Monday, July 14, 2008

Bastille Day

I'm watching live coverage of the Bastille Day parade. Sarkozy is riding in a huge jeep, standing beside a general, reviewing the troops. The troops, which seem to represent every conceivable branch of uniformed service (army, navy, firefighters…), are lined up along the Champs-Élysées, standing in perfectly correct formation. Sarkozy's jeep is flanked by several rows of cavalry soldiers, riding their horses, and wearing outfits that look like they haven't changed since the Napoleonic wars. We're talking gleaming brass helmets with a long flowing, horse-like, tale coming from the top--full epaulettes, red jackets with brass buttons. Swords, sashes and golden braids draped from the left shoulder to the middle of the chest. I detect one or two black faces in this group but not a single woman. (Spending time in France makes me appreciate our (by comparison) incredibly progressive gender politics. Who knew? Especially given how retrograde we are in almost every other area of social policy.)

I'm trying to draw some comparisons to this spectacle in the US. This is not how we celebrate the 4th of July--with a huge military parade and reviewing of the troops by our president or with invites to heads of state who sit in special stands. What do we do? We have a corny concert on the National Mall and a huge fireworks display at night (they do that here too). Towns have parades that feature high school marching bands and other local figures. But this high military spectacle? I'm sure we do it sometimes, but when? I'm kind of pleased that we don't, but why don't we? It's not because we're less militaristic than France!

Sarkozy has arrived at the viewing stands. After standing very still to listen to the national anthem, he is now shaking hands with all the important people, who are mostly, but not all, men. I can't quite tell who they are, but we've got some presidents and other similarly important people.

On his way to the handshaking, he gave a pat on the arm to his beautiful and controversial new wife. Aww, he doesn't get to sit with her. They interviewed her in the ramp-up and she was soft spoken and said little. Yeah, I'd be embarrassed too after releasing that ridiculous album. (If you're not following the French news, even via Sky News, Carla Bruni just released an album where she sings about loving someone who was like her "white powder.")

Ah, I just spotted a woman as part of the drum corps. They are playing a pretty snazzy number on huge snare drums, marching around and clacking their sticks together. I like drum corps, especially if I can turn the volume down. They presented their display directly to the stands of dignitaries.

Next up, a brass marching band. Playing, marching around in interesting patterns. I love this stuff.

This is probably the best possible view, since there are also aerial shots! Nice.

The dignitaries look very serious.

This band is wearing long black coats with white belts, royal blue slacks, and those cylindrical French caps (aka "kepis"), with a big red feather/poof attached to the front.

Now they are singing the Marseilles. I see a woman firefighter in the crowd! Several women, actually--the most women in any group represented. The firefighters are surrounding…I can't tell who, navy? They're wearing uniforms, but no caps. The firefighters are wearing their red helmets. They are all singing--maybe that's what the women are there for?

Time for the fly over!

Nine jets, streaming blue, white and red smoke fly right over the Champs-Élysées and the Arc d'Triumph. Very dramatic!

I'm watching them fly…and now I can hear them as they approach my neighborhood.

I tell you what, if you're going to have a huge military display, the Champs-Élysées is the place for it.

Lots of flying-by of different aircraft. Now, UN troops are marching. Dignitaries are standing. These troops are wearing camouflage uniforms and wearing light (Carolina!) blue berets.

More troops marching. 100% French this time. Ah, this is the Grands Ecole Militare--the traditional first group of the parade. That's why they look so young and aren't wearing the standard caps. Many are women--wearing skirts! The men and women in this group have the same kind of hats, coats, boots, swords, but skirts for the women. Whatever.

More troops? Another school? I can't tell. Another group! Three so far. Ah this is the Police corps. You coulda fooled me.

Number four...another school. This one makes the women wear different and much uglier hats. The do get to wear pants, though.

Next, the naval school. Different and uglier hats the for women! A lot like the hats women have to wear in the US Navy. Otherwise, the same uniform.

I'm losing count now. This group looks Navy, but not only do the women have to wear the ugly hats, they are also in skirts! Annoying. (The skirts are pretty nice, actually, but why make this distinction?)

I understand they are wearing dress uniforms and no actual fighting would take place in these outfits, but the skirt thing still bothers me. Another group just marched by, carrying machine guns across their chests--including women in skirts. Geez. I'll stop now.

A never-ending number of military schools seem to be sending platoons down the Champs. Seriously, I don't think the US has this many military academies!

This is awesome--this group is wearing CAPES! Long, white, flowing capes that go almost to the ground. Worn over relatively standard uniforms and combined with a machine gun held across the chest--and light blue kepis.

I wonder if this is the end--the foreign legion. They are led by special group of men who all have long beards and a sort of leather (?) apron. Weird. And they are carrying axes. Beards, leather aprons and axes. The announcer is saying "exceptionnelle"-- I'll say. The axe men are part of the foreign legion--I can tell because of the white kepis they wear (traditional for the foreign legion).

Cavalry regiment of the republican guard. This is the end! No, it's not the end. I think the parade has lasted over an hour by now! It's 11:30 am now and I'm not sure when it started.

The parade lasted until noon. The highlight was seven parachutists who managed to land right in front of the grandstands. The parachutes were blue, red and white and each paratrooper (?) flew a flag: a French flag, a UN flag and a third one I didn't recognize: a blue flag with a circle of many gold stars in the center. After some more saluting, every one left the grandstands and started milling around, shaking hands and chatting with each other. What a display!

I'm off to get ready for my picnic. I'll report back on that tomorrow. (Hopefully--I'm making another trip to the police station Tuesday morning and if I'm there all day, I may be too tired to write. Wish me luck!)

Grateful for: the display.

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