La Fête Nationale

With the 14th of July fast approaching, I thought I’d share the story of my first jour de la Fête Nationale, or as we Anglophones like to call it, Bastille Day.

On my first trip to France, my month-long summer Paris vacation happily coincided with this date and I was excited to see what this evening had in store for me. I’d read and heard much excited talk about le Bal des Pompiers which takes place on the 13th and 14th of July every year. This fabulous event, the Fireman’s Ball, occurs in the fire station of every arrondissment, as they open their doors and invite the public in for a night of revelry.

Now, depending on the station, these parties range from fun-for-the-whole-family, carnival atmosphere dos in the heart of the residential 16th, to the downright raunchy fireman’s striptease in the 20eme. Curiosity piqued, I was absolutely keen to join in the fun, and had even been personally invited by a rather handsome pompier who I met whilst roaming the streets of the 7th earlier that day. I must say, of all the advertising, signage and other paraphernalia that surrounds this event, their best marketing strategy of all is to let a few hundred muscle-bound career lifesavers run loose around the city. But I digress…

My biggest problem was finding someone to go with me, a much harder task than first imagined, as it seems almost everyone I knew in Paris (granted the pool was rather small) was still recovering from their pre-14th July party hangover and was planning to lay low for the evening.

And so I found myself home alone at 6pm on the biggest party night of the Paris calendar. My social life saviour came in the form of a friend-of-a-friend that I’d become fast amis with over the course of my stay. She invited me to join her and a friend for some sushi (très français) and sake along the gorgeous, café-strewn rue Saint-Dominique in the 7th arrondissement.

What ensued was a fabulous evening; we went from Japanese restaurant to Irish pub and shared a few foreign beers with some new Canadian friends. But because it was the French National Day, and we were in Paris after all, we showed our patriotism by indulging in some giant macarons from the conveniently located boulangerie, right across the road from the bar.

We also witnessed some rather spectacular fireworks launched from the Eiffel Tower, an impressive and expensive display that drew much criticism from the French public in light of the economic climate of the time. But to feel the mood in the streets that night was to feel community spirit, conviviality and hope – so for what it’s worth, I say it was money well spent.

How will you celebrate the 14th of July this year?


Fireman’s striptease image courtesy of hotzeplotz on Flickr.
Firemen with truck image courtesy of CharlesFred on Flickr. 
Fireworks over the Eiffel Tower image courtesy of y.caradec on Flickr.


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