Monday, July 14, 2008

Bastille Day Pt. II: Nuls on Parade

nul - (pej.) hopeless; useless

We got up reallyfuckingearly, on the advice of numerous web sites that purported to have the best info on getting a good spot for the Bastille Day military parade down the Champs Élysées. We were aided in our wake-up efforts by the fact that, by virtue of being three blocks from the staging area for the parade, the sound of tank treads crunching down the street filled our apartment at dawn.

Now before my American compatriots go on making jokes about white flags, Maginot lines and "surrender monkeys," remember that the French helped us in the Revolutionary War, still sport the fearsome Foreign Legion, and - oh yeah - haven't gone and started numerous losing war campaigns in the last 50 years.

That said, I really don't care about military dick-swinging of any sort, but by all accounts, this is something you have to see. And living mere moments from the Arc de Triomphe, we thought to ourselves, "Pourquoi pas?"

We grabbed a sweet spot up near the aforementioned Arc, advised by several web "experts" that this is the place to be. It's where the parade route begins, they say, and where the président de la république inspects the troops before they proceed down the Champs Élysées to the Concorde. Granted, I think President Sarkozy can eat a proverbial dick, but it still would be cool to see him in person. There were a ton of personnel carriers, tanks, and other vehicles lined up in front of us. Disappointingly, there were no giant intercontinental ballistic missiles like in the old Soviet May Day parades.

Figuring we were in the most awesome of spots, a cop came over and started shooing people off, telling them to go further up the street if they want to see anything. "This is just parking," he said. "If you want to see the soldiers, the president, or any of the actual parade, you'll have to move down."

Well, gee, thanks Monsieur Gendarme Nul. At least a thousand people have been lined up on this end of the street - behind parade/event barricade - for at least three or four hours before the start of the event. Now, just moments before, you come to tell us we can't see anything from here? Brilliant.

We went up and down the giant avenue, grumbling, until we found a decent spot in one of the 40 or so secured, barricaded areas. By secured, it means they won't let you bring in bottled beverages with a cap on 'em... But take the cap off, and it's absolutely fine! (Note to self: Next year, take extra bottle caps to thumb nose at system.)

I spotted an open park bench on which I could perch and get a good angle to take photos. After all, I've seen people doing this the whole parade route. Not a minute went by before a cop came by and told me to get down. Once the little pen filled with people five minutes later, there were at least a dozen people standing on the bench, the cop's authority apparently intimidated out of him by numbers. (Note to self: Next year, roll with a posse.)

Festivities eventually began, as various companies of various branches of military - including the aforementioned Foreign Legion - stood at attention, held their rifles and bayonets and did general military parade-y things. The biggest applause came for the very hung-over looking Pompiers (many Parisian firefighters are actually part of the military), whom thousands cheered, applauded, and thanked for the previous night's raging firehouse parties.

Then, it happened. I got my opportunity. To shoot Sarkozy.

And I did, unloading all my digital SLR armory. (What did you think I meant!?)

Unfortunately, the little piss-ant sped by on top of a jeep before I could lock a good focus on him. Typical slippery politician...

While seeing tanks and armored vehicles of all stripes (including two whitewashed UN peacekeeping units, as Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon was the guest of honor) was pretty cool and all, I couldn't help but think how traumatizing it must feel for old WWII veterans/survivors who watched and heard the same loud, groaning drone of German tanks rolling into the city. You'd think there'd be some crazy cases of PTSD every 14th of July...

The coolest part, by far though, was the annual flyover by the armée de l'air. As much as I think that air shows are a waste of money, create noise pollution, and use up precious fuel pointlessly... they're still reallyfuckingcool.

Unfortunately, no matter what's going on, the Champs Élysées is a big tourist hellhole. No, wait, make that a big tourist fuckinghellholeIcan'tstandtobearound. Figuring we'd beat the crowd by leaving the parade early, we got trapped for at least 30 minutes in a bottleneck of human traffic. It was like a rugby scrum, only with even uglier, more uncouth people. Walking a typical Paris sidewalk is bad enough. It gets worse when you're on the Champs Élysées. Worse, then, is a crowded metro entrance/exit on the same street. People simply forget to keep right. And when you add a national holiday, people from all over the place, and about five times the usual crowd, what you have is a clusterfuck.

Imagine roughly 800 people trying to get by all at once through one short stretch of sidewalk, blocked by parade barricade on one side, and construction walls on the other. (You know, those big facades that go up when they're remodeling a building...) And then imagine none of these people keeping right. We were jammed in, not moving at all, even the nul cops unable to do anything about the nul tourists, probably for fear that they'd get crushed, too.

Finally, Alannah and I decided, "Fuck it, if it's a rugby scrum, we'll play rugby," and forcibly shoved the crowd 'til it moved. Even once we were past the bottleneck, it was still a clusterfuck by any measure. My temper had been tested long enough, and I was fueled by the testosterone from the artful shoving just moments before. "Fucking idiots!" I yelled out. "Keep right! Tenez la droite! Go! Move! Forward! Allez! Bougez! Avancez! Keep moving and keep right! ¡Andale, cabrones!"

The people comfortably sitting at tables at a nearby café laughed. A number of people behind me said, "Thank god someone said something." But overall, people moved. I'm not a big guy, but I'm pretty scary when I'm pissed off, and I yell loud enough to fill an arena.

And I can do it in 8 languages.

(Note to self: Don't bother coming back next year.)

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