Bastille Day in Paris, CCVI Edition

Long-time Popular Favorite in France - Revolution !

Paris:- Sunday, 14. July 1996:- This year's Fête Nationale started for me this morning just after midnight, when I went to a 'bal populaire' in a nearby town. There are the big shows in Paris - at Bastille for example - but just about every place in France that is larger than a hamlet with anything more than a post office, has a 'bal' - a come-as-you-are outdoor Revolutionary! party.

Many larger places have a fireworks show beforehand; but I have even been at private parties that shot a couple of thousand francs worth of confetti at the heavens. When I lived in Meudon I could see the show in Sévres from my balcony and if I stood in the street I could see as far as St. Cloud and Boulogne-Billancourt - and all the way to the Tour Eiffel if I was up at the Observatory. These days, I live in a valley where all of the rest of the world is up, and I had supper instead.

Last year I went to the firemen's ball in the ninth arrondissement in Paris and that was a pretty good neighborhood affair, in the courtyard of the firehall; and noisier you could not want. This year it is outside in a gravel parking lot strung with some tri-color lights, with a bandstand and a rudimentary bar near the street. The firemen are here and some police too, and they may be hosting it for all I know - I am pretty sure the chief tax collector who has his office in this town is not the host - that would cause a revolution on the spot.

balbastille.jpg (13k) The band is louder than good, but it is good enough and lot of people - several hundred at least - are dancing and flinging their arms in the air, off the beat, and there are little kids underfoot - they are allowed this once a year - especially if their parents are not going to get up at dawn to try and get a spot to see the parade on the Champs-Elysées, which starts at ten o'clock.
I note the amiable mood, take some pitch-black photos and walk back to the car which I parked needlessly far away; alongwith other people walking home in the soft air of a summer night - and as I pass an older couple, I hear Spanish. It goes with this sort of night.

The Champs-Elysées

Before I even get the TV turned on aircraft are passing overhead, flying towards their line-in over La Défense and the kids run from one side of the flat to the other to look straight up at the bellies of jet fighters and Transalls.

paradestrip1.jpg (22k)
The President of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac, is in his French army jeep already headed down the avenue from the Arc de Triomphe, but not gone far, so I haven't missed much. He is looking the other way. The sky is high grey which is perfect for TV and photographers, but not quite so glittering on the marching band instruments as the general mood by the considerable public probably calls for.

In the Place de la Concorde, where the tri-color flying-wing-topped viewing stand is erected to face up to the Arc, he does the descent from the jeep ceremony and then has a regular old hug with the President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who is wearing a dark suit instead of the colorful shirt I was hoping for. They sit down, too far apart to chat comfortably.

Waves of very smart military people in clean and trim uniforms march down the avenue towards the viewing stand as waves of aircraft fly sporadically overhead. I didn't look at the TV guide very carefully so I watch this on TF1, the private station, and I notice they have their cameras in unusual places - such as under a glass-top manhole, that gets marched on occasionally; and they have another camera looking straight down on the marchers, which provides interesting if fleeting angles of the roadway filled with service hats with feet poking out regularly.

Even the lady military persons, some of whom were ambulance drivers in Bosnia, are carrying this machinegun, the same one the guard at the Assembly National had when I saw him Friday. For some reason, the firemen also carry this machinegun - and I start to wonder if maybe they aren't water-pistol plastic replicas.

The navy officer marchers have uniforms that are both smart, but are also the closest to civilian dress, and they have little short sabers sawing at their shoulders. Some groups have much longer swords and I worry about the marchers in the ranks behind. All of the other units have varying degrees of colorful confetti adorning their uniforms, right up to the chrome or gold-plated helmets of the Republican Guards with their beautiful horses - but the crowd-stoppers are, as usual, the Foreign Legion. These guys...

These guys - the 'Pioneers' I think - the first rows are wearing bronze-colored leather aprons and they are carrying - hammers? maces? iron tools? These guys do not march. They walk like 'carry on truckin'' and I wonder if they will turn at the Place de la Concorde or walk straight through the reviewing stand and continue on through the Tuleries, knock down the little Carrousel Arch, and fall into the pit beneath the big pyramid in the Cour Napoléon at the Louvre. But no, they turn.

Pyrotechnics at Chaillot

I planned this part, again without looking at the TV guide beforehand and when I did, there was nothing programmed. However, FR3 TV-news came through with a report about midnight and from what they showed, the fireworks were spectacular as they usually are - with dominating colors seeming to be pinks, mauves, and white bursts. There was no official stand this year as the officials wore themselves out at the lunch after the parade. FR3 mentioned, in their parade wrap-up, that it had cost the state - not the taxpayers! - 40 million francs - of the 'new' ones, not the 'old' ones, if you are still counting that way.

pyrostrip1.jpg (18k)
FR3 gave only a vague crowd-count for the fireworks show and the actual numbers of Parisians may not be known before the Spot satellite photos come down. Last time I looked out - when it was still light - it was clear skies for the aerial extravaganza, but the relative lack of wind may have slowed down the show a bit as it would have been taking longer for the smoke to clear the way for the following bursts.

And then everybody walked home through the quiet streets of Paris, with linked arms, singing their favorite revolutionary songs or humming the tunes - or at least I hope they did.


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