Yesterday (I am sorely behind on these posts, so this will have to be an out-of-sequence post... I will go back and recap the first few days in Paris later) was Bastille Day. I didn't mean to be in Paris on Bastille Day, but if you ever get a chance, don't miss it. The French know how to throw a grand celebration.
First, we got up early to see the parade. We didn't make it all that close, unfortunately, but we did see the flyover perfectly. Now, I've seen a flyover or two in my life. In Virginia Beach, at the Naval Academy graduation, at Opening Day in Arizona. Typically, six or eight or so jets scream overhead in a perfect V formation. It's exciting, stirring, fleeting.
This time, the jets trailed with red, white and blue exhaust. And then, after they blurred by, came more goose-V formations. Of all shapes and kinds: a couple of jets and a couple of planes; one with a huge satellite on top and a few jets with it, more big planes. They kept coming and coming. Eventually came the helicopters. (By that point, I was settled into a seat at a cafe, talking to two friendly Australians.) It was impressive.
That afternoon, we met up with a friend of Craig's from Austin who was coincidentally in Paris. With her came two other dancers on their way to Scotland to teach swing, and two Canadian travelers they met at Versailles, and before you knew it, we had a gang of newly minted friends. I love that the swing dance community is filled with such just-add-water connections.
We all walked and walked over to Hotel Invalides and Napoleon's decadent tomb.
If you think the outside is lavish, you should see the inside with the gilded, painted dome ceiling and a circular view of a gigantic shiny brown coffin. You can view it from above or ground-level.
A band was playing in the courtyard of the Musee de l'Armee, majestic marches that made me think of Sousa and high school band. The museum (of the Army) itself had displays of knight armor, horse armor, spears, cannons, etc. It also had what looked like an air show of helicopters and tanks in the front lawn, making me a little homesick for Norfolk/Virginia Beach.
Eventually, we walked and walked our way to the Eiffel Tower and found the last good plot of space left at the Champs de Mars. (Think the Washington, D.C., mall on the Fourth, but filled with picnics with cheese and wine).
We all brought picnic goodies to share, so it was quite a feast: baguette, brie, fresh mozzarella (I love how what would be fancy mozzarella in the States, fresh and stringy and sealed in a bag with a bit of water, is marked "Discount Mozzarella" in Europe), avocado, strawberries, an entire little chicken, couscous salad, chips... then two trips to the little bakery around the corner produced eclairs and chocolate tarts, sliced carefully into many little pieces... it was wonderful.
In Paris in the summer, it stays light until very late. At 10 p.m., it feels like 7 in America. (The times also coincide when the citizens of each nation are eating their dinner.)
Around 7 or 8, a concert began on the Champs de Mars. We didn't know the performers, or the words, but we could dance and bop our heads like all the Europeans around us. They played a few songs with English words, including "Born to be Wild," which cracked me up.
Finally, about 10:40, when the sky had just settled into soft blue-grey ripples, the last pattern before nightfall, the fireworks began.
Wow, what a light show.
2009 marks the 120th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower. The light show marched through the ages, splashing a year in lights on the tower, and then playing with that year in lights and music and colors to depict, say, WWII or the 1980s or the building of the tower itself. It was awesome. I hope to find a link online to a video of it.
And then we made the requisite long metro ride home and tumbled into bed around 3:30 a.m. People were still partying in the streets, but sleep tugged at me.