Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash

“De jaarwisseling 2012 – 2013 is rustig verlopen.  Sinds 2003 – 2004 is er sprake van een afnemende trend als het gaat om schade en ongeregeldheden.  In de aanloop naar Oud en Nieuw waren er wel veel klachten over vuurwerkoverlast. Het aantal van zes autobranden tijdens de jaarwisseling is opvallend hoog.”   
– Leidse Nieuwsblad January 4, 2013.
  During the first week of 2013 the Leiden newspaper reported that the decrease in disturbances and damages during New Year’s Eve celebrations over the previous ten years had been reversed.  The six car fires battled on New Years Eve this past year was remarkably high. 
WHAT THE HECK?!?!  SIX CAR FIRES IN ONE NIGHT?!?!  The last time that happened in the U.S., probably involved a riot, looting, and most likely the Los Angeles Police.  I’m almost certain the event wasn’t reported as “remarkably high” with a subsequent result of intellectual brow-furrowing, tisk-tisking, and head-shaking.
  No no.  No no.  Calm down, American readers.  This is just New Year’s Eve in The Netherlands – Cheers!  Combine drunkenness, illegal fireworks, and a little neighborly competition and what do you get?  A Ring of Fire.  Surrounding your house, car, children, & dogs.  This is tradition.  This is celebrated.  This is amazing.  
  Luckily, my Book Club friends had warned me a month ago.  “There are fireworks – everywhere!  They will be on your street.  They will go ALL day and night.  It’s a competition between the households – to see who can light off the best fireworks.  Don’t worry - your children will sleep right through them.  You should probably get drugs for your dogs, though.  You should definitely call your vet and get something for them.  In Germany they only last for a few minutes, but here – oh yes – they will last for hours.”  “Drugs for my dogs?” I thought. . . What about me?   
  Back up – my perspective – In America, fireworks are illegal inside city limits.  Even if you do buy them – you go WAY out into the country to set them off, thus only disturbing, well, no one.  One New Year’s Eve ten years ago, I lived in a house in Waco that backed up to a cow pasture.  My boyfriend at the time had purchased a “Big Boy” firework, hopped the chain link fence with our other male New Year’s Eve guests, lit the “Big Boy” and us girls jumped up and down as three bright green explosions lit up the field below, illuminating the faces of some disturbed cattle.   Ten minutes later the Waco police were slowly pursing through our neighborhood looking for the hoodlums.  On a more serious note, when I was in 3rd grade, I saw a house in our neighborhood burn to the ground because the kids of the household had been playing with fireworks.  The image of the children’s mother standing on the sidewalk, shaking her head in shock and disbelief is still imprinted in my memory. 
  10:00 a.m. on New Year’s Eve in Leiden, we started to hear them.  Boom.  Boom.  Boom.  I hear the WWII bomb sirens every first Monday of the month at noon.  I know that the Leiden train station and its surrounding areas were completely bombed during the war.  Our house was lucky to have survived.  I just completed reading The Book Thief about a family who had to head to a neighbor’s basement to shelter themselves from bombings in Germany during the war.  All of these images uncontrollably flooded my head as I heard the fireworks explode for hours
  After we put the kids to bed, V and I headed to the 3rd floor sitting room with the balcony that overlooks the neighborhood.  We sipped wine while attempting the most serene moments – the assessment of the past year and hopes for the new one.  We wrote down our aspirations while jumping up every few moments to peer out the window at the craziness lighting up the sky above our heads and tempting to set cars on fire in the median below. 
  Vinny had discussed the logistics of obtaining the New Year’s fireworks with his co-workers.  Apparently, the big fireworks (the ones we usually see put on by the town governments during 4th of July celebrations back at home) are illegal to sell in The Netherlands.  The Dutch and China governments have gone to great lengths to stop the importation of these illegal fireworks into The Netherlands.  According to the Dutch Daily News, the cooperation between the governments during the past four years to prevent ‘sub-standard’ fireworks from entering the market has lead to a decrease in damage due to misuse of fireworks from 43 million Euros to 10 million Euros.  But all these efforts do not prevent some of our fellow Dutchmen from obtaining them illegally.  Just a quick hop across the Belgium border, and they can find whatever the heart desires.  The Dutch police camp out and monitor the border between the two countries during the weeks leading up to the celebration.  If they see your car pass the inspection point more than once within a certain amount of time, they will wave you over and inspect your car. 
   A few fellow mothers explained to me that previous to this year, the fireworks were only allowed to be set-off during the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. on New Year’s Eve/Day.  Because the police and hospitals could not respond to all the emergencies within those hours, the law was changed so that the fireworks could be set off starting at 10:00 a.m. on New Year’s Eve – thus, hoping to spread out the injuries and damage throughout the day.  (Yea!  Good thinking!)
   The tradition of creating explosions to drive out evil spirits is common throughout history.  As my husband and I stood on our balcony, we were in complete and utter shock at the colors above, across, and below us.  The rain drops flew, but the fireworks only glistened more brightly and intensely.  Like children at Disney World for the first time, we kept pointing to each other ‘Look!  Look over there!  No, no – look over there!!”  In the end, you could look in every direction at the same time and not see all the colors.  I eagerly ran downstairs and typed a quick Facebook update.  I closed my laptop and was jolted out of my seat when I heard an explosion outside our living room window that sounded like machine gun fire. I caught my breath, took a sip of champagne, marveled at the richter-scale-piercing-action on the other side of our single-paned windows and with equal amazement, realized my kids were still asleep soundly in their beds and I ran back upstairs.  It was the most amazing, most colorful & loudest experience of my life.  We toasted the New Year and watched the distant sky flash every color of the rainbow until 2:00 a.m.  The dogs, calmed by a few muscle relaxers fell onto their own bed besides us.  A few days later, V and I recapped the scene.  I told him what I had learned about the concept of using firecrackers to scare away evil spirits.  He smiled and said, “You know – that’s probably appropriate.”  Puzzled, I asked him to explain.  “Well, we had a pretty intense year last year.  There were lots of happy times, but a lot of frustration as well.  Seeing as that was the hugest, most incredible display of fireworks we will probably ever see in our entire lives, I think that there wouldn’t be a more appropriate time or place to drive out all the negativity.”  I smiled back.  I’ve never felt a “New Year” as intensely significant as I have for this year.  January 1, 2013 marked the half-way point in our rotation.  We have come so far, and while I feel it’s been an uphill struggle, I am amazed and proud of myself, ourselves, for how much we have learned, acclimated to, and accomplished in a year.  I am anxious to see how 2013 unfolds.  More adventures, learning, surprises, challenges, connecting, reconnecting, traveling, biking, reading, and writing.  Stay tuned.  Happy New Year to everyone out there, and may your 2013 be car-fire free.                 

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