Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bastille Day Bliss

Is it possible to enjoy a patriotic holiday when one holds a strident non-belief in the very idea of patriotism? I like France, a lot, but I've never been a fan of flag-waving festivities--probably due, in at least some part, to the fact that where I come from, Independence day is synonymous with loud drunken louts, reckless handling of fireworks, and dead animals charring on a grill. It's also an excuse to drag out that poor old dead horse, 9/11, and beat it just a little bit more. Generally.

So while I'm not a big fan of nationalism and all the attendant sentiments, slogans, and activities, I do love a party, and for years, my curiosity has been piqued about the Bal des Pompiers or "Firemen's Ball." The word "bal" has always thrown me off; I can't help but imagine all the neighborhood Cinderallas coming out in full fancy-drag regalia, waltzing around the fire pole with Prince Pierre in his pompier finery. It's not like that, as it turns out, except for the fact that the annual Bastille Day celebration takes place in the local firehouse. All that's required of attendees--men, women, and children, is that they show up (in jeans, if you want), dance, and have fun.

Is there anything better than a bright blue sky at 10 pm?

There's no escaping big-screen TVs, even in the firehouse.

The crowd started to amp up with the arrival of the spotlights.

Red, white, and bleu--an Independence Day color theme for the masses.

The band kicked off with that wedding reception favorite, "You're my everything" by the Temptations.

Followed by "Le Freak." Now the party's getting started.

This might have been a Black Eyed Peas cover, or maybe Michael Jackson. The band actually shredded.
I kept my expectations low, but the music was a combination of practically every genre I love: Disco, pop, hip-hop. Think Best Cruise-Ship Band Ever. It was like that. Polished, visually stimulating (go-go dancers who changed costume between sets), and fronted by singers who were well-versed in between-song banter. I'd definitely hire 'em for my next party.

The party ended at 4 a.m. on July 14, Bastille Day. We didn't last that long. Around the time Cinderalla's coach would have morphed into a pumpkin, we were walking through the hushed Batignolles streets, taking in our neighborhood's beautiful architecture.

One of the prettiest windows I've seen yet in Paris.

We'd been promising the dog for weeks that we'd take her to the park to get her nature fix, and this Sunday we kept our word. After a lunch of Indian food and chilled rose, we cycled out to the Bois de Vincennes where it was hot and teeming with families and couples out picnicking. We rode to our "secret spot," through a forest of tall trees and across a field of waist-high grass, where we spread out our blanket and soaked up the sun.

On the way back into the city, we sought out and eventually found the local velodrome, built in 1896, and one of Hemingway's many cycling-centric haunts when he lived in Paris in the '20s. From here, we pedaled off back toward the converted railway line bike path. Somewhere in the 20e arrondissement, we heard live music and saw a crowd gathered outside a cafe. We stopped, locked up the bikes, and went in to scope out the live entertainment and indulge in a refreshing boisson.

The singer, who sometimes strummed a guitar, was accompanied by a pianist. Each tune they played seemed to focus on French quotidien life (I heard the words "boulangerie," "pain" and "vin" more than a few times), and harken back to the pre-war period. Most of the audience sang along. Even if I couldn't make out all the lyrics, I liked the music, and on this particular day, I didn't really mind if the songs were patriotic or nationalistic. If it can make a group of Frenchies smile, it can't be that bad.

This was a local crowd. Everyone seemed to know each other.
Manu, singing an old-timey number about St. Lazare. 

I couldn't understand all the lyrics, but everyone else did and sang along accordingly.

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