Hello, and welcome to another installment of quirky and wonderful things about Valencia, Spain.
Let’s begin with the wonderful! Remember the Fallas festival that I talked about in my last post? Well, they came, partied for five days, and then left. I never thought I’d be one to get tired of firecrackers and fireworks, but by March 17th I had just about had it (not really). The firecrackers in Valencia during Fallas are intense. I kept seeing little children walking around with wooden boxes tied with a red string around their neck. I’m telling you— every other kid had a wooden box around their necks, or their parents had their kid’s wooden box hanging around their neck. “What is in those wooden boxes?” I kept asking myself.
Well, one day I figured it out…these kids, some as young as four years old, were carrying fireworks and firecrackers around their necks. Kids + fire, in Spain? = NBD (No big deal). That would never fly in America. Can you imagine? The best/worst part about the whole thing wasn’t even the consistent noise. It’s when the kids would throw one of the fireworks right in front of your feet as you were walking past. Or when they threw it down the quiet alleyway you were walking on. After a few times I became paranoid about what was going on around me when I was walking on the streets. If I saw a group of people off in the distance huddled together looking in my general direction— yeah, some little punk is waiting for his firework to go off.
Don’t get me wrong. I joined in on the fun, bought one of those wooden boxes, and ran around Valencia throwing my own firecrackers at the little kids. When in Spain, right?
My next Fallas mission was seeing a few mascletas. “What is a mascaleta?” You’re probably asking yourself right now. Well, a mascleta is a pyrotechnic display unlike anything you could have ever possibly imagined. Every single day in March at 2 p.m. there is a massive pyrotechnic display in the town hall square. It’s mostly a lot of loud noise and intense levels of smoke. Let me tell you something— I have no idea how parents think it is okay to bring their kids to this thing. First of all, it is so loud, that I am 100% positive I lost several decibels of hearing. I guarantee I have never heard a noise louder than I did when I went to go see the mascletas . Why would you want to damage your kids hearing at such an early age?! Also how are they not scared by this noise/insanity?!
Second of all, look at the amount of people!
A better way to partake in the mascleta insanity is by seeing it from a balcony. I saw people in balconies when I went to my first mascleta on the ground and I wondered how they got up there. Well, one day I figured that out, too! A friend from work sent me an email with four different names on it and an address. She told me to go to that address and say I was with one of those four people. (I had never met any of these people, and none of them were actually going to the event.) But what was the worst that could happen? So, I walked up to the lady manning the entrance to this very fancy building and I said “Hi! I’m here to see the mascleta from the balcony!” Or something of the sort. She asked me who I was with and I told her the first name on my mysterious list. She stared back blankly at me. “Nope.” She said. I told her the next name on my list. “Nope, keep going.” The third name on my list. “Okay. Stand in this line, sixth floor, first door.”
I stood in the line, I went to the sixth floor, first door, and was greeted by free food and drinks at some upscale apartment with the best view of the town hall square below. Just another day in Valencia…
At some point during the event and drinking champagne I met the owner of the apartment. Somehow, he misunderstood and thought I worked at one of the companies that was sponsoring the event. “Oh! You surely must work with Maria, and Ramon?” I was in too deep to back out now…and what was I supposed to say? That I got in through some mysterious list which had the names of four people I don’t even know on it?! I had to pretend that I absolutely worked with Maria, and Ramon at the sponsoring company. “And what office do you work in?” He asked. “Hum…the one (*drinks champagne*) you know, the one over here in uh….Valencia.” He looked confused—for sure. Next thing I knew he was introducing me to everyone as Alexia, the girl that worked for the sponsoring company and works with Maria, and Ramon! I just kept hoping Maria and Ramon weren’t actually at this event…Oh well.
A few more quirks about Valencia, listed out, because they are all quite random and have no logical sense:
- Young people drinking Gin Tonics. I always used to associate Gin Tonics with older retired business men drinking at the country club with a cigar hanging out of their mouth— but no, in Valencia, Gin Tonics are in with the young crowd. They also love homemade Vermouth. Something I also only used to associate with the older folk. Something else I used to only associate with older folks? Swing music. This is also very in with the young crowd right now. From lessons to “jam session”—where they dance in the streets to music from the 30’s and 40’s, Lindy Hop is all over Valencia.
- Speaking of drinks. Ordering a “double espresso” in this country sometimes feels like the same feat as documenting microchips. Why is this such a difficult concept for a barista in Spain to understand? Single espresso shots are very common here, what’s so difficult about just doing that twice?! I’ve gone as far as saying “give me two single espresso shots in one cup” and they still look back at me as though I am asking for the most bizarre, complicated order in the world. Good luck ordering a double espresso in Spain, let alone anything more complicated.
- Spanish siesta. Yes, it’s real. The actual siesta (nap) part is optional, but regardless of whether they are napping or not, everything shuts down from 2-4 (and sometimes 2-5). Good luck trying to get anything during this time of the day. You will not be able to. There is one grocery store that doesn’t shut down during this time and you better believe they advertise it! But, they are also closed on Sundays. Just like everything else. You know how in the USA we tend to run our errands on Sunday? Not in Spain! Everything is closed. That leaves you, and the rest of Spain, to run all of their errands on Saturday (but not between 2-4, obviously). I’m just thankful there are no Costcos here. Can you imagine all the people that go on Sundays combined with the ones already there on Saturdays?! The madness!
- The other day at work my coworker walked up to me with a very serious look on her face. She stood next to me like she was holding some big government secret and whispered, “Hey so….a few of us are going in on 5 liter jars of olive oil. You in?” Spain and it’s abundance of olives, ladies and gentlemen! I also love how this is not a weird thing to randomly walk up to a coworker and ask. When was the last time you heard that question going around your cubicles?
- Actually being able to get something out of your coins. The most prized coin in America is the quarter. Sometimes, SOMETIMES, we manage to scrape together four quarters and manage to get something (at a gas station—I mean really, what can you get for a dollar nowadays?). In Spain, you can actually purchase things of quality with…coins. You can definitely run out during your errands and pick something up for 1 or 2 euros. It’s fantastic! I love actually getting something out of my coins, rather than nothing but a heavier purse. That being said, coin purses are a thing here and yes, men, that means you carry one around, too.
- Last but not least, here’s a shocker for my California friends. The unavailability of black and pinto beans. Forget the fact I haven’t had any Mexican food in four months, nor have I had anything remotely spicy since moving to Spain—I couldn’t even make myself Mexican food at home if I wanted to! They do not sell black beans at your standard grocery stores and I have yet to see a can of pintos anywhere. I finally found a can of black beans at a specialty shop and it cost 4 euros. Four euros for a can of black beans, people!