Archive for the 'festivals' Category

Summercase 08

This is the first July I’ve actually spent in Madrid despite having lived here for three years. As such, it only seemed right to attend a hometown music festival this summer. The two-day Summercase was my and a friend’s choice and it all went down this weekend.


Blondie! Total crowd pleasers. What energy, what style! And lead singer Debbie Harry is over 60 and knows how to seriously rock. We loved her dancing.

CSS or Cansei de Ser Sexy. This group was a personal discovery of mine at last year’s festival in Benicàssim (FIB) and I was psyched to see them at Summercase. They did not disappoint, playing a 45-minute set in which they didn’t even pause between songs nor did the crowd stop bouncing around to their crazy ditties. The lead singer is a riot: she donned a floral-print full bodysuit for the show.

Foals. Previously unknown to me, I listened to a couple of their songs last week and liked them enough to know I wanted to see their set. Definitely one of the coolest bands there. The singer’s voice reminded me a bit of Kele Okereke’s from Bloc Party, but the music is like an electronic dance-rock jam—the kind of music that’s great to see live. The band members were totally into it, too. Guitarist Jimmy Smith, a tall lanky dude wearing what looked like orange swim trunks (it was hot!), hopped around bent over his guitar, keeping the beat by rocking his whole body forward and back.

The Scotsman Edwyn Collins. Rocked out on “A Girl Like You” and a number of others from his seat on stage. The guy suffered two cerebral hemorrhages three years ago and still has difficulties with his right arm and leg. Impressive!

The Verve were not my favorite, but Richard Ashcroft’s lovely “The Drugs Don’t Work,” followed by “Bittersweet Symphony” definitely deserve a mention.

The Breeders. Those sisters rock! They were pretty badass in their t-shirts and baggy jeans. Remember their hit “Cannonball“?

Maximo Park. Another energy-filled set backed by thoroughly enjoyable music and some very attractive band members. Must download.

Shout-outs go to:

The organizers for the rent-a-cup system. Pay a euro and rent your cup for the night or nights. Return it, along with its “leash” (a plastic ring with a clip to attach to your clothes), and get your euro back. I admire the “green” initiative.

Amnesty International, who had a stand with information and a great incentive: bring them five empty water bottles and get a free bottle of water. During the two nights R and I probably collected upwards of 50 water bottles off the ground and reaped the benefits with free hydration.

Public transport. We got there and back from Boadilla del Monte for less than 3 euros each day. Olé!

Empieza el verano

bonfireSummer has officially begun. Last weekend, people all over Spain celebrated La Noche de San Juan, but the biggest parties are normally found on the coasts. I was lucky to be on the coast for my second consecutive San Juan–this time I was in Castellón. The fiesta is essentially one big bonfire beach party with friends, family, and plenty of food and drink. There are all sorts of superstitious beliefs about the night, like jumping seven waves at midnight and making a wish, burning a list of bad things from the past year, jumping over the bonfire, and running around the bonfire. Some people even walk right through the bonfire. Happy summer!

San Isidro

I love May in Madrid. Terrazas take over the sidewalks and plazas of our fair city, the grass and trees are green, the parks are full of flowers, days are long, and it’s not too hot yet. And then there’s San Isidro. He was a saint, a farmer (labrador), and a very good excuse for a party. That’s right: he’s Madrid’s patron saint, which means that on the day that he died (May 15, 1130) everyone gets a holiday in Madrid!

The festivities started a bit earlier for me and some lucky friends. A colleague of mine is from a tiny town in the province of Cuenca, and there they also happen to have good old Isidro as their patron saint (for reasons unclear, maybe for the agricultural nature of the pueblo?). I’ve been lucky enough to spend two years attending the fiestas in Villaverde y Pasaconsol, which consist largely of dancing all night and eating all day.
The most emblematic part of the fiestas in the pueblo is the toros. But they aren’t full-grown toros, just vaquillas (little cows). All Saturday afternoon people enter the miniscule ring (composed of a whole bunch of truck beds) and run around with the vaquillas, trying not to get gored. The part I don’t really like is that then they kill a couple–I didn’t stay to watch that part. But the following morning, a bunch of people get up early and spend the whole morning guisando (cooking) the meat in gigantic pots. And then the whole town has a huge picnic with the meat and whatever people have brought: tortilla and plenty of bread, wine, and fruit.

Back in Madrid the party really got started on the Monday night before the holiday. The bars and streets of La Latina were completely packed, people were dancing chotis in the street at 1 a.m., and there was plenty of general merriment.

And on San Isidro, hordes of people head to las praderas–the meadows–at a park named after the saint that lies in the southwestern part of the city (metro Marqués de Vadillo). I spent all afternoon there with my roommates and friends, eating pasta salad and watermelon and enjoying the good weather. Children and adults dress up as chulapas (with their long dresses and shawls) and chulapos (with their black-and-white checked caps) and, for a day, Madrid celebrates itself.

10 Reasons NOT to go to Fallas

Last weekend I went to Valencia with three friends for Las Fallas. What’s that you might ask? To put it simply, Valencia’s crazy fire festival. Because mi chico is Valenciano, there’s always a good excuse to go. I had gone last year with three different friends and had a blast (one of them, now back in the States, said it was her favorite trip from her entire year in Spain), so I decided to return.

This year, however, was a little different, in part because two-thirds of my friends, clearly not too well-informed on the subject, decided, shortly after arrival, that they didn’t really like Fallas. What’s not to like some might ask? Well, I’ll give you 10 reasons why you may not like Fallas. I was a huge fan after last year. This year, I decided it partly has to do with the company. But, in general, I would say it is almost impossible not to have a good time.1. Don’t go if you don’t like fried food. Valencia in Fallas is like a fried food convention. Every corner has a vendor selling some fried goodness: the typical churros and porras and the more special (and more delicious in my opinion) buñuelos: fried rings of moist, chewy dough made with pumpkin and sprinkled with sugar. All of the above are to be taken with chocolate, por favor.

2. Don’t go if you have a problem with loud noises. One of the biggest parts of Fallas is the petardos (firecrackers). Virtually every child, adult, and grandparent is armed with these suckers and a mischievous grin. They’ll throw them at your feet, in a crowd, anywhere. My friends have compared this phenomenon to being in a war where everyone’s happy. But you won’t be happy if loud booms bother you a lot.
3. Don’t go if you don’t like being around lots of people and sometimes in huge crowds where you feel like you can’t move. Valencia’s population of 1 million doubles during Fallas. People are everywhere, which to me makes the city seem livelier than normal. But it can overwhelm.
4. Don’t go if you don’t like to go around looking at huge papier-maché statues that are often political or social satires. If you think that’s boring, stay home! Many of these statues are amazingly detailed and are trying to make a statement. There are special artistas falleros who literally work all year creating them–only for them to be lit on fire at the end of it all.
5. Don’t go if you don’t like fire: playing with it or being near it. As I said earlier, even the tiniest children are armed with lighters and a box of firecrackers, so there are plenty of flames and sparks around. Not to mention that the climax of the festival is the cremá, or the “burning”–every single falla in the city is lit on fire and burned (don’t worry, they wait ’til the firefighters are there ready with hoses).

6. Don’t go if you don’t like fireworks. On the last four nights leading up to the cremá, there is a huge fireworks display known as El Castillo (the Castle) in the old river bed in the center of town. They tend to be quite good. If you like fireworks, that is.

7. Don’t go if you don’t like paella. Valencia’s typical saffron-colored rice dish with meat and veggies is on every menú del dia all over the city during Fallas. There’s also a huge quantity of paella being cooked over wood fires on the streets every evening. If you go, you will have a hard time not eating it.8. Don’t go if you don’t like to drink and dance in the street. To me, this is one of the essences of Fallas, the verbenas: outdoor bars often accompanied by a stage with live music or a DJ and, if you’re lucky, a scantily clad young lady dancing up there and shaking her thang. This last bit has shocked many of my friends. All I can say to you is that the Spaniards are very open people when it comes to bodies.

9. Don’t go if you don’t like gunpowder. Every day during Fallas, there’s a huge firecracker display called the mascletá, in which a group of pyrotechnics commissioned by the city release hundred of kilos of gunpowder in an intense aural display that will have your insides vibrating. It lasts about five minutes and is extremely loud. But if you listen closely you’ll hear that the pyrotechnics have rhythm: this year we heard one that sounded like a train approaching.10. Don’t go if you don’t like seeing people in old-fashioned and very elaborate dress. Falleros and Falleras and their dressed-up children are one of the highlights of the whole shindig. The embroidered dresses, lace shawls, fancy shoes, and Princess Leia-like hair-dos make great street entertainment.

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