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Travel Flashback: Baby, You’re a Firework

In August 2011, Geneva was dominated by its summer festival, a month-long display of frivolity not normally seen in Geneva’s staid boulevards. Carnival rides and games were set up along the lakefront quays, and garish stands served up “exotic” fare (“Hot Dog New Yorkais – 100% Boeuf!”).

The festival culminated in its annual fireworks display. As my time in Geneva was drawing to a close, and as I am a sucker both for fireworks and for free entertainment (both of which were in short supply in Geneva), I made my way down to the lakefront with a friend. Immediately caught up in the energy of the festival, I impulsively agreed to ride the Swings, which was the only ride I ever really liked at state fairs growing up. The Swings have come a long way in the last 20 years, however, and this particular construction raised the swings several hundred feet up a central tower before flinging us through the air like drunken birds. The view was admittedly incredible: the whole of the lake, the city and the festivities spread out below us in the last light of sunset. It was also more than slightly terrifying.

Back on solid ground, as the hour for the fireworks approached, we fought our way through the thickening hoards of people until we simply couldn’t go any farther in any direction and decided we would just have to stay put. More and more people – more than 100,000, in fact – crowded toward the lake. I briefly marveled that so many Genovese were so into fireworks.

And then, at the stroke of 10, all the streetlights along the lake and bridges went out, and the unseen boats strategically placed out on the dark lake started their work.

I had never before seen fireworks so magnificent. They lit up Lake Geneva like it was the middle of the day; the full moon hovering nearby was a dirty porch light by comparison. The fireworks were perfectly scored to opera music that was somehow loud enough to be heard over all but the largest explosions. (The Swiss attention to detail and devotion to quality were clearly on display.) The entire crowd was mesmerized, standing stock-still with necks craned to the sky. After half an hour, the sky now thick with smoke, the explosions paused, and I thought it was over; but no, it was just intermission.

The show lasted a solid hour, and for that hour, all 100,000 of us – regardless of our ages – were 5 years old again, oohing and aahing and clapping for more.

Thanks to Susan Dods for this amazing picture.

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