Friday, July 11, 2008

4th of July: Esplanade Extravaganza

What a hiatus since the last post! Well, hiatus is probably not the most accurate word to describe the recent lack of updates. Hiatus usually implies a 'break,' but a break is what I thoroughly lacked all this week. I won't go into detail about what kept me busy, but overgrown cells, recalcitrant E. coli, and pipetting pandemonium should give you a hint.

So many PRISE events have flown by that I've not been able to keep up. Though they've all been fantastic, the most memorable of all so far was spending Independence Day at the Charles River Esplanade with PRISE friends, Boston Pops Orchestra, fireworks, and of course, thousands of other rambunctious revelers.

I was by no means the earliest PRISEr to secure a spot on the river bank. A group of people set out towards the esplanade on Thursday (July 3rd) afternoon to stake out an area overnight. Unfortunately - courtesy of Boston weather - rain soaked the pre-holiday concert. I wonder how (or if) those brave PRISE fellows managed to stay dry and warm in the unwelcome wetness. Just imagining the mud, dampness, and cold makes me cringe.

The morning of was still inimical to the upcoming holiday celebrations. The night's rain lingered on the ground in the form of puddles and wet grass. The sky was stubbornly overcast and an ubiquitous humidity saturated the air. Hesitant to face such depressing weather (and imbued with weekend lethargy), I decided to wait for the day to hopefully brighten up. Still stranded in Cambridge, I decided to go to lunch with another group of PRISE fellows and then head towards the esplanade afterwards. Lunch at the Border Cafe was electrifying! I ordered spicy Shrimp Orleans from the Cajun menu, and man was it hot (hot even for my experienced tongue whose taste buds have been desensitized by years of spicy Hunan cuisine)!

Gradually, weather improved as afternoon approached, and now with a stomach full of fuel, I made the happy decision of riding the T to Charles MGH station and joining the other PRISE campers in their July 4th celebration by the river.

The T was surprisingly uncrowded, especially for a popular holiday like this. I guess people were either already stationed by the river or cozily settled in their homes spending the day with family members. As I walked out of the T-station, the number of police cars and national guard officers patrolling the surroundings indicated the grand scale of the event. Big speakers mounted high on makeshift platforms outlined the river to transmit the concert in the Oval to the farther regions of the 'island.' The esplanade itself consists of a strip of land bordered on one side by Charles river and on the other by a confined stretch of water (which I presume was connected to the river in the past). People dotted the esplanade from end to end, and besides the crowd on land, many (more affluent) individuals enjoyed their time on expensive boats and yachts. Before the concert and the fireworks, a few love-birds and loners even kayaked and rowed down the river.

A small group of PRISE fellows had already successfully conquered an area by speaker nine, right in front of the firework barges and next to RSI students. I arrived at our premises at around 2:30PM, when the crowd had not yet reached critical density. To whittle away our time, we played card games, including Texas Hold'em, Egyptian Rhapsody, and Spades. There was a curious stand nearby called Coco Bongo (or something of the like) that sold refreshments - in coconut monkey heads. Understandably, I couldn't resist and acquired myself a simian souvenir (for a reasonable $12).

At 8:30PM I headed out towards the Oval - the concert arena - to watch Boston Pops. Due to the high number of people, to enter the area I had to acquire a red wristband beforehand, which ran out at 4:00PM. In the dark, the stage was an island of brightness in the midst of a sea of heads. In the center of the stage, conductor Keith Lockhart donned a Boston Socks jersey. Flanking him, the imposing orchestra was dressed in white with complementing dabs of red ties and accessories. Enormous and garishly decorative stars of patriotism hung over the stage, which brimmed with patriotism, both in sentiment and appearance. During its performance, Boston Pops played among other pieces the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Shipping Up to Boston, a tribute to Martin Scorcese who was part of the audience. I mention these two pieces especially because us Harvard Pops played them last year. Obviously, Boston Pops copied our amazingness.

Getting to the concert area was already a challenge in the multiplying crowd, and getting back from the concert to our camping area was near impossible. People and baby strollers packed like sardines on the pathways. On my way back, one of the footbridges was temporarily blocked because of a medical emergency. Someone collapsed/had some sort of attack and had to be taken out on a stretcher. During our wait, a woman was trying to guilt-trip a Norwegian young tourist to give his American flag to her child, who was supposedly frolicking by the river somewhere. I felt so bad for the foreigner and couldn't resist helping him retain his U.S. memento.

Anyway, once I reached the PRISE camp by weaving through the crowd, fireworks finally started. The fireworks were of many shapes and sizes: there were cubes, balls surrounded by rings, "crawlers," and even floating lanterns with fiery tails. One of the burning fire debris fell strikingly close to us on the river. In fact, some fireworks exploded before reaching the appropriate altitude, thus blasting us with resounding shockwaves. Though I have seen fireworks up close, this time it was different. Watching the sky glisten with showers, splashes, streams, sprays and explosions of incandescent color on the edge of the water, I incumbent on the grass, and with all my dear friends was indescribably inspiring and uplifting.

The spectacle started at 10:30PM and lasted half-an-hour. Afterwards, a small group of us rode the T (which was free at the time) back to Cambridge and cooled off our excitement and fatigue with ice cream at Herrell's. Wow, what a day, what a night, what an experience!

I hope this post (and the accompanying pictures) makes up for my dilatory updates :)

No comments: