career in journalism, it´s to embrace unpredictable challenges and face your fears head-on (even if they do evoke flashbacks of killer curries and floating goldfish!)
So, after packing my ear-plugs, portable fire extinguisher, and emergency underpants – I set off for Spain´s “Third City”. In my next blogs, I will be sharing my experiences of the Ofrenda de Flores, Nit de foc, and most famous of all…. La Cremá. So, until then – adios amigos!
This columned was originally published in the Olive Press newspaper on March 22, 2012.