SHORT LENS

Las Fallas 2015

El Pilar falla- one of the biggest and most spectacular in the city.

El Pilar falla- one of the biggest and most spectacular in the city.

It's been almost a month, but I'm finally getting around to writing about, and sharing some photos from the incredible time I had celebrating Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain, with my family.

Las Fallas is a week-long festival that culminates on St. Joseph's Day on March 19. On that day, all of the fallas throughout the city (about 500, according to Wikipedia) are burned down. These structures are true works of art, developed and designed over the course of the previous year. They usually tell stories, depict events, and feature famous (and notorious) people that have been in the news or have impacted Spain or Valencia during the past year. They range widely in size, with many being enormous- easily 6 or 7 stories tall. They are all colorful and beautiful political and social commentaries.

Throughout the week the entire city celebrates. I think it's difficult for most Americans to appreciate what I mean when I say the entire city celebrates, because there is really no equivalent to such a festival in the United States that I can think of. Even very large city festivals that I know of- Chinese New Year or Pride in San Francisco for example- last only one or two days, and only involve a fraction of the city's residents and are limited to a certain area of the city. But in Valencia, you may be surprised by a deafening firecracker around any street corner in the city. Down any narrow street, you may stumble upon a parade of falleras, accompanied by their own marching band. Scarcely an apartment in the city is safe from being subjected to loud music pounding through their walls until two or three in the morning. And the heart of the city constantly throbs with crowds of people and festive music, as the aromas of fried churros and bunuelos fill the air. The energy is electric. 

I arrived on March 15 which gave me 5 days to join in the city-wide festivities. Though the weather was less than ideal- cold, cloudy, windy, and occasionally rainy- I spent many pleasant hours wandering the city streets with my cousin Paz, my mom and dad, and other relatives, admiring the many fallas we came across, and soaking in the energy and ambiance. 

Below are a few photos I took that week. Although they cannot truly capture the energy, mood, or scale of the festival, I hope they will at least give you a little insight into a joyous celebration, half a world away (in the city where I was born and which will always be near to my heart) that you may otherwise have never known existed.

The city hall falla, located in the city's main square - also one of the biggest and most notable in the city.

The city hall falla, located in the city's main square - also one of the biggest and most notable in the city.

Every neighborhood in Valencia has its own falla and its own falleras and falleros. These people basically make up each neighborhood's committee that is responsible for raising money for, and developing the neighborhood's falla. Their dresses are intricate, handmade works of art, and their hair is always styled in an elaborate set of braids and combs, that has been the tradition as long as the Las Fallas festival has existed.

Every neighborhood in Valencia has its own falla and its own falleras and falleros. These people basically make up each neighborhood's committee that is responsible for raising money for, and developing the neighborhood's falla. Their dresses are intricate, handmade works of art, and their hair is always styled in an elaborate set of braids and combs, that has been the tradition as long as the Las Fallas festival has existed.

During the week of fallas, you may stumble across little parades and processions like this one around any street corner!

During the week of fallas, you may stumble across little parades and processions like this one around any street corner!

A great wooden structure depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus is located in the city's oldest square. It's a major focal point of the Fallas festivities, as for a couple of days falleras and falleros process from their neighborhoods to the square with bouquets of flowers. The flowers are placed throughout the wooden structure, creating a beautiful dress.

A great wooden structure depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus is located in the city's oldest square. It's a major focal point of the Fallas festivities, as for a couple of days falleras and falleros process from their neighborhoods to the square with bouquets of flowers. The flowers are placed throughout the wooden structure, creating a beautiful dress.

The Virgin Mary, after her dress is completed with flowers from the thousands of falleras who brought bouquets from their neighborhoods.

The Virgin Mary, after her dress is completed with flowers from the thousands of falleras who brought bouquets from their neighborhoods.

The Ofrenda- literally "offering" in English- is the formal procession the falleras and falleros make to the the Plaza de la Virgen, bringing flowers that will make up her elaborate dress.

The Ofrenda- literally "offering" in English- is the formal procession the falleras and falleros make to the the Plaza de la Virgen, bringing flowers that will make up her elaborate dress.

A street in the old part of the city, decked out for Fallas and filled with people celebrating.

A street in the old part of the city, decked out for Fallas and filled with people celebrating.

A spectacular lights display downtown. We watched the impressive show, where it is lit up in a thousand different patterns, to a variety of songs, including Pharrell Williams' "Happy."

A spectacular lights display downtown. We watched the impressive show, where it is lit up in a thousand different patterns, to a variety of songs, including Pharrell Williams' "Happy."

The falla of Valencia's Campanar neighborhood. This falla which won second place in the entire city, was located directly behind my aunt and uncle's apartment building and is the one we watched burn.

The falla of Valencia's Campanar neighborhood. This falla which won second place in the entire city, was located directly behind my aunt and uncle's apartment building and is the one we watched burn.

On March 19 at midnight (more or less) all of Valencia's fallas meet the same fate: they are burned to the ground. On March 20 virtually every sign of Las Fallas will have been removed from the city. Everyone may have a slightly different interpretation of the significance of the destruction of such beautiful works of art that embody so much talent, creativity, dedication, work, and money. I like to think of it as I think of the entire week I spent in Valencia: We must enjoy the precious moments we are fortunate to experience, we should be fully present for them, make the most of them, knowing that nothing is permanent.

On March 19 at midnight (more or less) all of Valencia's fallas meet the same fate: they are burned to the ground. On March 20 virtually every sign of Las Fallas will have been removed from the city. Everyone may have a slightly different interpretation of the significance of the destruction of such beautiful works of art that embody so much talent, creativity, dedication, work, and money. I like to think of it as I think of the entire week I spent in Valencia: We must enjoy the precious moments we are fortunate to experience, we should be fully present for them, make the most of them, knowing that nothing is permanent.


The First Day of Same-Sex Marriage in Alabama

I spent the morning of Monday, February 9--the first day that same-sex marriage was legal in Alabama--in Huntsville's Big Spring Park, documenting some of the very first same-sex marriages in the state. This audio slideshow features some of the sights and sounds from that special morning.

The wedding ceremonies were part of, "Wedding Week," which was organized by local volunteers when Madison County's probate judge said he would not perform any weddings for the week of February 9. The event ran through Friday, February 13, and more than 2,000 people are estimated to have participated in the festivities either as couples getting married, volunteers lending services and supplies, journalists covering the event, or as members of the community offering support.

AL.com reported that 160 couples were married over the course of the week. At least 40 of those weddings were performed on Monday, said the event's media relations director, Heather Reed. The first day also culminated in a reception at Huntsville's Embassy Suites, where the newlyweds and volunteers celebrated with dinner, drinks, and dancing.

I felt honored to be part of such a historical day in Alabama- a day that was full of joy and hope, and promise for the state's future.

 

 

 

Marriage Equality Comes to (parts of) Alabama

On Monday, February 9, Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for the first time ever, in compliance with a federal ruling. Although most counties in the state did not comply with the federal ruling thanks to the meddling of the infamous Roy Moore, Madison County was thankfully among the handful that did.

The first couple to emerge from the county courthouse doors with a marriage license in hand Monday morning, were Ashinari Effinger and Adrian Thomas. I was glad to be there for the historic moment! They immediately proceeded to nearby Big Spring Park where well-wishers, volunteers, and journalists were waiting to witness what would be the first same-sex marriage in the city of Huntsville, and Madison County.

Reverend Dr. Ellin Jimmerson of Huntsville's Weatherly Heights Baptist Church officiated the ceremony. "Great joy and extravagant celebration are the order of the day," she said before before marrying the couple. She also congratulated U.S. District Judge Callie Granade, whom she said, "in finding Alabama's ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional, legally recognized members of their own families." 

She also marked the occasion with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," she said, adding, "The long arc of the moral universe also bends toward love."

This piece documents Madison County's first same-sex marriage in images and sound. But please note, it does not include audio of the full ceremony.

This ceremony was just the first of dozens of marriages that were performed throughout the day. Many volunteers came together through a grass roots effort to marry couples immediately after obtaining marriage licenses, in response to the probate judge declining to perform ceremonies this week. They will continue to perform marriages every day this week as part of Wedding Week.

I will be posting another audio slideshow documenting sights and sounds of the first day of same-sex marriage in Alabama, soon. Unfortunately, having a full-time job is slowing me down a little... but it's coming!