Thursday, September 02, 2004

Touching the (Still Warm) Cannon

How often does the average citizen get a chance to touch a state-of-the-art cannon, minutes after it has been fired? I have just had that privilege, if you could call it that. Mind you, it's not something I'd go out of my way to do, it just sort of happened.

This is how it all went down. This evening B and I went downtown with a bottle of wine and a couple of chopped-off-at-the-knees chairs and set them on the banks of the Willamette River to listen to a free concert given by the Oregon Symphony.

Listening to them play Strauss, Mahler, Shostakovich, and Brahms, I was reminded of how seldom I listen to any sort of music anymore, let alone classical music. I don't quite know how I've allowed music to evaporate from my life, since it used to be such a huge part of it. Mystifying. Nowadays, when I do listen to something it's usually NPR. So it was really nice to set aside some time just to listen to music.

So the grand finale to this concert was Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with requisite cannon blasts provided by a battalion of the Oregon National Guard. They marched out on stage before intermission in full camouflage battle fatigues with backpacks, walkie talkies, and who knows what kind of guns strapped to them. A little over the top for a concert, I'd say.

Well, if you're going to play the 1812 Overture might as well go the whole hog, which meant at this particular concert hoisting an American flag about the size of an Olympic swimming pool up the mast of a sailboat named Luscious and firing the cannons nonstop until the ammo ran out (several minutes after the last bar of the piece).

Immediately after the cannons stopped, the fireworks began. Great timing! These were fantastic fireworks—loud, sparkly, swirly, and twirly—they appealed to every juvenile cell in my body (of which there are many).

Walking back after it was all over, we had to walk right past the cannons. I can't really explain why I insisted we stop and look at them, but the fact is I had to look at them and touch them. I'm not a supporter of war in general and certainly not the current conflagration Bush has mislead us into, but these pieces of weaponry sitting on the shore of the Willamette were something--and as mentioned above--they were still warm.

I found myself asking the camouflaged guardsman all about his big gun. He was only too happy to fill me in. Turns out that nothing but the best will do for the 1812 Overture. I wasn't looking at some wheezing old museum piece that could barely cough forth a puff of black powder. This was a British-made Something or Other that had been modified by the U.S. to, of course, "make it better." I asked this young soldier what these fabulously improved cannon were used for and he assured me that they got plenty of use. For example, say the governor comes to town or there's a parade. I guess I should be glad these things are only used for ceremonial functions rather then to kill people, but still...I have to think about Oregon's budgetary woes and wonder if perhaps the purchase of British-made Something or Other cannons to jazz up the 1812 Overture and the odd parade is really the best use of our tax dollars.


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