Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fireworks on Lake Geneva ........The traditional close to the Fetes de Genève

Geneva has a population of less than half million (472,530 to be precise); all of those people and more seem to have gathered around Lake Geneva, Saturday night to watch the grand feu d'artifice that marks the end of the summer Fete. Traditional since 1947 and arguably the largest display in Europe.
The grand finale with the fountain in the centre

You can buy a 70 franc ticket to be seated on wooden benches that supposedly guarantee a view, spend 200 francs for dinner at an upmarket lakefront hotel, find yourself a friend who owns a boat on the lake or do what most of the plebeian half a million do : try to capture a vantage point for free. Last year, we were naive enough to think we could go there by car, reach there with Swiss precision 4 mins before the display starts and see the show. We were reduced to watching it from the eighth floor of my workplace some 2 km away with the local FM station playing the soundtrack. (And we were by no means the only ones there).

This year, we were wiser. We took the train, along with crowds that makes the Monday morning rush hour pale. Even two hours before the display was due to begin the lakeside was teeming with people, many of whom had camped there for hours along with food, music, wine and books to help pass the time as they stayed glued to the vantage points they had been lucky enough to capture.

With an immense dose of good luck and some creative wriggling into small spaces we found ourselves close to the waterfront and with an unobstructed front view of the barges that spew the fireworks. At 10 p.m. to the nanosecond, preceded by a welcome message in nine different languages (including Hindi) and all the streetlights around the lake area went off.

In that enchanted darkness, began a spellbinding 55 minutes of pyrotechnics dancing in harmony to Portuguese melodies (Portugal was the theme of this years' show) ..sometimes slow and languorous and sometimes heating up into a impassioned frenzy that converted the water and the sky into a raging riot of color.

the barge the caught fire mid performance
Almost as remarkable as the music was the efficient organization: the special extra trains to bring people back and forth, the arrangements made for lost children and sick people, the safety precautions ............a barge that caught fire halfway through the show was dealt with in minutes and with a minimum of fuss or disruption ..............and the orderliness of the mass of humanity.

Undoubtedly expensive (the cost born by the Tourism department and local business); but in a country known for its understated way of life; where extravagance lies in its natural beauty, this once a year burst of artificial extravaganza is a pleasant anomaly.

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