Saturday, July 05, 2008

Attending one of the Madison area's most meditative and intimate fireworks displays

A Sense of Wonder at the Fire Raining Down from the Sky
We sit in darkness, expectantly. A shell streaks skyward, climbing on a fiery trail that fades into darkness. For an instant, nothing happens. Then an explosion sounds and we're bathed in light. Brightly colored parabolas arc across the sky, fading as they fall. We watch the last fiery embers twinkling in the dark as they come raining down. It's endlessly hypnotizing. The fireworks happen every year, and are always pretty much the same, but we're transfixed anyhow. We sit in motionless awe. To give some idea of just how motionless -- these people at the Shorewood Hills fireworks scarcely moved at all during the 30 seconds it took to shoot each photo.

July 4, 2008There are other, more spectacular fireworks in Madison this time of year -- the big Rhythm and Booms show at Warner Park the Saturday before the Fourth, the other large show at Elver Park on the Fourth, and various other displays in surrounding communities. But the most meditative and intimate of all the displays is probably the one put on by the Shorewood Hills Fire Department Association at the Blackhawk Country Club. Attendance, mostly but not entirely made up of village residents, is modest, naturally limited by available parking. Most attendees sit on the hillside in front of the clubhouse at the east end of the course, and the ground displays can only be seen by them.

But in my mind, the best seats in the house are at the other end of the course, where every year a small group spreads out between the trees on the fairway. It's wonderfully dark. Lake Mendota is nearby, and you can usually see distant fireworks across the lake, tiny blossoms of light that appear and disappear silently, magically. On the darkened golf course, if it's a warm night and not too windy, fireflies usually give a warm-up show. Finally, when it's pitch dark, the first fireworks are launched. There's no music, and the show unfolds at a sedate pace. Mostly, it's just individual shells doing their thing and giving the sky back to the night before the next is launched. Occasionally two or three at a time. But that's as showy as it gets, until the final climax. The entire performance has a kind of classical elegance, compared with the more overproduced pop extravaganzas elsewhere. It's always memorable.

Note: Click through the photos to Flickr and click on map location, zooming in on satellite view, to see location where photo was shot.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Is Madison's Mallatt's Pharmacy making a political statement with its window art?

Uncle Sam as Seen by the Rest of the World These Days?
Probably not. It probably has more to to with its thriving holiday costume business. But the window painting could be interpreted as making a political statement by showing Uncle Sam as seen by the rest of the world these days.

July 4, 2008: Thinking about the way we used to be before the Forever War began

Looking in through the lace curtains of one window, and out the other, letting memory drift through the tunnel of time to a more innocent era -- before 9/11, before extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo became household words, before civil liberties became disposable in the war on terror, and before the start of this endless, unjust and increasingly unpopular Forever War. Back when Americans knew what we were talking about when we talked about freedom.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I expect surprises on a bike ride in Madison, but this siege engine in Vilas Park was a first for me

Our ride took us through Vilas Park, and this rickety-looking structure was visible from a distance as we approached. I couldn't figure out what it was. And then the word flashed unbidden into my mind, a forgotten memory resurfacing: "Is that a trebuchet?" I asked. Indeed it was, they acknowledged. I don't know who was more surprised -- the builders, that a passer-by had known the word; or I, that I had remembered the word.

A trebuchet is a kind of catapult that was used as a powerful siege engine in medieval times. They could be highly destructive, and actually continued to be used after the introduction of gunpowder in the West, partly because they were more accurate than the primitive cannons of the time. The reason I knew the word was that I once saw a great episode of NOVA about the building of a full-size trebuchet (their website includes a slideshow and other information).

WingraBridge-smThe light was quickly fading, and the trebuchet launch crew seemed to have quite a bit of work left. I wished we could stay for the first launch, but it looked as if it would take awhile, so we pushed on so we could look at the incredible light on Lake Wingra and Wingra Creek (click on photo to enlarge in Flickr).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sipping our Google cocktails at Sundance Cinemas while watching the Rhythm and Booms fireworks

Google Cocktails at Sundance
After watching the French thriller Roman de Gare at Sundance Cinemas last night, we went upstairs to the third-floor rooftop lounge for a nightcap. T asked if they served Campari. Reassured that they did, she ordered a Negroni and I said I'd have the same. When the waiter returned with our drinks, he said the bartender had consulted Google to make them (Campari, vermouth and gin). My first Google cocktail ever. Not bad.

Rhythm and Booms Fireworks Blooming Far Away in the NightRhythm and Booms, Madison's annual pre-4th of July music and fireworks extravaganza at Warner Park, was held last night. We had meant to have a quick drink and then drive over the to UW campus and watch from across Lake Mendota. Instead, we nursed our drinks and never left our Sundance Cinemas rooftop perch. The fireworks were visible in the distance, the people next to us had a radio tuned to the music (you can see the antenna sticking up above their table), and while some of the smaller displays were obscured by the tree line, the larger ones bloomed like distant flowers in the night. Quite magical. And we didn't have to fight traffic with 200,000 other people.