Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day Three – Paris

It’s Bastille Day in Paris and a general holiday. Most of the stores and shops are closed. On the streets it feels like a Sunday, but that will soon change from all reports. While it might be a holiday in France, we’re still “on the job” and we have a number of tasks planned for later today.

I awoke fairly early and did some work in my room before going downstairs for breakfast with Br. Kevin Fitzgerald, who was in the dining room with some of the French Brothers. He’d planned to go down and see the grand Bastille Day parade down the Champs-Elyses, and later on joined us as we made our way there via the Metro. One of the older Brothers had told us that we’d see much more on TV, but we wanted to “experience” the parade.

Once we got to the Champs-Elyses station, we found ourselves in a tight crowd trying to get to the stairs and out to the top. Everyone was quite polite, but it was slowly shuffling group that made its way to the wide avenue where the parade was to happen. And outside it was worse. Later on we found out that at least a million people had shown up for the festivities.

We walked along the side of the boulevard, under the trees which kept us mercifully cool, and finally decided on a spot where we thought we might see something. In front of us was a 15-foot gap running the length of the street and marked off by metal barriers, inside of which were police and other official types. On the other side of the barrier was a 15-foot second section filled with people who had camped out overnight to get a good overview of the parade. So from where we stood, we could just see between the gaps of people’s heads, the caps or hats of those who were part of the parade – all standing at rest waiting for the parade to start.

Roch had brought with him his camera and a long pole, which he extended and lifted high above the crowd. The only real view we had of the parade was when he would film some of it, bring the camera down, and then play the footage for us. But it was enjoyable just to be there along the Champs-Elyses with thousands of others, listening to the music blaring from the speakers, and watching plumes of various colors bob in between the crowds of people in front of us. At the beginning of the parade, scores of jets did scream overhead in various formations. We had glimpses of them through the leaves of the trees above us. And we certainly heard them.

After about 30-40 minutes of all this, Roch and I moved on, while Kevin stayed around to watch some more. He told us later that he’d gone to a Brasserie for a drink and found inside a large-screen TV showing the entire parade up close and personal. He promptly sat down and enjoyed the parade from that vantage point. Roch and I walked around a bit more, stopping to watch a mounted guard on a side street, waiting to join in the parade at some point, and then made our way back to the Maison on the relatively empty Metro trains.

Back at the Maison, we picked up some bread at a nearby bakery, found some other items at a nearby grocery store, and had lunch in my room – all this while watching out the window at the parachutists who were dropping down around the Invalides memorial on their way to the festivities still going on on the Champs-Elyses. After all that we were ready to get to work. The three of us took the equipment we’d brought to the Rue St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle (nearby) and practiced using it on the street sign and the nearby buildings. The people and dogs that passed by all seemed very interested in what we were doing. Of course, after a while we simply ignored them.

We also did some filming on the Rue de Bac and the Maison itself, making sure that all the equipment was up to standards and configured properly. I myself tested out a new panoramic photography unit that will allow me to create spherical photographs of various rooms and locations. It’s a bit of an effort to learn how to use it all, but I think that it will be appreciated, especially if we will be inviting people to experience this pilgrimage first-hand.

Once finished with that task, we walked to the church of John Baptist de La Salle and recorded the wonderful stained-glass windows of his life that adorn the insides. One of the clerics spoke with us a bit before starting the parish Mass in a back chapel. But the light was just right for taking both photographs and digital pictures. They even had a photomosaic poster of De La Salle made up of all the members of the parish. There is a large statue of De La Salle in the façade of the church, but curiously there is no statue inside that allows people to light candles. Other statues (of Joseph, of some angel, of the Cure d’Ars and others) all have an array of lighted candles in front of them. I have yet to see an altar, other than the one in St. Patrick’s in NYC, that allows folks to light candles in his memory.

After that visit, we went down the Rue de Saxe to check out good locations for the evening fireworks. And after a bit of a dinner break, Roch and I went to watch the Bastille Day fireworks around the Eiffel Tower (Scott decided to turn in early), choosing a position near the Military College that would give us a view of the top two-thirds of the tower. We knew that going any closer would be well-nigh impossible.

Promptly at 10:45 PM the fireworks started and lasted for a good 30 – 40 minutes. Of course, they gradually built up until it seemed like a virtual fireworks war was going on around the Eiffel Tower. It was quite a spectical. Around us wer about 1,000 people and at the end of each series of fireworks, everyone broke out in applause, even if there was no one involved who could hear it. They were spontaneous "Amen" expressions of appreciation for all the effort that went into presenting this spectacular show that celebrated the tower's 120th birthday and Bastille Day.

Roch and I made our way back to the Maison and went to bed. As predicted, it was full day, but very rewarding on all sorts of levels.

(Note: All of the photographs shown here can be enlarged by simply clicking on them.)