15 July 2006

A Bastille Day that didn't want to end

Yesterday was le 14 juillet, otherwise known to Americans as Bastille Day. This is more or less the French equivalent to the 4th of July, complete with a parade and fireworks. Colin and I had really been looking forward to being in Paris for the celebrations, figuring that the capital city would not disappoint. Little did I know that I would eventually become a prisoner of the city...

The day started out great. Colin and I met Isabelle and went to the Champs-Elysées to stake out a spot for the parade. We got a good spot near the métro stop Georges V, and waited for things to kick off. As it turns out, the parade is actually a military review. Unlike parades in my hometown, there were no combines or flatbed trucks loaded with kids throwing candy. This was all a show of military might. (Please, no French-military-bashing jokes here.) For the first time, Colin and I saw tanks moving at what we assumed to be full speed, and were amazed at just how fast those suckers can go! Plus, it's a little unsettling to watch anti-aircraft guns roll by. It makes you want to stand up a little bit straighter, just in case someone's looking for an excuse to push the proverbial red button. The other half of the parade was in the sky, when a ton of jets and other military aircraft flew over in formations. All in all, a very interesting morning. The only "odd" part to us was probably because we were so far from Concorde, where the actual judging was going on. As such, we tended to see a constant traffic backup instead of a steady flow.

After the parade and lunch in the Latin Quarter, Colin and I went back home to nap (he got home late the night before from his conference, so we went to bed late). By the end of the day, Colin wasn't feeling very well, so I met Isabelle on my own and we went to the 7th to watch the fireworks. Here's where things got ... interesting, I suppose? We were invited to the home of someone who lived on the Avenue Rapp (thus having two 5th floor balconies with a great view of the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower), but neither Isabelle nor I knew her. Of course, we managed to be the first ones to arrive, so I had to go through the awkward explanation that we were friends of friends. Fortunately, all worked out well and we had a great time visiting and watching the show.

The real adventure started afterward. Isabelle and I made sure to leave the party with 30 minutes to spare so that we could get back to the métro and catch the trains we needed before everything shut down for the night. Well, when we arrived at the closest métro stop (Ecole Militaire), the line was so long that people weren't even able to get down the stairs, much less through the ticket line and onto the platform. After a few minutes of map studying, we decided to walk to Alma-Marceau (probably 15-20 minutes from where we were) and race to make up for lost time.

We arrived at Alma-Marceau with time to spare ... and found the police blocking the entrance to that station. Not ready to give up yet, we decided to walk to métro Franklin Roosevelt (another 5-10 minutes away). Then, we got a break: the other entrance to Alma-Marceau was open. So, we dashed down the stairs, ran through the ticket turnstyles, and jumped on the 8 for a one-stop ride.

Yea! We made it!

Or so I thought.

We ran down the hallway at Franklin Roosevelt in an effort to squeeze onto the last train on the 1 line for the night. But, when we got to the entrance, it was blocked off by police officers. ARGH! Isabelle asked why the train wasn't running as late as usual, and one of the officers said that the time for the last train is actually the time that the last train arrives at its terminus. (Yeah, right.) Now, we had problems. Isabelle lives in the suburbs, and there was no other way to get her to the last RER A train for the evening. No problem, I said. You can just stay at my apartment tonight, and go home in the morning when you wake up. She accepted, and we moved on to our new objective: get back to the 14th arrondissement.

Easier said than done. There were no taxis anywhere. After a few phone calls to Colin, we figured out the night bus route and set out for the nearest stop. The plan was to go to Châtelet, then catch a different bus that would go past my apartment. We found the bus stop, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited ... with at least 100 other people who were also stranded.

Finally, we realized that there was no way that we would all get on to a bus, even assuming one was going to show up completely empty. So, we decided to get a phone number for a taxi company and call to have one sent to us. While we examined our maps to find the nearest taxi stand, some drunken reveler decided it would be great fun to set off a firework in the middle of the crowd waiting for the bus. It exploded so close to us that I temporarily lost hearing in my left ear! (Never mind the car accident it nearly caused.) Fortunately, my hearing returned about 10 seconds later, and we decided to get away from that bus stop. Our destination was the Théâtre de Rond-Point, figuring that a taxi would never find us if we just said we were at the Rond Point de Champs-Elysées.

After another 20-30 minutes, Isabelle finally got through to an operator and successfully got an order placed (the woman on the phone wouldn't accept anything other than an exact address, so she put us on hold while we looked for a street number). Finally, we had our salvation! We confirmed the addresses ... and the operator told us that there were no available taxis in Paris.

At this point, it's about 1:40 am. We're both tired and unable to walk all the way back to my apartment (I'd guess it would have been at least a 2-hour walk.) Our last ditch effort was to call Maggie and Colin, our friends that live just off the Rue de Rivoli, and hope that we could stay on their couch until the métro reopened. Finally, something worked out -- Colin answered the phone and kindly allowed us to come over. So, at around 2 am, Isabelle and I found ourselves sheepishly dragging into an apartment that Isabelle had never been to. Despite the awkwardness, we were very, very happy to be off the streets and resting.

Hopefully, Colin and Maggie are well-rested enough now that they will forgive us for the late-night intrusion. We finally managed to drag ourselves home around 9 am this morning, after which I promptly showered and went to bed. Thus endeth my first Bastille Day in Par-ee, the city that just wouldn't let me go home!

I always believed that I would be writing some poetic blog entry about my Bastille Day experiences, accompanied by some romantic photo of fireworks and/or Colin and I together near the Eiffel Tower looking all mushy. I think if I had known I was going to end up hearing impaired on the Champs-Elysées at 2 am, I would have just stayed home and lit a candle instead! But, as Isabelle pointed out many times, at least we have a memorable story to tell!


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