With a once-in-a-thousand-years excuse for a party this weekend, where should a dedicated jet-setter jet away to for celebration of the new millennium?
The only place to celebrate this historic New Year's Eve, according to the experts at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, is right here in Greenwich--where the British government has spent more than a billion dollars erecting a huge exhibition dome right on the prime meridian, the global hallmark of time, from which longitude east and west is reckoned.
Sorry, counters the Palestinian Authority, but "the appropriate place to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ is the place where it all began"--i.e., Bethlehem. The Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel--which is promoting Jerusalem, about 6 miles north of Bethlehem, as the millennial focal point--have poured more than $100 million into a campaign to draw New Year's tourists.
We beg to differ, responds the city of Rome, because "the point of reference for the whole world" on this New Year's weekend will be Rome, the home of the oldest Christian denomination and center of the Roman Catholic Church's jubilee year.
Hold it there, mate, replies the government of New Zealand. The right place to mark the dawn of a new millennium is Gisborne, which will be "the first city on earth to see the new century." Gisborne is mounting a lavish summer beach party, with David Bowie, Kiri Te Kanawa and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on hand to greet the millennial dawn, where the first sun of 2000 will rise while 1999 still has hours to run in the United States.
Actually, assert several island nations in the Pacific, including Fiji, Kiribati and Tonga, the new year will arrive first along the International Date Line, the 180th meridian of longitude, the starting point for the earliest of the planet's 24 time zones.
Back in the United States, fear of terrorism has sparked predictions that the major celebrations originally planned for this weekend could be smaller than had been expected.
Western Europe, by contrast, is planning a series of massive parties. Tens of thousands of dancers are expected to waltz in the new year on the square in front of Vienna's city hall. A mass promenade, with up to a million marchers predicted, will wind through the heart of Berlin, past the Brandenburg Gate and down the length of Unter den Linden, the city's famed boulevard. Paris has dubbed itself "the choice of the heart" for the evening. At the stroke of midnight, the Eiffel Tower will burst forth with 20,000 flashes as the digital clock that has ticked off "days remaining to the millennium" for the past three years will finally flip to zero.
But Europe's biggest and most expensive extravaganza will be in London (and its suburb, Greenwich, just down the Thames), the city that has declared itself "the home of time." The claim is based on the prime meridian, the zero-degree line of longitude that passes through Greenwich and is the starting point for global time zones.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair will mark the new year at the $1.2 billion Millennium Dome in Greenwich, the world's largest domed structure. Just before the new year arrives, Blair will shoot a laser beam across the Thames to start rotation of the world's largest Ferris wheel, constructed for the millennium. At midnight, a 200-foot-tall "river of fire"--actually a coordinated series of fireworks displays--will stretch for five miles along the Thames. Meanwhile, hundreds of searchlights at places along the Greenwich meridian for the full length of Britain will be turned on to paint the prime meridian as a streak of light across the sky.
Governments in the Middle East also have embraced the millennium, on the the theory that travelers to the Holy Land will provide a boost to tourism. The Israelis and Palestinians have made ambitious plans, although hotels and theaters in Israel have toned down or canceled some planned events because New Year's Eve falls on the Jewish Sabbath this year. Revelers eager to party will presumably cross into Palestine for the all-night party planned for Bethlehem's Manger Square. Eschewing the noisy fireworks scheduled for many other cities, Bethlehem will mark the stroke of midnight by releasing thousands of doves.
In Egypt, thousands of singers and dancers on a huge stage beside the pyramids at Giza will present the world premiere of 12-hour-long "electronic opera," with fireworks and video clips incorporated into the performance. The opera, "The Twelve Dreams of the Sun," is by French composer Jean-Michel Jarre. Egypt's Ministry of Culture is predicting it will become as popular as the other great opera set in Egypt, Verdi's "Aida."
Down in the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and the several island nations along the Date Line are going whole hog for the big night. In addition, New Year's Eve in the Pacific will provide the ultimate satisfaction for truly obsessed followers of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The cruise line Silversea is offering a millennial South Pacific Cruise, which will crisscross the International Date Line Friday night, giving passengers the chance to move from one millennium to the next several times. The cruise ship has booked various singers to provide entertainment.
But for those who want something headier to mark the millennium, the $30,000 fare also includes a series of lectures by writer Andrew Morton discussing his collaboration with Lewinsky this year on her memoirs.
CAPTION: The Millennium Dome in Greenwich, England, the world's largest domed structure, shines brightly as different light sequences are tested in advance of its opening on New Year's Day.
CAPTION: The years 1999 and 2000 in illuminated digits are attached to facades of two office buildings on Berlin's central Potsdamer-platz.
CAPTION: Workers prepare the stage for a lavish summer New Year's Eve beach bash in Gisborne, New Zealand.