Monday, November 11, 2013

Guy Fawkes and his “followers”

This is an article I did recently for Light into Europe, covering the Bonfire night. If you didn't know about this really fun event, read below and prepare for next year because it will be held again in beginning of November. More details on the Light into Europe website and FB page. MUAH and have a great week!

November 1st and I found myself again at the Crown Plazza Hotel where Light into Europe hosts every year the Bonfire night in the back gardens. And every year I asked myself the same question: why do the British celebrate a bunch of people trying to set the Parliament on fire? It seems that back in the year 1605, a man name Guido ‘Guy’ Fawkes and some angry chaps gathered few kegs of gunpowder and set out to blow up Parliament with the hopes of killing King James I. The event has been known as the Gunpowder Plot ever since.

Well, all being said, the Brits of modern days take advantage of this episode in their history to lit up the place with fireworks and bonfires, getting together to share food, drinks and merriment. I am not British, but I surely enjoy the celebration so I do my best to attend. This year, with Halloween barely out of the picture, Stan and Camelia Platt, the founders of the foundation, together with their team of employees and volunteers, thought of bringing both fiery spirits together. Therefore, I was welcomed right from the start by some grinning pumpkin faces watching over the alley leading to where all the fun was happening.

It was cold, but the laughter of the children chasing among the pumpkins and the fire roaring a few feet away, kept the spirits up and the line of guests grew bigger as I was helping with the raffle tickets at the entrance. It was a fairy tale picture. I am not a winter person but people’s faces glowing in the light, holding a cup of hot wine steaming with orange and cinnamon spices, made me want to join the kids and trash the leaves flooding at our feet. More than three hundred guests swarmed around this fire sending tongues of gold into the clear night sky. The smell from the grilled sausages mixed with the vapors of the boiling potatoes made my mouth water, but I did not abandon the auction table. There were more than fifty items waiting for their winners at the end of the evening.

Among the guests I spotted many of the beneficiaries of the foundation: Petra, Razvan and Stefan, three lovely young people with sight disabilities. Klint, Stefan’s guide dog was extra excited with the attention (and food!) he got. Soon, Anca – who had just returned from six months of training in UK – brought her partner, a beautiful black Labrador who would find a home with one of the sight impaired children. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. We sold more tickets than our pockets could take and I was inspired by the number of people attending and the diversity of nationalities. From Italian, Spanish, German, English to American and of course, Romanian. I hope I’m not missing anyone. His Excellency, the British Ambassador Mr. Martin Harris brought along the entire family and he wasn’t the only one. With passing year, I see more and more children attending and what would an outdoor party like this be without the mayhem of little heads with blond/chestnut/red hair curls running around like mad? It keeps the parents alert; the moms at least, who are always such a soothing image to my eyes when they chased them around with plates of food, trying to feed them; if possible! The men on the other hand, played it cool and I saw them clustering under the tall trees with a beer or wine cup in their hands. Hopefully they’re not discussing business!
When I finally joined the crowd, I was too busy to even notice anyone anymore as I had to fill my plate with goodies to indulge in. After a day’s worth of work in the office, a warm meal, the friendly faces and a bear hug from Stan feelt like the right patch for a worker’s broken spirit. I brought mom along and I was happy to see that, despite her lack of English language abilities, she made many friends keeping busy with her newly formed “moms group”. She did take her time to tell me just how much she enjoyed the “mititei”. Uh, I had to find those! Lots of people to serve, but organization has been pin pointed down to the last detail thus food was being served at multiple tables so two minutes later I built a small “mountain” of food in my plate. The chef all dressed up in his fancy white attire, but carefully wrapped in a winter coat to keep him from freezing, smiled elegantly while adding another bon on my already Everest-ian pile. But alas! Mela wanted an apple too! I looked like a late Halloween partier, with my pockets stuffed and a crooked smile on my face. I found my group of volunteers, but before I even took a bite, a cascade of cameras forbade my tummy from welcoming the much needed calories. It took me a little while how to adapt my behavior around children and young people with disabilities so that I am fully aware of their needs. So I put my arms around Petra and Razvan and turn them towards the camera. “Smile!!!” More people jumped in at the last minute and the result was an uneven row of teeth from many smiles, grins and funny faces, smudged a bit by mom’s unprofessional approach of photography. But still such lovely pictures!

In fact, we’re not the only ones doing it. Whole groups get together in what seems to be a big family reunion for a BBQ in November. Volunteers, sponsors, partners, guests, founders, people whom I’ve met at the dance practices for the Caledonian Ball – they’re all there and I was thankful I got to see them and discuss life differently than through emails and work calls.
But all conversations end the moment when the sound of the first fireworks broke behind the line of trees bordering the garden. A dozen flashes went off at the same time trying to capture the amazing festival of lights raining on us in showers of green, red, violet and gold. Every now and then I heard the little ones around me go “Wow!” and only the innocent amazement of a child can be so infectious to make you gaze at fireworks in a different way than you did a minute before. One last thunder, so high above our heads, sent an universe of stars across the garden. A wave of applauds welcomed the last sparks coming down on us while the children ran towards the fences thinking they can catch one of these falling stars. What a night!
At about 9:00PM the crowd was ready to cut the cake. The ladies drew near because there was a competition on, about the weight of the cake and they were all invited to guess. The winner got a nice bottle of Whisky. I wish I came with a more detailed and fascinating name for that drink (something like: a malts 10 years old Jack Daniels special edition etc etc) but I am not good with alcohol. Stay assured though - it was the kind of whiskey any man present that evening would have wanted in his bar! The kids were even more ecstatic considering the sheer size of the sweet British flag on display before their eyes. At the other end of the alley, Eileen and I were preparing the tickets for the silent auction. We were in such a hurry to get them all together and put them up that we almost forgot to add the white ones (there are always different colors to increase the winning chances for the guests!) One of the ladies kindly let us know we’re missing this little detail in our heist and we immediately corrected the mistake. I am touched and humbled by our guests, their fine way to communicate, with their beautiful and warm personalities. It always shows through in moments like these and making me enjoy these kinds of events even more.

His Excellency, Mr. Martin Harris came to the rescue and spent quite some time with us to extract the tickets and pin them on the display board. He was incredibly patient with our numb fingers and stubborn paper pins that would not stick to the board. He shared smiles and kind words to everyone queuing up behind us to learn of the winning tickets. One by one the table emptied and we were delighted to see everyone go home with a little something from the event. I had my eyes on a cook book for Christmas, but I was too busy eating and forgot to chip in the auction and get my tickets. Next time.

And there will be a next time. Next year. You should come; if reading this little story of my experience at the Bonfire night stirred your interest, trust me, it’s not even close to the real thing. Just put down November as a fun month in your calendar because after the Bonfire, there is the Caledonian Ball. Scottish dances. But more about that, in a different story.  Meanwhile, don’t forget to check the website for Light into Europe and their Facebook page to find out what happens in the other 11 months of the year. You’d be amazed to learn the number of events and activities they have in store for you. So I can only hope to see you at one of them so you can tell me your own story with Light into Europe.

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