LAREDO, Spain – With only two weeks to go before Laredo’s 110th Battle of Flowers in northern Spain’s Cantabria region, the floats that will take part in the parade await “naked” for the country fields to provide the necessary blooms to become colorful monuments of natural art.
Thousands of carnations, dahlias and daisies are to be patiently nailed or glued by hand, petal by petal, preserving their freshness and bright colors on the themed structures that have been created by different groups.
The event is based on a local tradition that each year attracts thousands of dedicated fans as well as inquisitive visitors.
Float builder Angel Gutierrez belongs to “Come Golayu,” one of the Spanish festival’s newest associations and a six-time winner of the Battle of Flowers first prize.
Gutierrez told EFE that the start of each design begins as soon as the results of the previous year are announced and that the work takes a full year.
“Normally, the first sketch ends up in the trash, but in the end an idea takes shape and detailed plans are made before a scale model is constructed to determine its final size,” Gutierrez said.
Currently, the groups are in the process of assembling the floats after finishing the construction of the pieces that make up the scene or figure to be represented.
It will not be until the week of Aug. 30 – the day on which the festival, considered of national interest, is celebrated this year – that the floats will be decorated with freshly cut flowers from Laredo’s fields or from the Netherlands, giving them their natural essence.
Gutierrez said the placement of flowers takes many hours and entails “more care than anything else.”
Each group’s style is defined when decorating the floats, which can have up to 200,000 floral pieces.
Vicente Lopez, a Battle of Flowers float builder since 1959, said the well-known Magic Night – on the eve of the parade – is a special moment when the countdown begins and the public can visit workshops to see how hundreds of artisans put on the final details in an atmosphere full of nerves, anxiety and restrained joy.
“Before, it was harder because the work consisted of hammering on wood, which vibrated and could cause the already-nailed flowers to fall off. But with the arrival of expanded polystyrene, all that was resolved,” the 83-year-old Lopez said.
The veteran float builder said the Cantabrian festival had evolved positively toward floats that are true artistic “monuments,” in which the flower tradition, as the main element, is combined with modern visual and sound effects.
Festival organizers want everyone to appreciate the event, because, as Lopez noted, “he still dreams of the Battle of Flowers, because it is something inexplicable.”
“It is a passion that is shown when we take the finished float from underneath the scaffolding to the parade and colleagues cry because of what the moment signifies,” said Gutierrez, who hopes the festival will “live on.”
The origin of the Battle of Flowers dates back to 1908, when families visiting on holidays together with local residents decided to hold an event to bid farewell to summer. On that occasion, the festival consisted of decorated boats on water given Laredo’s relationship to fishing.
Now celebrated on land on a Friday at the end of August – except in 1936 – the Battle of Flowers, declared a Festival of National Tourist Interest and of Local Intangible Ethnographic Interest, transforms Laredo into the world flower capital, and meets “all the necessary requirements” to be internationally recognized.
Although the competition has two prize categories, one for more elaborate floats and another for children’s themes, the jury also honors artwork in general and the costumes volunteers wear during the parade.
Another important personality in the flower festival is the “Carrocista Mayor” who, for the first time, will be a woman.
Cantabrian basketball player Laura Nicholls, who was recently crowned European champion with Spain, is to be in charge of cutting the ribbon to inaugurate the parade through Laredo’s main streets, with the event once again expected to draw large crowds from far and wide.