Sunday, 28 June 2009

Midnight fireworks for the 250 anniversary of Voltaire's Candide

Thousands of people wandered around Ferney until the early hours of the morning, it was a wonderful street party atmosphere, what the French call "ambiance bon enfant". I wandered around with friends, eating a late supper of accras de morue, sushi, samosas and empañadas, washed down with delicious cold sangria. There was a great live jazz band as well as dancing and theatre on the various other stages. We could dance a bit and also discover bits of Ferney not normally opened up to the public. Local artist Aline Rohrbach opened up her studio and garden, specially illuminated for the evening. It was a great way to see her work where she created it, and it showed enormous trust of the public, not to steal or deface anything but to appreciate and enjoy. Voltaire's Candide ends with the enigmatic idea that "il faut cultiver notre jardin", by inviting us into her private space Rohrbach showed that she is doing that, following her artistic inspiration.
In many ways, putting public money and time into the preparation of a municipal fiesta on this scale in a small town was also about "cultivating our garden". It gave all of us a common experience of togetherness, enjoyment, discovery, fun - a sense of belonging. At midnight the streetlights were turned off for 20 minutes, music streamed out of the loudspeaker system and fireworks began in front of the town hall, they were brilliant.
I'm not entirely sure whether municipal fireworks can be described as a a public good, but as I watched them last night I reflected on how important the "feel good factor" is in local, national or organisational politics. It made me realise that it has to be "real", it can't be the political or organisational equivalent of a psychological false stroke. Lots of the entertainment and almost all of the food sold last night was prepared by different Ferney associations, lots of individuals and groups contributed to the event, to "cultivating our local civil society garden". There was a real sense of enjoyment and accomplishment, not of a superficial festival imposed on people from above. Perhaps municipal fireworks are the French town hall version of the three ringed circus I'm writing about in my diploma paper. Anyway it was a great event to encourage us to go on cultivitating the local political and cultural garden.
Interestingly "feel good factor" is translated as optimisme into French in the online Collins dictionary - quite funny really as Candide was written against a Leibnizian concept of optimism!

1 Comment:

dr b said...

just wish i could have been there.