SARONNO, Italy - New Year’s Eve always conjures up memories of my first New Year’s Eve in Milan. I hadn’t lived in the city very long, having recently moved from the swaying palm trees and blue Mediterranean Sea of the Riviera to the industrial north. My new apartment was in a densely populated part of town, a well kept working class neighborhood.
At the stroke of midnight rockets started flying off the balconies of the apartment buildings on my street. With fireworks whistling through the air before exploding, first from one side and then the other, it sounded like we were under attack. Everyone seemed to be competing with everyone else as to who could launch the biggest bang, and of course they were all out on their balconies drinking Spumante and yelling and cheering as the fireworks sailed through the air and exploded.
A friend of mine had come over for dinner, a single American in Milan like me, and while we were fascinated with the spectacle before us, I kept pulling her back into the apartment because I was afraid that one of the rockets was going to hit us.
Instead what was hit was another balcony in my building, on the floor below me. The apartment was closed up tight as the young couple who lived there were away spending the holidays with their families. Whatever they had left out on their balcony, probably newspapers, had caught on fire.
I remember screaming ‘fuoco’, ‘fuoco’, which is the word for fire but not the right word for that kind of fire, and waving my arms in the air at the people who lived in the apartment above the one that was on fire. They very neighborly waved back and raised their glasses of Spumante* and probably called out Happy New Year, but all I could hear was the whistling and exploding fireworks.
I kept shouting and shaking my head no and waving my arms and pointing to the balcony below them and finally they looked over and saw the flames. They froze. It was like the film had stopped. They ran back into their apartment and got some bottles of mineral water and leaning over their balcony they began trying to pour the water on the flames. At that point the flames were pretty high so they had to run in and out of their apartment dozens of times to refill those plastic 2 liter bottles. They did eventually manage to put the fire out without the help of the fire department. Linda and I let out a collective sigh of relief and went back in, poured ourselves a big glass of Scotch and just sat there, stunned.
So far this week the Carabineri have confiscated 50 tons of illegal fireworks, mostly made in China. The daily talk shows talk on ad nauseum about the dangers of playing around with the illegal poppers and rockets, and show photos of those who have lost hands and eyes, and even died but the warnings fall on deaf ears.
So once again the headlines on January 1, 2010 will be the number of accidents and deaths involving illegal fireworks, and the only thing that will have changed is the date.
Photos: Sparkling Spumante wine; View from my Milan balcony