Celebration of Light

Last night I was among the 500,000 people estimated who swarmed to English Bay to watch the Honda Celebration of Light fireworks by the Disney team representing the USA.

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Except I didn’t watch them from the ground. Thanks to very generous friends, I watched them from this apartment building.

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It was a perfect view. There were almost as many boats as people.

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We ventured down while waiting for the show to begin so we could experience the crowds.

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Around 9pm, two fireboats circled around the barge, showing off their impressive water cannons for some pre-show entertainment.

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Once the sun had set, it started to look like Christmas lights on the water with all the boats out there.

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And then at 10pm, the sky lit up with the magic of fireworks set to iconic Disney songs. We sang along to “Under the Sea,” “Let it Go,” “The Circle of Life,” and “When You Wish Upon a Star” (the Disney theme song). They also played the Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars theme songs.

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The fireworks didn’t make shapes of Disney characters (no Mickey Mouse or castles in the air) but there were some new things I hadn’t seen before. I loved these gold ones that, once erupted, turned to glistening sponges that lingered in the sky.

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It was a fabulous night and a great way to finish the month of July.

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Everybody’s Workin’ for the Weekend

Like the line in the Lover Boy song, Witold Rybczynski asks in the book Waiting for the Weekend, “Do we live to work or work to live?”

This book traces the history of leisure and the advent of the all-important weekend that is commonplace in modern society.

The weekend is a temporal break from the mechanization and monotony of the typical 5 day, 8 hour work week. And it is also a spatial break from the office or wherever we spend our work time.

Work Week Space

On the weekends, we escape out of the city, go on retreats, to the cabin, to the beach, or simply sleep in and stay at home.

Weekend Space

On Mondays, we mourn the passing of the weekend. On Wednesdays, we congratulate ourselves for making it to the “hump” of the week. On Fridays, we look forward to the weekend. It is clear that the weekend structures much of our sense of time.

As a caveat to that claim, I would add that the significance of the weekend depends on one’s occupation – or lack of it. When I was a graduate student, the weekend was only nominally different from the work week. Sure, I might not have classes, but every day there was work to be done. The scenario has radically shifted now that I am finished and looking for work. Every day feels like the weekend because there is no mandatory work.

Or let’s take people that do shift work. If their days off fall on a Monday and a Tuesday, does that become their weekend? Or does the weekend only and always refer to Saturday and Sunday? Is the weekend meaningless without people to spend it with? Does this mean there’s something inherently social about the weekend? For the segment of society that actually works Monday-Friday, I’m sure the weekend does hold a sacred place, but how big really is this segment?

Speaking of the social nature of weekends, in one part of his book, Rybczynski analyzes the Impressionist painting by Georges Seurat called Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte (1884-86)

The painting depicts what was an increasing popular subject for the Impressionists – the nature of leisure in an industrial age. Notice that the painting depicts a Sunday – a weekend day. Multiple people of different classes, ages, and dress frequent this beach, but the question is are they here because they want to or because they have to?

According to a review by Alfred Paulet when the painting was first exhibited in the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition, the answer is the latter:

“The painting has tried to show the toing and froing of the banal promenade that people in their Sunday best take, without any pleasure, in the places where it is accepted that one should stroll on a Sunday.”

Paulet offers a strikingly negative commentary on the painting, implying that Seurat is mocking these Sunday vacationers, who, instead of coming to this island out of desire, are coming out of obligation.

This ties in with an interesting question that Rybczynski raises: Has the freedom to do nothing on the weekend become the obligation to do something? More specifically, have we heightened the weekend to such cultural importance that we feel pressure to go away and be seen in certain public places like beaches, parks, or campgrounds?

Seurat may have completed his painting over 100 years ago, but the nature of leisure seems to have changed little. As this Seurat look-alike photograph attests to, people still flock to beaches.

Friday Afternoon (or any day of the week) at English Bay in Vancouver

Where did all these people come from on a mid-afternoon weekday in September? Does this image go to show that the traditional Saturday-Sunday weekend is not as universal as we might think, or can this simply be explained by the fact that this is Vancouver, where there never seems to be a shortage of people at the beach?

So anyway, it’s the weekend. What space are you off to?