TOHU, we could see the side of the structure bathed in blue light in the distance. An announcer's voice boomed from the stage in the background, where most of the spectators were crowded in front. There was a burst of applause. We headed for the structure to get a good look, as the silver leaves on the poplar trees shimmered in the wind.
The 10 Works of Alice in Wonderland
A perimeter had been set up around the structure, and the crowd was already about five people deep. The final Alice looked just as it did in the sketch I had seen four weeks earlier. To see the colours in daylight, click here. I tried to get as close as possible to take a picture of the 10-metre high 10 works of Alice in Wonderland before it was set ablaze. I set my camera to the night setting and took a few pictures. The shutter speed is slow to let in as much light as possible, but it's hard to stand perfectly still. The result is a less-than-sharp picture. There are many photographers standing around me with telephoto lenses waiting for the show to start. Many have staked out an area and have set up their tripods. There seems to be two distinct crowds: photography buffs and people from the St-Michel neighbourhood. My husband was thinking and brought his tripod, but I'm not sure how he's going to use it yet.
A Close-Up of the Detail
We still have to wait 20 minutes, which is a long time for our three- and eight-year-old. Our "little" 50lb-son is already asking to be picked up. I'm not sure how we are going to take pictures while holding our children so they can both see. Three fire trucks are standing by in the streets. There's a trailer in the distance with a flag on top to gauge the wind. The Falla team of designers, falleros and volunteers are introduced on stage to loud applause. Then a delay is announced. Too much wind. We groan, as my son lobs his teddy bear into the crowd, which I wade in to retrieve for the second time. The band plays on behind us, and when the song finishes, the host announces that the show will start in a few minutes, wind permitting. The crowd starts to shift from the stage to the perimeter. My husband gives in to my son's pleas and puts him on his shoulders. The firemen move closer and stand in a line at the ready. The Falla is about to start.
The first structure with the clock is lit from inside. The fire quickly moves up the structure, but is extinguished by the wind. Fireworks are used as a diversion until the fire is successfully lit again. This time flames race to the top of the structure. The crowd cheers as each character burns, wavers and falls to the ground. We are hit by rolling waves of heat. My son is cheering and waving his arms, as his father tries to steady his hand holding his tripod with a video camera above the crowd. I do my best to take pictures without moving, as the crowd pushes forward, and my daughter tugs at my arm to be picked up. Unfortunately, I am only able to hold her in the air for about 30 seconds at a time (She's heavy too). Just as well. The burning of the second structure is much more spectacular, and she has a better view. As the structure cracks and pieces fall off, I realize that I have never seen a fire this big before, and the heat is making me lightheaded. The second structure comes down in three large pieces, and then it is over. The entire show ends in just six minutes.
We walk back to the car and decide to go to the Dairy Queen to cool off. The only disappointment of the night: our DQ with the vintage sign also adheres to 60s banking practices, and there's no Interac. The dep will have to suffice. Then we rush home to put our kids to bed and look at our pictures.
The top two pictures are captures from my husband's video, which is beautiful except for the lurching each time our son got excited and cheered or stuck his fingers in my husband's eyes. My pictures got better as we approached the four-minute mark. Next time, we'll also bring something that my daughter can stand on, so that she can see over the crowd.
Click on the arrows in right-hand corner to see slide show full-screen
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