A Bastille Day

photo: crepe stand, bd montmarnasse

Ohh - sticky goo for Bastille eve!

With No Score

Paris:- Monday, 14. July:- It was extraordinarily quiet this morning. I heard the orphaned bang of a lunch pot come in my window from a nearby building. Mondays tend to be quieter, but this Monday has had the quadruple effect of being a holiday, being on a long weekend, being the day after the night before Bastille Day, and being the end of France's major 'grand départ' weekend of the summer.

After the pot noise, I noticed that there was no traffic noise on the street under my main window. If the aircraft for the military parade were flying over the Champs-Elysées, I couldn't hear them. The radio said the Foreign Legionnaires, always last marchers in the parade, were passing the Présidential stand with their hatchets and beards - so I guessed the fly-overs had long ago flown the coop.

Here it is then - the dead of summer, officially, and with a heatwave to drive the point home. All the same, I headed towards where I go to get provisions, but without great hope. I thought I might have to go further, to the centre of Montparnasse, or maybe to the train station where kiosks are nearly always open.

Keeping as much in the shade as possible, I had a shipwrecked feeling until I got right in the Place Denfert-Rochereau. Here were crowds, hugging the edges of the street. Some people had Monoprix shopping bags. There were military policemen. On the avenue, in the blazing sunlight, there were more citizens than there are on a usual Monday, the café terraces were full, and commerce was in full bloom.

I crossed the avenue for supplies and joined the usual line. Matt Rose made his presence behind me known, and I dropped one back in line. As we started to talk there was a hellish noise and the first tank went by, followed be several others. I had no idea that tank treads are so loud.

The first were light tanks. They were followed by bigger tanks with huge cannons, other army stuff with bomb tossers,photo: street musicians missile launchers, assorted other warlike gear and it kind of ended with a good portion of Paris' fire department, with all their lights flashing and sirens wailing. Bastille Day is about loud noise. Applause by watching crowds was inaudible.

Street musicians passively hustle terrassians.

The bar in the café Rendez-Vous was elbow-to-elbow. The Tour de France was on TV, the 'tour de something' was outside. Both places are the same - windows haven't been shut for weeks. If we weren't in the city, we'd be choking on fresh air.

In the Monoprix there was the usual large crowd that had forgotten to shop for Sunday and Monday on Saturday. I got my tide-me-over-to-Tuesday butter, and a Parisien, and got out. Then I noticed the newspaper kiosk right outside was open. Yesterday I was lucky to find a copy of Le Parisien in a bakery - but I usually only get them from legit paper handlers.

Most of the regular closed-on-Monday places on Daguerre were closed, but the open ones were doing good trade. With the light and the heat, with all the people around, it seemed right to imagine that the beach was just up road and over the hill, no further than the Gare Montparnasse. But it's not, and here we cook.

Out of a wide open window on Daguerre, an opera voice with accompaniment. Like the canaries in Spain, on the thick windowsills. In the bakery, too hot, even for canaries.

Now, for Something a Little Different

Believing every word Dimitri tells me, I went down to Malakoff on the métro on Saturday to check out its open-air marché and size up its possibilities as a possible provincial 'bal populaire' location for Sunday evening - so you won't have to read the same old Parisian stuff year after year.

Malakoff is just south of the 14th arrondissement, but if you live in Paris everything beyond the Périfreak! is 'province.' There's no need to make a overly long trip to get to the 'provinces' if you don't have to

The part of Malakoff between the métro station and its Hôtel de Ville is suitably provincial, in an semi-urban way. There are single-family houses, little apartment buildings, andphoto: le dome some old factory sheds - and there are too, ultra huge, concrete silos full of apartments - that seemed pretty nifty in the late '50s, but today look like they were designed by some deluded five-year planners making their quotas.

Le Dôme - far from the sticky goo end of the boulevard.

The place in front of Malakoff's Hôtel de Ville is pretty big, and on Saturday it had two people on it and one dog. The covered marché was closed, as were four out of five cafés facing the place. It looked like a Sunday in the province, in any country except France.

A passing lady shopper stopped to help me out, because I was looking lonely, possibly lost. She assured me that on Sunday morning the place would be full with a marché, and in the evening, full with the Bastille-eve 'bal.' There would be, she said, fireworks in the stadium.

After a few more pleasantries, she picked up her nine-litre six-pack of water and trudged off in the heat and light. I went into the sole café open and had a café at its bar, which I had to myself.

Then I went to find Dimitri's gas lamp to see if it could be seen in daylight, and found it in its shaded alley, and faintly lit. After this high point, all I had to do was continue on - past the gaudy Au Poste bar covered with its souvenir signs, and over the Périfreak! - to pass by the Vanves flea-market, just as it was packing up.

On Sunday, Le Parisien was sold out early and the other paper had been hit by a strike. So I took a tractphoto: cafe rendez vous announcing a 'grand bal populaire,' to be hosted by the Socialist Party of the 14th, at Edgar Quinet. After this, I found a Parisien with the evening's program, for sale in a bakery.

The café Rendez-Vous - a reliable last-chance saloon.

In the evening I decided to play it easy, and pass on the firemen's 'bals' and the mass fêtes at the Hôtel de Ville or Bastille. Leaving my place, the only person I saw on my street, was Dimitri. He is looking for a new atelier and a new apartment, so he has double the trouble I had last summer. To not ruin his evening, I did not mention Malakoff. When we parted, he was vaguely headed in that direction.

Closer to Edgar Quinet, the Rue de la Gaîté became fuller of people, occupying all of the café terraces. The place itself has a lot of cafés, and all of their terraces were well populated too. It is probably one of the most comfortable spots in Montparnasse, especially in summer.

The Socialists had set up their 'grand ball' east of the place, in the central marché part of the boulevard. Under the trees, it was about sundown, and there were no lights. There were more trees than socialists - but it was early. The mayor of the arrondissement was there, but I didn't see anybody else I knew. Glad to know, though, that 'our' mayor was with us.

The arrondissement goes all the way to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, so I went down the Rue d'Odessa to its main place, with the historically relevant name of 18. June 1940 - which refers to Charles de Gaulle's very famous, but heard by few at the time, broadcast on the BBC to the defeated French. Before 1951, it was simply the Place de Rennes - and the scene of the famous Granville express that didn't stop in the station until it nosedived into the place on Tuesday, 22. October 1895.

The sun was putting on a blazingly golden show of setting, somewhere in the direction of the Tour Eiffel. Its light penetrated to the first block after the place, drenching with gold the south side building walls that may rarely see sunlight only very early in the mornings.

I was surprised by the number of hole-in-the-wall fastfood places that seem to have emerged on the boulevard like mushrooms, each with a little spread of tables on the sidewalk. But in the weather we have, seeing them all occupied was no surprise.

By the level of the Select and the Coupole the street was its former self. The big cafés didn't seem to be in a Bastille Day mood - the Coupole has no open terrace - and it seemed like La Rotonde's terrace had the biggest crowd. At Vavin there was nothing special - it is at the other end, near the 18. June place, that seems to be the boulevard's magnet these days.

I went partly up the Rue Delambre and then cut through to Edgar Quinet, but then went east to Raspail, where there were very few people about. It was very warm and dark under the trees going up Raspail. I was pretty sure I wouldn't see any 'bals' unless they were floating ones.

In the café Rendez-Vous I had a café alone at the bar. If there was a Bastille Day-eve happening, it was not there. I should have stayed with Dimitri, even if it meant going to Malakoff.

But I think I can pull stories out of these quick sorties. Get to the place - the firehall at Port Royal or the one nearphoto: tabac, sidewalk tables Saint-Sulpice - hang around for 45 minutes to get a whole evening's atmosphere - and get back to the office, write it up, do the photos. But not on this Bastille Day-eve. For me, being completely sloppy, the Fête de la Musique is everywhere, unmissable

One of the boulevard's ever- expanding cafés.

I see the time is 23:59. I hear explosions. I forgot to look over my shoulder an hour ago in the direction of the Tout Eiffel to see if I could see the fireworks being let off at Trocadéro. It is a clear but dark night.

On top of this total failure to witness Bastille Day in all of its whole glory, I've lost the moon too. My clock, which gets it time and moon phases by radio signals from Karlsruhe, says the moon is full. The paper says it rose here at 23:01. I have been looking for it in vain for several nights now. Maybe it's a stealth moon.

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