When our children were little, we used to drive to the Berkeley Hills to watch the July 4th fireworks. Nowadays I have a wide window that allows me to see fireworks from across San Francisco Bay and in all other neighboring cities. They are colorful, dazzling, shimmering and noisy.
Still I find that after 5 to 10 minutes, my attention wanders and I tend to stop looking. Are explosions and bangs just a childish pleasure? Or do these displays last too long? Or perhaps nowadays there are too many competing events to attend to.
Fireworks were developed in China in the second century BC. (Sometimes it seems to me the Chinese invented everything.) These displays were used to celebrate births, weddings, coronations and deaths In 200 B.C. people roasted bamboo stalks till they sizzled and exploded.
Bamboo Chute Fireworks
But then they got smart, and 800 years later, between 600 and 900 A.D., they started filling the bamboo with gun powder and the big bang was born. They added metal salts to achieve the brilliant colors. This was all done to scare off evil spirits of course.
In this country Capt. John Smith set off the first fireworks in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608, and the first Independence Day fireworks display was in Philadelphia in 1777.John Adams said that he hoped that the anniversary of Independence would always be marked by guns and bonfires. So it was for a while, but these were eventually replaced by fireworks.
In France, fireworks are traditionally used to celebrate July 14 French Independence Day. This year, displays were held in Lyon, Nantes, Marseille and many other cities. In Paris, because of crowd restrictions due to the pandemic, the display was started at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and lasted for 30 minutes. People were encouraged to watch from a distance, from their balconies. The display was dedicated to the “heroic daily fight against the corona virus”
Fireworks will continue to exist as long as the inner child in us keeps wanting them.
I’ll close with a Debussy prelude called “Feux d’Artifice.” (fireworks in French) This is a magnificent performance by Marc-Andre Hamelin. You don’t need to see the fireworks…you can hear them. This same piece was played in Paris on July 14th with colorful light reflections dancing in the River Seine. (lots of youtube of that available if you are interested)
If only we could have replaced Oakland’s dangerous obsession with powerful bomb-like “fireworks” with Debussy’s Feux d’Artifice. This year’s Corona virus pandemic seems to have led to an overabundance of “inner children” in our streets!
Dear Simone, Thank you for your reflections on fireworks. I have not gone as far back in thinking of them, but was pretty sure they had been part of each of World’s Fairs over the decades. The two most impressive displays I have seen were in Zurich, on the occasion of the Swiss National Day [originated August 1, 1291] and in Pamplona as part of San Fermin. Your comment about Chinese prowess as inventors reminds me of a book cover I saw recently: “1421: The Year China Discovered America”. It’s fascinating that because of economic and political turmoil upon the… Read more »
Well the people in my town must be following John Adams. Every year including this one, loud bangs begin in mid-June and continue to mid-July. These seem to be individuals who like the gun-like sound, and don’t mind disturbing everyone else. People in the local list-serve complain of being awoken at 2:00 am by the noise, of babies being woken from their naps, and of suffering of the poor dogs, whose ears are much more sensitive than humans’. Something about this time of year just prompts some people to make loud noise!
Simone for Minister of Culture!
I remember the world fireworks displays at the turn of the millennium, much more enjoyable than the breathtaking world scramble for a vaccine.
What a wonderful piece of music! I couldn’t see any fireworks this year from my home, but this brought me right to the show 🙂 Thanks for sharing!