Monday, 15 July 2013

Bastille Day!

Alright, so I am running at about 10% of my normal today because I had the worst night's sleep of my life. Every time I drifted off my body decided to swallow a whole load of thick nasal mucus and so I awoke, choking and hacking, drowning in it. This is due to the fact that hilariously my body sees pollen as an invading virus on a par with HIV/AIDS, and not as cute little flower-sperms.

Okay, try not to think too hard about that image.

In any case, today is the day after Bastille Day - and what an evening it was. The roads were choked with people and the people were full of booze, thanks to police roadblocks checking for alcohol. None was allowed onto the Champs de Mars (unless you'd arrived before the roadblocks, in which case tant mieux) and so people emptied their bottles. Into their stomachs.

As a result there was an air of street party in Paris, though in the cafés and bars there was more than an ounce of frustration as waiters (who, this being Paris, were surly at the best of times) pointing irritably to signs reading "For paying customers only" upon being asked the same question for the nth time. The Champs de Mars itself was as packed as it could be and some enterprising souls, seeing that nobody was using big stretches of space between the green spaces, enterprisingly set themselves up there.

The reason nobody was using them was because they were thoroughfares, you inconsiderate dicks.

However, let's breeze past these inconsiderate individuals and consider the wider scene. People jostling for space, pardoning and excusez-moi-ing and being polite, and sharing food and drink and really getting along rather well. Utterly charming.

The evening began with a concert. I love classical music, I do, but I do wish people would stop ruining it with their voices. There is something so beautiful about instruments and something so human and...unpleasant about voices. Leave the instruments to speak. Actually, mentioning instruments, I went to see an absolutely fantastic jazz band. The drummer was absolutely stereotypical: long, curled hair, manic and infinite energy - he had the lot. The guitarist, too, had the sneer that Jagger et al perfected in ages past; a kind of twisted lip movement that added to the heat some members of the audience were feeling.

And the trumpeter/trombonist/vocalist was born from the same mould as the great Miles Davis himself. In fact, I'm listening to him as I type, and you should be listening to him as you read. There's a button at the top, and buttons are made for pressing. Go back and press it if you didn't press it.

The jazz was in a the Parc Floral de Bois, right at the edges of Paris zone 2. It's glorious, and nearby is the fantastic Chateau de Vincennes. I intend to go back sometime when I'm not wearing quite so many clothes (for the love of all that is good, why did I not pack a pair of shorts? Sometimes pessimism carries its own penalties). In any case, my friends - those who are left, we are all now departing in dribs and drabs, in the middle of the night to catch planes to fling us far away - had camped out on the Champs de Mars and now had prime seats for the night's festivities. I made my way there, fighting crowds, heat, and hordes of tourists standing in the middle of thoroughfares stretching maps out.

If I were to stand on the Champs Elysées with my arms outstretched, obnoxiously ignoring all offers of help and simultaneously exclaiming how lost I was then someone would, and with good reason, smack me in the nose with a hammer (or something equally solid) for being an arse of the first water. But no. These tourist types do it wearing berets that say "I Love Paris" and get nothing worse than a shoulder bump. Wonders will never cease.

I made it on to the Champ de Mars, which was obviously once used for drilling and training soldiers for campaigns in the country (or, as we say here, campaigne). One assumes these useful drills included the setting up of tents, or making camp, and of course where a camp goes camp followers come too - cooks, bookies, and ladies whose affections can be negotiated at an hourly rate. These women would, according to history, wear heavy make-up and garish dresses to advertise their trade, and before long this get-up was camp. Now whenever a bunch of chaps get together, it's not long before they're dressing as ladies (don't ask me why, but it's almost universally true - perhaps a sort of reverse psychology; I'm so manly I can dress as a woman!) and so a fellow who wore these lady's outfits and make-up might be called camp too.

The reason I've suddenly gone off on a circuitous etymological route like that (oh yes, there's a point!) will become clear momentarily. In any case, my good friends had saved me a spot and I, alone, hot, sweaty, dusty and suffering from (as stated above) the worst case of hay fever since records began* could not find them. Not a single one. And I trudged wearily about the whole field, looking like a lost soldier, for several hours, before giving up and collapsing into the dust. My nose ran. My feet smelled. I felt distinctly upside down.**

I listened with half an ear to the concert before making my way towards the river at about half past ten. I arrived in place just in time; an "Ooooh!" went up as the Eiffel Tower went dark and, across the river, a red glow illuminated the banks.

What followed can really only be described with images, so there are plenty below, but to give you a little mental sound -

The sky was full of light and sound. The big fireworks - the really big ones - exploded with a bang that made your internal organs leap with fright. After each bang there was a silence; a sort of anti-noise as your ears struggled to normalise. Windows shivered in their panes; even the Iron Lady seemed to sway in the face of the celestial aggression.

Mingled with the thunder were gentler sounds; the crackle of static as you pull clothes from a dryer but magnified and high above, as if Zeus himself were trying to tug Olympian togas from a heavenly machine. Others sizzled like water poured from height into a hot pan, and everywhere a heavy smoke filled the air and nostrils. During a brief pause, I chanced to look back at the Tower and noticed that it looked a bit more colourful than normal.

Anti-gay reaction was immediate and venomous. Pro-gay reception was immediate and joyous. Government reaction was "This is about Nelson Mandela," at which point both groups fell silent because come on, that's definitely a rainbow flag there.
Fuck yea equality
See? From Champ de Mars to camp to gay to the Eiffel Tower which is on (drumroll please)...the Champ de Mars!

Luckily, before gang warfare (Sharks and Jets style) could break out, there were more explosions and the stars came out again. The best thing about a three colour flag with simple stripes is that you can quite easily pack it into a firework and explode it. 


And again...

And again...

And again...

and...well, you get the idea.
The journey home was uneventful, save for me feeling more and more bunged up with every metre we travelled. I finally staggered home and hit the hay at once, and it's from there that we get back to the start of this sorry tale - my body doing its best to commit seppuku with, admittedly, a slightly blunter instrument than is traditionally used. 

So that was my Bastille day weekend. If you want to see more photos, click here. If you want to read something I wrote for the lovely people at +Third Year Abroad, click here

*Citation needed
*Joke stolen from my uncle