It’s better, they say, to be safe…


You can find yourself standing in the middle of the beach at 4 a.m., surrounded by thousands and thousands of people who are throwing fireworks wildly into the sky and at the sand all around your head and feet.

[F]ireworks are more or less illegal in the U.S. cities we call home. On the Fourth of July, fireworks displays are set off by professionals, usually from boats situated well away from any spectators. I, like a majority of Americans, was raised with a simple understanding: if you set off a firework, you risk losing a finger, a hand, a toe, or an eye. Fireworks, like snarling Dobermans or leering men in pickup trucks, are something we are culturally wired to avoid.

From A Fiery Night in Barcelona, by Margo Orlando Littel, Everywhere Magazine

When I was a little kid, we went out all afternoon without any grownups to watch us.  In the summer, we went out all day.  We got cut, scratched, bruised, and burned all the time.

We used to walk to the city pool in our bare feet, but the ground was so hot, we had to stand on a piece of cardboard to keep our feet from burning.  We’d throw it as far as it would go, run to it as fast as we could, stand there for a minute, and then do the whole thing over.  We got sunburned, we went to the pool by ourselves, we ran in the streets.

We swam every day that we could, except no one “knew” how to swim.  Even so, we jumped off the diving board.  We got browner and browner, with our skin eventuallygetting a sort of blue-gray cast over the chocolate brown, and our black hair turned red-orange.  We were fierce. 

We rode on the back of pick up trucks and jumped off of buildings.

We did all sorts of foolish things, but we didn’t have too many fireworks.

My best friend’s father was a firefighter, and my mom knew someone her age who’d lost his eyesight in a firewords accident.  We never had any real (up in the air)  fireworks, but even my family had sparklers and spinners.

But tonight we’re going to light up the sky.

It is the Berbena de St Joan’s (the eve of  St. John’s feast.)  It is also midsummer, solstice, and it is a major celebration in Spain, and especially in Catalunya.  It’s supposed to be an insane fire-themed party here in Barcelona.  They have big official fireworks shows, and everybody does their own, too.  It’s all legal.  The city has a website telling you what the celebration is about, where to get fireworks, where to find a bonfire where you can burn your discarded furniture, and where to find an all night celebration in your neighborhood.  I went by one neighborhood park and saw an announcement that their neighborhood celebration would run from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.. 

We used the website to find our local fireworks shop.  People have been stocking up for weeks, but I guess they must have used some up (there have been stray fireworks all week) because the fireworks shop down the street warned us to get there early today to beat the lines.  The boy said he wanted to be there before it opened at 10. We were there just a few minutes after 10, and there was only a short line.  

We’ll go to one of the big celebrations tonight, watch the big guns, fire off some rockets, sparkle some sparklers.  Papa got him a big flare thing that shoots red blazes into the sky and some “tracas” (40 cracks per!)  Boy got a dragon that shoots fire out of its mouth.   We got gold and multicolor sparklers, and two  fountains.  A friend gave Samuel the big rocket. 

Maybe we’ll see a bonfire, too.  The ones where people toss their old furniture.  It’s part of the cleansing ritual related to solstice and the big fires are supposed to fuel the sun as it begins to wane.  The city website tells you where to find the bonfires, too. 





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5 responses to “It’s better, they say, to be safe…

  1. Michael Bowen

    How did people like you and I manage to survive to adulthood? I must have ridden my bikes 10,000 miles without a helmet – how could I possibly still be alive. I even had a chemistry set!

    • ceeemm

      It is a wonder we lived to tell the tale.
      You know the Guy Clark song “The Cape”? (Prob not, since it’s country music and all…) It starts out w/ an 8 year old jumping off of a garage roof:

      “Spread your arms and hold your breath
      And always trust your cape ”

      (I really did this, but I was the kid who did it without a cape ….)

  2. so funny about the cardboard – we used to run across the tar streets in our bare feet in the 90+ degree weather, tar burning and sticking to our skin. i ran through the woods and leapt over fallen trees in my bare feet, barely missing a giant coil of snake once. we walked miles out of town on the railroad tracks and poked around in the hobo camps we found. it was a different time!

    • ceeemm

      Things sure are different from a time I like to call “not so long ago.” Just when I convince myself it is all mad hysteria and we just have to let go, a friend sends me a report that Texas has had something like 50 kids drown this year already. Yikes!!!

    • ceeemm

      giggle. One of my favorite activities during south Texas summers: popping tar bubbles in the street with my toe. Do they still have tar bubbles in streets?

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