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Too Many Parisians

photo: parade crowd, etoile

Spectators outnumbered paraders on Saturday.

Turnout for New Year Parade

Paris:– Saturday, 24. January:– I read Le Parisien's warning to be at the Champs–Elysées two hours before the Chinese New Year parade starts, about 90 minutes late. The Champs–Elysées is a really big place, so you need to be a crew of 30 to cover it properly.

If you aren't one of these the best thing to do is stay home and watch big events on TV. But you never know – the TV–news might ignore it. On the other hand, the weather forecast is actually happening better than predicted. It is sunny and almost warm.

So I shouldn't be surprised, waiting for the Métro at Edgar Quinet, to see a train pulling out of the station – looking like it's full of sardines in an undersized tincan. The wait for the following train is longer than usual.

This means it must be full too. It's coming from the Chinatown connection at the Place de l'Italie, and going to Etoile. Fewphoto: parade, champs elysees are getting off and many are getting on. On account of the parade, the station Clemenceau on the Champs–Elysées is closed – this cuts out the alternative Métro line 13. The paper says the George V station is open, but getting out there might be a trap.

The average parade fan's view of the Champs–Elysées.

I get on the next Métro. Doing it into a full car isn't for the faint–hearted. The secret is, there's always room for one more. A few passengers get off at Montparnasse, but more try to squeeze on. Most make it. The same thing happens on a lesser scale at Sèvres–Lecourbe, Cambronne and La Motte–Piquet.

At Dupleix I begin to think the madmen trying to cram themselves on the train, could easily walk to the Champs–Elysées. There are a fair number of little kids in the Métro wagon – holding the tide back from squashing them is tiresome. The train is very slow. More try to get on at Trocadéro.

The train's driver says 'everybody out' at Etoile. Some of the horde takes the nearest stairs – and I think I will take the nearest exit. Trying for the main one at the top of the Champs–Elysées doesn't seem wise.

I think it is the Avenue de Friedland exit. The Etoile looks like it is full of parade fans, but traffic is being let through. At the top of the Champs– Elysées, at the edge of Etoile, thephoto: chinese balloon crowd is ten–deep. I can see the tops of things over shorter heads. I can't see the avenue at all.

The Beijing parade association has sent four floats by boat and they have been reassembled at Auteuil. Same thing for the Beijing opera's 50–metre long dragon, and a thousand trained New Year parade artists have also come.

To these are added about 7000 other participants – the fruit of 50 of Paris' Chinese associations. The only thing not on hand are firecrackers, which have been banned today.

The parade is supposed to start at 14:00 and end at 17:00. While many groups and floats pass down the Champs, the dragon and other floats are supposed to come up the avenue. Le Parisien's map shows the area beyond the Rond–Point as an assembly point, closed to the public.

Holding the camera at the limit of arms outstretched upward, it sees more than I can. There are supposed to be 12 major attraction to see, but I see Parisians instead. Whatever is in the camera will have to do – so I start trying to get out of the Etoile.

This is when I see that the Champs' downhill half of the parade is coming around the southern half–circle of the Etoile, out of the Avenue Foch. This isn't included in Le Parisien's map. The police have barricades in place, preventing parade fans from leaving via the Avenues d'Iéna, Kléber, Victor Hugo and Foch. The only exit is the Grande Armée.

Turning left off it I come to the Avenue Foch from the side and find it full – as far as I can see towards Porte Dauphine – but there are fewer fans and less police barriers. I can cross the avenue. I can also get some photos right in the street.

I imagine that if a parade fan got an early spot on the Champs–Elysées between the Etoile and Rond–Point,photo: parade banners, av foch close enough to actually see anything, they would be trapped there for five hours. I guess true fandom could take it. But I don't know about the kids, and a lot of people have brought them.

Better views were available in the Avenue Foch.

After leaving the Avenue Foch I decide not to visit the Palais de Tokyo. But I pass a sign pointing to the Musée Dapper, and later pass the Musée Guimet, which has a long line waiting to get in to see the Confucius exhibition.

By chance I also pass the Place des Etats–Unis. Before it was named this in 1881, it was the Place Bitche, named after a small military fortress in Moselle that resisted the Austrians in 1744, the Prussians in 1793 and the Germans in 1870.

At its top end on the place there is a statue of Lafayette and Washington being pally. At the opposite, lower end, there is another sculpture set showing a WWI French Poilu greeting an American Dough–boy. Above the two stone figures in relief, there is a cast statue above, representing I think, the Résistance.

I pass the Place des Etats–Unis because part two of today's New Year event is turning the Tour Eiffel red. When I get to Trocadéro it is its usual color, but I notice that there are more than a few Asians around to see it. Paris' entire community must be out today.

The paper has said that the tower will illuminated when the parade ends, but I think 17:00 is too early because sundown is about 40 minutes later. So I cram myself into a stuffed Métro wagon for the ride back to Edgar Quinet.

Later, during the TV–news, the first Chinese New Year parade on the Champs–Elysées in the entire history of mankind, comes on about 20 minutes into the newscast, after 15 other really unimportant items.

TV–news shows pretty much the same images as the rehearsals they broadcast. If anything, the rehearsals were better. If there are any overhead, all–over scene views, I don't see them. There is no crowd–count, estimated or otherwise. The mayor's comments are not particularly enlightening.

As a finale, TV–news shows the new, red version of the Tour Eiffel. It is not a good shot – it looks like thephoto: 4 balloons, av foch exposure is off, and the angle isn't right. I went back to the Champ de Mars in time for sundown, and waited for over an hour and nothing much happened except for the regular lights becoming visible as it got darker, and the twinkle–lights flashing on at 18:00.

More balloons in the Avenue Foch.

As far as I could tell, Chinese New Year in Paris has been a huge popular event, with an apparently major turnout by residents. It benefitted from good January weather, and heavy advance promotion – including from this quarter.

As for so many other 'first–times' in Paris, it'll be something unique to remember. I hope it wasn't a one–off, because many readers will assume that it happens every year – whenever it is the Chinese New Year. It does, but in Beijing.

Years ago when Metropole was young I knew big events couldn't be 'covered' by a one–crew. The forecast was for 200,000 on the Champs–Elysées today, but I think there were probably more.

I got squished in the Métro, standing up all the way to Etoile. I got to see nearly nothing of the stars of the parade. Mainly what I saw was a lot of Parisians, out in nice weather to see a free show – and they saw the same as me – mostly more of each other than anything else.

Between the heads and legs there were brief flashes of red and gold. That's about all. Paris is a big show all the time but mostly it's distributed around a bit more. It's always impossible to see all of it at once.

Lucky us – today, this year, instead of being cold, damp and rainy on New Year in the Avenue d'Ivry in Chinatown, Paris became Chinatown for a day.

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