At the end of February / beginning of March, Fallas, one of the biggest festivals in Spain and the iconic event for Valencia, explodes on the streets. Like, literally, it starts with an parade in which people are walking down a boulevard while throwing incessantly petards in front of their feet, up to the point the whole procession is hardly visible. Fallas ends about three weeks later and many other things are happening in this time interval: from huge statues planted at crossroads (ninots), to countless parties on the streets, or the assemblage of a huge Virgin Mary statue with flowers brought from all over Valencia.
I will most likely have a few more posts about Fallas, now that it is already in full swing, but in today’s post I’d like to talk about one of the most popular aspects of it: mascletàs. A mascletà is a fireworks (a more appropriate term would probably be: “a pyrotechnic show”) which happens every day at 2PM, in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento. Yes, you read that right, it’s a fireworks happening during the day.
I had a very dynamic relationship with mascletàs. In the beginning, I hated them sincerely, deeply and wholeheartedly. I couldn’t fathom any scenario in which a sane person would enjoy random powerful noises, made by explosives during the day, almost without any visual impact. Who in their right mind will schedule a fireworks (that’s what I thought a mascletà is) in the middle of the day, at noon? Why?
Then, as I slowly exposed myself not only to the mascletàs themselves, but also to the Spanish lifestyle (even more, to the Valencian lifestyle) this relationship started to evolve. To the point that now I consider them – ok, I’ve said it – healthy and almost cathartic.
But with a few conditions.
How To Enjoy A Mascleta – Responsibly
First of all, understand that there is a specific part of the fireworks which is not visual. We tend to be so attached to the color and light shows surrounding fireworks that we don’t even understand there’s some noise there too. In my experience, mascletàs are primarily about the noise, not about the colors. Exceptions are those castillos de fuego which are held during the night, but the overwhelming majority of mascletàs are about sound. There are specific pyrotechnic schools with specific tempos and sounds. There are specific rhythms to a mascletà, almost like a song.
Second, put yourself in the context. Each mascletà is surrounded by a specific sound setup. 10 minutes before each mascleta there is a powerful petard fired up. 5 minutes later, another one. It’s like you’re invited to make yourself available for a specific event (which is not at all random, as I thought, like an ignorant tourist that I was). And at the end of the mascletà itself, 3 identical petards are fired up very fast, to indicate the actual end. There is a certain space created for this and by honoring it, you’re showing respect and appreciation.
Third, identify yourself with the rhythm, make it part of your experience (which also means you won’t have time anymore to check your phone, to look everywhere else, or even to talk to somebody else during a mascletà). It’s only when you are fully immersed that some relevant patterns are starting to emerge. It’s only when you let go of your preconceived reactions in front of loud noises (rejection, mostly) and just try to hear every sound in the order that was generated by it creators, that a mascletà will reveal its rough and powerful beauty.
And fourth, each and every mascletà is a crescendo. Each time different, but every time a crescendo. The final part is so overwhelming that it kinda forces an unconscious (and unconditional) surrender. Be prepared for it. Wait for it. Cheer for it when it arrives and let yourself carried away by this violent blossoming.
When all four of this preconditions are met – which takes some time to internalize, obviously – then mascletàs are becoming a nurturing and powerful event. They’re like living echoes of some pagan, yet so relevant, approach towards the procession of seasons, in which letting go of the past must be done swiftly and thoroughly, leaving clean and vast spaces for whatever the spring has to offer.
So, if you happen to pass by Valencia during Fallas (provided you found accommodation, because prices are usually sky-rocketing) and if you have the courage to apply those 4 restraints described above, let yourself carried away by those rough and rugged sound shows bringing the city to an almost complete halt every day at 2 PM.
Each one lasts about 6 minutes anyway, so, in the end, you’ll be fine.