Times Square: Pyrotechnics And Partying for 1 Million

NEW YORK, Jan. 1 (Saturday)

A sea of revelers, many waving red balloons and wearing wigs of purple tinsel, screamed and cheered in the new year as four tons of multicolored confetti rained onto Times Square from skyscrapers whose rooftops burst with a grand pyrotechnic show to mark the dawn of 2000.

The massive crowd, numbering more than 1 million, stretched for 20 blocks through the center of Manhattan and included many die-hard party-goers who had stood and cheered through the day Friday as New York marked a marathon of midnights, a 24-hour pageant that transformed this "crossroads of the world" into a theme park of time's relentless passage: the sequential arrival of the new year around the globe.

J.V. King, 33, a visitor from Seattle, gushed with superlatives. Momentous! Historic! A once-in-a-lifetime thing! Maybe even a lifetime is too short to describe it, said King. "Once in 12 or 13 lifetimes! The biggest party in the history of mankind!"

A dizzying cascade of neon drenches Times Square every day, but Friday, during the nation's largest millennial celebration, it seemed a fitting backdrop. About 1,500 performers and crew members bore 150 giant puppets and streamers that bobbed and billowed through the concrete canyon. Lightweight airborne decorations--cherry blossoms, feathery boomerangs--flitted down from the skyscrapers where loudspeakers boomed a 12-hour score of music and "aural effects." The swoosh of the ocean. Orchestral strings. The thunder of ancient drums. "Time" as a Broadway show.

Times Square, named for the New York Times, has thrown this New Year's street party every year for 93 years, except on two occasions during World War II. This time, security was tighter than ever: 8,000 uniformed police officers and an unspecified number of undercover cops circulated through the crowd while helicopters hovered overhead. By midnight, authorities had made six arrests, including that of a man with a shotgun in his car a few blocks outside the celebration zone.

Global unity was the theme of the day--"the unity of mankind and womankind," said Brendan Sexton, president of the Times Square Business Improvement District, which has presided over a remarkable cleanup and economic turnaround in this crossroads that once was a dangerous haven to down-and-outers and their hustles.

Every hour, all day, the cultures of far-off lands were honored, including countries that know nothing of the abundance--or absurd excess--of which Times Square is America's premier symbol.

Mary Ann Hopkins was thinking of such places, she said, as she prepared to flip the switch to light the Waterford Times Square ball, a crystal twist on a New York tradition. This year, it was bigger than ever: six feet in diameter, 1,070 pounds, with more than 1,200 bulbs and strobes, 92 rotating and light-reflecting mirrors, and 504 glass triangles in a design called the "star of hope."

A surgeon for Doctors Without Borders, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning corps of medical volunteers that on New Year's Eve was active in 92 impoverished and war-torn countries, Hopkins thought of the camps she left behind in Burundi two months ago, the camps bearing the victims of conflict.

It is ironic, she said, that unity and peace were the themes of the celebration while there is really "no peace in the world."

But that surely is a problem for the next century, the next millennium. On New Year's Eve, New York embraced the globe, followed it, partied with it, saluted it.

-- Lynne Duke

2 by 2, They Came To International Gala

CHICAGO

Borrowing a page from the biblical story of Noah's Ark, the city of Chicago invited two guests from every country in the world to usher in 2000 at a gala International Millennium dinner that was so rich in symbolism that its sponsors deigned even to mention the obvious.

"I don't think it's even necessary to say what bringing together people from every corner of the world means in terms of a renewal of hope for international peace and harmony in the next millennium," said Chicago Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg, as invitees from nearly 200 countries--including territories and possessions that do not meet the United Nations's definition of a country--gathered in the lavishly decorated McCormick Place convention center along Lake Michigan.

The guests included a seamstress from Belize, an anti-poaching tracker from Rwanda, a mechanic from Guatemala, a bird trainer from Vietnam and a farmer from Slovenia--all mingling in a Babel of languages and a melange of native dress with more than 3,000 Chicagoans in one of the nation's most culturally diverse cities.

"I think it is a beautiful idea, but it's a pity that it is only every 1,000 years that we do such things," said Yonathan Sargon, 63, a retired computer systems analyst from Baghdad who was at the dinner with his wife, Florence.

Sargon acknowledged that his country's relations with the United States are not cordial, but he said he obtained a visa in a "record three hours" at the U.S. Consulate in Amman, Jordan.

Sadegh Malek-Shahmirzadi, an Iranian archaeologist, was not so lucky. He was cooling his heels tonight in Istanbul, Turkey, still waiting for a visa, Chicago tourism officials said. There were some other visa problems, but city officials said most of the invitees made it.

The international celebration was the brainchild of Dino de Vincenzi, a civil servant in the northern Italian city of Vigevano, who was surfing the Internet nearly a year ago when he came upon an appeal on the Chicago Cultural Affairs Department's Web site for suggestions on how to celebrate 2000, since Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) had said he was looking for something more meaningful than "just 10 minutes of fireworks."

Weisberg said de Vincenzi sent her an e-mail suggesting Chicago invite people from every country and that when she forwarded the message to the mayor, he sent it back with the scrawled notation, "Do it."

After watching a performance by some of the city's top musical and dance talent, the foreign guests and local celebrants dined on roasted lemon chicken and a global array of vegetables. Then they popped champagne corks and launched a "2,000-Minute Dance 'Til Dawn" party--one of a series held across the city--at which the "Milly," a new dance step created specially for the millennium celebration, was featured.

At midnight, a glowing ball--twice the size of that in New York's Times Square, the city's somewhat defensive boosters noted--dropped from a downtown hotel, and a brilliant laser light show was played against the facade of a skyscraper in the downtown Loop.

And in spite of Daley's remark about fireworks, Chicagoans and their guests were treated to what was billed as the most spectacular display of fireworks in the city's history up and down the lakefront at the stroke of midnight.

-- William Claiborne

In Los Angeles, Rain on the Parade

LOS ANGELES , Dec. 31

The dawn broke here gray with low, scudding clouds sweeping across the Santa Monica Mountains, and Angelenos saw something really weird falling from the skies.

Water.

As the song goes: It never rains in sunny Southern California. Earthquakes. Killer bees. Wildfires. Urban unrest. But nobody would have thought the weather gods would do this. It rained.

Downtown at Plaza Olvera, the historic heart of old Los Angeles and a center of Latino culture, workers stumped their boots and blew warm breath into their cupped hands as they put the finishing touches on the stage for one of the five "Celebrate LA 2000" festivities.

"This is something, eh? I would never, ever have thought, yeah, sure, well, it might rain today," said Hector Garcia, who was selling hot dogs and pupusas at a street stand. "It's almost sort of funny. Everybody worrying about computers, and it's the weather."

The New Year's Eve celebrations here were a new adventure in city living. Los Angeles is a balkanized megalopolis, where citizens of various neighborhoods often live completely disconnected from each other. But the city was hoping to connect some of its parts at events around town, which were linked by live satellite hookups.

In the afternoon, in a synchronized parade at five sites, 2,000 marching band musicians strutted down Grand Avenue downtown, while 2,000 costumed folk dancers performed at Plaza Olvera, 2,000 drummers played at San Pedro Harbor, 2,000 line dancers did their thing at Van Nuys airport and 2,000 gospel singers raised their voices in Crenshaw.

"It's the first time, our first time to put on a New Year's Eve celebration," said organizer Susan Gordon. "Nobody comes to L.A. to celebrate New Year's Eve, but we want to change that."

Back at Plaza Olvera, young Alex Ramirez and Danny Tobar were some of the first to arrive. What did the two teens think on the eve of the year 2000? "We want peace on the planet," Alex said. "And then we want an awesome party." What did the two see in their futures? "We'll probably be garbage men," Danny said. But he was kidding. Danny wants to be a rapper or a deejay. Alex wants to be a cartoonist. That sounded reasonable.

The literal highlight of the festivities was in the hills above the city.

"New York has its Statue of Liberty, Paris has its Eiffel Tower, Cairo has its pyramids," Mayor Richard J. Riordan said. "Los Angeles's world symbol is our very own Hollywood sign."

The Hollywood sign is actually a billboard erected in 1923 to promote a real estate development called Hollywoodland, which was the sign's original wording. The last four letters were removed in 1945, and today the sign is a beacon for everyone who wants to come and be in the movies.

At midnight, Riordan was to flip a switch and illuminate the sign for the first time since the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. There were to be laser lights, iridescent streamers and a mile-long projection "cloud" above the sign.

And in a sign of heavenly cooperation, as the new year drew near, the genuine clouds withdrew and the rain stopped.

-- William Booth

CAPTION: In New York City's Times Square, people screamed, celebrated and leapt into the air during 24 hours of New Year's festivities. Revelers began arriving in Times Square Thursday, and at its peak the crowd numbered more than 1 million.

CAPTION: Leanid Kazak kisses his wife, Tatsiana, after taking a picture of more than 300 people from about 200 countries and territories at McCormick Place in Chicago. The Kazaks, from Minsk, Belarus, were taking part in the Chicago International Millennium Celebration.