Wednesday, July 27, 2011

La Fête Nationale - Bastille Day!

La Fête Nationale, or Bastille Day, is celebrated on the 14th of July each year and commemorates the Fête de la Fédération of 14 July 1790.  The Fête de la Fédération was a  celebration of the establishment of the constitutional monarchy in France and was held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 17 July 1789, which in itself is seen as a symbol of the modern French nation and the French Revolution.  

Bastille Day is similar to our 4th of July celebrations and festivities are held all over France and usually include parades and fireworks.  In Paris, however; the oldest and largest military parade is held on the morning of July 14th on the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where the President and other French officials and esteemed guests view the parade.   

After the parade there are concerts and other happenings all over the city, but the main evening event is the concert and fireworks display on the Champs de Mars.

We brilliantly planned our time for the events over the two days by not staying too long at the Bal des Pompiers so we could get up early the next morning and go to the parade.  Our early departure from the Firemen's Ball had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that we're old and crotchedy and don't like that newfangled beat-driven music, crowds and needing at least 8 hours of beauty sleep.  Nope.  It had nothing to do with that.  So we got up early and took the metro to the perfect spot at the end of the parade route with plans to wriggle our way into a fabulous vantage point.  After the parade, we went home for a little rest and to prepare for our picnic on the Champs de Mars and another late evening out.

Here's the story of our day, told in photographs and captions:

Our brilliant plan didn't take into account that if we got off the Metro at Assemblée Nationale, we would be stuck there because bridges and roads were closed for security and the parade.  Harrumpf.  So, we saw what we could from the very end of the parade route.
There were lots of military-type police around - partly directing traffic and such and partly securing the area so close to the President and Very Important People and Guests
Just on the other side of the bridge, Pont de la Concorde, in Place de la Concorde, the President and other Very Important People viewed the parade from under the white canopy. 

First, there was a breathtaking flyover with colors by the Patrouille de France, a precision aerobatic team of the French Air Force.  The pilots fly Alpha Jets from Dassault-Breguet/Dornier.
Then lots of planes and helicopters flew overhead
The parade begins with cadets from the various military schools and they march in order of seniority.  We could see them on the Pont de la Concorde, but once on our side of the bridge they turned either right or left.  If they turned right, we couldn't see them anymore.
If they turned left, we could see them quite well!
The French Republican Guard

The foot soldiers follow the cadets, then motorized and armored troops.  Because we were at the end of the parade route, I'm not even sure that all the parade participants crossed the bridge, and the motorized troops definitely split up and picked up the pace while they sped past us. 

The parade ends with the Paris Fire Brigade

Each troop has a unique uniform and hat, and if you really know your French Military, I'm sure you know which uniforms and which hats belong to which troop.  I believe this young man is a St. Cyr Cadet.

Cadet from École Polytechnique

Our planning for attending the parade was less than stellar, but we did get to see parts of it and experience the flyovers.  The views on the Champs-Élysées were probably much better, but if we had planned better, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet an amazing American family from Santa Barbara, The Towheads.  They are currently taking time off from their conventional lives and traveling around the world. Check out their website!

After the parade, we headed home and rested a bit, then packed our trusty green polka dot trolley and headed over to Champs de Mars for a veerrrryyy long picnic and to watch the fireworks.

We were probably the only people there with a trolley - but we don't have any backpacks here and it was a lot easier dragging our picnic through Paris with this than with a bunch of shopping bags!
Ron - holding down our blanket and securing 20 sq ft of breathing space!
Timbao - La Batucada (Samba-Reggae fusion percussion) - awesome!
Most people wore more than he did; however, none of us were quite as popular
It was a long wait from our arrival time until the show started - this man even had a birthday while waiting!
At long last, the concert started.  Of course, our 20 sq ft of breathing space was quickly being encroached upon!
Towards the end of the concert, we were treated to the most spectacular sunset ever!
The light and colors were changing so fast, each second more beautiful than the last
Finally the concert ended and it was getting dark enough for fireworks.  The anticipation was palpable.  At this point, our blanket was wrapped up and our 20 sq feet of breathing space shrunk to about 4.  Fortunately, we were all in a good mood!
After waiting and hanging around for 6 1/2 hours, the fireworks started!  I am shooting hand held, no timed exposures. :(
The theme this year was "From Broadway to Paris - The World of Musicals"
Fireworks with the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower - beautiful!

There was an amazing Grande Finale - this was part of it

After the Grande Finale and before all the smoke cleared

Being a part of the Bastille Day celebrations was an incredible opportunity and one we won't soon forget.  We had an amazing time celebrating with the French.  It was also really cool that so many of the French knew the words to the Broadway tunes and most of the Champs de Mars crowd sang along.  There was an incredible feeling of solidarity and more than once I had tears in my eyes.  The song of the day was "Let The Sun Shine In".  It was sung in English and French and in either language, the message hit home. 

Peace will guide the planets
Love will steer the stars
Let the sun shine in

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bal des Pompiers - Bastille Day Eve

'Twas the night before Bastille Day and all through Paris, Parisians were dancing at their local firehouse! The Bal Des Pompiers take place all around France actually, and they are the Dance of the Firemen, held in the courtyards of French fire stations and they are the kick-off to celebrating Fete Nationale, or Bastille Day.

I found the listing of participating fire stations, and yay! - the 15th Arrondissement fire station at Place Violet was hosting a Fireman's Ball on both the 13th and 14th.  We could have attended any number of Soirees, but we really wanted to attend one in our neighborhood.  

Banner for the Soiree Des Sapeurs Pompiers at the 15th Arrondissement Fire Station
We decided to go on the 13th as we would be going to see the fireworks on Champs de Mars on the 14th.  So after dinner we made our way over to Place Violet.  The Fireman's Balls are very popular!

Lots of people in line and in anticipation of crowds, they created a maze in Place Violet!
We had no idea how it worked really, except that we might have to pay for admission or donate for admission (money goes towards neighborhood projects) but we got in line and hoped for a fast-moving one.

No minors unless accompanied by parents!
national colors everywhere - even the spotlights on the buildings!
The line did move fast - about 5 minutes despite all the people.  This fire station had a 2euro admission donation and with that we got a key chain:

Then we made our way to the courtyard in back and WOW! - what a party!

At the west end of the courtyard - a stage with DJs and lots of people dancing
At the east end of the courtyard - booths and lots people dancing, chatting, eating and drinking!
 The firemen put on a great party with all the amenities:

WC, dining area and food, champagne garden, soft drinks, beer and wine
A cloakroom so you can dance hands free

The party menu
The Champagne Bar - buy it by the glass
The Champagne Garden - but it by the bottle!

Enjoying the Champagne Garden

The firemen decorate the courtyard in national colors
And quite a few of them hung out on the stage with the DJs and kept the crowd entertained!
Did I mention there were a LOT of people there?!
I have noticed that my hugemongous cameras are attention getting, and at parties like this, they're also ice breakers and friend makers!  I worked my way up towards the stage, and along the way, I made some new friends:

A fireman and his friends
Dance fever!

Mugging for the camera
Not sure what was funny - I couldn't hear a thing over the music!
Please take our photo too!
This party was a lot of fun and I was amazed at the attendance, both in numbers and in young and old alike.  Lots of people were dancing and the firemen and their DJs put on a great show.  They had a mirror ball, lights strung all over the place, spot lights, laser lights and a fog machine!

Fog and colored lights - what a great combo!
sparkly mirror ball

After letting loose the fog, the laser show lit up the area in some amazing and colorful patterns

Although the Firemen's Ball would last until the wee hours of the morning, we didn't stay too long and left around midnight.  The line to get in was just as long as when we got there so I'm sure the party was hopping until closing time.  But we had plans to get up early for the Bastille Day parade, so stay tuned!