Fireworks from Afar
Bastille Day is upon us, but it’s not the usual holiday. In almost all the years past, I’ve hosted a picnic on the Champ-de-Mars with the ultimate goal of seeing the fireworks from the best spot in town. Not this year.
We’d start out early — about 4 p.m. when the gates to the grassy plain opened — rush to get OUR SPOT (dead center just south of the middle cross street from which the view of the fireworks is best), layout a large spread to take up as much territory as possible, then layout a whole lot of food goodies and graze on the fare until the fireworks at sundown. It was an all-day affair of being seriously lazy and decadent, enjoying the scene as the expanse of park filled slowly to capacity, the sun came down, the concert played (always some sort of live music to warm up the crowd) and then the Grande Finale…the most amazing fireworks display you’ve ever seen in your life, with La Grande Dame standing regal and tall as the foundation on which the light show sparkles.
Trust me. Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower is one of the most exciting events you may ever experience in a lifetime and that’s why we made a point of doing it every year…but not this year. The fireworks are still happening just like always, but the city will be making them visible from greater distances because the Champ-de-Mars is off limits. We’ll be able to see them from other spots all over town, on the TV and Internet, but not from our usual vantage point. It just won’t be the same.
According to a press release from City Hall, from 7 p.m. the entire area from the Pont du Grenelle to the Pont de l’Alma, including the Champ-de-Mars and the Trocadéro will be prohibited to the public. Local residents, hotel residents and professionals on mission will be able to access these areas, upon presentation of proof…but not us. The concert, by the Orchestre national de France, will take place without an audience and be recorded and broadcast live at 9:10 p.m. on France Inter and France 2 with the Choeur de Radio, France’s greatest international artists, such as the soprano Fatma Said and the baritone Ludovic Tézier.
This year’s display symbolizes the “resilience of our capital and our Nation and a tribute to all the everyday heroes who worked during the duration of the pandemic.” Lots of other cities have canceled their fireworks completely — Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse — but Paris remains vigilant and unwilling to give in to the pandemic, even if we can’t enjoy the spectacle from our usual spot.
The fireworks display starts at 11 p.m. and will run for 35 minutes. Those who want to see it live can certainly do so from outside of the restricted zones (see the map). There are travel restrictions to take note of from 11 a.m. on the Champ-de-Mars and from 4 p.m. around the Trocadéro and the Pont d’Iéna. The entire exclusion zone will also be strictly prohibited to the public from 7 p.m. Metro stations near this area will be closed.
The best places to see it remain the roof terrace of the Tour Montparnasse, the Parc de Belleville, Butte Montmartre or from the Seine, thanks to the Bateaux Parisiens which is happy to take reservations for their dinner cruises from 7 p.m. and for two hours from the Port de la Bourdonnais. The ideal spot is to reserve a place at the restaurant in the Tour Montparnasse, Le Ciel de Paris on the 56th floor, or from the Café de L’Homme Terrace at the Trocadéro. I will likely watch from the comfort of my home on TV with real remorse and sadness not to be on the grass. It just won’t be the same.
Fireworks are not a new invention. In fact, the history goes back centuries and leads to the monarchy. There are stories about the first fireworks display in France to have taken place in 1612 at the Place des Vosges during the marriage of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. The French Revolution enabled the exclusion to the monarchy and celebrated the independence day in 1790. That’s how long this tradition goes back.
We’re also missing the Bals des Pompiers — The Fireman’s Balls — cancelled this year due to the pandemic. They take place normally tonight and tomorrow night. I try my best not to miss them. They date back to Napoleon’s decision to hold a celebration on August 15, the day of his birth. Later, it was July 14th that took up the torch of this popular event.
The annual military parade on July 14th is not happening, either. It will be replaced this year by a very private ceremony of approximately 2,500 guests at the Place de la Concorde, which will also pay tribute to the caregivers.
I’m headed down to the real beach in Nice on Thursday the 16th, but two days later Paris Plages opens up on the Parc Rives de Seine and the Bassin de la Villette, open until August 30th. Guess I’m missing it entirely as I won’t see Paris till September 1st, after the Tour de France takes off from Nice on August 29th. For Parisians, the make-shift beach is a welcome reprieve from urbanity along the banks of the Seine. It’s the next best thing. See all there is to do there at this link.
It’s not the usual Bastille Day, but it’s Bastille Day nonetheless, and we’ll take it in whatever form it’s brought to us.
Happy Independence Day!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(July 14, 2019)
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