Smoke on the water, fire in the sky

Concerned colleagues had warned me about the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Amsterdam. I was told that people burst firecrackers from their roofs and in the streets. If they are too drunk (which on New Year’s Eve they inadvertently are), they throw them at you. And the air smells of burnt gunpowder. I thought to myself that it sounded exactly like Delhi on a Diwali night. I was wrong. The celebrations here were ten times bigger.

31st Dec was a typical wintery day in Amsterdam - dank and dreary. Perhaps to liven up the day, people started bursting firecrackers at 3:00 PM. Once the sun set, it was impossible to have a moment when a cracker would not go off somewhere. Sadly, the tales of unruliness were true. We witnessed at least one instance of rockets being fired from the window of one house into the other across a street, had a small firecracker thrown frighteningly close to us, saw a building burning far on the other side of the river and heard the dreaded fire engine siren several times.

A fire burns in the distanceA fire burns in the distance

We have a shared terrace on the 7th floor of our building. Someone had stuck a hastily scrawled missive on the door to the terrace with this curt message:

Geen vuurwerk (which translates to - no fireworks)

That meant that we could happily watch the show the city was putting up for us from a safe distance. It was still a long way to go before midnight, and while the terrace gave us a great vantage point, it also exposed us to the elements. We eventually retreated to the warmth of our apartment and decided to enjoy the fireworks from our window (which is more of a glass wall that looks onto the river). We weren’t disappointed.

Come midnight and the ships docked nearby started blowing their horns. The fireworks, which were already going strong by now, picked up further.

Their ephemeral reflections in the river made everything magical.

Fire in the skyFire in the sky

We saw some strange fireworks.

We were quite mesmerised by the variety that wouldn’t go off but just drift in the air like kite-lanterns. At least two of these rammed into the scaffolding of the under-construction building in front of our house but thankfully caused no damage.

Within 20 minutes, the air was so thick with smoke that we could hardly see the fireworks across the river. Just then, a ship which had docked minutes ago, started its onward journey through this man-made fog. It looked ghostly:

I am going to remember this night for a very long time.

P.S. It’s been raining here for the last two days or so and all the paper left by the firecrackers has turned into squishy, red pulp that is probably going to coat the footpaths and roads forever.

P.P.S. Further evidence that some high-caliber fireworks were involved in the New Year Eve’s celebrations

Leftovers from fireworksLeftovers from fireworks

P.P.P.S. Christmas trees stripped of their ornamentation have started appearing near the various garbage bins across the city. It breaks my heart to think that just a day ago they were standing in a bright, warm corner of some house, covered in baubles, lights and surrounded with happy laughter of children and pets and are now vying for space in cold, wind and rain with rotting garbage by the noisy roadside.

January 3, 2012