Fete Nationale 2011: Bastille Day
Finally a day filled with fun and excitement – Quatorze Juillet 2011, Bastille Day in Paris.
I managed to make it to the parade on the Champs-Élysées from the Metro… somehow. The crowds were insane and the crowd control excessive, we were shepherded like sheep by the Gendarmerie on a convoluted trail that took us on a long walk away from our destination. We formed a narrow river, and sadly people were walking at the pace of snails so I tried to weave my way through the rapids.
We walked past the Elysées Palace which was adorned in full regalia.
It was a day that epitomised French style, regulation and order.
There were over one million people at the parades and I’m telling you it felt like it when you were standing there. It was a sea of people, all here to see the parade, but most had a difficult and obscure view of nothing. Kids sat on the floor drawing due to the lack of a view. Countless police and guards each had personal vendettas and tried to make the process as difficult and painful as possible under the guise of security. There were multiple barriers and cordoned off areas each protected by another layer of joke like security in the name of feeling important and powerful.
Somehow with a little ingenuity and physics, and special crowd negotiating techniques, I managed to secure myself a reasonable view of the parades whilst still keeping the strong feeling of overwhelming crowds and sardine like personal space that epitomised this national day of celebration.
I found my way onto the fence a long way from the actual march but secured myself the best possible view by straddling the metal gate to support my weight and balance well enough to take photos freely. Other people used all manner of methods to get a better look – ladders, periscopes, piggy backs and video camera screens.
There were countless units in unique dress uniforms each capturing a time and style during the empire. Each group stood in perfect formation unmoving until the parade started.
They were flamboyant, their march timed to the great marching band music. French tradition was at play – hundreds of years of history and warfare intertwined in every single stitch, fabric and trimming. Think of it as white glove warfare were fancy hats are the new accessory needed to gain the upper hand and scare the opposition. Scabbards and foils are the weapon of choice.
Even the President of the Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, joined in the parade and rode by gleaming with pride.
Pomp and circumstance was the name of the day with French pride on the line and their huge egos on full show.
The horses were elegant and timed to perfection, and the soldiers sported very nice horses tails as part of their headgear – they felt the need to commiserate with their equine partners.
The most exciting and enjoyable portion of the morning’s entertainment and the most skilled were the low overhead flights of the jets, airplanes and helicopters.
There were tanks, armoured jeeps, artillery, troop carriers, missiles, tractors you name it – who cares about national trade secrets let’s show the world the might of the French Empire with stylish matching hats and cravats! It was like big boys with even bigger toys – Tonka Trucks would have been proud with their new line of children’s toys!
Even the Fireman came to the parade – showing off their big red firetrucks!
The parade finally came to an end and the crowds quickly dissipated but I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that it wasn’t the end.
I waited around with a few people and we watched as all the dignitaries we whisked away in their foreign made tinted consular cars with little flags on their front corners. Why anyone would choose a citroen as a consular car I will never know. The poor African autocratic countries all drove armoured Mercedes. France was in a fleet of what appeared to be off the rack Citroën C5.
Sarkozy drove past in a panel van with the window down.
And then the barricades finally came down and I was able to escape the rabble and make my way to meet my mother near Le Madeleine. We ventured into this austere and beautiful classical building which was adorned with bright summer flowers.
The inside of this mammoth structure is incredibly beautiful and filled with such great works of art.
Walking back towards Place de la Concorde, we walked to the beginning of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
We were mightily impressed that unlike French beaurocracy, which is slow and laboured, although it took weeks to put together they began deconstructing the stage within thirty minutes.
Looking towards the Arc de Triomphe, this famous avenue was lined with French flags, previously a hive of activity, it was now deserted by the hoardes and returned to its previous master French traffic!
What a sight to see!
In Paris you are surrounded by heavy stone buildings with such immense history behind them it can become overbearing and heavy. You feel the weight of the city on your shoulders. This is deepened by the attitudes of the people around you and the unending rules and regulations which impinge on you at every moment. There is always another french waiter or service staffer to belittle you or to give you a poor after-taste in your mouth.
We were tired and needed a rest with so we walked back and had lunch at a cafe in the Jardin de Tuileries. The green trees, sunshine and fresh air reinvigorated our energy levels and reaffirmed our connection to nature.
The relaxed lunch in the green of the Tuileries was perfect and made more special as the park was abuzz with families taking photos with their family in uniform.
Walking towards the Palais du Lourve, we couldn’t help but take a few more photos of this building!
Feeling the need for some culture and art we headed to Musée Rodin. This little museum in the gardens and atelier was a haven.
We had 1.5 hours of pure bliss. Every manicured tree and sculpture were another example of art. Le pensive, The Thinker, holds such power.
We made our way into the halls of this little castle and saw countless examples of Rodin’s process and genius.
We then met back up with our cousins for a dinner before we all headed together with the crowds to the nights fireworks display.
This may just be one of the most picturesque locations for a celebration – only 2 million other people had the same idea.
This was also one of the best sunsets in months and with the crisp silhouette of on of the worlds most famous identities.
As the sun went down on the crowds hudled together in a carpet covering the Champ de Mars the free concert was helping us to mark the time until the fireworkss started.
The so called stars of the show, in reality didn’t come out until the sun completely disappeared, because the acts on stage, left a lot to be desired even for the alternative world music scene. We even had to brave a short French kid dessimating ABC by the Jacksons.
As the midnight blue sky came into full intensity the lights of Le Tour Eiffel came into their full glory and shone bright!
The fireworks display itself was entertaining but slightly off-putting. It was themed to famous musicals, only it seemed that most of them were English Musicals on a day meant to celebrate France in all its glory…
And it finished on of all things – New York, New York… an unusual choice for such an event! But the pyrotechnics were spectacular with such a unique backdrop.
As the crowds dispersed what was left was a wasteland, the remnants of many thousands of locals and tourists who clearly have complete disregard for cleanliness and responsible placement of trash in the bins. It starts with flicking buts all over the streets of Paris and ends with leaving whole garbage tips littered over famous parks.
Ecole Militaire was eerily beautiful reflected in the pool with the crowds in perfect alignment.
We went with the waves of people heading towards their homes, the metro or onto further celebrations.
We walked purposefully towards one of the great parties, the Soiree des Sapeurs Pompiers or Firemens’ Galas, are run every Treize et Quatorze Juillet, the firehouses open their doors offering music, dancing and fun with the donations going to support the firehouses.
I tried to convince everyone to keep the party going on this night of all nights, but sadly, the crew seemed lacklustre to the idea and so after a cocktail everyone headed their separate ways back home.