Forty Tons of Fun

photo: 00.03 arc triomphe 1 jan 2000

Lights out! Sparklers on! Backlight, on!
Kaboom at the Arc de Triomphe.

New Years Eve In Paris, Part II

Paris:- Saturday, 1. January 2000:- This is the continuation - or 'Part II' - of a long New Years for me. By the time you finish this, it'll be long for you too.

It starts at two hours before midnight yesterday - last year - when I am still dithering about where I should go to get the most complete coverage of this event with the least possible resources.

Rephrase this - where I can go, not should. If revelers were waiting at the Tour Eiffel at 15:00, I think it may be a bit crowded there by now.

The first thing I don't need are any métro tickets. The second thing I think I should do without is my customary bag. This will be too bulky if things get tight. Although it not reported to be cold, I take my gloves.

I leave Metropole's posh editorial digs about 22:15 and stride down the street to the future. Very loud music is booming around the street, but it is deserted.

The métro is less full than I expect. I hope everybody is alreadyphoto: sitting on bottle deposit there, but, of course, everybody and his baby-buggy gets on at Denfert. And his tennis sack, backpack and suitcase too. I must look naked without my bag.

The only empty-bottle deposit I see all night is a view-point for the Tour Eiffel's show.

A bunch of us make the switch at Montparnasse for the line to the Assemblée Nationale. This train is not overly full and by the time it reaches the station there is still breathing room.

Up on the dim street, the west end of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, there are streams of people heading for the Pont de la Concorde. Police are turning west-bound traffic 240 degrees into the boulevard instead of letting it run along the left bank quays.

On the bridge a lot of New Years Evers have picked out 'their spots' on the bridge railings to wait for zero hour. They can see the Tour Eiffel and on the right, the big wheel at Concorde. There are Champagne bottles lying around already. Some people don't seem to know it keeps.

Concorde is not chock-full of people yet, but it is a big place and there is a lot of mankind in it. Light is not all that bright and it is odd to be walking over traffic lines and paving, dodging other people instead of cars.

Going up the Champs-Elysées is a chore because the ferris wheels in its centre which were hanging up traffic recently are doing the same to hordes of pedestrians.

None of these are in any particular hurry. About two-thirds are headingphoto: crowd by ferris wheel for Etoile against a third coming towards Concorde. Another quarter are parked along the curbs, testing beer, wine, Champagne and home-made cocktails.

This view towards Concorde shows one of the wheels and a glimpse of the crowd.

It takes a long time and a lot of sideways walking and skirting big mud puddles to get to Clemenceau, then to Rond-Point. From here it seems to take about a week to get to George V and after this it gets slow.

While TV said us little people down here were in good humor and were mostly visitors, I think some of the younger ones I see have already drunk their humor. Big kids, out for a little semi-legal fun. Tossing a few bombs around. The cops are going around in gangs of six.

I hear glass breaking and clinks when people trip over Champagne bottles. The few benches on the Champs-Elysées have older people stacked on them like cordwood. They look a bit apprehensive at all the taller pedestrians streaming past them to - where are we going?

My idea is to get to Etoile, let midnight happen, and slowly troll back to Concorde - to see the fabulous entertainment draped on the ferris wheels.

Some metres beyond the métro exit I run into Monsieur Champagne, who has a bottle in each hand, for 100 francs each. A visiting customer asks but does not seem to understand, while Monsieur Champagne says '100' in several variations.

I attempt to aid by holding up both hands, but I have something in each and only get eight fingers raised. The visitor proposes 80 francs. Ah, no.

Monsieur Champagne makes change for 200 francs and another guy I hadn't noticed hands him anotherphoto: champs elysees & crowd bottle to replace the one sold. Monsieur Champagne says the police don't like what he is doing. This makes me think that I haven't noticed any police around the Etoile.

Here is the Champs' wide sidewalk, with everybody on it heading towards the Etoile.

I get pretty near the centre, in front of the Champs-Elysées, but still a 100 metres or more away from the Arc. We are like beans in a can, but others push through regardless. There is a sardine sea of people in the place.

My watch says 23:57 or so and then I can't see it any more. The Arc's illumination goes out and a strong backlight comes on. People cheer. Behind trees and over rooftops, the top of the Tour Eiffel puffs out a mushroom of orange light.

Some over-jolly big jerks start flinging themselves around as if we are at a techno party and some of us are showered with Champagne. There are little kids in this too, so resisting pressure is necessary. It is like being in the biggest métro wagon in the world, in the thickest rush-hour crush.

I almost got kissed. When the Champagne came over, I dropped the nose of my camera on a lady's head, giving her a bit of a bap. After my excuses she said I had to give her a 'bisou' so I gave her two.

It must be midnight, so where is the exit, I think. How to get there?

When I can, I decide to try for the Avenue Hoche or even Wagram. Getting around to the south side seems hopeless. Finally I get clear and go around on the circular Rue de Tilsitt.

Along here where the going is pretty easy, there are more Monsieurs Champagnes and they have their cousins, with the outdoor grilles too.

This brings me back to the Champs, where the jam has broken up and crowds in groups are heading down the avenue towards the ferris wheels that are in the middle below George V. Bottles are underfoot everywhere.

At the corner of George V it occurs to me that it will be even more jammed on the avenue where the ferris wheels have their attractions. I head down George V instead, but this is against a stream of jolly frolickers coming up.

At one cross street - it must be Pierre 1er de Serbie - a wall-to-wall army is pouring into George V. Further down it looks like the Place de l'Alma is an anthill, and closer this turns out to be true.

People are coming across the Pont de l'Alma where they are running into another river of mankind coming from Trocadéro along the Quai de New York. They either turn or criss-cross in the place, to go up George V or up the Avenue Montaigne to the Rond-Point.

By the time I cross the place the bridge is clearer. The numbers of heads in the dim yellow-brown light comingphoto: drinker on lamp pole along the Quai de New York is incredible.

From the bridge, so is the Tour Eiffel. All its flash-lights are going off - as they will all year, for a few minutes every day.

Amazingly, there are cars trying to get through this. They are having little luck because nobody moves aside for them. Their passengers look sick.

This Monsieur has his bottle and a better view than most.

An ambulance comes along the Quai d'Orsay and turns onto the bridge. Some cars are here too and even if the crowds - heading east, possibly to get to Pont Alexandre, to Concorde - or to the métro at Invalides - are not giving way.

Another ambulance comes back, going east. It seems like a long way along the Quai d'Orsay to Invalides, and then cutting across the Esplanade park.

There is a medium crowd near the métro entry so I don't bother with it and head south on the Rue de Constantine, which leads into the Boulevard des Invalides. At the end of this, there is the métro Saint-François Xavier.

Without hope of getting a train with room to get on, I try it and after a couple of minutes a train does arrive; not packed solid.

I ride up to Gaité and walk up the Avenue du Maine nearly alone to Daguerre and turn into it. There is just one late-night bar open, but I go down all the way to the avenue to see if a café is open.

In the marché part a loud party is going on and a young lady is sitting across from it, talking into a portable phone; sitting on the fish stands beside empty Champagne bottles.

The café Rendez-Vous is open. I go in and have a double-espresso jolt. It is 01:45, Saturday, 1. January 2000. By 04:00 I have done the newest load of photos, and that's it.

Later, I have breakfast before noon and at 13:30 I am on the Boulevard Saint-Denis to see Paris' 'Grande Parade.' The sky is grey and low and by 14:00 a good number of residents and visitors are lining the streets for another spectacle.

The parade starts just after drizzle begins. I take a few shots of the backs of heads. I am being in a crowd again and I have had enough of this. I take some narrow old side streets and get on the Rue Saint-Martin and follow this south until I get to Beaubourg.

The world's biggest modern art cultural factory has reopened this morning at 11:00 after being closed for two years. Its temporary tepee is gone and in its place, there is a yet another crowd around the entry.

This is joined to a line of people who are in a file going up the slope. As I skirt along the top, I find that the line turns and continues back to the place and curves further back, along the sort of balcony that overlooks the museum entry on the south side.

I don't join myself to the end of this line. Instead I go through the Place Stravinsky where the basin is with the moving sculptures, take the alley by the church and get back on Saint-Martin.

Straight across Rivoli and just up to the left, a 38 bus is waiting for me. It takes me across the Ile de la Cité and up the Boulevard Saint-Michel, to Denfert. I go into the Rendez-Vous and have another double-espresso jolt of café.

Now that this is written down in nearly all its details, leaving out only drunks and passed-out people, it is time tophoto: yellow arc triomphe do another set of today's photographs.

On radio France-Info this morning, I heard that Dr. Castro didn't let Cuba celebrate the new century. I think he is a kind of a party-pooper even if he is right.

Before midnight, the Arc de Triomphe was lit like this. For after, see page top.

Next year, our guys will say they 'got it wrong' and the next century - and millennium - starts on Monday, 1. January 2001. They will do this because the Tour Eiffel's countdown thing punked out a couple of hours before its 1000 days were finished.

They will do this because Paris' 'men in green,' our garbage guys, picked up 40 tons of bottles, glass and other assorted junk off the Champs-Elysées this morning. A spokesman said it was a healthy increase over 1999.

With Cuba with us next year, how can it not be more again? That's right folks - the third millennium will set lots of new garbage records. Garbage equals prosperity.

C'mon, I'm kidding you. It was a great show in Paris. TV-news didn't see the ambulances, so they said it was really peaceful.

They didn't see the CRS' ultra-modern, very shiny and very big water-cannon tankers lurking under the trees at the Invalides either. I don't think anybody but me did.

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