“Freedom Fire, Freedom Fries, Freedom French”
The sun is shining brightly and the Annual Bastille Day parade is working its way down the Champs-Elysées as I write this. The TV is turned on to “TF1” so as not to miss the revelry.
President Nicolas Sarkozy sits in the stands at Place de la Concorde awaiting the arrival of the annual Military Parade with controversial guests in the stands next to him — Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad among them. U.N. Peacekeepers will open this year’s parade, which did not become a military ceremony until 1880 when it was declared an official holiday. Prior to that, celebrating the storming of the Bastille occurred on the Champ de Mars, long before the Eiffel Tower existed, as early as 1790, just one year after the French Revolution.
The parade is a spectacular showing of the French passion for perfection. As the parade is displayed on the TV screen, we can see and hear the aerial show of military planes flying across the bright blue Paris sky. Sitting in my window to get the best view, I see many of my neighbors doing the same, acknowledging each other and remarking how beautiful the formations are.
Last night we danced at the Bals des Pompiers until the 17th-century courtyards at the Caserne de Sevigné (fire station on rue de Sevigné) was filled to the brim to the point of our hips colliding with neighboring dancers. We were among the first to arrive, but definitely not the last to leave — as the night wore on, the party-goers got younger and more plentiful. There were three dance areas, two bands and a disco DJ to choose from. You could drink wine, champagne and soft drinks, eat hot dogs, chips and French fries (or in this case, “Freedom Fries?”). Entry was 6€ an included a free drink (except champagne which cost 6€ for a “coupe”). Tonight will be a ‘repeat performance’ if you want to go for it again!
The young men of “La brigade de sapeurs-pompiers de Paris (BSPP)” are certainly among the most handsome and attract both men and women with their charm. Women come ‘wearing their breasts’ in hopes of getting kissed. It’s impossible not to have fun at such an unbridled event.
We Americans remarked that such an event could be very difficult to achieve on U.S. soil…that not only would a fire station never allow the public to enter its doors, but there would be so many controls, for both security and liability purposes, that it would simply be impossible to accomplish. And in addition, fear of aggressive or angry, drunken behavior would engender a police presence and that would change the ambiance completely.
It is times like these that we who spend much of our time here realize the vast cultural differences between us. In a public event like that, elbow-to-elbow with every age, every sex, every nationality or ethnic origin, openly proud of their every sort of sexual persuasion, with a unified and happy “esprit” of camaraderie, no fear of public riot or disturbance, it slaps us in the face…as Americans we always believed we enjoyed more freedoms than anyone else in the world, only to discover that can be far from true.
Friday night at the Palais des Sports, Paul Simon performed to about 3,500 fans. As we listened to the songs we had grown up with, come to know like old friends, such as “Graceland,” “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al,” we thought about all the hopes and desires we had then for more of a just and peaceful world, as so many were in disaccord with the war in Vietnam and the politics of Richard Nixon. Was it so different then than today’s world? Aren’t we battling much of the same issues?
Later today our friends will be gathering with picnics to spread at the Champ de Mars in anticipation of tonight’s fireworks displays at the base of the Eiffel Tower. While the light show can be seen from many parts of the city, there’s something very special about being there among the hordes of party-goers…celebrating…freedom.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
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