I think intellect, wit and satirical spike must be flickering a bit. Last Juillet Quatorze I wrote something much more erudite about revolutions and my short potted history even mentioned the Marquis de Sade. This year..well. Same old, same old. People don’t really want to hear any more about the deep significance of the storming of the grim prison of the Bastille on the morning of July 14th 1789. They don’t want to be reminded again that it was more a symbolic than an effective military victory; it had only seven inmates at the time. Instead, every year, however, the French take to themselves a national slapfest and have a day off which is a much more congenial to blog about rather than grim revolutionaries manning the barricades. The day before the 14th – that would be the 13th, I was wandering aimlessly, as one does, over the Pont de la Concorde on my way to have a sniff around the antique shops on the Left Bank. Apart from the obligatory Japanese tourists framing photographs of themselves against the giant Egyptian obelisk, the vast acreage – over twenty, actually, of the Place de la Concorde (where all vehicle insurance is invalidated, by the way. Tap someone there – no road markings on the cobblestones – and you’re on your own) was almost deserted. Various large TV vans and seating arrangements were being set up in anticipation for France’s Big Day when the great and the good watch the military parade and flypast from the Arc de Triomphe along the arrow straight Champs Elysées. There’s a man I know – he’s some species of relative belonging to Gipsy, who kindly informed me that the Super Etendards and Hawkeyes pictured below have some relevance to the French Navy. Not a lot of people know that…
Tickets are like gold dust for this event, but since the Island is almost exactly due west, we sat in the garden and watched the entire flypast two minutes before the spectators lining the Avenue saw it.
President Sarkozy didn’t have a long trip to work that day. The Elysée Palace is a short stroll -straight down the rue du Faubourg St Honoré, hang a right at the end – but he did look as if his breakfast hadn’t agreed with him. Sarkozy doesn’t really do being statesmanlike – he always tends to look as if he wishes he were somewhere else. Carla wasn’t with him; perhaps that was why, or they’d had a spat about which cartoon to watch in bed last night. He has a number of unfortunate public mannerisms which don’t inspire confidence – OK, this is a bit exaggerated – but the downturned mouth, as if something unpleasant passed under his nose, is captured perfectly I think, with a little help from Photoshop. He might have been more than a little intimidated by the Polynesian soldiers’ ‘Haka’ display, but seemed relieved when it was over.
Even the president perked up a bit when the Foreign Legion march past signified the end of the parade – perhaps he was looking forward to the firemen of Paris demonstrating their acrobatic skills – but the Légion Étrangère has to go at the end since they march at only 88 paces per minute instead of the 120 of everyone else and they have to have their own marching musicians with them. Gigantic, bearded men with leather aprons carrying battle axes – enough to make even a president turn his mouth down a bit.
The Glorious Leader then has to give what looks like an impromptu press conference conducted by two carefully chosen Press lackeys who ask him all kinds of questions about the role of the French Armed Forces to which he already knows the answers.
At eleven at night, there’s usually a firework display. Getting anywhere near the Champ de Mars is a nightmare since half of Paris wants to go and it’s easier to find a vantage point elsewhere. This year, we decided to go to St Germain, which had had its display the night before and the Henri IV ramparts were high enough to see not only the displays in the next village, but another six or seven within a thirty-kilometer western arc, including the gigantic display in Paris itself, created by the world champion Lucien Ruggieri.
Close up, it must have been spectacular.Then it’s everybody off to the nearest “Bal des Pompiers” where you get to kiss a fireman. Er. If you like that sort of thing.