The charm of identity display

A couple of weeks ago I escaped Valencia while the city was being taken over by the local celebrations of Fallas.

While living in Spain about ten years ago, I thought very little of Fallas. Literally. I did not give too much thought to them and I only considered it a loud event to which bright Erasmus students would go to get drunk before going back home to become lobbysts or political VIPs in different countries handling the most crucial matters of our age. No need to get on any bus or train to see it. What I completely misunderstood and never bothered to even try to grasp or feel or understand was the massive support they enjoyed and how deeply rooted that was.

Then 2018 arrived and Fallas came along. I did not know the celebrations would last for weeks and they would overturn the daily life of the city. Little food trucks (the real ones) frying churros, buñuelos and any sort of edible thing from 8 am til 2 am at every corner, all sort of firecrackers at every hour of the day and the night, hoards of people ignoring basic traffic rules, let alone hygiene ones.

And the Parade for the “Flower Ofrenda“: every Fallero and Fallera of the city parades and brings flowers to a statue of the Virgin Mary on the main square. I remember coming back home from work with my bike and facing thousands of people of all ages dressed in expensive and uncomfortable traditional clothes parading through the center, and just stood there speechless. It might have been the first time I experienced a nationalistic folkloric event of these proportions. As an Italian raised in a very laic environment, I am really unprepared for this sort of events, and, I realize, I lack tools of understanding, and empathizing, I think.

With this on my mind, I went away for the weekend, and hopped on a train to the capital to visit friends. Friends have friends, and the latter ones might turn out to be curious and nice persons and all of a sudden it’s 4 am and you are talking nationalistic sentiments in Spain before the elections. It turned out the Fallas had a certain allure to them, actually quite a lot. The festivity as a shared moment through which people connect prevailed over any other nationalistic aspects, in their minds. Even though they had not lived in Valencia nor had they ever been in the city over fallas they envied it. They were longing for the common feeling of belonging to a strongly characterised place, longing for the collective identification process embodied by the attires, the objects, the shared spaces of the city being transformed in its design and traffic, and even in its possible generally accepted normative role.

To me it felt naive, almost childish at times, and it made me acknowledge once again how powerful nationalism as sentiment related to an administratively regulated area is among us, including left wing politically committed adults. It scares me but remains mesmerizing, this building of collective feelings.

Picture: YOU ARE HERE, Madrid, Centro drámatico nacional, March 2019

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