Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Happy Bastille Day

Paris Match, July, 1989.
Fireworks seem like the natural way for a nation to celebrate freedom. As we do on July 4, the French have fireworks for Bastille Day, July 14, celebrating their nation's freedom from monarchy and tyranny. If you overthink this, you might wonder why fireworks are the natural choice, but let’s not do that.

On July 13, 1989, we arrived in Paris for a planned 1-year stay; of course we chose that date to be sure we would be present for the biggest Bastille day of the century, and we weren’t disappointed! That night, we watched the incredible show at the Eiffel Tower, which was very close to the apartment where we were spending our first night of our year there. The next evening, we joined the millions of people trying to get a glimpse of the parades and fireworks along the Champs Elysée.

I didn't take photos, but I did save a copy of Paris Match published just after the event. Our viewpoint was much less dramatic than the ones in the magazine!

The parade moving toward the Arc de Triomphe.

Also in honor of the 200th anniversary of the French Republic, the newly built Pyramid of the Louvre was dedicated.
Besides parades and fireworks and building dedications, the unexpected way that Bastille day is celebrated every year is with bals des pompiers, that is, firemen’s balls. For at least a century, these dance parties have been organized by the firemen at the fire houses in each arrondissement of Paris as well as in many other locations in the suburbs and other French cities. There's an admission fee (or requested donation) to enter, long lines at the door, and refreshment on sale. Like so many things, the 2020 firemen’s balls have been cancelled as the crowds would be impossible to control for social distancing.

Our only other Bastille Day in Paris was in 1975. Our good friends Michelle and Jean (then a couple, later not) took us around Paris on the eve of the holiday to see the celebrations. We spent a long night of roaming around Paris. Not only at fire stations, but everywhere in the streets and squares of the city, we saw people dancing to live music by a variety of bands and small ensembles. From what I read on tourism sites on the web, recent celebrations have been much more crowded than the ones we experienced: I think we just went into the fire station and watched the dancing without having to wait in line.

At the time, Michelle and Jean had a minuscule apartment in central Paris, as well as a large house far out in the suburbs; they loaned us the apartment for our week in Paris. After our long walk around the city, we went to bed very late. A few hours later, around 6 AM, a lone trumpet player -- no doubt coming from a gig at a fire station -- strolled down the now-empty street outside our window, playing cool jazz on his trumpet: our wake up call for Bastille Day. I know we saw a parade go by but I'm not sure where or what time. I think it was near the apartment, which was on the Left Bank, not near the Champs Elysée.

For the 1989 celebration, many people wore "Revolutionary"
hats and clothing. A bit later in July, 1989, we attended
another celebration at a friend's country house, where we
met these costumed children.

For 2020, many of the festivities, like the major parades and the street dances, have been scaled down or cancelled. The Champs de Mars, where we sat on the grass in 1989 to watch the fireworks at the Eiffel tower, will be closed this year, with a limited fireworks show visible from the river. If I understand correctly, the French are being pretty disciplined in order to reduce the spread of the virus. It’s miserable that just about every day I think about something that isn’t happening!

This post will be shared with "Paris in July" hosted at Tamara's blog; © 2020 mae sander.


Angie's Recipes said...

wow That parade is really impressive! Hopefully we can experience it again in 2021!

Marg said...

What amazing memories you must have! Thank you for sharing them.

Jeanie said...

What an incredible memory, Mae -- and what perfect timing. I suspect, as you indicated, things will be a lot quieter this year. I'm so glad you had that very special time in Paris when all was well.

Catalyst said...

One of my past employers had a true affection for Bastille Day and went to Paris for the celebration many times.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

What an absolutely amazing post and wonderful story. It's amazing you spent an entire year in Paris. You must be independently wealthy (grin). This was such fun to read and I learned a lot about Bastille Day, too.

Mae Travels said...

No, we aren’t independently wealthy. My husband was a visiting researcher at one of the universities in Paris, during his sabbatical year from the University of Michigan. I happily accompanied him on a number of sabbaticals, two of which were in Paris. ... mae

Lavender and Lime (http://tandysinclair.com) said...

I'm sure the toned down celebrations will be worth it. Thank you for sharing your memories Mae.

Sandra said...

Thanks for stopping by my post today! And I agree the worst thing about this virus is all the things that are no longer they are to do or go to. It's like the world came to an end and just left the sitting here. And I also hate the mask that I know I have to wear but I don't like it. All the celebrations were canceled here to

Kitchen Riffs said...

Such a nice post. We always watch the Tour de France (we're weird that way), and it's always fun on Bastille Day -- a French rider almost always wins that stage (for obvious reasons, it's a point of honor for a French rider to win). Missing that this year. Last I heard, they had had hoped to do Le Tour in September, but I have my doubts whether that will happen. Anyway, really fun and interesting read -- thanks.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Wonderful photos!

Lisbeth @ The Content Reader said...

Must be amazing to be there on this special day!

eileeninmd said...


Sounds like you had a wonderful trip to Paris. The Bastille Day parade looks awesome and fun! Covid has changed things around the world, it is sad to see fun activities cancelled. Take care and stay well.
Enjoy your day and the rest of the week!