Saturday, July 21, 2007


Fireworks at a distance are like a moving Lite-Brite, pretty, but no more. Fireworks up close are a moving spiritual experience.

The Fourth of July in Madison was a disappointment because everyone knows this fact and floods Warner Park to the breaking point, while we stood on rocks at the pier a mile away. A pier a mile away is for people who don’t get Beethoven and therefore need things that are pretty but unimposing. All the same, sweaty crowds make me dreadfully unhappy. As I just read Richard Dawkins write in The Blind Watchmaker, we have driven out species that were no threat to us and all we’re left with is “a considerable surplus of humans.” Humans who must queue up to eat, queue up to work, and most loathsome, queue up to have fun.

Not so tonight. Bored, and with most of the people I know in Madison not presently in Madison, I heard faint echoes of electronically-amplified classical music from my porch at the dusty edge of downtown. With slight curiosity outweighing non-existent activity, I biked to Monona Terrace. They are celebrating the facility’s 10th anniversary, a festivity titled “Promises Kept.” A terrible title, by the way, because it acknowledges criticisms saying promises about the terrace have been broken and gives them the light of day, or of pyrotechnics. Never give that kind of rhetorical ground on your home turf.

I biked round the lakefront side, where tower speakers beamed down the orchestra to those who had not dolled up and grabbed a seat on the upper level. They did Prokofiyev, which was pleasant enough. It wasn’t his “Peter and the Wolf,” but a man can’t ask for everything. I circled back upon reaching Machinery Row, and as soon as I reached the terrace again one ship of the nocturnal navy afloat on Monona began spewing fireworks into the air.

From a mile away, this is but a thing that happens. Last night thee ship anchored little further than a stone’s throw off the shore. At first I intended to ride on by, illuminated in the same fashion as the kids in The Sandlot who play night baseball by Chinese gunpowder. The sheer magnitude of the report ordered me to stop and pay attention. Its light shone like late afternoon and it Doppler-delayed concussions rattled my ears and my insides. They set off a car alarm belonging to one of the upstairs patrons, which blared and moaned in outdated cellphone tones, a little brother desperately seeking attention on his big brother's big day. Revenge was sweet, though, as the finale's huge residual cloud sailed above we pier people and enveloped the orchestra and Madison high society on the platform above.

It was impressive enough to make me wish I had somebody to share it with. Not the standard barrage marching in time with “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” though I enjoy that very much. Rather, the causeless stumbling into something so immediately striking.

It was beautiful.

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