Bastille Day

More tragedy in France. This time in Nice.

Though we visited that beautiful city a few months ago, we were in Paris for the celebration of la fête nationale–or le quatorze juillet, as I heard most people here call it–or Bastille Day as we call it in English.

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Just before the show.

Security was tight. As we crossed the Bir-Hakeim bridge from our neighborhood to get to the Eiffel Tower side, we stopped with many others and considered watching from there. That is, until a solid line of police started sweeping everyone off the bridge. So we proceeded on to one of the entrances to the Champ de Mars, the huge park below the tower. For the past month it’s been the site of a huge fan zone for the Euro 2016 football championship and it’s been outfitted with no shortage of security: fences and checkpoints and streets blocked off and lots and lots of guards with guns.

We got to the first security checkpoint and we even managed to find a reasonably short line. Merideth and the girls got through without incident, but I had the bag with a bottle of wine. Sorry, the guard said, no alcohol. I couldn’t believe it. This is France–everyone brings their bottle of wine to the park! I’d even read an article that very day that recommended a bottle per person when picnicking in the park on Bastille Day–three bottles per person if you were going to be there all day! And we just had one between the two of us. Oh well. So we all trooped out of the security zone and regrouped.

The short version is I stopped fuming about the dumb security rules, we talked to another guard, learned the problem wasn’t the alcohol but the glass bottle, Merideth bought a bottle of water, we guzzled the water, transferred the wine, got back in line, and got through. But this time a different guard confiscated a couple of dinner forks from our bag and made me throw them away (sorry, landlord). We also had to unscrew and throw away the bottle caps from our water and soda. At last, we were in.

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Carolyn thought the antics with getting wine into the park were pretty hilarious. I felt like some college kid trying to sneak booze into a football game.

Not quite. After this came another round of security. The first was just bag check; now we had to go through pat down. We got through fine, even though the guy who patted me down felt the corkscrew in my pocket. I was sure it would be another casualty, but he motioned me on and I didn’t argue.

Inside the perimeter, the place was already swarming. We got there around 7pm and the orchestra wasn’t on until after 9 and the fireworks wouldn’t be till 11. We found a spot off to one side where it wasn’t as crowded and even managed to find some friends from our church already set up nearby.

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This was before it got really crowded.

Our picnic was great: we played cards, enjoyed our Mediterranean take-out, talked with our friends, and the fireworks turned out to be perhaps the most spectacular feu d’artifice I’ve ever witnessed.

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If pictures are worth a thousand words, well, then I’d need a few hundred thousand to describe the many and varied fireworks that exploded all around the Eiffel Tower and were even shot from it throughout the night–and all coordinated to music.

All in all, we had a wonderful night in Paris. That said, it’s truly heartbreaking and disturbing and flat out terrible that the celebrations in Nice were marred by yet another act of terrorism. But the sad truth is that even with all of our security, we can’t prevent every awful thing from happening. No amount of confiscating forks and bottle caps and making sure no glass bottles are in sight will prevent a determined terrorist from driving a truck through a crowd of people celebrating.

Some ask: how long will we have to keep living like this? When will it stop? Well, have you looked at history? Has there ever been an era free from violence? I don’t believe we can enact enough security measures to prevent any bad thing from ever happening again–and I wouldn’t want to live in the world that tries such a thing. Nor do I think arming citizens to the teeth will make things better.

Personally, I don’t know how people have hope in this world for violence and terrorism and war to actually, truly, permanently end. It’s all been a part of our world as long as people have been a part of the world. Does that mean we’re without hope? I don’t think so.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

That’s the only hope I have.

Slow down, you’re moving too fast

Travel so often comes with self-imposed obligations. You’re in Paris: better brave the crowds and get that selfie with the Mona Lisa. Dodge the sidewalk hucksters and go up the Tower. Shop–or at least window shop–the Champs-Elysée… even though it’s the last place you’d ever really shop. Check off another cathedral. Another museum. Another Very Important Sight.

 

And it’s true: it’s a shame to travel and not make the most of your time. But there’s something nice about taking it easy for a change. Not giving into the you-better-see-that-important-museum pressure. Case in point: we’re in Nice, wrapping up the girls’ spring break. Yesterday we knocked out a few stops on the tourist checklist by taking in the Principality of Monaco. We watched the changing of the guard (not exactly a thrill-fest, and nothing I’d go out of my way for, but we were in the right place at the right time, so what the heck), toured the cathedral where Princess Grace is buried, enjoyed the engaging aquarium, took a bateau bus across the harbor to the Monte-Carlo side of things with its famous casino, and ended the day by touring a lovely little hill town called Eze–which is a site in and of itself.

But today? No agenda, no firm plans. Take a walk along the beach. Walk back. Eat lunch on the beach. Take a nap. Sit on our tiny deck and watch people go by. Drink another coffee.

What’s next? We could go see the Chagall Museum… Rick Steves gives it his top rating…. I even like Chagall…

Yeah, let’s go find some some gelato instead. The museum will be here next time.

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Looking down on the harbor in Monaco. A few nice boats down there.

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The nail-biting drama that is the changing of the guard.

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The final resting places of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.

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A lovely lane in Eze.

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The golden hour in Nice.