Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guy Fawkes night in Lewes, England

"If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it." - Herodotus

On November 5th I had the good fortune to be staying with my friend Beka in Lewes, an hour south of London and close to more well-known Brighton. Lewes is Ground Zero for what has to be the most chaotic, loud, and dangerous public celebration on this normally reserved and "proper" isle. Guy Fawkes was caught in the "Gunpowder Plot" of 1605 trying to assassinate King James I. If that wasn't bad enough, the plotters were Catholic! That just won't do. Mr. Fawkes was hung, then drawn and quartered, meaning chopped into (at least) four pieces. Ewwww. The annual celebration of the failure of the plot was originally primarily anti-Catholic, and often violent, as described in this Wikipedia article. In recent times it's just a wild celebration.

What you don't see in these photos is how loud it is, primarily from a continuous barrage of powerful firecrackers - what we used to call cherry bombs or M80's. They're dropped in the street, roll around at your feet, and vibrate your body if they go off near you. There are no physical barriers between onlookers and participants, so the heat from torches brushed past my head the whole evening, and my ears were ringing from the explosives. Yeah, baby.

Love to you all,

I haven't seen so many torches since a Frankenstein movie.
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Periodically celebrants carried some kind of red flare that was way too bright to look into. It turned the night red.
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The famous  17 crosses, commemorating the 17 Protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake on this very street between 1555 and 1557.
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Costumes are elaborate. I don't know how the themes are chose by the groups.
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There are lots of children taking part.
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This man looks like the Johnson side of my family.
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Another view of the 17 crosses.
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Here's one you won't see in the U.S.: white people with black-as-night makeup, dressed as Africans.
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These metal skids are pulled around through the night to burn the used torches. New torches are handed out regularly, and the old ones are dropped on the street before they're picked up and burned by these guys.
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Guy Fawkes himself. As he wheels by, some people in the crowd yell, "Burn him! BURN HIM!!" Good clean fun, I guess.
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An effigy I fully support the burning of: Rupert Murdoch being strangled by Rebekah Brookes, former head of News of the World.
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The procession leaves the downtown area and heads to the bonfire a mile or so away.
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AT the end of the evening, there are substantial fireworks displays from each of the bonfire societies, situated around the outskirts of town.
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This bonfire was just behind the house where Beka lives.
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The fire was so hot it was difficult to get within 50 yards of it.
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The bonfire is nearby as fireworks are going off at a distant bonfire.
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(The End)


Michellegraphics said...

AMAZING pictures! And story. I wonder how the American Indians got involved in all this?
LOVE, Shell

stevie said...

Gorgeous photos. And what a wild, raucous, and surreal party!  

Rena said...

OMGSH...that looks wild!  Again, fabulous pics.  Thanks Davemo..

Kimart said...

Guy Fawkes with period costumes? Who knew? Now we do!

Maria said...

Wow! Spectacular photos Dave!
thanks, Maria

Sonia said...

Waw, now THAT is a proper Guy Fawkes celebration!! I was in Oxford, and we just went to the local pub, which gaves free sparklers with a bowl of chilli and mulled wine (hot chocolate for the kids, of which there were millions), and ate all this on the tables outside while watching the fireworks :-)

What a shame I didn't know you'd gone back down! We could maybe have met. I was in Brighton the weekend before, didn't manage to see Dominika or Dora though.

Biiiiig hug from very rainy Montpellier.

Dave Adair said...

 Thanks for the nice words, everybody. It was a fun event to be takng photos at, although I was getting a bit jumpy towards the end, with all the massive firecrackers going off. 

I stumbled across another Guy Fawkes related event last night: the Somerset Carnival (parade) in Wells, in pouring rain. Tonight I'm going to the one in Glastonbury. Very different, but pretty amazing. Photos to come. And I just watched "V for Vendetta," which has Guy Fawkes as a principal character. The masks that the Occupy Wall Street guys are wearing is from this movie. It all circled together and my head nearly exploded. I like when my head explodes!

(Also posted on Facebook...)

Melissa said...

Well, I spent several hours reading up on various bits of  history -from the  unseemly execution habits  of the past --through  the  Regicide because of your post!   Must not  get distracted!  
love Melissa

Dave Adair said...

Melissa, there's probably a reason you're worked at the Exploratorium for so long. "For the curious ones" indeed! 

I'm thrilled to have sent you off on that adventure. Such fascinating stuff! At the same time the culture was puffed up about their lofty ideals and civilization they were cutting people into chunks and hanging their heads in town squares. Gosh, there's no equivalent to that in modern times, is there!

Giulia Latini said...

That Johnson guy? He also looks like a friend of mine named Johnson in Sonoma! Cool photos.

Dave Adair said...

Guilia, I think we're living in parallel universes. We probably know each other, too!