"Each day, the mascletás get louder and more elaborate as the madness of the fire festival builds in the city."
BANG BANG BOOM BOOOM BANG
What is all that noise?
Quiet please . . . I'm trying to compose my mascletá.
Sounds very butch; what is it?
A symphony in gunpowder.
A firework display, you mean?
No, in a mascletá the emphasis is on the aural rather than the visual. It is an orchestrated explosion of hundreds of sound fireworks (masclets) building up to a crescendo of heavy smoke and a mind-numbing, body-rattling, ear-shattering volley of pure noise.
Really, so where can I see or rather hear a masclet?
The best place is Valencia in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento every afternoon during the month of Las Fallas (March fire festival). Each day, the mascletás get louder and more elaborate as the madness of the fire festival builds in the city. The Valencians are great fans of the bangs, and thousands gather in the main square to hear the latest offering. By the last day, the crowds strain to get as close as possible to the final earthquaking vibrations and clouds of intoxicating gunpowder smoke.
Sounds wild, but is it art?
Of course, and it is a difficult one to master and extremely expensive to practise. The pyrotechnician has to adhere to strict rules and conventions and, with a maximum of 265 lb (120kg) of gunpowder, come up with a new composition for a discerning audience. Valencians delight in action replays of the performance and some enthusiasts even tape the mascletás to analyse and discuss them later.
The pyrotechnicians are well regarded?
Indeed, they are stars, like a cross between a conductor and a bullfighter. After the passion of a truly great mascletá the crowd will rush forward to congratulate the composer and carry him shoulder-high to be embraced by the festival queen (fallera mayor).
How many performances are there?
One every day for a month.
That's a lot of gunpowder; who pays for it?
Bangs are big business in Valencia and the masclet?s provide a good way for the local firework companies to show off their expertise and the quality of their products. Two well-established companies to look out for are Caballer and Brunchó.
So is the fire festival based upon this cacophony?
Far from it. As well as the mascletás, the fire festival features more than 370 local bonfire committees competing to produce the best sculptures, firework displays, floats, posters, street lights, bonfires and festival queens. During the celebrations, the streets of the city become a Fellini film set full of giant satirical monuments called fallas, depicting anything from gigantic typewriters to 60ft flying horses.
And then what?
As true pyromaniacs, the Valencians put a torch to the lot. On the last night of the festival, all 370 of the fallas are burnt and Valencia is ablaze in an orgy of flames and destruction.
Sounds brilliant; can I try it at home?
The mascletás and the burning fallas can be truly experienced only in the frenzy of the festival, but you can buy masclets, the loudest bangers on the market, from the local Valencian carnival shops.
But what about taking them back with me?
British Airways Cargo says that as long as you turn up 12 hours before the flight you can send a small number of well wrapped fireworks from Valencia at a cost of £1.02 per kilo . . .