Bastille Day 2012

Thank you all for your patience and understanding as I have been waxing philosophical about my time here in Paris and my upcoming plans. Now, enough about all of that and back to the Parisian adventure, oui?

In the past, I have entrenched myself on the Champ de Mars early and picnicked my heart out while watching the exceptional spectacle that is Bastille Day in Paris – and by this I mean both the fireworks and the company. This year, due to inclement weather and an early morning wake-up call on July 15th, I decided to forego the Eiffel Tower experience and instead see the military parade in the morning (something I had not yet done) while trying to catch the fireworks from a distance that evening.

First was the quest for a curbside spot in order to watch the parade on the Champs-Elysées. I had slept in a bit, mistakenly hoping that the forecasts for potential downpours might keep the crowds away; by the time I arrived it was packed and I could only find a place six people deep (most with children on their shoulders) from the street. I was able to get a few shots of soldiers with big guns, ready at attention and a passing horse brigade before getting tired of using my camera as a delayed action periscope. I decided to backtrack and meet up with a friend at Madeline, the end of the parade route.

By the time I made it back, the crowds had gathered and, although not able to meet up with my friend directly (her side of the street was already closed), I was able to find a great corner spot – behind  a very nice New Zealand couple – from which to take in (and photograph) the parade. Let’s get to the parade, shall we?

Flyovers

I’ll be kicking myself for missing the tricolor fighter jet flyover for some time to come. However, unlike the US, this were not the only fly-by to kick off the festivities. The planes kept coming – from the state-of-the-art aircraft through WWII-era bombers and bi-planes.

Units

Next came several units/squadrons from different branches of the French forces. The neatest part about this, besides their outfits, was that they were each singing their specific anthems as they marched in formation down the street. It created a surprisingly intimate atmosphere, especially when I realized that some people around me were singing along quietly. I cannot tell which units belong to what military groupings, as I have absolutely no knowledge about the structure of these things. What became clear is that it is all far more complex than I could have possibly imagined and that whomever designed their headgear (and capes! and aprons!) deserves a raise.

*the officer directing this group, walking alongside, almost looks like he is tipping over on account of all of those medals on his chest.

* this guy – and his moustache – are just awesome.

Bands

As a proud (yes, really) member of band throughout secondary school and college, I had a soft spot for the marching bands that followed. Especially when they were throwing their horns. And really, what are those things behind the drumline?

Vehicles

The last thing to pass by was the military vehicles – tanks, jeeps, even dump trucks (I have this vision the dump truck driver throwing a temper tantrum when he realizes all the other guys who drive cooler cars get to be in the parade and then being given reluctant permission to join in at the last minute).  Seeing real military equipment up close and personal is always exciting (at least for me). My only real point of disappointment was that the drivers rushed by us scarily fast precluding any decent photograph from being taken. My assumption is that, after going incredibly slow as part of the procession down the main boulevard, by the time they got to the end of the route they just wanted to gun it (pun intended). I don’t blame them – if I had the chance to rip up the streets of Paris in a giant tank, I’d take it too (in a friendly way, of course).

* you can’t really tell from the photo, but this guy was saluting us.

After it was all over, some of the men in uniform gathered to allow the public to see into the tanks (and dump trucks) and for photo opportunities – also a chance I could not miss.

As for the fireworks, I was far away and missed the percussive booms that almost blow you over when close, but even from a distance they took my breath away.

 Don’t let anyone tell you that Paris doesn’t know how to party…

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