First, a brief explanation of what Las Fallas is. Fallas are large, colorful, ornate caricature-like statues that are built every year for this festival and are mounted in street intersections. Denia has 12, and Valencia has something like 300. They each are some sort of satirical expression – often political or social commentaries, featuring everything from Zapatero (the president) to the mayor of Denia to Elvis, and from la crisis (the economic crisis) to the tourism industry. They are put on show for one week, and then on 19 March, the last day of Las Fallas, they are burnt up in “la cremà,” all with the coordinated efforts of the region’s firefighters. It was crazy to be there for this – people get really excited about the burnings (understandably so), and then they taunt the firefighters, chanting insults at them, which provokes the response of firefighters spraying the firehoses at the crowd (which can be scary! Those things are powerful…) There were also events like the “nit de foc,” a grand fireworks show over the river, and the “mascletàs,” which are my favorite. During the middle of the day, everyone gathers at the town hall square to hear, see, and FEEL the hugest fireworks explosions you can imagine. They are timed so that the booming echoes off the surrounding tall buildings end up in really cool rhythms, and the energy of the crowd is contagious.
Basically, Las Fallas is a festival that is truly, truly Spanish – and to the extreme. Not only is there an unbelievable amount of people on the streets (and an extra 1 million descend upon Valencia for this festival), but they are all incredibly excited to burn things, set of explosions (non-stop, loud, and all around!), and party all night long. This can get a bit overwhelming! Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed Las Fallas – it was a great experience. I loved the atmosphere, and I love to experience the Spanish culture - there was so much energy in the air. But being there, immersed among Spanish college students and surrounded by millions of people all the time, all a bit overwhelming, contributed to my latest thinking that’s been hitting me:
There’s no place like home.
I’ve been here 2.5 months now – that is the longest I’d ever been without coming home before this semester. (But that was at Snow Mountain Ranch, and my parents came to visit in the middle – and it was in the United States!) But this intense 3-day dosage of Spanish culture and surroundings came to me at a point where it was easy to be overwhelmed by it all.
And truly, I am enjoying myself in Spain – it has seriously been a blast the whole way through. But I’m also realizing that there are some great things about my home and my culture, and that frankly, I miss quite a bit.
Of course, I miss all the normal things to miss – my family, my friends that understand me perfectly, and my classes that interest me.
I miss nature and hiking. (Even though I’ve hiked twice so far here in 2.5 months, two hikes was my average amount of hiking in 1 week at SMR this summer! I simply need the outdoors to thrive – I'm discovering that it’s an undeniable part of who I am).
I miss large cups of tea and coffee, and
going out to the symphony with my girlfriends, followed by a tranquil evening chatting in the hot tub.
Rocky Mountain Roastery Coffee! ^^ (the avalanche, obvi.)
I miss Costco Hummus.
I miss the more open latino culture which surrounded me in the US…. But Sunday, at least, I got a fantastic dose of it! Sunday afternoon, I got together with Cheri (a Calvin friend) and Shaale, a Cuban immigrant who we know from church. Shaale invited 2 of her friends, both immigrants – one from Ecuador and the other from Uruguay. It was such a blessing – we took a walk in the park, ate fruit with the thick hot chocolate that Shaale had prepared, as well as a table full of goodies that her mamá prepared for us, which were far, far, beyond what we had expected or asked of her. So generous! We laughed together, prayed together, and shared our dreams for the future. … oh, and not a single lisp was used in these lovely latinas’ conversation! ;)
I miss 3134 Blue Ridge Lodge.
I miss something that, you will see, reveals my nerdiness in all of this…. On my bus ride home from Valencia, I was looking out at one of the city parks covered in sand-ish dirt stuff, and I was thinking about how I miss Michigan’s verdant vegetation, soft grass, and lovely deciduous trees, and other such things… and how did I process this in my head? “I miss my biome.” (Yes, I am indeed a geography major.)
(And let’s be honest, the Mediterranean/Chaparral biome is one of the world’s most pleasant (if not the most pleasant in terms of climate) – but there’s just something about the Temperate Deciduous Forest – it’s my home! (Even this summer in beautiful Colorado, surrounded by coniferous trees, I missed deciduous trees. Nothing a good ol’ broad leaf to make me feel like I’m at home…))
But worry not, I am having fun, and will continue to do so. I’ll be on spring break in 2 weeks, visiting one of my dearest friends, and my parents and sister will be here in Denia in 4 weeks. And here in Denia, with every day, I will be enjoying more of the beach and less of my textbooks – these midterms, which went really well, made us all realize how we had been stressing too much over homework. These exams really do not require us to pressure ourselves so – we can still excel and be good students without stressing ourselves out – who knew?? :) And I’ll be continuing to enjoy building and making friendships with both my Calvin group and the Spaniards and immigrants here in Denia.
What I am realizing – and for this, I am thankful– is that America is actually a cool place, and Michigan is, indeed, awesome (though I never doubted the second part.) There are both positive and negative aspects to both the Spanish and the American cultures, and being here is helping me to see them a bit more clearly –whereas previously, I was more exclusively rosy toward the former and cynical towards the latter.
So from here on out, I will keep on learning, keep on enjoying Spain, and keep on growing to appreciate more and more every part (dare I say, every square inch) of God’s beautiful, complex, interesting, amazing world.