Reminder: Bastille Day is Next Week!

Pompiers Bal - rue Blanche '95
A good time is had by both firemen and civilians.

A Partial Program is Better than No Program at All

Paris:- Thursday, 3. July 1997:- If it has been your good fortune to be born and grow up in France, then you know all about the 'Fête Nationale.' It is in your genes.

If you have had the disadvantage to have grown up elsewhere, then you will have all sorts of erroneous assumptions and unless you are otherwise extremely lucky, you will not 'get' the French 'Fête Nationale' right. You will be, most likely, a day late.

Many Americans who reside in France will spend tomorrow finding ways to celebrate their country's national holiday; 'Independence Day,' I think it is called. Tomorrow, some will find their way to the somewhat obscure and private cemetery, called 'Picpus,' to view the grave of Joseph Gilbert Motier, otherwise known as La Fayette.

Some of them will also take part in a ceremony in the rue Pierre-1er-de-Serbie, around the statue of Rochambault, another 'French hero of the American War of Independence.' Others will content themselves - if the rain lets up - with a baseball game near the Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne, or as the French TV-guide 'Télérama' puts it, with an 'out-cooking' - for which the supplied translation is, 'barbecue' - somewhere in the western suburbs of Paris.

For the first time, tomorrow evening there will be a 'grand-bal' in the courtyard of the Sorbonne, and the night can be rounded off in any one of dozens of 'American'-style restaurants, which seem to be so plentifully advertised in certain local magazines.

I am getting all of this from a French TV-guide magazine. It is a sort of an invitation to its readers to join in these festivities, even though none of this has anything to do with either French or American TV.

The facing page of the same magazine is devoted to France's own 'Fête Nationale.' Not the entire page either.

There is a one-column memoir by Luc Le Chatelier, about using a cardboard periscope to see the 14. July parade on the Champs-Elysées. Although he forgets the Foreign Legion, the paratroops, and the fanfares, he remembers the crowd and its size, and the overall smell of smoke from Gauloises. He was ten years old and between Pompiers bar - rue Blanche the heads in front, he managed to spy 'le grand type avec son képi kaki,' in the big convertible for an instant during its slow descent of the avenue.

Here's a set of pompiers pouring beer instead of pumping water.

'La caserne se prépare,' a four-column feature on the same page is, more or less, the program for the 'Fête Nationale' for France. It is about the public balls that will be organized by Paris' firemen, starting on the Saturday, 12. July. These also happen on Sunday night, the 13th, and on the evening of the Fête Nationale itself, on Monday, the 14. July.

Not all Paris fire stations have these public balls, none of them have them all three nights, and one of them limits itself to just the 12th. Most of the rest of them have one of their balls on the evening of the 13th.

For the period of the 'fête,' the Ile-de-France's 78 fire stations will receive ten percent more emergency calls than usual - some 4,000 - and for the firemen, it will be business as usual, balls or no balls.

That then, is the sum of the public's celebration for France's 'Fête Nationale.'

The official celebration is another matter and its usual manifestation is the morning military parade on the Champs-Elysées on 14. July. A large review stand is usually erected at Concorde, facing the Champs-Elysées, and the parade unrolls at Etoile and marches straight down to Concorde, and then branches off the wings at left and right.

If everybody has not left Paris for their holidays - and this year the 14. July is a Monday; the Monday after Paris' third 'grand départ' weekend - and if the weather is not arctic, then a huge crowd assembles along the great avenue - and wishes they had periscopes. Lazy people watch the parade on TV with a feeling of déja vu. The big parade starts at 10:00.

Compared to American celebrations, this sounds like nothing. Dancing with the firemen and the next morning, with a hang-over, watching the Foreign Legion on TV?

Ah ha, no. The Parisians and the French know how to party and the 'Fête Nationale' is a prime date. The problem is, except for the firemen's balls, there is no 'official' national program. Instead, there are thousands of unofficial public parties all over the country, on ships at sea and in offshore territories scattered throughout the globe, and I assume, in any other place where there is a French presence of at least two people.

But since this is all unofficial, it is up to the participants to find out - in advance - what's happening and where.

If you arrive in France at the last minute - let's say on Sunday the 13th - and happen to be in - say - Cahors; well then, just go to any bar or café and ask where to find the 'Bal des Pompiers.' If, for some arcane reason, they aren't having one, you'll probably be told where to find the local 'bal.'

For your arrival in Paris, here is a list of the locations of the firemen's balls in the capitol:

  • Paris 1 - Rousseau - 21. rue du Jour - Saturday, 12. July and Sunday, 13. July.
  • Paris 4 - Sévigné - 7. rue de Sévigné - Sunday, 13. July and Monday, 14. July.
  • Paris 6 - Colombier - 11. rue du Vieux-Colombier - Sunday, 13. July and Monday, 14. July.
  • Paris 9 - Blanche - 28. rue Blanche - Saturday, 12. July and Sunday, 13. July.
  • Paris 10 - Château-Landon - 12. rue Philippe-de-Gérard - Saturday, 12. July only.
  • Paris 12 - Chaligny - 26. rue Chaligny - Saturday, 12. July and Sunday, 13. July.
  • Paris 13 - Port-Royal - 55. boul. de Port-Royal - Sunday, 13. July and Monday, 14. July.
  • Paris 15 - Grenelle - 6. Place Violet - Sunday, 13. July and Monday, 14. July.
  • Paris 18 - Montmartre - 12. rue Carpeaux - Saturday, 12. July and Sunday, 13. July.

Things wouldn't be properly French without dissent, so there is an 'anti-ball' on Saturday, 12. July. Starting at 14:00, this ball is for the 'skies-without-airplanes' crowd, but also for the poets, dreamers, and the honestly happy. There will be dancers, cooks, actors and acrobats; all promoting and providing entertainment at this 'Anti-14 Juillet,' sub-named, the 'Contre-Fête Nationale' ball. No entry charge. At the Ferme du Bonheur, arènes de Nanterre, 220. avenue de la République. RER stop: Nanterre-Université. Tel. Info.: 01 47 24 51 24.

Another place to check out, especially on Sunday, 13. July, is the Kiosque à Musique out at Le Villette. 211. avenue Jean-Jaurés, Paris 19. The ball here lifts off at 17:30.

I've forgotten that I have the 'official' Paris program and looking in it I see that I've forgotten the 'official' fireworks at Trocadéro on Pompier's Fete at Marly '96 the evening of Monday, 14. July. This is, as Ed Sullivan used to say, "A very big show," and it draws a considerable crowd.

Dancing in parking lots, dancing in the streets; it's all dancing.

The time is 22:00 and the place to be is in the Champ de Mars, in a position where you can see Trocadéro. The Pyro-Show starts around 23:00 and it is a great thing to watch shoulder-to-shoulder with 100,000 other people in the dark on the only time in the year you are allowed on the grass there.

Another 'official' event I've almost missed, is the 'Grand Bal' in the Tuileries Gardens, on Sunday, 13. July. With the Jules Nicoli Orchestra.

This is followed by a one-line mention: 'Place de la Bastille' - Paris 12. How cool! This is how the establishment treats the symbol of the French Revolution. One line for it. Get the date right: Sunday, 13. July 1997. The 'bal' of balls!

The place de la Bastille - average length 215 metres, average width, 150 metres. It is not on the location of the prison of the same name; the present shape of the place was formed between 1847 and 1859. However, in 1808 Napoléon asked for a giant elephant to replace a modest fountain in the place, the 'Regénération.'

Foundations were actually put in place and in 1810 it was decided to melt down the cannons captured in Spain to make the cast. The first engineer died, but a model was made: 15 metres high, 24 with tower, and 16 metres long. There was to be a spiral staircase inside one leg and an observation platform on top.

The project gradually petered out, but the full-scale model enjoyed a certain curiosity success, located outside the nearby Gare de Vincennes. After 35 years, it was sold for 3,833 francs.

The present column, finally raised in 1840; was started by the same architect who had worked on the elephant - it was his seventh project for the place. When the column was finished - by Duc - its weight was the same as projected for the elephant: 170 tons.

I have never been at the Bastille on the 13th of July, so I cannot say what it is like - except that I've heard it is pretty wild - and judging by its 'official' mention in the 'official' program, the city authorities would just as soon you give it a miss. Translated: don't miss it if you can help it!

Trocadero fireworks - FR3 TV
Last year's fireworks display at Trocadéro, as seen on France 3 TV.

Completely out of 'coming events' programs, are all the parties which will be held in bars, cafés, dancehalls, jazz joints, rock-n-roll palaces, nightclubs, discos, neighborhood parties, garages and every other available spot.

If you come out of the métro and it is dark and there are few people in view and traffic is light or non-existent, just listen. If you hear music, walk towards it. The closer you get, the more people you will see walking in the same direction.

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