Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar

Diogenes's picture
hoarFrost (57K)

There have been exploding noises throughout the neighbourhood for the last two days. They happen more often now, and with darkness coming early, we have been treated to the odd burst of color sparkles appearing here and there.

dec31a (46K)

I love the noises here. The air is moist and heavy and carries the sound like the sea. Holland is densely populated and though we are in a quiet neighbourhood, every now and then we hear a big BANG or explosion.

One of us will say "What the HELL was that?" (usually me), and we go to a window or the balcony to look. But we never see anything and it never seems to be of consequence.

On the first Monday of every month, at noon, they test the air raid sirens. Yes, they still have air raid sirens in The Hague and they still all work, as far as I can tell.

I was kind of worried the first time I heard them. It was a very pleasant sunny day in May when suddenly there were all these sirens going off in all directions, all with distinctive mating calls. I went to the window and looked out on the street below. Life appeared normal. No visible panic. Then the sirens stop.

I remember air raid sirens in Canada, but that was when I was a just a kid, during the Cuban missile crisis. We had drills in grade 2 that consisted of walking straight home and going into the basement. This was preparation for a nuclear attack. It was madness, but it was real at the time. I digress.

There are lots of happy sounds in Den Haag, like the bells of the trams rolling by the square, or the Grote Kerk (the Big Church) carillon playing "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles.

The computer store gave me a cash refund for the unneeded power supply, and directions to a vuurwerken winkel (fireworks store). Thumbs-up to customer service here. They don't normally sell fireworks in The Hague, only once a year I'm told, though others tell me even this is too much.

I find the shop, actually two shops, but both of them are almost sold out of stock. It is madness in both stores, with only the real expensive kits remaining. Nonetheless, I see people buying 100's of €'s worth of fireworks. It's 4:00pm New Year's Eve. "This is going to be good, real good", I sez to myself.

rocketOnaStick (41K)

I leave each shop with a couple of items which the vendors assure me will shoot up in the sky. I will call them rockets-on-a-stick because that's what they look like. I believe the shopkeepers at first, but come to realize that they probably have very few customer returns. As I leave the second shop, a full delivery truck appears with new stock. In fireworks, timing is everything.

Dec 31, 10:04 pm

Zo, it's a little after 10pm on New Year's Eve, we've just had a fine BBQ steak dinner and a bottle of wine, maybe more. Our neighbour has just arrived with a bottle of bubbly and some wise advice on proper behavior with respect to our building and neighbourhood. I smile.

The explosions are getting louder, the bursts of colored sparkles more frequent. I am loving this. Calgary does not allow this sort of thing. Fireworks are only allowed by the authorities when handled by certified technicians in some distant park on selected occasions. It's usually over in 20 minutes.

It is illegal to sell fireworks in Calgary (among many other things). You can find fireworks in select small towns in rural Alberta, but it's a challenge. And don't get caught using them!

ImprovisedIncinderaryDevice (17K)

I have found a long pole with a red rubber puck on one end in our storage room. My landlord keeps the oddest things. He's an engineer.

I thread the pole up 7 flights of stairs because it will not fit in the lift; even the stairwell is a bit of a challenge. I rig the pole to sit like a flagpole and realize that maybe it is a flagpole. I tape one of the rockets-on-a-stick to the end of the flag pole.

The next challenge is to light the fuse. Duh! I find an extendable pole that I used once to clean windows (before I lived on a 7th floor). I tape a candle to the pole, light the candle and extend the pole. Not a breath of wind tonight, but flame goes out, leaving just a glowing wick.

lightTheMicrophone (12K)

I draw the candle pole back in and grope around in the too many pockets for the lighter. While I am doing this, the candle relights itself. There is no wind, but the air is so wet that the flame runs out of breath before it reaches the fuse. This exercise is repeated twice before I figure that the answer to the riddle of lighting the fuse: patience and a steady hand.

It is still 10 minutes before midnight. Our neighbourhood now sounds like the Gaza strip, but without the sirens.

It seems that some people here suffer from premature ignition syndrome, or are very bad at estimating fuse burn time. I then estimate that I have time for a test launch AND to prepare another rocket-on-a-stick before midnight.

lightTheMicrophone2 (34K)

The candle is burning, the camera is ready. I extend the glowing candle wick out the fuse and hold fast to the extendable pole with both hands like some crazed fisherman. The candle flame eventually comes alive, then the fuse ignites, and the rocket tube fires.

For 1½ seconds, all looks good.

But the rocket fails go anywhere, it just blows up, sending a spectacular shower white burning embers at least 3m in all directions.

bigBang6 (19K)

Since we are only 2m away this makes it doubly exciting. We dance around brushing off the sparks off our clothes. The sonic shockwave hurts the ears but makes it all the more authentic.

We complete the experience by choking on some aftersmoke, absorb the gunpowder ambiance, and wait for the ears to stop ringing.

I am a little disappointed of course, thinking, damn, I got a dud. These are supposed to be the finest firecrackers in the world, I mean, Made in China.

Well NASA never gave up and neither will I.

I prepare another rocket-on-a-stick, this time using the firework that looks like a microphone to some cheap karaoke machine. Midnight comes but I am NOT ready.

January 1, 2009, 00:03:14

bigBang7 (16K)

The city has gone nuts! The neighbourhood has gone crazy. Balls of diamond dust are bursting in the sky all around us. The noise is is amazing, fantastic, exhilarating.

The microphone-on-a stick is finally ready.

bigBang4 (21K)

Happy New Year!

Q. What did the really drunk englishman say to the Politie to keep from getting arrested?

The fuse to the microphone is now burning. MLW and the neighbour now watch from inside behind protective glass. I duck into the corner behind a pillar at one end of the balcony.

The microphone explodes, just like the rocket-a-stick.

I think of the SCTV "Farm Celebrity Blowup" sketches with John Candy and Joe Flaherty.

The two would be dressed in their fishin' musician gear, hats with ear flaps and matching plaid shirts.

They would interview a famous artist, like Neil Sedaka , asking, uh, questions. The artist (or impersonator) would then perform a signature song, like "Breakin' Up Is Hard To Do". Some time into the song, there would be an explosion, a moment of silence, then this erudite critical analysis…

  "He blowed up!"
"Blowed up good!"
   Blowed up reeeel good!".

Sorry, I digress. Canadians will know what I'm talkin' about! As for the rest of you, Take Off, eh?

The fireworks continue. Life is a blast sometimes, as it should be. I spend the next half hour phoning friends (and Mom) in Canada to wish them a Happy New Year. It's 8 hours early but I'm all excited and have to share this Spielberg moment with the people at home.

bigBang8 (36K)

The show carries on. They sell these boxes of tubes that you place in the middle of the street, light, and run away. Each tube in the box sends out a proper firework high into the sky that explodes into a ball of color. All the tubes fire, one tube after another until the whole box is gone.

Next year, I'm will buy a tube box, shop early and even wait for the delivery next truck to show up if they are sold out, like a authentic Nederlander.

fire2 (39K)

Some people start a bonfire on the street below using some discarded wood furniture. It is off to one side so it doesn't block traffic. They throw in a christmas tree and it really gets going.

A police car shows up about 10 minutes later. I'm absolutely amazed when the people who set the fire remain at the fire. Then the police don't even get out of their car!

After a brief conversation, the police car drives away! 5 minutes later a firetruck pull up. Once again the perpetrators stand by their fire! After a 10 second pause, the firetruck pulls away!

The firestarters let out a cheer, and then dance around the flames. Then they throw more furniture on the fire.

fire (40K)

As I watch this drama unfold I am thinking "What a remarkable country!"

The fireworks, festivities and the many explosions continue till almost 2:00am, which is a combination of what is allowed and what everybody could afford.

It was an absolutely amazing New Year's celebration for us because none of this was really planned or expected.

I blowedup the rest of microphones, which was more fun then when I set fire to a model airplane after hanging it from the clothesline. That was the last model airplane I ever received as a gift.

Thank you Holland, thank-you Den Haag. It was a blast. I love it here!

happy_new_year (204K)