It’s the last Sunday of February. You’ve purposefully forgotten to set your alarm clock, hoping to luxuriate a few extra minutes in the deep sleep of early morning. As you nestle in your comforter, drowsy as can be, Valencia looks upon your resting figure with a smile. But it’s not a smile of maternal tenderness… in fact, it’s more of a smirk. And then the explosions start.
Outrageous. Abusive. Disrespectful. Welcome to the despertà, Valencia’s annual wake-up call for the month-long festival of Fallas. Barbaric. Obscene. Inconsiderate. Yes, the despertà is all these things… but it’s also pretty awesome.
Long before sunrise, the wake-up crews gather around Parterre Park, where they queue up to receive their “alarm bells”: boxes of ultra-loud firecrackers. Then they stand around in groups, impatiently awaiting 7:30 and the beginning of the parade.
“Parade,” I call it! That’s like calling the Battle of the Bulge a “picnic.” Infinite mini-explosions rattle buildings, deafen participants, and terrify residents. These firecrackers are like cherry-bombs on steroids, hurled onto the ground and releasing not only the explosion, but heavy amounts of smoke and shrapnel. Protective goggles are standard gear at the despertà.
The “parade” continues all the way down Calle La Paz to the Plaza de la Reina, and into the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where the marchers gather around an immense metal cage. By this point, they’ve mostly exhausted their boxes of firecrackers, and the noise has finally died down. So what, might you guess, will be the finishing touch to the despertà? Perhaps a folk dance? A community breakfast? Or will it be more firecrackers?
Firecrackers it is! Eardrums that were damaged during the despertà are finished off with a thunderous mascletà, or “noise fireworks.”
Back in 2008, shortly after moving to Valencia, we were among the sleeping residents along Calle La Paz, absolutely ignorant of what was about to happen. When the explosions started, we awoke with a fright. Leaping from the bed, we ran to the window, saw the smoke, and truly believed that some sort of armed conflict was underway. It was terrifying!
Before experiencing the despertà, Valencia had been like a cool new acquaintance. We had fun together, and got along perfectly. But you never really know somebody until they let down the facade, and you see them do something crazy. Something totally unexpected and inexcusable. After the despertà, we were kind of scared of Valencia. I mean, what is that? Who does something like that? You’re not just this laid-back, sunny city on the sea, are you, Valencia? You’ve got a dark side… and I think I like it.