The Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks are beautiful, but honestly, they are nothing like the fireworks I saw from my roof when I lived in SoHo. These were so amazing that it has made all other fireworks dim by comparison.
Our building was a small four-floor walk up that housed a loft on each floor. It was located on West Broadway between Houston and Prince—the center of the art scene at a time before gentrification.
Directly west of us was a small Italian community known by the people who lived there as the West Side. Smaller than the better-known Little Italy that was located further downtown and a few blocks to the east, our community was full of stores that made shopping feel like walking down a street in Italy.
On the Fourth of July the local church, St. Anthony of Padua, would put on their fireworks display. Little Italy and St. Anthony competed to have the biggest and best show.
On the evening of the fourth, we and our neighbors would gather blankets, wine, glasses, and a few snacks and head up to our roof where we’d lay out our blankets, pour our drinks, and wait for the show to begin.
Since the church was located behind us, we had front row seats—except not exactly. Let me explain: given that the outburst would occur directly over our heads, we’d lie as flat as we could. And herein lies the difference between Macy’s and SoHo fireworks.
Normal fireworks displays are visual experiences seen at a distance in the sky. What occurred for us was physical; each detonation reverberated throughout our bodies, impacting all our senses. The explosions were so close we were afraid to sit up. Sparks showered down on us. Most would burn themselves out before reaching us, but not all. A few from each blast would land still glowing on the roof and then burn out—in hindsight it is amazing that they didn’t start a fire.
The sound of the blast was so intense that every window on our block shook, sending our cats under the bed in fear for their lives. If it hadn’t been for the visual extravaganza that followed each blast, we would have followed them.
As our bodies reverberated with each blast, thick plumes of smoke filled our nostrils with the smell of gunpowder and sulfur. Through the smoke and the barrage of sparks that shimmered all around us emerged a small paper parachute—the device that allows the fireworks to descend slowly. It seemed to dance to its own tune, floating through the embers—the last remnant from the light show that had just mesmerized us. The visual contrast was like poetry in the sky: totally unexpected yet essential to the entirety of what we were seeing, gently landing on our roof, with the elegance of a lone snowflake gliding to the ground.
After the show was finally over, we’d head back to our lofts with our ears ringing and our eyes dazzled by the vision of what we had just seen, to coax our cats out from under the bed. “You’ll be safe now,” we’d promise them—at least till next year.
The impact of the experience didn’t totally destroy my enjoyment of fireworks. I ooh and aah like everyone else and I walk away content, but I’ll always know that what I’ve just witnessed doesn’t hold a candle to the experience of St. Anthony’s church and that little Italian community.
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