Paris Day 4: Bastille Day5:17 PM
or as the French call it, La Fete Nationale
Early start today so we could get to the big military parade on the Champs-Elysees. We crossed a side street where numerous arnmored vehicles were formed up, as if in war movie, waiting for parade to commence.
As we approached the next side street, we were stopped by the gendarmes; they closed off Rue Wagram right in front of us... then, wonder of wonders, we saw the whole of the Republican Guard Cavalry were formed up in all their finery just a few feet away. They gallop forward in precision and lined both sides of the street, sabres drawn up in salute.
After an eternity it seemed, someone asked the officer what was going on: we were waiting for the president of the Republique, Sarkozy, to drive by! Moments later helicopters roared low and loud overhead, startling the steeds so that they could barely be restrained... and suddenly, a motorcade raced by with the gloved hand of the president waving to us all! They came by so fast that we couldn't get a photo, and the rearing horses blocked Tom's video, but, oh, it was dramatic! Though more pagentry was to come, this miraculous treat was the day's highlight.
A few minutes later they opened the barricade, and we continued on our way towards the parade route.
We found a spot with a pretty good view of L'arc de Triomphe, so we could see everything (though later tonight, I had time to read the newspaper which had a play by play of today's events, and it seems like we were too far up on the Champs: we missed all the foot soldiers, representing 27 countries, a first for this parade).
A soldier played the bagpipes, and out of nowhere, jets came screaming over the giant arch trailing tri-color smoke, red-white-and-blue, from their exhausts; they disappeared past us down the great avenue, literally covering it with the Frech flag! More squadrons followed, then came all kinds of tanks, armored trucks, troop carriers, the firemen (they're part of the military, too), and finally helicopter squadrons. The French know how to do a parade!
It seems like this holiday has gone a bit commercial; many shops were on the avenue to take adavantage of the throngs (and I mean throngs) of tourists. We took advantage by going to Monoprix, the "hypermarket." We got the fixin's for a picnic on our terrace: rilletes de canard, Roquefort, and a club jambon. Yum!
We had thought about going to the the Champ d'Mars under the Eiffel Tower tonight to watch the fireworks (at least I did), but after finding out that there would be a free concert there, too, and that the metro afterwards is a nightmare, we decided to play it safe for my sake and stay in. We watched the concert on TV, and you couldn't even see the lush grass because between five and six-hundred-thousand people were already there! Oh la la! With the view from our balcony, we got to enjoy the fireworks without the agony of being surrounded by a million people (the total by the end of the night). Tom shot footage of the fireworks for a long time; it's really great! The French take their feu d'artifice as seriously as we Americans...