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Monday November 16, 2009

Have Fireworks Lost their Fizz?

Had Marco Polo been able to predict, nearly 800 years after his triumphant return to Europe with a stache of gunpowder, that there would be an almighty brouhaha about its use in public firework displays, he might have left it back in China.

While in the UK fireworks are dusted down once a year for Bonfire Night, it’s a very different story in Spain. Fireworks, for the Spanish, are a way of life. Hardly a fiesta goes by without the sound of rat-a-tat rockets, whizzing Catherine Wheels, crackling crackers and popping bangers. The Spanish have used fire, a symbol of strength and beauty, to celebrate legendary and historic scenes for centuries with some fiestas, such as La Patum in Berga, a province of Barcelona, dating back to 1454. Under new EU health and safety guidelines that come into force in 2010, fiestas such as La Patum, the famous Las Fallas fire fiesta in Valencia, and indeed the Nit de Foc-night of fire, to you and me- celebrated with vigour in Majorca, would be snuffed out forever.

The EU is demanding that revellers retreat at least 15 metres from ignited fireworks, a rule that couldn’t possibly be applied to most Spanish fiestas. Take our local Nit de Foc in Soller when the entire town pours into the plaça for the correfoc, the fire run at which comical devils liberally throw firecrackers at their victims’ feet and brandish fireworks on their backs. The bomberos, our local firemen, are posted near by and if anyone gets too hot and bothered they hose them down. It’s a hugely fun event and in ten years of living in the valley I’ve never known of any serious incident.

I for one relish Spanish fiestas and am relieved that the Spanish government has politely declined to fall in line with Brussels, stating that cultural patrimony is its main priority and that includes festivals with fire. The spoilsport’s argument is that fireworks at fiestas could lead to accidents but must we arrive at a situation where we ban anything that poses the slightest risk? For those, like my cats, who dislike the sound of snap, crackle and pop, the simplest solution is to stay indoors in a risk-free zone while the rest of us go out in search of a cracking good time or more to the point, to add a little sparkle to our lives.

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