Village = Small; Sound+Light? = Huge
When we moved to this area Spanish fiestas were way off the list of things to do. Spanish fiestas in little hamlets like Valverde and Perleta, to the bigger town like the fiestas in Alicante, Elche and Santa Pola were thought of only when it was in full swing and we were in the car going somewhere, and we were stopped by traffic jams. Aaahhh, there was a fiesta going on somewhere.
It was in July that somebody mentioned that it was the Valverde annual fiesta. Oooops, it was after the date, but we waited until the following year, so it was the first time for us to be at this fiesta in Valverde, the annual fiesta. We'd heard they'd chosen ladies-in-waiting of the fiesta who were in girls in Valverde village, whom we were on nodding terms with.
We were there to see, by chance, what the ensemble, or Cinderella ballgown, was. The 'damas' (ladies-in-waiting) costume for the Valverde fiesta, was full of lacing up corsets and mounds of petticoats; and intricately layered kit, it was challenging to get into the creation - Cinderella ballgowns it was indeed. The Valverde Annual fiesta is a 10-day long event in July, so is it going to be spectacular?
Valverde is a small village close to Santa Pola and Elche, one of the many villages dotted around the countryside slightly south of Alicante. Though small, it is quite spread out, the village centre being a community of upmarket homes. Many workers come to the area at lunchtime with its good-value restaurants/bars, and all through the day and night, it is a favourite meeting place for residents to eat, drink and be sociable till all hours, especially in summertime.
In the weekends, as well as early in the morning, raucous banter can be heard as the older generation play dominos and cards and the local bar serves plenty of tapas for the steady stream of locals and occasional visitors.
The Valverde fiesta this year happily fell straight after the football World Cup 2010 in July - the village was over-the-moon with celebrations when Spain won the much-coveted title… food and drink, popcorn and beers erupted from the crowded bar at the finals, buttons firmly pressed down on air-horns and fireworks going off in all directions.
Everyone was overjoyed with the results, with the expected kissing of strangers and cars hooting the horn, and partying till sunrise the next morning. Can the Valverde fiesta match this, the week after? On the evening of 16th July, the official start of the fiesta, Policia Local had cordoned of the main streets of the village.
The fiesta was to honour the local saint, La Virgen de Santa Ana. The first evening of the festivity was to bestow 2010’s honours to queens and ladies-in-waiting from the 2009 reigning queens – on stage, receiving the awards and flags, there were juvenile and older queens and of course the damas, ladies in waiting.
The Mums' also get bouquets of beautiful flowers. The atmosphere in Valverde had festive edge, with buntings and flags galore, tables with white linen set out in the streets, two huge beer-tents serving copious beer and festive fare. Neighbours and friends are there to eat, drink, chat until the wee hours of the morning.
Someone we know was picked to be a ‘dama’ – at fifteen years of age, it was an honour to be chosen.
Beautiful ballgowns, painstakingly hand-sewn in Spain for the occasion, had layers upon layers of cinched-up petticoats - it is a lavish creation, fit for any period drama at the movies.
Pins and coiffured hairdos, intricate pieces of delicate, filigreed jewellery, white mantilla-dressed elegance, shoes have to be just right, waving to the crowds has to be perfected.
The Spanish have dedicated industries designing and making these creations, as well as other costumes and ballgowns for any occasion I’m sure.
The boys and young men also have tasks to perform, seeing to the ladies as they are escorted to the main stage area. The art of playing hosts in these events are engendered at an early age and it seems to come naturally to the Spanish boys and young men.
The next day, at the appointed time in the evening, we were at Valverde awaiting the arrival of the parade down the main street. As the time drew nearer, more and more residents lined the streets; I’ve never seen the whole Valverde enclave to be present at an event.
There were chic Spanish mothers, stunning in their very minute hotpants and tanned legs to-die-for with elegant feet popped into the latest high-heeled sandals and carrying up-to-date, bling-blinged handbags... I think they call that 'dressing-down for the local fiesta'. Children were dressed in their parade clothes, quaint and cute. Some were dressed to the nines, others had jazzy flip-flops and easy-going tops – it was +26C, a pleasant night for shorts and t-shirts.
The marching band and fireworks sounded ever closer… we made our way to get a good vantage point to watch the proceedings. Suddenly they were upon us; the parade with its floats… but, there was something slightly different.
On each of the floats, sponsored by different businesses, food and drinks galore were being handed out, amidst dancing to the beat of the drums. Drinks of beer, tinto verano and sangria were being handed out in cans and big Styrofoam cups by the people on the ground as the floats moved slowly forward, plus snacks of filled rolls of ham, tuna, cheese…, pastries and flat tartlets, sweets and lollies…
Flamenco, Cuban rythmns, samba reggae, rock ‘n’ roll, … the marching bands were in competition with the DJs booming their infectious music. Feet and body were tapping and swaying to the salsa beat.
Strains of music that surely bring tears of joy, playing in accompaniment to the following float… Waka Waka (This Time for Africa), the Official FIFA 2010 World Cup anthem had people in the streets of Valverde singing at top volume. Spectators were doused with water and beers in good-natured fun – it was a seriously warm night. In case you didn’t know, Spain had won the football World Cup a week ago, and emotions still were running strong.
There were hundreds more people than the previous night. The sound-stage had been set up, and later on, there was a live band playing merengue, samba, salsa, jive, action songs, even line-dancing had a good following. The party continued until the early hours of the morning.
The next weekend, was even more festive, though touches of solemnity had its place.
Nit de Cabasset on Friday night was something different – it is a street party in which everybody brings their own food in eskis/chillybins/coolers, sat at long trestle tables which were setup in advance in the village square so residents and visitors alike enjoy their BYO-meal and the chat with friends.
Of course, there was restaurant food and beers on tap, for the merry-makers who wanted the night off, leaving the hassle of cooking for another day. There was the ubiquitous live music, a different band from last week, belting out old favourites and new Latin tunes.
It had the whole community up and dancing. Little children, proficient Latino groovers, older folk who did the ‘paso-doble’ with formidable style, ladies and octogenarians who let their hair down (those that still had hair, mind) were line-dancing with vigour.
The mass for the masses, floral offerings and choir singing brought touches of somber reflection to the proceedings, candle-lit processions carrying the ‘paso’ of the Santa Ana and more parades accompanied by a band of minstrels, kids had games and challenges with prize-giving afterwards… and again, many hundreds of residents and visitors to the area, danced the night away amidst interruptions of loud booms of firecrackers.
The culmination spectacle was a fantastic fireworks display of rockets, but, they had to wait for the fire-engine to be present.
Cheers went up as it arrived, late. Valverde is a hamlet of Elche, the home of the largest date palm grove in Europe, so it was very appropriate that they used huge Palmera (palm tree) rockets.
The sky was ablaze as if it was daytime, filled up with incandescent 1000 foot date palm trees. They slowly dissipated leaving spots on your eyes. The Spanish surely know how to party!
The next World Cup in Brazil (2014) is something to looked forward to, given Spain is the current champion. This Valverde Fiesta, coming just a week after the World Cup final, will be something worth treasuring.
But since the Valverde Fiesta is an annual event, we don't have to wait four years... 12 months will do and its 10 whole days of celebrations in July again. We intend to come back next year… what will you be doing? - Come one, come all!