With the coming of the new year, the new decade, the new century, the new millennium, one of the most common questions people are asking one another these days seems to be, "What are YOU doing to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime milestone in the history of mankind?" Or...words to that effect. In keeping with the millennial spirit, I started contemplating this question sometime during the latter part of 1997. I talked it over with my wife, my sister, and her husband, and we all decided that what we'd like to be doing at the stroke of twelve midnight, the thirty-first day of December 1999, is floating around in the Caribbean somewhere off the east coast of Cuba. We decided to take a millennial cruise. For $200 each we got on a waiting list. About a week ago (for considerably more than that), we got our tickets. There'll be a big cocktail party, a special millennial dinner, a black and white ball, loud parties, bar hopping, a spotlight lit balloon release, party favors, commemorative certificates, special souvenirs, and a special millennial buffet breakfast (for those still on their feet) in the morning of the first day of the year 2000...all within the confines of an 811-foot, 70,000-ton cruise ship, and amongst 1,600 other diehard millennial party hearties.
Being a history buff, all this made me wonder if people in the past carried on in like manner just because a new century was dawning. Never mind the dawn of the second millennium. A thousand years ago, neither clocks nor calendars were accurate enough to encourage such tomfoolery. Five hundred years ago, well, possibly. We know they liked to have a good time...parties and such...loved pageantry...no less a partying fool than Leonardo da Vinci himself was quite often employed by the monied nobility to organize and create spectacular celebratory extravaganzas. He probably considered them comic relief amongst his other oh-so-serious artistic and scientific pursuits. Makes one wonder, if the Renaissance genius were alive today, whether he'd be working at Cape Canaveral for NASA or a hundred miles away, where the REAL money is, creating electrical light parades for Disney.
Of course there has always been a link between art and celebration. Art has even been broadly defined as a "celebration of life." Traditionally, in this country, the place to go to celebrate such art, and the new year (ANY new year), has been Times Square. This year, of course, it's anywhere with in twenty BLOCKS of Times Square. And perhaps the twentieth century incarnation of Leonardo is hard at work making sure this New Year's Eve will be somewhat special. If so, his name is Michael Curry, and he's not hard at work in Times Square but in a drafty old warehouse, three-thousnd miles away, in St. Helens, Oregon. He and his crew of 57 are making puppets. They're made of balsa wood, tissue paper, silk, feathers, wire, paint, string, and lots and lots of glue. And if the wind's not too strong, and if the weather is dry, they'll all be going to Times Square for the biggest damn puppet show New York, or any other city on earth, has ever seen. Count'em, 160 oversized puppets, ranging from man-sized to a 70-foot-long paper dragon occupied by nine volunteers bearing the 38-pound load, will be on parade. That's right, the average weight of most of the items he's building is LESS than five pounds each. His design constraints--his own imagination, weight, wind, and budget. Celebrating the theme, World Cultures, the bash is billed as a 24-hour countdown, time zone by time zone, to the millennium. Hmmm...maybe I'll do like the rest of you...watch it on TV...from my millennial cabin...somewhere out in the water...off the coast of Cuba.