The Day on the “Champ”
Yes, you have to get onto the grass of the “Champ de Mars” by about 3 or 3:30 p.m. if you want the ‘best seat in the house’…and it’s worth it. The ‘best seat in the house’ to see the annual display of fireworks on Bastille Day is about three-fifths down from the top of the Champ from the Eiffel Tower and of course, dead center.
As it turned out this year, that positioned our big picnic spread adjacent to the portable WC’s making it even more convenient (they were incredibly clean, too). At that hour there was a big opening and we took it. As friends convened with their own picnic spreads we took over more space until we had four large blankets spread and enough food to last well into the night and then some.
It seems like it’s going to be a really long day when it first starts out, considering that if you set up at 3 p.m., you won’t be leaving until after midnight. It’s like settling into a long flight, which we have all done crossing the ocean to and from France, no? And at the end of the flight, it seems to have ‘flown’ by. It’s the same for this, except that hanging out on the Champ de Mars on one of Paris’ most glorious days is hardly contest for just about anything else — as it was and quite often is, pure heaven.
The weather surprised us all by being perfect. Most of us were overdressed and prepared for cool, cloudy, rainy weather with umbrellas when in reality it was seriously sunny with a few passing clouds, warm and bright. Out came the sunglasses and umbrellas for shade, not rain. Off came the heavy black long sleeve top and on went a scarf wrapped like a band so as not to be virtually naked (although that would have been more comfortable!). Lucky were the men who could shed their shirts.
As friends gathered and the other picnickers descended on the grassy plain, the green of the grass became obscured by the bodies and their blankets. The blankets filled with food and bottles of whatever they were able to bring in. There were guards at major entrances checking for alcohol in glass, but we were prepared by bringing wine in a plastic milk bottle that went unnoticed. Over the course of the day, we drank, we ate, we passed around the goodies and we ‘grazed’ until stuffed (at least I did).
Old American friend, Bob Mohl, who I had seen doing (great) stand-up comedy last Thursday night at Sebastian Marx’s New York Comedy Night came in a huge unmissable Uncle Sam hat transporting big-bubble-making paraphernalia. It was a magnet for teenage girls and kids as he launched monstrous bubbles that floated almost endlessly over the crowd finally bursting and splattering soapiness everywhere.
As the day wore on, the lighting changed and so did the view of La Grande Dame. Every 15 minutes I took a photo to end up with a kind of time lapse. My little ‘point-and-shoot’ camera wasn’t a match for professional photographer Susanne Kischnick’s who caught some of the finest photos ever of the day on the Champ.
As the sun set at 9:30 p.m. and we were photo-snapping the colors of the sky silhouetted by the Eiffel Tower, the Orchestre National de France and a bevy of internationally famous opera singers performed live to the theme of “War and Peace” on the anniversary of the Great War — World War I. When they played the “Marseillaise” (French national anthem), the entire crowd, made up now of many thousands of people (estimated at 500,000 although it’s hard to believe that can be true), sang along and sparked a kind of emotional national pride. The performance was impressive and I am told sounded even better closer to the stage, but we wouldn’t have traded our perfect vantage point to see the fireworks for anything else.
Just before 11 p.m., we organized our belongings in preparation for the big show and a quick departure. Every year, I say the same thing — that it’s even more amazing than the year before and this year was no different. I’d dare say that there simply is no better display of fireworks anytime nor anyplace than the works at the the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day.
This year, the fire came from the tower itself, not just from behind it. I imagine that the display could be better seen from other points in the city because of this one change than in years past. The show of fireworks lasted about 35 minutes and cost the city a pretty centime — almost 600,000€.
Worth every penny if you ask me! Quite honestly, the display is indescribable. Not only is the tower one of the most magnificent structures in the world, but the creative talent of the technicians is astounding.
The trek home can be harrowing as many thousands are trying to board the Métro at the same time, but it would be nuts to let the ride back spoil the fun of the whole day. From the glorious weather…to the camaraderie of friends…to the great eats and the barrel of laughs…to the stiff limbs from sitting on the hard ground…to standing in line for the WC…it was worth every moment to see the fireworks light the Paris sky on the one day of the year that celebrates “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.”
Viva la France!
A la prochaine,
P.S. Special Offer! Book “Le Provençal” studio apartment for stays in July 2014 and you’ll receive the low season rate — that’s a discount of 25 euros per night! Le Provençal is a cheerful and charming apartment located on the quiet courtyard of a traditional 18th-century building in the heart of Le Marais. For more information visit Parler Paris Apartments or email [email protected].