Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A FEAST TO REMEMBER

Anticipation and expectation are fearful masters of the imagination!

Let me explain...

I've always a had a passion for pyrotechnics: the elemental theatricality of fire fleetingly illuminating the darkness with dazzling explosions of light and colour is, for me, a kind of primitive, visceral magic.

When I was a child we were either too poor to afford fireworks or I was too poorly to go to other people's firework parties and so I invariably ended up watching them with my nose pressed wistfully against the windowpane. In later years there were other difficulties...

It was November 5th, bonfire night, almost twenty years ago, when I was still living at home. I had bought a box of fireworks and had invited a couple of our neighbours (of my parents vintage) along with David to join us for a drinks, nibbles and a modest back-garden firework display.

After two rockets, three Roman Candles, one Vesuvius and a Mine of Serpents, my mother - sometimes a bit of a tricky character, apt to put the damper on things for no apparent reason - suddenly decamped from the display area (the patch of lawn where the pond used to be) with the announcement: "Well, I think that's probably enough fireworks for this time of night."

Dad and the neighbours dutifully followed, leaving David and I writing rude words in the air with our sparklers! The rest of the neighbourhood, needless to say, went on whiz-banging away until well after midnight.

So, in flying off to Venice to see the fireworks at the annual Festa del Redentore (David's 60th birthday present to me), I was more than a tad apprehensive. As a would-be-Venetian, I'd read about, and seen impressive pictures of, the fireworks.

But would I, perhaps, be disappointed...?


Bad enough reaching at the age of sixty - seemingly without any warning - but to fly 1000 miles to celebrate the occasion with a damp squib would be intolerable...

Well, we arrived, and were welcomed by our good friends at Hotel Ala, who have been our Venice hosts for the last 12 of our 13 visits to the city, and then ate dinner al fresco (something we are never able to do during our December visits) at Ristorante da Raffaele with it's candle-lit, canal side setting...


The following day, we duly sampled the delights and curiosities of La Biennale di Venezia (the 53rd bi-annual international art exhibition - of which more in a later post); witnessed an amazing thunderstorm with hailstones the size of Trebor Soft Mints (but, obviously, a good deal harder!) fortunately from the dry perspective of the colonnade beneath the Procuratie Nuove that runs along the south side of St Mark's Square; and visited our favourite bar for a glass or two of Aperol.

In fact, everything was pretty agreeable with the one exception of David getting stabbed on the forehead by a malicious mosquito!

And so, at last, we came to the weekend - and the Festa...

The pontoon bridge, which I described in an earlier post, was erected across the Giudecca Canal from the Zattere on the main island to the very doorstep of Andrea Palladio's Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore.

P1200141

Inside the church: candles...

Candles

Outside: balloons...

Balloons

Sweets...

Sweets

And plenty of cold drinks...

Keeping cool

Then, while we were having a spot of lunch in a nearby caffè, the proprietor excitedly pointed out of the window and said "Fires! Fires!"

Somewhat alarmed, I looked where he was pointing and saw the first of several barges laden with fireworks being towed by tugs up the Canal to the spot from which they would be fired later that night.

The excitement was, by now, very definitely building...

Operation fireworks
And so, you ask, what about those FIREWORKS?

We had dinner in the courtyard garden of one of our most frequented eating places in the City, Restaurant La Caravella ...


After dinner, along with other guests, we boarded a taxi from La Caravella's water gate and made our way out onto the Bacino San Marco, the open expanse of water at the end of Grand Canal.

The Basin was tightly jam-packed with thousands of crafts of every conceivable type: gondolas, motor boats, launches, barges, fishing boats, inflatables, even canoes, many of them decked out with branches of greenery and paper lanterns and crowded - probably way beyond the prescribed limits for health and safety - with partying Venetians.

There were also quite a lot of official boats - police, coastguards and fire brigade - rushing self-importantly back and forth with their uniformed personnel frantically blowing whistles and waving arms in attempt to direct the water traffic.

Then, at 11:45, a couple of maroons went off and the fireworks began!

Now I have seen some pretty impressive firework displays in my time - with the exception of the aborted event already mentioned! On the Thames, for example, marking the appointment of a new Lord Mayor of London; in the skies above the fairytale spires and turrets of Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris; on the closing night of the Edinburgh Festival with a waterfall of fire cascading down the castle walls and on the dangerously crowded streets of Braga in Portugal. But none of these pyrotechnic events remotely compared with the forty-five-minute long spectacle that eventually ensued...


Words, of course, are simply inadequate and in attempting to describe the experience one has to reach for metaphors and talk about sunbursts of radiant orange fire; blossomings of chrysanthemums, hydrangeas and peonies in the most vibrant hues; sparkling mosaics tossed into the air like handfuls of millefeuille; spiraling fountains of golden and silver coinage; swarms of blue fireflies scudding off in all directions into the darkness; clouds of livid green and hot chili smoke; and bombardments of pulsating, iridescent explosions that turned the waters of the lagoon blood red or ice blue and crashed and banged with such violence that the vibrations shuddered through our bodies while our nostrils were filled of the scent of cordite and ash settled on us like black snow.

Here are just a few seconds of a small part of the complete vista that filled the night sky during this extraordinary and emotionally exhausting exhibition...



And here are the closing minutes of the finale, building and building towards an orgasmic climax in which the sky was finely cross-hatched with layer upon layer of antique gold tracery...



When, at half-past midnight, the last closing maroon had ricocheted around the lagoon and the boats full of cheering, singing, celebrating Venetians (and us, fortunate, outsiders) began to steer their crafts homeward or off to the Lido to party the night away until the dawn, I settled back on the cushions in our water taxi with a very silly grin on my face and a tear or two in my eyes.

That's when David leaned over and whispered, "Well, I think that's probably enough fireworks for this time of night..."


Images: With the exception of the picture of La Caravella, all photographs and videos are by Brian Sibley and David Weeks, © 2009

Photographs uploaded by flickr where you'll find my album collection, Visions of Venice, featuring more portraits of this unforgettable city and its people.

10 comments:

Ryan Rasmussen said...

What a journey, and such beautiful photographs to accompany the tale. Thank you for sharing both.

scb said...

Stunningly magnificent! Your writing, building up to the fireworks, was wonderful, and then those videos! Words fail.

When I got to David's whispered comment,tears came to my eyes.

Thank you so much.

Brian Sibley said...

GILL e-mailed...

Thanks Brian for a wonderful blog, well worth waiting for!

I am deeply envious, I too love fireworks and these were clearly breathtaking.

Now I'm dreaming about getting there!

SharonM said...

A brilliant blog and fabulous photos and film. Parts of the finale were absolutely breathtaking.

Unfortunately, fireworks create real problems in my home and blight the life of my daughter. It's a shame that because of the noise she can't get to appreciate them.

As for your visit, it's so lovely that it was all you'd hoped for - and a lot more.

Andy J. Latham said...

Beautiful! The fireworks at Disney world bring me close to tears every time. I've seen them so many times, yet I can't get enough!

Brian Sibley said...

Thanks, guys, for your (as always) enthusiastic appreciation.

There is, of course, just an outside chance that one or two more Venetian images might make an appearance over the next few weeks... ;-)

Good Dog said...

What a fantastic display. I'm glad you had a great time and it's great that the Venetian authorities out that on to celebrate your birthday.

I've only just got back to watching fireworks. For many years growing up and living on farms we couldn't have any because the cattle wouldn't take too kindly to all the crashes and bangs. So it's only recently I've got back to watching them.

I did like the nighttime display at Disneyland, even though I stood watching them having just got soaked on Splash Mountain. (Sit at the front of the log, they said. You'll stay as dry as a bone. Grrr!)

Brian Sibley said...

Didn't anyone ever tell you that you should NEVER to go on a flume ride after the sun has set?

Good Dog said...

Unfortunately, no. And, because there was no daylight to see at the end of the tunnel when it takes that final dip, I have the photograph of everyone sitting behind me smiling and laughing while I'm at the front, gripping the front of the boat, and screaming my head off.

Still, I suppose there are worse ways to spend Boxing Day, unless of course you're a fox.

Brian Sibley said...

I've been on the ride twice (no idea why I was mad enough to go on it a second time - some misplaced belief that it must be intrinsically safe because it's Disney!), but whilst I loved the concept of the 'story', I was totally unable to enjoy it because I was (the first time) worried about the final drop and the (second time) even more worried and terrified I'd lose my specs, so I took them off and was, therefore, as blind as Brer Bat!

I'm more relaxed about the bog-standard roller-coaster: there's nothing else (like furry Disney audio-animatronic figures) to induce me to go on it, so I simply don't bother!

About your last sentence: what exactly do they do to Brer Fox in Disneyland on Boxing Day....? ;-)