HOW TO CREATE CONTROVERSY THE SUREFIRE WAY: THE SIGHTS & CAUSTIC SOUNDS OF MASCLETÀ IN MADRID

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There surely could have been a better, consensual way to toast the world-famous Fallas de Valencia
in the nation’s capital and reach the avowed goal of boosting tourism too. One that
everybody would have been glad to join. Where there was room for all:
humans, wildlife, pets. Madrileños and Valencianos.

 

by Rose Maramba
Photos CC By Ayuntamiento de Madrid unless noted otherwise

 

In a joint project to attract tourists within the framework of the Protocolo General de Actuación signed by the city councils of Madrid and Valencia in January 2024 at the International Tourism Fair (FITUR) in Madrid, a mascletà was celebrated for the first time in the nation’s capital on 18 February 2024 in conjunction with the upcoming Fallas de Valencia.

Transported from Valencia to Madrid, the masclets, above,  are stung up for the firing

A pyrotechnic event of rhythmic noise (or, at least, it is rhythmic for some people) held usually during daytime, mascletà, which gets its name from the Valencian word masclets, meaning very loud firecrackers, is regularly featured in Valencian street fiestas. In fact, it is an integral part of the Fallas de Valencia festival*. Bangers, the masclets are set off every day at 2:00 PM at the plaza of the City Hall throughout the celebration of the Fallas beginning on the 1st of March and culminating on the 19th, the feast day of St. Joseph.

While fireworks are customarily employed for their mesmerizing colors and shapes, the mascletà is meant to grab the spectator through the rhythmic explosions of the masclets. To qualify as mascletà, the explosions must be controlled so that they build up in crescendo toward a dramatic climax.

Fallera Mayor of Valencia (roughly, Queen of the Fallas), Maria Estela Arlandis, center, and her 24-strong Court of Honor, pose at the Puente del Rey. The Ave fast train whisked them to Madrid that they may play a stellar role in the event of the “symphony of sound.”

Going poetic, the City Council of Madrid described its mascletà as a “symphony of sound” and “flashes of light.” At noon this past Sunday, “three thunders” (tres truenos) drum-rolled the opening of a mascletà that lasted 450 seconds (7.5 minutes). Three-hundred and seven kilos of gunpowder produced 3,500 detonations around the historic Puente del Rey (King’s Bridge) that straddles the Rio Manzanares (Manzanares River) in the centrally-located Madrid Rio park.

The amount of gunpowder blasted at the Madrid mascletà was three times larger than that of the gunpowder fed into the bangers of the Fallas de Valencia.

Among the crowd are Valencianos. See the Valencian flag waving in the center.

According to the Madrid City Council, the spectators numbered several thousand. Some Madrileños were thrilled about the celebration, raved about it. Not to be outdone, enthusiastic Valencian folks came on over to Madrid precisely for the event that preluded the Fallas back in their home city.

But the mascletà in Madrid was fraught with controversy from the get-go. So much so that its legality had been challenged and up to the last minute the celebration hung in the balance. The choice of the venue may well have been truly lamentable, not only because of the proximity of the Puente del Rey to the Casa del Campo listed in Spain’s heritage register as Bien de Interes Cultural (Asset of Cultural Interest) and as such required grado máximo de protección (maximum level of protection) per the  Régimen general de protección del Patrimonio Histórico (General System of Protection of Historical Heritage) but also because it was in a nature reserve along the recently restored Rio Manzanares. Predictably, this raised the hackles among concerned environmental and animal-welfare activists of such organizations as the SEO/BirdLife and Ecologistas en Acción. They warned that the mascletà would “massacre” wildlife, the birds in particular.

Little Egret in the Rio Manzanares. Fish and foul have made their home in the renaturated river.

After the fluvial restoration of the river, particularly the clean-up of the stretch that flows through Madrid Rio in central Madrid, birds have come back to the once filthy body of stagnant water, a sorry excuse for a river. Today, the gratifying biodiversity in this urban enclave boasts 134 bird species in Madrid Rio, 129 species in the adjacent Casa del Campo, and 85 in the Campo del Moro gardens close by. It gives one such pleasure to watch ducks and marsh hens thriving in their new home. Not to mention fish, amphibians, and small mammals.

Mascletà in full swing. It took more than 300 kg of gunpowder to produce the deafening sound.

Studies show that noise of the kind discharged by a mascletà has a long-term damaging effect on wild animals and pets when not causing death to some of them. Manuela Bergerot @manuelabergerot/X, spokesperson of the opposition party MasMadrid in the Assembly of the Comunidad de Madrid, posted a photo of a dead duck in Madrid Rio and a text, timed and dated 4:35 PM, 18 February 2024, three hours after the mascletà,  saying, “This is the result of the mascleta of [Madrid Mayor] Almeida: a resounding blowout [pinchazo] that cost €48,000 and killed animals in a renaturated space.”

Similar photos in the media would corroborate Bergerot’s attestation.

Invitees to the mascletà. Left, Valencian Mayor Maria José Català: ” They’re bumpkins.”

The enveloping, ear-splitting mascletà can also be stressful to vulnerable people.

Reyes Maroto: “No, we’re not.”

Most unfortunately, howevedr, the Mayor of Valencia, María José Catalá, a guest of honor at the Madrid mascletà, took a disparaging stand, calling the critics “bumpkins” (catetos). Reyes Maroto, the Socialist spokesperson at the Madrid City Council, shot back: “We are not bumpkins. We are a people who want to work for a better Madrid, a green Madrid, a social Madrid.”

There surely could have been a better, consensual way to toast the world-famous Fallas de Valencia in the nation’s capital and reach the avowed goal of boosting tourism too. One that everybody would have been glad to join. Where there was room for all: humans, wildlife, pets. Madrileños and Valencianos.

———

* Some Guidepost articles on the Fallas
Fallas de Valencia: Dry those Tears
The Fallas de Valencia 50 Years Ago: All Fire and Fiery, Like Now! 
A Weekend at the Fallas
Burnt at the Stake

Images
Quote mark/Oakus53, CC BY-sa4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Little Egret/U-95, CC BY-SA4.0, Wikimedia Commons
Reyes Maroto/Alvaro Ruiz-Gobierno de Castilla-La Mancha, CC BY-SA 2.0, cropped, via Wikimedia Commons