A Celebration of Light

One of the things I’ll never get used to here in the Pacific Northwest is that there is nearly 8 hours less sunlight per day in the winter than there is in the summer. In Florida, the difference is only 4 hours. But that means that people here really appreciate the daylight when they have it. It can’t be taken for granted. There is a definite morale change from summer to winter, and with it comes a lifestyle change. People seem to hibernate here in the wintertime.

Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that Vancouver, Canada, our neighbor to the north, has a three day celebration of light each summer. The funny thing is, this celebration takes place at night. That’s because it is a fireworks competition.

Each year, three countries are chosen to put on a fireworks display over English Bay on three separate evenings. These displays are set to music, and they’re judged. They’re always spectacular. The event comes with food trucks, too, and usually draws about 400,000 people per night.

This year, India, Canada, and Croatia competed. Canada, the home team so to speak, won. Croatia won the people’s choice award. (Click on the country names to see full Youtube videos of the events. They’re incredible.)

I was lucky enough to experience Canada’s effort, and I must say that it was, without a doubt, the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw at least 5 types of fireworks that I’d never seen bfore. They were wonderfully creative, surprising, and delightful.

If you’re ever in the Vancouver area in late July, early August, don’t miss the Celebration of Light. But please don’t bring your dog. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d probably take my dogs and leave town during this event. War veterans might want to give it a pass, too.

But everyone else… wow. Just wow. Three cheers for light!

Celebration of Light 2019

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The Dark Side of Festivals

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I really enjoy festivals. Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve attended several a year. The Tulip Festival. The Folklife Festival. The International Film Festival. Dragonfest. The Solstice Parade. Pride. Seafair. Salmon Days. Viking Days. The Wooden Boat Festival, Fourth of July Fireworks. Julefest. The Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition. The Parade of Lights.

I love soaking up culture, eating unusual food, hearing unique music, and checking out the amazing crafts. I never fail to have fun at these events. It’s also a great way to hook up with friends who live in other parts of town.

But something has been eating at me ever since I saw this article after the last Fourth of July Fireworks here in Seattle. The day after the fireworks, which are launched from a barge in Lake Union, a cadre of volunteers used kayaks to clean up the toxic debris floating in the water. They apparently clean up 200-400 pounds of trash every year from that one event alone. Much of that is chemically treated fireworks casings. This last time around they also found an unexploded ordinance that the bomb squad had to deal with.

Salmon run through Lake Union. Peregrine Falcons nest there. There are a wide variety of birds that transit this lake. Canada Geese. Osprey. Eagles. Polluting their habitat so that we humans can have a few hours of fun seems kind of extreme to me.

Ever since reading that article, I’m looking at festivals not just in terms of enjoyment, but also in terms of impact. We need to learn to celebrate more responsibly. We need to stop acting like this planet is disposable.

The reason I’m thinking about this today is that I came across another article that made me cringe. It’s entitled What Happens to All Those Beads After Mardi Gras?  It’s lead sentence is, “The city of New Orleans pulled 93,000 pounds of beads from just five blocks of storm drains in 2018”

That is horrifying. It goes on to say that 45 million pounds of plastics come to New Orleans every year for that festival alone, and that the beads in particular contain trace elements of lead. Oh, joy! That’s just what we need. Lead leeching into the Gulf of Mexico.

There are some limited attempts at recycling, and this one guy invented biodegradable beads. These efforts are a step in the right direction, but they’ve barely made a dent in the problem. And let’s face it. Mardi Gras is a money maker for this city. It’s not like this celebration of debauchery, gluttony and environmental selfishness is going anywhere. We need to start thinking out of the box for more earth-friendly revelry.

For example, in lieu of fireworks, how about a laser light show? Several cities have considered this, but have gotten a lot of blowback from citizens who want the traditions to remain unchanged. Well, lest we forget, bloodletting used to be a tradition. Slave auctions were a tradition. Human sacrifice was a tradition. Killing millions of birds each year to adorn ladies hats was a tradition. But we’ve matured and evolved since then. It’s time to take more steps forward.

Will I stop attending festivals? No. Probably not. But I’ll forever look at them differently. And I certainly won’t be dropping beads in the street. But then, I never did that before, either.

For heaven’s sake, how hard is it to clean up after yourself?

Laser Light Show

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10 day album challenge #1: Eva Cassidy, Songbird

So, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

When I got this challenge, I must admit that my heart sank. I have never considered myself a very sophisticated music lover. I know what I like, but I have a hard time putting into words why I like it. Who am I to comment on another artist’s art?

And then there’s the fact that I absolutely HATE chain letters. At least this one didn’t threaten me with death or dismemberment if I didn’t comply. But still.

I don’t like to be told what to do. And 10 days’ worth of writing is a heck of a commitment. But at the same time, I was intrigued at the thought of stretching my writing wings in a musical way and flying right out of my comfort zone.

Okay, so I’ll play. But no one is the boss of me! I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this for 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, yes, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!

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So, for my first entry, I’ve chosen the album Songbird, by Eva Cassidy. Yes, I’ve written about Eva Cassidy before. She died an untimely death long before I ever heard her beautiful voice, and that adds an extra special poignancy to every song she sings. Her voice is like sinking into a fragrant warm bath after you’ve had a particularly stressful and strenuous day. Ahhhhh… She really was a songbird.

The reason this album is on my mind at the moment is that the 4th of July is coming up. What does that have to do with Eva Cassidy, you ask? Well, when the fireworks start, my dogs are always terrified. I mean, totally and completely freaked out. And I know that some people react the same way. But last year I discovered something. Eva Cassidy is the balm to my dog’s spirit.

I had only been in my house for a couple weeks, so I knew this would be a particularly challenging fireworks experience for Quagmire. He had yet to feel completely settled in our new home. So I knew that I’d be staying home and making an extra effort to keep him calm on that most despised of holidays.

I decided to close us both into our new bedroom, turn the lights down low, and listen to soft, soothing music. It is my humble opinion that there’s no music more soft or soothing than that of Eva Cassidy. So that night we listened to the Songbird album on Youtube over and over and over again. (For what it’s worth, Quagmire’s favorite song on the album seems to be Fields of Gold.)

And it worked. Quagmire curled up at my side and fell asleep despite the pops and booms coming from beyond our little valley. Now this album will be forever linked with the 4th of July in my mind.

The next time you’re feeling anxious, listen to Songbird. It’s like musical Xanax, but in the best possible way.

Thanks, Eva Cassidy.

Songbird

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Exploring Vancouver: Fireworks without the Patriotism

I absolutely love fireworks. I think of it as art, writ large. Light is the paint and the sky is the canvas. It’s the purest form of joyously explosive creativity. That’s why the 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays here in the US.

So when I heard of the annual Celebration of Light in Vancouver, an international fireworks competition, I thought it was the perfect time to visit my friend Martin, who lives there. The celebration is on three separate days in July, and I was only able to catch one of them, but it was very much worth it.

On the night I attended, it was Australia putting on the show from the middle of English Bay, and they did a fantastic job. I couldn’t help but compare it to the dozens of American Independence Day fireworks that I’d seen throughout the years, but there was something different here. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first.

Eventually I figured it out. This event had not one whiff of patriotism. No flags. No “Proud to Be an American” blaring out of the loudspeakers. No drunken political rants. No us vs. them. No “we are better than you are”. It was refreshing.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love my country, and I consider myself lucky for having been born here. But I’m not always proud of everything it does. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the Republican National Convention, for example. Every time I thought of doing so, my stomach would ache.

And perhaps because I am an American, I believe strongly in freedom of speech and expression, so it rankles when patriotism is forced down my throat, even when I already feel it. I don’t like to be pressured by society. I can already imagine the negative responses I’m going to get just for writing this.

At the Celebration of Light on the night in question, it was estimated that 300,000 people attended. 300,000 people who were not trying to be or think a certain way. 300,000 people who had nothing to prove. They were just out to enjoy some fireworks and revel in the mild summer breezes. It was really, really good to be there, spending time with a dear friend in a relaxed atmosphere.

Incidentally, on July 3oth, it will be the USA competing in this event. I wish I could go. I’d be curious to see if they try to inject any patriotism into it. The Netherlands competed on the first night. I wonder who will win?

What follows are a few of the pictures I took at the celebration. But in case I didn’t say this while you were my gracious host, thanks, Canada. Thanks very much.

The Bare Bones of a Tradition

Independence Day is one of my very favorite holidays because it doesn’t come with any pressure. In-laws don’t fly in. There’s no need to buy gifts. The dust bunnies can continue to reside languorously under the bed. You don’t even have to cook if you don’t want to. You can make it as elaborate or low-key as you want.

Since this was to be my very first 4th of July in Seattle, I wanted to make it special. For me, special is low-key with fireworks thrown in for good measure. I put a lot of thought into this. I didn’t want to fight traffic (which is horrific in Seattle even at the best of times) and because I would be alone, I didn’t particularly want to deal with crowds, because I’d feel lonely enough as it was.

I formulated the perfect plan. I found the one parking space in the entire city that no one else would think of, and a circuitous route to it that was far from the madding crowd. I found the one location that I’d almost be guaranteed to have all to myself, and it would have a sort of, kind of, semi-good view of the fireworks (which is why it was virtually deserted). And it would only require the tiniest bit of trespassing. (But hey, I’m a fat old woman alone with a lawn chair. It’s not like I constitute a terrorist sleeper cell.)

I got there two hours early, and sat in a nearby park. I didn’t want to do the trespassing part until the very last minute. It’s a lovely little park with a nice view of the water. I sat there reading my kindle and watching the boats go by. I also could observe Venus and Jupiter on the horizon as a balmy breeze kept me cool.

While waiting, it occurred to me that all traditions have to start somewhere, and perhaps this would be the start of a long-standing one for me. I could definitely get used to this. It was a delightful evening.

I looked into the future and imagined doing this someday with a friend by my side. Or even better, a lover. Or even better than that, a lover and a few friends. And some hamburgers. Yeah. That would be perfection. Maybe someday. Heck, if I’m dreaming, let’s throw in a boat and an even better view from the water!

But I had to stop that line of thought or I might get sad, focusing on everything I still didn’t have. Now was not the time for loneliness. Now was the time to trespass and see some fantastic fireworks!

So that’s what I did.

And before you even ask, no, I will not reveal my secret location. It’s priceless. You couldn’t even get it out of me if you tried torture. This is my tradition, not yours.

IMG_0802

Fireworks Fallout

Apparently I have moved into a very patriotic neighborhood. Even though the 4th of July is several days in the past, my neighbors on all sides are still setting off fireworks at random moments. Very random moments. Mid day. Three in the morning.

As I write this, my dogs are cowering behind me, under the covers. They will be shaking for a long time. This is never a good month for them. I have to force them outside to do their business. It takes them a long time to feel safe again.

I can understand the desire to celebrate, and I actually do love fireworks. I just like them to be predictable and properly monitored and not close enough to set my house afire. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

And if my dogs are terrified, I can’t even imagine what this month must be like for combat veterans with PTSD. It must feel like they’re back in the thick of things again, risking their lives. It must feel like death is imminent. Most of us cannot comprehend what that’s like.

Just like not everyone wants to hear your blasting radio as you go down the street, there’s a distinct possibility that not all of your neighbors find your fireworks fun. Patriotism doesn’t mean, “I’ll pursue my happiness, and to hell with you.” Freedom doesn’t mean freedom from common decency. That concept seems to be one of the finer points of democracy that has fallen by the wayside, and it’s a shame.

PTSD