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Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Switzerland Turns 715; Fourmilab Still Standing

According to tradition, the Swiss Confederation traces its origin to a pact made on August 1st, 1291 among the original three cantons. Although historical records confirming this event are ambiguous, since 1899 Switzerland has celebrated August 1st as its national day and ever since the 700th anniversary of the Confederation in 1991 (the first year I was present for the event), it has actually been a holiday—previously it was a regular work day. This year, like the last, Google Switzerland had a commemorative logo.

This evening our village had the traditional celebration with music from the brass band, a speech by a political figure (this year, one of the canton's members in Switzerland's “Senate”), and the traditional bonfire and fireworks. The bonfire was rather more exciting than usual, as shortly after it was lit a stiff wind came up (fortunately, directed away from most of the crowd), which caused the fire to extend in a blowtorch-like manner almost horizontally. From nearby, there was a roar and crackling reminiscent of the sound of the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters, and despite the chilly weather and wind, everybody started moving back simply due to the heat, although doubtless also with self-preservation in mind, as the wind direction was fickle.

Since the weather through most of July has been unusually hot and dry, there was substantial concern about the possibility of fires started by bonfires and fireworks. (In Switzerland, just about every kind of fireworks, including the really heavy artillery, is legal and readily available, and teenaged boys often show up at these village celebrations with an armamentarium that rivals that of the official display.) Fortunately, it drizzled for most of the day until mid-afternoon, when the sky cleared to fluffy clouds scudding along in a brisk wind. I've lived in this village for fourteen years now, and not once has either the first of August celebration nor the Désalpe at the end of September been rained out; don't tell me wishing for good weather doesn't work!

Even though there was an impressive plume of flame and showers of sparks departing into the darkling sky, only some blades of grass on the football field got singed and everything is still standing, at least until next year.

Posted at August 1, 2006 23:49