Valencia in Fallas! Can it get any better? We eat wonderfully, wander the streets, set off lots of firecrackers and a handful of some pretty big rockets, Daniela and Asun go to the bullfights, we see lots of fallas, enjoy the processions, don't sleep too much. A city on fire! This is a fiesta. Our journey started over a week ago, back on Tuesday the 17th. A full day on the rails. It was actually rather pleasant to experience again a "slow" train that had long stops at some of the stations. The train itself was comfortable enough and had a nice cafeteria, it just took its time about things. We got to Valencia around 5 pm and after getting checked in at the hotel, we made the 25 minute walk over to the Fallas Museum. This was a good introduction for the students and gave them a little more context for what they would be experiencing over the next three nights. Asun and I had a late dinner, which was very nice, but it sapped us of the energy needed to stay up for the fireworks. (The sea bass I was served was exquisite.) It was almost midnight when we left the restaurant, but the fireworks weren't until 1:30. Yes, 1:30 am. How many cities in the world start their fireworks displays at that hour? And the children stay up, too. Young families with little kids (firecrackers in hand!) and babies in strollers fill the streets at these crazy hours. Wednesday morning we took the students to see the huge "flower Virgin", a reproduction of the city's patroness, Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados, outside the Basilica where the original image is. 500,000 flowers! Then we visited the gothic cathedral next door, where one can see the incorrupt arm of St. Vincent, a third century martyr (yuukk!), and, yes, the chalice used by Jesus at the last supper! (The Holy Grail?) Well, that's what they claim, but apparently not too many people actually believe it. I mean, you'd think it would be a huge deal, but it's really not. The church is an old, old institution, so it's not surprising that it has lots of dubious history on display. For the most part, harmless superstitions. After a visit to the wonderful central market, it was time to get ready for the day's Mascletá, as always at 2 pm. Asun and I took our spots at around 1:15, so we were quite close, third row. It was a good one, launched by Pirotecnica Valencia. Postmodern. The rhythms were playful and innovative, not your typical maslcetá, but the thunderous finale did not disappoint. Very satisfying. But the next day was going to be Ricardo Caballer, the Maestro. And did Caballer ever come through! Asun went to the morning bullfight with Manolo, so I took Daniela, who had arrived Wednesday night, to the big show. Front row. The wait was fine and went by fairly quickly, a good chance for Daniela to fill me in on school, ballet, etc. In the security zone between us and the "cage" from where the mascletá would be launched, a perimeter that varies in width from about ten to thirty yards wide, I estimated there were about 200 or 250 firefighters, red cross workers, EMTs, Civil Defense volunteers, cops, etc. A couple of big fire trucks and a dozen ambulances. This does contribute to the sense that something BIG is about to happen. At around 1:50 the crowd is starting to get a little worked up. 100,000? 200,000? Who knows. Then, ka-boom! The ten minute warning. A few minutes go by: KA-BOOM! The five minute warning: the firefighters and others put on their helmets and ear protecters. We're just a few yards away, but we're going to let our ears get blasted! A few people in the crowd around us have had to be taken to the ambulances. Heat exhaustion? Daniela is just a little nervous and I joke to her that last year only six people died. I ask the woman next to us for confirmation, she gets the joke right away and says, no, it was sixteen. Finally, what we've all been waiting for. From the balcony of City Hall, the mayor hands the microphone to the Fallera Mayor. It's a corny little ritual, but it sends a chill running up my spine every time. Always in Valencian: "Senyor Pirotecnic! Pot començar la mascletá!" ("Mr. Pyrotechnic, you may commence with the Mascletá!") A roar from the crowd. And the madness is underway. For the first thirty seconds or so we are still within the realm of the earthly, but then things get... different. The blasts get more intense, the drum beat faster, louder. What the hell is going on? More, more more... The rhythms keep changing, varieties of cadences, back and forth between the crack, crack, crack of the big firecrackers and the heavy Booms of the mortar fire. At about three minutes you think maybe this is it, it's reached a peak. But no, we're just getting started. The true thunder hasn't arrived yet, but it's almost here. Celestial music. Transcendent. Transportive. And total, utter, madness. Four and a half minutes in: this city has lost its collective marbles and it's absolutely marvelous. An explosion of adrenaline. Pólvora! Dynamite! The world is coming undone. The ground is shaking. Louder, louder... Daniela can't believe it, but she loves it. We all love it. Overwhelming. The nice man who let Daniela slide into the front row, who's never been here before, can't believe it. Has it ever been this intense? Caballer has gone crazy. Screaming, lots of joyous screaming. I spy tears of joy around me. Five and a half minutes: the thunder is here, totally deafening, the Plaza completely filled with smoke, momentarily darkening the sky. And then one last jaw-dropping, bone-rattling series of blasts. Chaos, apocalypse, the END. Unbelievable. The railing breaks open, we all run over to the fence of the Cage to applaud the smoke, to cheer Caballer. Lots of people with stupid smiles, euphoric giggling. The anthem: "Valencia in Fallas!" And we all agree we'll be back next year! Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXAnNAvaMpA