My Favorite Falla of 2019: Convento Jerusalén's Political Satire Musical Extravaganza
Every year, I look forward to Fallas, Valencia’s principle festival, where huge “monuments” of great artistry and technique are constructed on city streets. There are a lot of other elements to the Fallas, but these monuments - and the burning of them - are my favorite part. That, and the fact that the city closes many of the streets to car traffic during the main days of Fallas celebration!
My favorite this year was the Falla of Convento Jerusalén, at the intersection of Calle Convento Jersualén and Calle del Matemático Marzal (right in the neighborhood of Chinese restaurants). What I liked about this Falla (this word is often used interchangeably with “monument”) is that it had a consistent theme throughout the whole monument - musicals -, and applied each musical creatively to skewer either politicians or the royal family. Poking fun at politicians and the royal family isn’t novel, but what I found unique about this one, was that the overarching theme was consistently applied to the satirical vignettes. Often, a Falla will have some kind of visual theme, like Egyptian antiquities or women’s rights icons, and then satirical vignettes of a different style will line the perimeter, as if not related. Here, theme, satire, and composition were all beautifully integrated.
You can already see the actors and actresses of Cats leaping above the singer! Except if you enlarge this photo below and take a look at the poster on the right, you’ll see that this musical isn’t called Cats, but “Cash,” referring to the money involved in politics.
My favorite vignette of this Falla was the Beauty and the Beast vignette, about Catalonian separatists vs. the Beauty, a Catalonian unionist politician, Inés Arrimadas. This artist really did a good job of fusing real human beings’ likenesses with characters from the cartoon!
See, the Beast is Oriol Junqueras. Is it politically correct to laugh at how similar they look?!
Lumière is Carles Puigdemont, with his characteristic floppy hair parted on top.
Cogsworth is Quim Torra, with his always-present ruddy cheeks.
Moving clockwise from Beauty and the Beast, was Lion King. In Spanish, it was a play on words: El Rey de las Sábanas should have been “El Rey de la Sabana” or the King of the Savannah, but here, “Sábanas” plural with the accent on the first a means bedsheets. This was a satire of the womanizing King Emeritus! This was also a fitting musical to pair with the King Juan Carlos, because during the depths of the Spanish economic crisis, he caused quite a stir when it was revealed that he went to Botswana on an elephant-hunting trip.
The best part of this Lion King vignette was this scene between the current Queen, Letizia on the left, and the Queen Emerita Sofia on the right. They have two little girls caught up in tussle between the two, reflecting a strange, yet-to-be-explained altercation between Letizia and Sofia the year before after Easter Mass. Apparently Letizia tried to block Sofia from taking a picture with the two princesses, and then afterwards Sofia kissed one of them, and it appeared Letizia wiped that area off immediately!
Another scandal-plagued royal, Iñaki Urdangarin, plays the zebra. He was an Olympic handball player, and the husband of the current King’s sister, but is currently in prison for money laundering. Did he get the role of the zebra because of his white streak of hair?
Counterclockwise from the Beauty and the Beast scene was Priscilla Queen of the Desert (but the poster says “Priscilla Reina del Entuerto,” where entuerto takes the place of desierto (desert). So it actually reads, “Priscilla Queen of Injustice.” This vignette talks about Valencia’s own politicians.
This scene shows a bus crashing into Giuseppe Grezzi, a local politician who has really promoted the development of bike paths all around the city. Somehow, the Fallas seem to hate the bike paths, because starting from last year, a big portion of Fallas have shown Grezzi being mowed down riding a bike. Poor guy!
To the left is Pere Fuset, the “Councilor of Festive Culture” (yes, there really is such a position) and hence, the guy in charge of the Fallas. He’s always skewered, probably because he puts some rules or whatever that the Fallas don’t like.
One of the characters on the top of the city tour bus is Joan Ribó, the current mayor of Valencia.
All around the Falla are vignettes playing off of a musical. Below is Chicago, or “Che Qué Hago” (“Hey, What do I do?”) with Justice/Roxie Hart playing opposite Corrupt Politics/Billy Flynn.
There is also Cabaret, or “Pagaret” in this case (making reference to payment or money in politics), with the Valencian Community President Ximo Puig playing the Master of Ceremonies, and Vice President Monica Oltra leaning seductively as Sally Bowles/Liza Minelli.
Hurtling above “Pagaret” is Grease, or here, “Caspa Grease” (“Dandruff Grease”). This shows a group of former prime ministers. The predecessor of the current prime minister is Mariano Rajoy (2011-2018), lifting up his wig, as he’s playing Olivia Newton John. José María Aznar (1996-2004) is driving the car as John Travolta, and Felipe González (1982-1996) and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004-2011) are two of his crew.
Then we also had Les Mis and Moulin Rouge…
…and finally, there was Jesus Christ Superstar, or here “Pablo el Listo Superstar” (“Pablo the Clever Superstar”). Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the leftist Podemos party, was Jesus Christ; Pedro Sánchez, the current Prime Minister from the Socialist Party, was God, Manuela Carmena, the mayor of Madrid, was Mary Magdalen. Below you see Manuela Carmena between two Romans, the orange one representing Albert Rivera of the center-right Ciudadanos Party (which uses orange as their color), and the green one representing Santiago Abascal of the extreme-right Vox Party (which uses green as their color).
This Falla was “only” third place out of the top category of Fallas. The top prize went to the Falla of L’Antiga de Campanar, out of the city center, below.
I see it’s quite intricate, and I think the judges often prize Fallas that are top-heavy or have elements that appear floating (since it’s more technically difficult), but I feel like it lacked composition, and certainly the wit, of the Falla of Convento Jerusalén.
Spectacular at a distance, even more impressive up close, and with a strong theme that didn’t let up through all of the different vignettes - this was by far my favorite Falla of 2019, and one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen!