Phantasmagoricalness

21 July 2013

[Reporting from the Wash and Clean laundromat, near the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and through the Sottoportego San Rocco.]

Phantasmagorical (adj): characterised by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions. [Adjective used in promotional material for the Festa del Redentore fireworks display in Venice.]

Just two bodies in a very large (but well-behaved) crowd, last night we saw for ourselves phantasmagorical in action.

The fireworks were scheduled to kick off at 2330, but people had begun gathering on the waterfront down from the Palazzo San Marco from much earlier in the evening. We got there at about 2200, after we’d walked through the street-side diners and revellers — which only took about 20 minutes. There were heaps of kids about, too. And a couple of dogs. (Why you bring a dog to an event with multiple, loud explosions and tens of thousands of people crammed into one area, I don’t know. But the ones we saw didn’t look overly traumatised.)

Pretty much everybody was sitting down — except for the Italian family immediately in front of us. However, the peer pressure from behind us made them sit down, which was great. There were people drinking wine from bottles all about the place — but only because bringing glasses just made no sense. But there was no obvious disorder. (There was some whooping and giggly chatter from some teenagers in the background, but really, very tame.) The edge of the crowd was on the edge of the water — which had no barrier of any sort. Nobody seemed to care about the potential implications of slightly intoxicated crowds so close to a large (and festering) body of water. I am beginning to like the un-nanny-state, look-after-yourself-ness attitude of such things here. We need a bit of this at home.

The display lasted a full half-hour. Impressive. Phantasmagorical, possibly. Not travelling with a tripod was going to make photographing the event something of a challenge, as the one available natural tripod — the post on the bridge — had much earlier been claimed by a serious-looking older chap with a 5D on a gorilla pod. He wasn’t going anywhere. So I balanced the camera on my knees, set it to manual focus at infinity, f8, and initially started out at ISO 3200. I altered it on several occasions during proceedings as the amount of light varied with the display, and got the best results at ISO 400 with lots of light from the fireworks.

So here are the results. Again, a tripod would have been fabulous, but you make do. (And I couldn’t do anything about the almost-full moon, which was present in all of the proceedings.) I can vouch for the fact that the Venetians do a pretty good job of putting on a fireworks display.

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