An Australian in (Disco) Paris
As a student of the French language throughout my high school and university years, I have always held a certain affinity to Bastille Day. A day of joy for the French to celebrate their unity and national pride, on a personal level I always took the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful things that the French bestowed upon the wider world. Namely, fabulous food and wine, impeccable yet insouciant style, a gorgeous and poetic language, and a rich, artistic culture that is so thought-provoking and divine. Even as a young pre-teen, it was these enthralling aspects that drew me in to wanting to learn the language of France, and to this day it still drives much of my behavior. An invite to dinner? Sure, let’s go to a French-style bistro. Nothing to wear? Refer to Emmanuelle Alt and French Vogue for inspiration. Feeling uninspired? Read Voltaire’s most famous works, or perhaps in this super-fast, non-stop age that we live in, a bite-size snippet in the form of his most-famous quotes. It’s no wonder then, that I have visited France on multiple occasions, including once as a four week exchange, immersing myself in everyday French life. Of course, each visit garnered numerous memories that warrant re-telling, but the standout has to be July 14, 2012, for it was the day that I was able to experience my very own Bastille Day in Paris.
The days leading to this had been cool and rainy, as if the weather gods decided they were going to rebel against humanity’s understanding of the seasons. I, along with my partner, had been expecting a glorious European summer, so on our second day in Paris we had to seek out the ubiquitous Zara’s and H&M’s to find outerwear and closed-in shoes that would keep us comfortable throughout the rainy days to come. With the threat of grey clouds and cool winds, we were nervously wondering whether that threat would follow through to full-blown storms, and whether we would ever have the opportunity to enjoy the Bastille Day we so hoped to have.
Our plans for the day had us meeting friends in the late afternoon to enjoy a picnic in the Champ de Mars, whilst also staking out our position for the light show scheduled for after sun-down. Suffice to say, we brought every possible clothing cover to ensure we wouldn’t be defeated by the weather without a fight. Luckily, we weren’t to be washed out, but we did have another fight on our hands: finding a bathroom.
Europe is notorious for its lack of public bathrooms, and Paris is no exception. Once we had all enjoyed a variety of tantalizing conversation topics over a superb spread of cheeses, ham, baguettes, strawberries, Perrier, and of course, wine, dusk settled in casting a dulled glow over the lawns, and the drama of finding a bathroom began. Ordinarily, the solution would be to head to a cafe, order an espresso, and utilize the cafe’s facilities. However this was Bastille Day, and the cafes and restaurants surrounding the Champ de Mars were as busy as one can imagine – no one was going to celebrate this day without the finest foods and wines. And so we hunted, walking the nearby streets for any sign of a public restroom, and incredibly, we found one. But, just as incredible as the feat of finding a public bathroom in Paris, was the line to enter it.
It took more than an hour to finally front the queue, and although it wasn’t the most ideal way to spend a large chunk of Bastille Day, deciding to hold out and join that line was possibly the best decision we had made. For once we returned to our friends on our little patch of grass more than 90 minutes later, evening was descending, the show was soon starting, the expansive lawns were full, and from that point on there was no way that you would be able to wander off and find a bathroom without missing the show. And this was not a show you would want to miss.
You see, there is something special about the Eiffel Tower, it just seems to cast a whimsical spell over all who see it. I don’t know why, but le Tour Eiffel always inspires an amazing sense of wonder in me, regardless of how many times I have seen it prior. And as I sat on the lawns of the Champ de Mars on that Bastille Day, admiring the structure that Parisians at first hated when constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair, I thought: ‘This is an experience one can only dream about’. Yet there I was, in real life, appreciating it once again for the marvel that it is.
But this wasn’t any ordinary day; it wasn’t enough for the Eiffel Tower to simply be a glittering beacon to be admired. No, this was a special day, Bastille Day, and the French were going to turn it on. And turn it on they did.
Now, what’s better than seeing the Eiffel Tower all lit up? It’s seeing the Eiffel Tower all lit up with an explosion of fireworks posing as its backdrop for a good 45 minutes. And if that is so, then what’s better than seeing the Eiffel Tower, all lit up, surrounded by fireworks? Well, it’s seeing the Eiffel Tower, all lit up, surrounded by fireworks and playing cheesy French Disco music in time with the explosions of light and color. And finally, if this is all true, then what’s better than seeing an Eiffel Tower, all lit up, pumping cheesy French Disco music in sync with the stunning fireworks? That’s a no-brainer: it’s seeing a big fat, silver Disco Ball, hanging and spinning in the middle platform of the lit up, firework-surrounded, cheesy French Disco-blasting, Eiffel Tower.
Yes, 2012 saw no ordinary Bastille Day celebration in Paris. In case you missed it, the theme for the celebration was Disco, and it opened me up to a whole new side of French culture that I don’t think I had experienced before. Here were the classy, sophisticated French, a people who love their culture and will rebel against the State the minute they feel that they are being repressed. But today, instead of fighting for their rights or acting nonchalantly cool and stylish, they were taking the opportunity to let their hair down, and were somewhat ironically poking fun at themselves with a good dose of (perhaps the best French invention ever) cheese.
I am sure that the French look back fondly on the Disco era in a nostalgic manner, the same way that you might look at an old photograph where your outfit is terrible by today’s standards, but back then, you absolutely loved that sartorial ensemble. Or perhaps it’s the one chink in the French’s armor of chic: perhaps they, quite simply, adore cheesy disco.
Either way, as I danced on the lawns of the Champ de Mars with two of my best friends, the love of my life, and thousands of other party-goers, singing to a disco version of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en Rose’, I have no doubt that we were, at that moment, all connected by a single thought: ‘Isn’t France great!’
Well, it was either that or ‘Disco Rocks!’