The 14th of July

photo: fireworks, tour eiffel, 14 july

From the Champ de Mars, with the Tour Eiffel.

Surprise Party

Paris:- Sunday, 14. July 2002:- There is nothing the French like better than a surprise party. My calendar says today is called the 'Fête Nationale' rather than being named after a saint, and Le Parisien called it the 'Fête de la République' in yesterdays' edition.

This year's 14th of July is supposed to be special for several reasons. First, to remember the capture of the Bastille in 1789 - 'Révolutionary!' - which marked the end of the 'Ancien Régime' and goodbye to Louis Bourbon. It also coincides with the reelection of Jacques Chirac to a second term as Président of France.

Finally, there is the traditional military parade. According to Le Parisien this is significant becausephoto: metro line 6, direction passy it draws almost as many TV-viewers as a currently popular virtually-real TV show. Also, since France won the World Cup football tournament in 1998, the blue-white-red flag has gained in popularity.

A less-full métro line 6 heads for Passy.

But in Paris, all anybody really knows for certain in advance, is that there will be an all-star military parade on the Champs-Elysées on the morning of the 14th, and the current president will be at it to start it off and then to watch it file by.

It is no small thing to close off the Champs-Elysées so that France's military might can be displayed on it and over it for 90 minutes. Viewing stands and barricades were partly in place a week ago. Then the mid- avenue protection pylons were removed from crosswalks, and pedestrians lived dangerously for a few days.

TV-coverage mentioned last week that a troop of cadets from West Point would march with the French soldiers, balanced by a troop of French cadets from the Saint-Cyr military academy set up by Napoléon.

TV also showed a New York City Fire Department pump truck at a ceremony at the Hôtel de Ville on Saturday, which marked the official 'twinning' of the NYFD with the sapeurs-pompiers of Paris.

This came after several years of informal cooperation between the two fire departments. Sixty New York firemen and their families were welcomed to Paris by mayor Bertrand Delanoë. I assume Paris paid something towards the freight charge for bringing the waxed and polished New York fire truck across the Atlantic.

According to TV commentary during the parade today, this New York fire truck joined the Champs-Elysées parade at the last minute, at the insistence of Président Chirac. Apparently being in the parade was in doubt because the NYFD is not a military unit like the Parisian sapeurs-pompiers.

So, there are these minor customs and traditions, and it takes a decision by the president of the country to bend the rules a bit.

Traditional also, is the fact that the 'Fête' begins on the 13th of July, with popular parties held in the evening all over Paris and all around France. These are so traditional that it isn't supposed to be necessary to announce plans for these much in advance.

Dennis heard that the 'bal' put on by the sapeurs-pompiers at Port-Royal featured techno-music last year, and he was looking forward to some advance notice of what other sorts of music might be played at other fire stations.

Saturday's Le Parisien merely named some of the stations around Paris that would be having bals, plusphoto: crowd at bir hakeim, 14 july listed some of the bigger events. The city's big concert effort was focused at Bastille - rather than at the Hôtel de Ville as I thought it would be.

Bastille Day fans heading towards the Tour Eiffel and the fireworks.

At the time to go last night it was pouring rain, so I stayed in and worked on this week's photos. Dennis and his uncle Bud went to Saint-Sulpice where the rain had stopped, to see and hear a good African group, but couldn't get into the nearby fire station because it was full. "The music was techno anyway," he said.

Tonight we are supposed to go together to see the 'traditional' fireworks at the Tour Eiffel. We have arranged to meet at the entry to the métro at Denfert-Rochereau, but after waiting for them a bit I decide to go alone. They might be ahead of me too.

On the platform, it and the passing trains are full and I only squeeze into the fourth one. More try to board at Raspail, Montparnasse and Pasteur. We are going to a 'popular' fête and there are small kids in the wagon, and everybody tries not to crush them.

Don't ask me how, but one young lady, along with a cumbersome stepladder, manages to get out of the wagon at Sèvres-Lecourbe. Doing so seems to free no extra space.

The wise party-goers get off at La Motte-Picquet-Grenelle and the rest of us ride on to Dupleix or Bir-Hakeim. Somephoto: eiffel tower, lighted, 14 july passengers are using their portable phones to get information, and from what I overhear they are getting bad advice. These stay on the train as it crosses the bridge to Passy.

On the ground at Bir-Hakeim there are unending floods of people heading towards the Quai Branly. The Pont Bir-Hakeim is already full up. The riverside slice of park called the Promenade d'Australie is full too.

Paris' landmark, before its lights went out.

It seems like the Quai Branly leads somewhere close to the Tour Eiffel, but it is plugged solid before the Avenue de Suffern. The trees along the way allow only a vertical view. The weather is perfect though and it explains why Parisians are out in great numbers.

I go back to the Australian Embassy and take the Rue Jean-Rey, past the big hotels where everybody is outside looking over the trees at the fireworks that rise above them. These have begun at 22:50, a couple of minutes after thunderous music begins its bombardment.

There is considerable darkness under the trees that line the Champ de Mars. The Tour Eiffel's illumination was turned off at the beginning of the show. I see lingering flashes of bright and colorful lights to my left, and illuminated balloons above the Champ de Mars.

These have changing images of Victor Hugo projected on them. The bombastic music is interspersed with spoken texts by Claude Brasseur from Hugo - his 200th birthday year - this visionary, describing the convenience of the 'euro' that waited until this year to come into use. Hugo's 'Etats-Unies d'Europe' is still in the wings.

The best I can do is get to the southern edge of the Champ de Mars because it is full. My one-man reporter unit decides to count the crowd by moving eastwards towards the Ecole Militaire. On side-streets where there is a gap in the trees, isolated groups of viewers are craning their necks.

The four tons of colorful rockets are being launched from Trocadéro across the Seine. In front, forphoto: crowd, champ de mars, 14 july the Champ de Mars' viewers, is the silhouette of the Tour Eiffel - but the illuminated balloons are clearly visible. After 38 minutes of pyrotechnics, music and Hugo, a final boom-boom-boom announces the show is over.

Cozy in the dark on the Champ de Mars, with 100,000 fireworks' fans.

I am somewhat short of the Place Joffre when the entire Champ de Mars' crowd decides to leave all at once. A river of satisfied citizens and visitors streams towards the Avenue Suffern, filling the wide Avenue de la Motte-Picquet.

After the squash in the métro getting here, I choose to walk back to Montparnasse, along with a lot of other people. For July, up until now, it is a pleasant night for a stroll - and to end the 'Bastille Day' weekend.

Note:- the City of Paris only shoots off four tons of fireworks once a year. The New Years Eve show on 31. December 1999 was an exception, to usher in the 21st century, a year early. In general, the summer's annual 'Fête Nationale' begins on the evening of 13. July and finishes at midnight on the 14th. The firemen's bals are held both nights. Unofficial 'afters' continue until the following mornings.

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