Bastille Day in Paris

Student Life Travel

“Mais quand va-t-il faire BEAU?” – “When will the SUN come out?” Tuesday’s headline of Le Parisien has been on the lips of all of the grumpy, sun-deprived Parisians for the past three weeks. And we’re still getting better weather than most of Britain, apparently. Sucks to be you.

“Best places to see the Eiffel Tower fireworks from” – my Google search gives me a few tips as to how to avoid the bain de foule (literally: ‘crowd bath’) of the Champ de Mars on Saturday, le 14 juillet, fête nationale of France. That’s the French version of the American 4th of July – with a 1 in front, and a few more baguettes. It’s a celebration of the storming of the Bastille in Paris, an important moment in the most important revolution in history (or so we Frenchmen and -women like to think).

This is the one time a year that the Mairie de Paris offers a fireworks display to its citizens (read: mostly tourists) from the Eiffel Tower – I know, because I once spent a very cold new year’s eve by the Seine, waiting for… nothing to happen at all.

The choices given to me are: quais de Seine (crowded, smells of pee), Pont des Arts (picturesque but the equivalent of the £5 on-the-door tickets at theatres: obstructed view and uncomfortable neck cramp), or Montmartre (far, far away).

Then I check the weather: rain. No, really. Rain, rain, rain and more rain. Sound familiar?

So I invite my friends over to my nice and cosy salon (that’s lounge, not far-western bar), a short train ride out of Paris but with the distinct advantage of being stone dry. We improvise a picnic, and out with the vittles comes the French food snobbery. “The English just don’t know how to do ham!” “You can never have too much cheese.” “In France we have REAL bread!” … and so on. (These were mostly said by me, I admit – my guests were almost exclusively foreigners, and it was my duty to uphold the arrogance parisienne.)

It turned out that the weather forecast was, as almost always, a big lie, and by 10pm it had neither rained nor did it look like it would rain in the next hour, so we packed up baguette, camembert et all and went to nestle amongst the other non-French people on the Pont Alexandre III (worth a look if you’re in Paris – it has pretty gold statues, and is about as up-its-own-arse as a bridge can get).

From there we had an only partly obstructed view of the wonderful, beautiful, it’s-so-good-I-might-cry fireworks the town hall had so kindly bestowed upon the visitors of the capital, and we were mercifully far enough away to avoid the ‘disco-themed’ (really? It’s 2012 guys…) soundtrack someone (probably on glue) had decided to set to the event. There was even a giant disco ball hanging from the Eiffel Tower. Need I say more?

So that’s how I spent my patriotic day – being pushed around in crowds, almost run over by drivers too busy looking out of the window to look at the road, and washing down manna with the ambrosia that is French wine. Throw in a few garlic cloves and it sounds about as French as you can get.

Ironically, the French aren’t too keen on the 14 juillet, but not because they’re unpatriotic – the British remain monolingual because their language is the most commonly spoken in international situations, the French remain monolingual because, well, why would anyone want to speak anything except le français? – nor because they hate loud, pretty lights exploding in the sky, but because, as one of my French friends revealed on the 13th: “it’s déprimant to be in Paris in July” (that’s ‘depressing’ to you islanders).

So the 14th of July is fine – as long as the fireworks are being observed from some beach in Cannes or Biarritz, not the slightly damp (not with river water) banks of the Seine.

To see the 2012 Eiffel Tower fireworks in full, follow the link: http://14juillet.paris.fr/feu.html

photo/y.caradec