Thursday, August 2, 2012

Smoke On The Water

Celebration of Light barge photo by Junie Quiroga
Every year around the last week or so of July a barge gets towed into English Bay and placed in position for staging the annual fireworks display.  Originally called the Symphony of Fire, but now known as the Celebration of Light, this annual orgy of competitive pyrotechnics has been going since 1990 and has featured entries from countries around the globe, most notably China, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Brazil, and even Canada.  Spread out over 3 nights it has attracted practically everyone in the Lower Mainland at one time or another, and always brings in an estimated crowd of  300,000 - 500,000 fans.

Fenced gardens photo by Junie Quiroga

But it isn't just the barge that needs to get set up for the fireworks display, it also means putting up protective fencing around all the carefully planted gardens, objects d'arte, and nearby restaurants.  As a resident of the west end with a perfect view of the fireworks from my apartment, I also have a perfect view of the disruption to my neighbourhood caused by this annual invasion, not to mention the aftermath of the event with all its litter and trash.  But one person's garbage dump is another persons treasure chest and, along with the temporary workers recruited in the early hours, things do manage to get pretty much cleaned up in time for my morning swim.

Man with metal detector & parks board cleaning machine photo by Junie Quiroga
In spite of the disruption to the neighbourhood, the food merchants are more than happy to have customers lined up for dinner.  Between the hot dog vendors, new fusion food carts, sushi shops, and doner/gyro/shawarma rotisseries there is a tasty fast food item to satisfy every taste and plenty of fancy restaurants for those with more refined tastes.  In fact, catering to the well heeled has become an ever imaginative and expanding aspect of the event.
Fenced in art photos by Junie Quiroga

In earlier times it was first come first served when it came to finding a spot on the beach or the grass, never mind the food outlets, but now there are bleachers set up with reserved seats, VIP seatings at the Boathouse, Keg Lounge Bathhouse, and the Cactus Club and, for the truly special, a new private dining barge in the Bay off of 2nd Beach.  Mind you, the really special folks simply fire up their own boats and cruise out into the harbour where they can then jockey for whatever they consider to be a good viewing position.  Money, after all, is no object when it comes to fireworks displays like this one which cost millions to stage.

Bleacher seating photo by Junie Quiroga
Private dining barge photo by Junie Quiroga
Meanwhile, back in the shadows, the emergency services crews are busy taking up position in preparation for any mishaps.  With its checkered history of crowd control, Vancouver has to employ an army of police on land, rooftops, water, and in the air to make sure everyone behaves reasonably and the streets are cleared in good order when everything is over.  They also have to deal with the inevitable medical problems that occur in such a large gathering of people who have been soaking up the sun and booze for so many hours.  It makes me shake my head when I compare the behaviour of our citizens in a public setting to those in other countries but there isn't much that can be done unless the city closes itself off to the suburban rabble who make a sport of invading the downtown on any pretext.

Emergency services command centre photo by Junie Quiroga
English Bay crowds & boats photo by Junie Quiroga
Nonetheless, as the day progresses and the crowds of people and boats starts to build, so does the anticipation until finally at 10pm. the lights on the barge go off and the show begins.  And what a show it always is for the next 30 minutes as all the carefully packed skyrocket cannisters are exploded in a synchronized pattern of noise and light with brilliantly coloured spiders, peonies, palms, rings, and crossettes, humming, whistling and banging into the night air.  The oohs and aahs accompany every shell burst as we collectively imagine the universe being created and destroyed until it finally ends in a wonderfully orgasmic finale, and all that's left for another year is the smoke on the water.

Fireworks photos by Junie Quiroga