It's not about being Spanish, it's about being Valenciano, and Valencia—the traditional and the not so traditional—is part of the experience of America's Cup 32. So I suggest that you join me in dropping in now on the Procesión del Corpus, a tradition dating to 1355 and still big on the local calendar. Big enough that, in the heart of the city, time stops for a day and is interrupted for three. I might point out that 1355 was before Marco Polo invented the tourist industry and long before the bankers of Valencia loaned a few nickels to Isabella so that she could cover the cost of a boat ride for Chris Columbus.
If you're just here for racing stuff, cool. Check out my interview of Hart Jordan, Volume, Counterbalance, and the Crossover. (What did New Zealand learn from Desafio Español, and will that be enough?) And do drop into the blog another day.
The rest of you, listen up. This is a long post. It was a long parade. But if you stick with me, you'll see, it's not really about the parade. And if you just have to go, I understand.
First, some tips.
1. If you're flying into Valencia you will be connecting through London, Madrid, Munich, or something such. When you get to the final flight, probably a short one, try to get a right-side window, especially if it is daytime. Depending upon the approach, you could be rewarded with an all-on panorama of the racing area, the port, and the city center.
2. Checked baggage has a checkered history. Plan accordingly.
3. A lot of what goes on here is not about being Spanish. It's about being Valenciano.
4. The best web site I know for learning about Valencia itself is valenciavalencia.com.
5. Expect good things.
Sunday being the culmination of three days of activities, and the grand Procesión del Corpus itself, I guess that accounts for the fact that my usual-resort internet access points in the old city were closed. Meaning that the sure-shot way to accomplish a Sunday post was to bike to the Media Center at the port. Meaning that I felt, ahem, rather cross. But there's always the silver-plated lining. In this case it was riding the former-river-now-a-park and discovering the ordinaryness (to a San Franciscan) of this green-alternatives festival under way there. Except for the Calatrava-designed bridge over the river, in the background, it was just like a Sunday in Golden Gate Park . . .
Right down to yoga in the meadow, but with no strange, sickly-sweet smells . . .
And there is a shorter way to the port, but I prefer the dogleg past the Museum of Science. Can't get over this place . . .
I've shared this much to show that a city of nearly one million people has a lot going on. Valencia lives right along, with most of the inhabitants knowing nothing of the Procesión del Corpus except what they read in the papers. In the old city, however, this is serious business.
Valencia is an unusual place. It's a town with wonderful museums (should I say that again in capital letters with lots of exclamation marks?) that are almost empty because, somehow, people just haven't got the message. It's also a town that lives its traditions fully and unhurriedly, because it can.
The three-day Fiesta Corpus Christi is, at heart, a solemn religious festival combining services in the churches, concerts and plays, and finally, the procession of the Rocas. And the Rocas are . . .
The Rocas are horse-drawn carts that spend the rest of the year in a museum, mobile works of art depicting biblical themes, the oldest dating to 1512. On the Friday before the procession, 60 days after Easter, they are delivered individually from the museum to the Plaza de Virgins, each drawn by horses and accompanied by a band. They are on display there until Sunday, and the procession.
This is Roca la Purisma, thanks to valenciavalencia.com . . .
There also are these carved figures that wait in the plaza for the procession, and here's a factoid for you. The world's most famous maker of hand-crafted merry go rounds relocated from Paris to Valencia for the sake of the local craftsmen, who are part of this tradition.
One thing to understand about this deal: It goes on forever.
A couple of Rocas go down the calle and you think (if you're new in town), Okay, it's started. And you're right, it has. In its own way.
The Rocas may be ancient and holy, but the horses don't seem to get the idea. Horse troubles was a recurring theme. Note the layer of dirt that has been laid over the cobblestones. These people have fiestas down to a science. All of that dirt will be gone before midnight.
So, as I mentioned, yes, the procession has started. And stopped. Now you stand around for an hour and nothing else happens.
Finally, finally, finally, a cart comes by with a guy tossing out fragrant greenery. People collect some of it, but most remains in the street.
Another hour goes by.
By now your feet are starting to go, but the locals are fine. They have the chairs that they set out first thing in the morning, they visit with friends and neighbors, and when they feel like it they duck around the corner and go home for a spell.
Being congenitally unable to stand still, I walked (back) upstream all the way to the Plaza of the Virgins. Dig that dappled light. The awnings live on permanent wires; they're drawn back for daily life and then pulled out to create shade on special days. And there in the plaza was a different crowd contained behind barricades. But still, since the tossing of the green, nothing.
This thing is not staged for tourists. It's not even, at heart, a spectacle. It's a home-town, family thing. Eventually the main body of the parade kicks off and look, there's cousin Juan all dressed up in one of his costumes . . .
And look how little Maria has grown!
A day like this is about keeping tradition alive for another generation: Being Valenciano. The dialect was long-suppressed; now it is taught in the schools. When Franco finally kicked the bucket, there were forces in Madrid that wanted to see Valencia as part of Catalunya. No way. Staunchly and successfully resisted.
Ah, in another year or two, the boys won't be able to sing like this . . .
What's coming next?
While you're waiting, you need a fan . . .
While I'm waiting I like to play with my big brother. I feel big too . . .
Other times I feel so small (!)
And this John the Baptist thing I don't like at all . . .
We have dancers . . .
And maskers . . .
And societies of honor . . .
With the parade in full swing, I could no longer make my way along the main calle and used back streets to change my spot. Along the way I encountered this remnant of a wall that made me wonder. In San Francisco we have a phenomenon called the technical remodel. Meaning that if you keep a few sticks from the original building, it's easier to get the permit to build because it's not "new construction." Is this a technical remodel in process ?
Whoops. Things were happening while I was away . . .
And that storm of flower petals coming from the balconies surely heralds a climax . . .
The flag of Valencia receives veneration . . .
The priests pass in a cloud of incense. Truly a cloud . . .
And it just wouldn't be real, and it wouldn't be settled that Valencia is Valencia and will always be Valencia and everything is going to be fine until the next festival and procession--say, about a month from now --without an appearance from Madame Mayor . . .
By now I was whipped. Footsore and back-weary. I couldn't wait to get to my apartment, maybe 6-8 minutes walking distance away.
And this is my report from the Department of Slow Learning.
When I got home I realized that I live here.
And I have a folding chair . . .
Ahh, being ValencianoKimball