It’s time to update you all on Bastille Day on July 14th!
We spent the morning packing, though at noon my class walked to the nearby park with a gazebo down Rue de Commerce, the location of our first lecture, to have a picnic lunch. As we’ve been doing all month, we carried baguettes and fruits and cheeses and cold meats (like a small round sausage with spots of white fat inside).
It was a kind of sad goodbye because this was our last official event as a class. I can’t believe it’s been a month because it feels like we just got here. On the other side, however, I do feel like I got a full taste of Paris and I’m feeling alright to come back.
In the afternoon, I went with one girl to Berthillon one more time to get ice cream by the Seine near Notre Dame. This might be one of my favorite areas of Paris because it’s just so quintessentially iconic with the towers of the cathedral and people painting by the river and those hideous love locks and street performers playing accordion music.
We waited in line at Berthillon on the Ile de St. Louis. I got chocolate and pistachio; this time the chocolate seemed darker and more bitter than before, but the textures were just so good. I spoke French to an employee to order my cone, but I overheard the tourists after me in line trying to talk to her and the other employee told them she doesn’t speak English. The annoying tourists then said, “Oh, sorry. Can we have blackberry?” to the girl they just found out speaks no English. So stupid. However, I was pleased that I managed to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English and only French.
Sitting by the river, we licked our last best ice creams and said bye to the wonderful Seine. The ride back was our last time on the metro, so we said bye to that too. The metro had been so convenient, as we finally got the hang of it and knew which lines to take in which directions to get to most common places, often without looking at the maps.
Before we returned to the hotel, we stopped at Monoprix to get food for Bastille Day like baguettes and pasta salad and peaches and soda. Some of the people on our program (including me) met with Teo and Ryan at about 5:30 for us to go to the Champs de Mars to claim a spot for the firework show tonight.
I didn’t really see any celebrating in Paris at all before the firework show. There were no streets lined with French flags, no shouting, no music. I’d heard about a parade on the Champs Elysées, but it looked like a completely regular day in Paris everywhere. Except at the Champs de Mars.
We arrived and the entire lawn was already covered with people – every inch. This picture was taken at 5:30…for a show that begins at 10:30. It became infinitely more packed as the night progressed – the walkways were covered and you literally could not move from your spot.
We went to the righthand side and sat in the grass in a huge circle, with a view of the tower over the trees. The waiting game began, as we dug into the leftovers from our picnic lunch and the other items we brought. It was sunny, so we were sweaty and hot laying in the grass. Naturally, it reminded me of Fourth of July with happy people and summertime and celebrations, though there weren’t any French flags or French clothing as there would be in America.
I spent an hour in line for the bathrooms at 8 pm and when I got back we played games with the group. Like “Most likely to…” and then we all point to that person. A lot of them were Paris-themed like “Most Likely to Get Lost in Paris” or “Most Likely to Offend a French Person” or “Most Likely to Buy the Most Souvenirs” or “Most Likely to Be Recognized as American on the Metro.”
At about 10 p.m. it started getting a little dark so the tower lit up and sparkled every few minutes, taunting us before the show.
Finally, around 11 p.m. the show started. I went in with wrong expectations – I’d been told it was a 45 minute firework show by the Eiffel Tower. I was thinking, how can we watch fireworks explode for 45 minutes? No, no. This is a 45-minute synchronized light show and concert with fireworks shooting OFF OF the Eiffel Tower. There were like canons that shot the fireworks off in patterns and designs, with different songs featuring a theme and colors and new rhythms. Some of them were Mexican themed because the President was visiting, but they also played Skyfall from James Bond and the last song was the ET theme song.
It was just so much better than any other firework show I’d seen. Not even because it was by the Eiffel Tower, but literally just the fireworks were better – controlled. It seemed like they were painted into the sky, purposefully placed and designed, instead of just shot off in an uncontrolled circle pattern. They were like little fairies moving where you want them to go.
It was a firework concert. I loved it. I think it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
However, getting out was a nightmare. Someone said (aptly) that it reminds them of the stampede in “The Lion King.” Imagine thousands of people packed like sardines, body to body, trying to get out of a park via only a couple entrances. In the dark. It was a flood of people trying to get to the metro. Our hotel is a 10 minute walk away, but the metro station is in front of our hotel so everyone was swarming down the Motte Piquet, with us in the crowd.
There were cars just stopped in the middle of the streets, some abandoned, because people covered every inch of the roads and sidewalks. It took us so long to get back, navigating the crowds and trying to stick together with five others.
At one point, an ambulance had to get through the road, and we all had to cram together super tight to make a path on the sidewalks. I was completely jammed up against a parked car, smashed.
From the hotel room, I looked out at the metro stop to see the hoards of people.
It was amazing to see how Bastille Day is celebrated in France. A perfect last night to watch the Eiffel Tower for six hours one last time, with a great show and two picnics in one day.
It feels weird to be done now, because I feel like I’ve been here for a while but at the same time, no time at all has passed. I can’t comprehend what I was thinking or how I was before I came to Europe, because now it feels like something I can’t imagine myself without. What would I have done if I wasn’t here? I’ve been packing periodically yesterday and today, and I leave tomorrow at 10 a.m from the hotel. It’s been an adventurous month – I will post my concluding thoughts later once I’ve had time to digest my experience. For now, I leave you with “Bonne Fête!”