The Fête de la Musique

photo: 4 tours eiffel

Four of the 5 stages of the Tour Eiffel on Saturday.

Full of Sparkles

Paris:- Saturday, 21. June:- It is not a 'rule' that the day of the Fête de la Musique must be beautiful, but it is kind of disappointing if it has been forecast to be so, and isn't. The giant sunball isn't at the rendez-vous - but neither is the predicted temperature of 30 degrees.

The party has started early today. Drivers with radios are rolling around with their windows open and the volume pumped-up. On Rue Daguerre, Rene Miller and his Wedding Band are jazzing the weekend shoppers at noon, before taking up a station tonight in the grounds of the nearby Hôpital Sainte-Anne.

According to the programs printed by the weekly métro paper 'A Nous Paris,' and today's Le Parisien, music and singing, and even some dancing, are going on all over town - with many groups having begun at 14:00. Beyond the program there are hundreds of other groups playing on the streets, in cafés and restaurants. Nobody knows how many.

There are at least a dozen 'big scenes,' at République, Bastille, Denfert, in several parks, and the Champs de Mars - which has the added attraction of the debut of the Tour Eiffel's new sparkle lights, scheduled for 23:00.

But many Parisians will do what Dagurreotypista Dennis has chosen - to tour the immediate quartier, for its cafés and restaurants and street musicians, without actually taking in the 'big scene' of heavy rock at Denfert except in passing.

In my rôle of being the Internet Reporter for Paris, I decide that the Champs de Mars is the 'scene of scenes' because, of all the other locales, it is the biggest. This means I knowphoto: peace monument in advance that I will probably see more people than hear anything. Well, not quite. When I pick up the métro line six at Edgar Quinet, hours in advance, the trains moving west have more than their usual Saturday shoppers heading home with their treasures.

Spectators perched on the Peace Monument.

Although the weather has gotten nowhere near its forecast high of 30, the crowded wagon is steamy. As métro stations go by, more get on than off - until La Motte-Piquet- Grenelle, where half get off. The other half will leave the train at Dupleix or Bir-Hakeim.

The corner under La Motte-Piquet-Grenelle station seems like sort of an unorganized convention, a crowded sideshow with no show. Café terraces have no empty chairs, nobody is paying attention to the crosswalk signals, and there is party in the air so long as I don't bump into anybody.

From here it is 300 metres to the eastern edge of the Champ de Mars. But the show there isn't scheduled to start until just before nine, so I loiter in the area of the métro, which is elevated here, so things can happen under it.

Within a short time very loud noises are heard from beneath the métro line. A rock band is setting up, testing the acoustics to the max, rattling the surrounding windows. Métro trains whisper past, after dumping yet more hordes at the station.

Street-eats places are under heavy assault. The sidewalks are littered with hungry youth and the gutters are cluttered with their debris. Car drivers use extreme patience to file through the clots of party people who are overflowing, taking possession of all the real estate available.

About 22:30, a half hour after sundown, it is heavy going on the Avenue de La Motte-Piquet. The normal five-to-seven minute walk to the Ecole Militaire takes 20. The intersection at the Avenue de Suffren has cars and taxis barely filtering though the crowds streaming across it.

There is a crowd barricade set up along the sidewalk in front of the Ecole Militaire. There is another one on thephoto: tower, from peace monu opposite side of the avenue too, but it is flanked by three or four rows of cars simply parallel parked in the street. Getting through the avenue's few moving cars is easier than finding ways between the parked cars.

In front of the Peace Monument, the Champ de Mars with 200,000 restless sparkle fans.

On the Champs de Mars side, the Tour Eiffel is lit with its normal yellowish lights, immobile - our iron beacon and general all-round symbol of 20th century progress - almost its only honest survivor.

Close up, there is the 'temporary' 'Peace Monument,' silhouetted at the edge of the big field, beside the Place Joffre with its equestrian statue of the general, silently gazing eternally in bronze at the 21st century.

'Fetards,' as Paris party people are known, are milling about in the Place Joffre, but most are heading west to the Champs beyond. The slight rise of the 'Peace Monument' is festooned with experienced scene observers.

I am surprised that it is relatively easy to penetrate through the indecisive, to the centre aisle of the 'Peace Monument. I stop on its descending ramp on the Champs side, with a slight height advantage over everybody actually on the Champs.

'Everybody' - even in the darkness - looks like they've got the place filled. Somewhere off in the distance in front of the tower, there is a giant stage, mainly set up for the live TV broadcast, beaming the usual sort of disco-laser light show at random in all directions.

If there is any music being played, it is inaudible. Instead I hear the hub-hub of a great crowd, and the sotto voce commercials of the discretely clandestine beer-sellers.

It is a wide-angle scene. The black trees on either side of the Champs bracket the sea of silhouette-people, with the stage way off. Then, lift the eyes a bit, and the scene becomes rectangular so the top of the tower fits in, with the wide-angle part a thin fringe at the bottom.

The 20,000 new sparkle lights on the Tour Eiffel are advertised to turn on at 23:00. Paris' mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, is also scheduled to speak at the same time. Is he going to say, 'You asked for the lights back. Here they are!' Tah-tah! Maybe he thanks EDF for giving the city a heavy-user discount.

Normally, five minutes are an eye-blink in time. Tonight they crawl by one second by one. At 23:00, nothing new happens. Nor does anything at 23:05. Ditto at 23:10. The stage's lights keep doingphoto: poster fete de la musique their show. When they subside momentarily, the crowd holds its collective breath. Getting ready to 'ahhhhhh.'

With several more false alerts, tension mounts. The air becomes humid. The lights retract a bit and the hub-hub slithers away. The lights bounce back and everybody exhales. The tower doesn't move.

Then its lights go out. Extraordinary. The night sky is dark, very dark even, but the tower is absolutely black against it. This is what 'black holes' look like. Oooh, the tension feels like electricity, the air is charged with it.

And, dit, dit, dit, nothing at all happening seems like an eternity, dit, dit, dit, all breathing has stopped - the 'black hole' is closer then further away, from the sheer weight of the concentration of 100,000 pairs of eyeballs.

When the apogee of tension has been slightly passed, whoompf - an arrow of golden light errupts from the base of the 'black hole,' and burns like a fast fuse to the top - lightning in reverse! - too fast for applause - and then the lights begin their twinkle, white sparklers, glittering like diamonds.

Ahhhhhhhhhh, goes the crowd. There are cheers, hoorays, shouts, laughter, clapping. The tension is over.

And then, after maybe five minutes of twinky watching, the experienced Champ de Mars spectacle observers, begin to withdraw. First to the métro gets a seat. Anybody after first may not even be able to get on a train.

But the show is not over, because this has been only an exclamation mark during the whole Fête de la Musique. While sparkler fans head for the exits, music fans head towards the stage. Who knows? Maybe when one of the two sets are gone, the stage will be more accessible.

But no. Along the sides of the Champ de Mars, on the dirt paths under the trees, it is a semi-lit flood of counter-flows, stumbling over obstacles in the dark, while clouds of dust rise like fog.

Somewhere, about half the way to the tower or the stage, it becomes impossible to advance further. It is either turn around, or try to scoot around to the left.

Drivers who have managed to park close, are trapped by the rivers of people all trying the 'scoot around.' It doesn't work for anybody. All accesses close to the tower, back to the Champ, are blocked by barriers and beefy guys.

But closer now to the music scene, the thump of the basses can be heard. Those in best position for this arephoto: band under metro overhead watching - and hearing it - on TV. In fact, they may have seen everything better than anybody on the Champ de Mars.

A 'grit' band plays under the elevated métro, loudly.

It doesn't matter. Simply going to, being at, any big event of the Champ de Mars is a major feat in itself. Imagine - the field can hold 350,000 souls or more, and it is dark, and everybody is usually in a party mood - there is no fence around it and no bleachers - and, except in rare cases, you see no public order forces.

The nearly 'no' fences is important. When the crowd is ready to leave, it struggles its way off the Champs, and then simply walks away. All the surrounding streets fill with tens of thousands, going home.

But tonight - tomorrow now - is not over. The musical part of the Champ de Mars show is to keep booming on until 02:00, and all over Paris the rest of the Fête de la Musique is still playing. The métro, normally stopping at about 01:00, is running all night.

Back at the métro line, near La Motte-Piquet, the band under the overhead tracks, is deafening. It has its ever-changing group of 150 spectators.

The snack kiosks are doing better than before and all the café terraces are crammed full and the sidewalks and roadways are thronged with Parisians moving in every direction.

After the métro hauls off a dozen sardine-crammed trains full of sparkle fans, following trains are almost empty. But when the show finally ends of the Champ de Mars, the second wave hits the métro.

The RATP has several guys in and out of uniform, with arm-bands, on the eastbound platform. There is no 'order' to keep - they're just there to try and get the wagon doors shut so a train can clear the station for the following one.

I get on the fourth train that passes, because I already feel like an oily sardine covered in dust. It skips all intermediate stations between La Motte-Piquet and Montparnasse. The further east you go in Paris, the more likely it is that the Fête de la Musique is continuing.

At Denfert the stage, surrounded by trash, is being dismantled. The café Rendez-Vous has justphoto: after cafe 2 closed its doors even though its terraces are still mostly full. Same for the café at the corner of Daguerre, but the first two cafés in the street look like they've closed earlier.

One of hundreds of overflowing cafés on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

But the Bouquet has stacked its chairs and is just closing its doors, again with a few diehards on its tiny terrace. A short block away and across the street, the Village Daguerre has a look of never closing.

Its terrace is full and I see some couples dancing inside. Outside it is warm, the air is still, there is a low rumble of drums coming from far off, and it is just after 03:00 on the Sunday morning of the Fête de la Musique.

If you like Bastille Day in Paris, the Fête de la Musique is becoming a serious contender. Like the date for the first, the date for the second is always the same - 21. June, the first day, and night, of summer.

The Fête de la Musique is a France-wide affair. Lille, in what I always consider to be the cold and frozen north, is the place to be if you like your Fêtes de la Musique to be Brazilian.

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