What French Fireworks Taught Me About Life

I celebrated Bastille day, yesterday.

But apparently the French don’t refer to it as Bastille day, they call it La Fête Nationale. Which means National Celebration.

Which, really, means they could be celebrating anything.

But it happens on July the 14th because that’s when the storming of the Bastille happened a little ways back in 1789.

And, given that I missed Independence Day back home—which is referred to as the 4th of July (I guess I can’t judge the French), it was nice to get to be somewhere that parades happened in the streets (or were those just a bunch of cops rushing somewhere with their sirens blazing?), and where people could celebrate liberty, equality and fraternity while they literally attacked each other over somebody stepping on their tiny piece of blanket laid on the sand in the path of a park while waiting for a fireworks show. It was also nice to feel the safety of knowing that on the only night the French do fireworks, the Fire Stations would each be having a ball. A literal dance party. At the fire station. Each one.

So pretty much the same thing as back home. Except, in America, shopping is also a part of the celebrating. For weeks leading up to the 4th of July, brands are touting the summer sales they will be offering.   

Not so in Paris.

They somehow think that Equality, Liberty, Fraternity means that everybody should get the day off. That instead of shopping, you should be with your family. Like, at home. Or at the parade. Or some crazy notion like that. It gives one the impression that America cares more about consumerism than other countries. And that can’t be true, right?

Actually, I think everybody took the day off so they could find a spot for their blanket at the park.

Seriously, all of France and half the UK was there.

With some decent representation from the US.

I can’t say I blame them. Champ de Mars park sits at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The live feed of the celebration’s classical performances rings clearly throughout the park, and the view of the tower is unbeatable.

I arrived 4 hours early. Every single patch of grass was taken. I was lucky to find a patch of grass about as big as the towel that I brought as a blanket.

People would fight and yell when other people tried to walk by. It was not exactly pleasant.

The only people seeming to have a good time were the rowdy ones in their 20’s & 30’s that were drunk and with a good group of friends.

They’re always the ones having a good time.

Mostly because they are having a good time because they’re drunk and they don’t care about what others think.

Which also makes them horrible people, if you measure a person by their level of politeness and consideration.

But if you measure a person by how much fun they are able to have, regardless of the number of people that consider them to be an asshole, or arsehole, then these were really remarkable people. But I digress.

The sun finally set, and by 11:00 it was finally dark. Paris has more sunshine in the winter, which makes for later nights. Which probably helped it get its reputation. Maybe that’s what makes it the city of light?

I don’t think so.

It’s this amazing tower. You should have seen how it was lit up. Simply brilliant. And once the music was queued and the fireworks lit up, it was like nothing I’d ever seen in America.

This was a show to be remembered. The fireworks danced in-step with carefully curated music: music both classical and classic stretching across cultures. Light bursted forth in the shape of hearts and spirals and dress the tower from which they sprang.

When you see a stream of flame spiraling up a red, white & blue Eiffel Tower whilst listening to some of the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard, it strikes you that this is a different kind of display than you may have seen before. That the French value different things a little differently than back home. As if the museums and cathedrals and parks weren’t enough to clue you in, then witness while art and music clash with pyrotechnics for a 20 minute show, and you will start to get a feel for the power of culture. And that the French culture is rooted in a different spot of the heart than American tradition. That freedom here might have a little more context; they certainly have a longer history of fighting for it. And so, rather than just explosions and beer, and guns and parades, there’s something more. Something that speaks to the soul. Because here, man without the artist is not yet a man.

Don’t get me wrong, I think America is great. But Paris, and all of France that I’ve seen, is something unique. And I am glad that it exists. And I thank them for the display I saw while standing on that tiny patch of grass in the Champ de Mars last night.

So to Paris, Merci Beaucoup.