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Postcard From Valencia #10

Of Fallas, Fatherhood, and the First Trip to A Spanish Doctor

15 March 2023

The Fallas festival is upon us. And this is such a big deal in the Valencian community that I will devote two segments of this postcard to different aspects of the festival.

(The image to the left is of the huge Falla in Saint Ursula Plaza, very close to our apartment. The Falla, which is more than three stories tall, critiques the internet and social media, for helping remake societies more selfish, celebrity-obsessed, and shallower.)

First, the noise. Valencia during Fallas is not the place to be for anyone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder related to combat or gunfire. The pop of firecrackers, sounding disconcertingly like gunshots and random explosions, some muffled by distance but others quite close by, can remind you of battlefields.

Yet, at the same time, I wouldn’t quiet the noise. It’s part of another aspect of the festival I wanted to highlight: the exuberance. The simple over-the-top energy and joy you see in people taking part in the parades and noisy exhibitions. Even people who find the overall festival a strain admit that the joy and pleasure it brings to the participants is one of its major redeeming factors.

I asked a cab driver recently how Fallas affected her business. Was it a net benefit or not?

“Oh, it’s terrible,” she said in Spanish. Yes, there are more people, but also more traffic, more blocked streets, more crowds, every trip takes twice as long.”

“So you would be one of the Valencianos who leave the city during Fallas if you could?”

“No,” she exclaimed, appearing genuinely surprised at my question. “I love it. Look at how much happiness and joy it brings to the community. I would not want to be anywhere else during this time of year.”

A third part of the festival is its food. Valencian celebrations are characterized by good food, good drink (most often beer), and being largely in the street since so the weather so much of the time allows for outdoor partying. Two kinds of food in particular show up at Fallas time: churros and paella.

Many readers in the U.S. might be familiar with churros of Mexican heritage or Cinco de Mayo celebrations. They are usually long strips of dough, deep fried, which then have chocolate poured over them. In Valencia, they are also long strips of deep-fried dough, but here you also get a cup of warm, melted chocolate in which to dip them before eating. But the explosion of churro vendors that show up at Fallas time (called Churrerias) do not limit themselves to churros. They also sell swirls of Banuelos dough, which resemble New Orleans’ famed beignets but without the powdered sugar, and other full-fat, full-sugary, treats.

Paella, of course, is the traditional Valencian dish of rice with a variety of other things which, to be authentic, must be cooked over a wood fire and outdoors (beaches are favorite spots) if possible. Paellas in Fallas are everywhere, being cooked outside in pans sometimes five and six feet across. The most traditional Paella Valenciana has rice grown here, along with rabbit, chicken, some specific vegetables, and snails. It will come served with knives with sharp points for getting the meat out of the snail shell.

Fallas and…Fatherhood?

One of the things that characterize Spain which many North Americans do not notice at first is the absence of school buses. There are no school buses because, in Spain, parents walk or drive their kids to school until they get old enough to go on their own. Every morning from our balcony we watch a straggling stream of kids with their parents, usually fathers, walking to school. It’s heartwarming to watch the fathers interacting with their kids as they walk along. It can surprise Americans to see how openly affectionate Spanish fathers are with their children, hugging and kissing them and speaking to them affectionately.

It recalls the different ways Fathers are seen here, generally, in a more positive and healthy way than how many Americans view them. For example, Father’s Day in Spain falls on the last day of Fallas, the Feast of Saint Joseph the patron saint of fathers. And while I cannot declare that no Spanish father will wake up Sunday to find a hideous tie awaiting him as a Father’s Day present, most of the things I have seen advertised as gifts or experiences for the day are a good deal more thoughtful than a traditional clip-on.

Of course, being a Father might be seen as easier here because so much of Spanish culture supports the role and the men serving their families in it. For example, it’s easier to walk your children home from school and see them well started on the day’s Tarea, or homework, if your company closes from 2:00 until 4:00 pm every weekday. It’s easier to take time to go see the soccer match, the dance recital, or the school play if your employer openly agrees that those things have a priority at least as high, if not higher, than finishing the current project. Again and again, we keep running up against the reality that the Spanish people look at life and meaning, and time differently and better than people do in other countries, and we love it. Viva España, is a country where family and friends, and time come first over making more and more money.

First Time to a Spanish Doctor

Meanwhile, my supply of prescription medications I brought with me from the states has been dwindling and I needed to start thinking about refills. For the record, I take a generic compound to lower my blood pressure and another to replace my thyroid hormone since my thyroid gland doesn’t work properly any longer. I also take a low-dose, name brand, anti-depressant.

First, I took all these bottles to the pharmacy in the hopes they could refill them without needing a prescription. This happens more than you might expect here, particularly if you are taking one of the big name-brand compounds for a pretty common problem. But no, they couldn’t fill any of them. I would need to see a medico.

The first triumph was finding a medico that took my insurance and then making an appointment, in Spanish. I chose a medico that also spoke English so that the Husband could also go to him if he chose. The appointment was set for 6:45 on a Tuesday evening, a time when most American doctor’s offices are well shut for the day, but was in about the middle of his “consultation” hours.

Dr. V stands about six feet tall, is lean as a greyhound, is probably in his early 60s, and has a brace of medical degrees on the wall behind his desk. He’s also no-nonsense to the edge of being mean. For example, when I was explaining the blood pressure medication was because I am “un poco gordo” (a little fat) he interrupted me. “Bastante,” he bellowed, meaning “enough.” As in “you are fat enough to need to lower the blood pressure.” I assured him I was aware of the perils of obesity and then showed him my blood pressure numbers which, I thought, would justify taking me off the medication entirely.

But he wasn’t buying. “No,” he said flatly. “At your weight, leaving the medication would be “tanto”, (stupid), but he did agree my weight loss and blood pressure readings signaled I could probably cut the medication in half, so that was my consolation prize.

I know this postcard is terribly late and I have no excuse except that I have been too busy living in Spain to write about it, but I promise to try to do better in the future,

From the City of Oranges,


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