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July 14, 2010

La Fête Nationale

by soundlandscapes

Today is the 14th July, La Fête Nationale, the French national holiday which is celebrated on this day each year. In France, it is more commonly called le quatorze juillet. The British usually refer to it, although the French never do, as Bastille Day which is not surprising  since it commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. A défilé, a parade, is held on the morning of 14th July, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris with the President de la Republic taking the salute.

Today, the parade included the usual representatives from all branches of the French armed forces from the cadets of the military academy of Saint-Cyr together with their navy and air force cousins to the seasoned representatives of the French Foreign Legion who as usual stole the show with their beards, axes, brown aprons and funereal paced marching. The civilian services were also represented by the Police Nationale, the Gendarmerie and the Fire service. If the Foreign Legion stole the show on the ground the Patrouille de France stole the show in the air. Led this year for the first time by a woman, Virginie Guyot, the Patrouille de France today put on an immaculate display of formation flying directly over my apartment and along the Champs-Élysées. A fly past of other military aircraft and helicopters followed. In recent times, it has become customary to invite units from France’s allies to the parade; in 2004 during the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, British troops (the band of the Royal Marines, the Household Cavalry, the Grenadier Guards and the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery) led the défilé for the first time, with the Red Arrows flying overhead. I was there and I saw it with, I admit, a tear in my eye. In 2007 the German 26th Airborne Brigade led the march followed by British Royal Marines. This year it was the turn of representatives from France’s former African colonies to share the parade and they brought a unique splash of colour to the proceedings.

Usually the weather is very kind for le quatorze juillet and the sun is guaranteed to shine on the parade, but not today. As the défilé began the heavens opened and the rain came down with a vengeance and most of those marching down the Champs-Élysées looked very much as though they wished they were somewhere else.

Still, the weather didn’t prevent the fly-past much to my delight. The fly-past of the aircraft happened at just after 10.30 this morning and the helicopters came along almost an hour later. I had my sound recorder and microphone set up on my balcony in good time. Today I was using my new Nagra LB recorder and an Audio-Technica 8022 X-Y stereo microphone. As a back-up I used my Zoom H4N Handy recorder with a Rode NT-4 X-Y stereo microphone. At 10.20 I switched both recorders on ready to record. I then came inside to watch the progress of the défilé on the TV and as soon as they showed the Patrouille emerging over La Défense I went back out to the balcony and switched to record. Thirty seconds later they were directly overhead with red, white and blue smoke streaming behind them. They were followed by further waves of jet aircraft with the propeller aircraft bringing up the rear. At five minutes into the fly-past the rain came down even harder as you can hear as the last few aircraft come over.

You can listen to the aircraft fly-past here:

An hour later it was the turn of the helicopters and by this time the weather was so appalling that I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had given up and gone home. The sky was so grey and dark that the TV cameras didn’t pick up the helicopters at La Défense at first but I was prepared anyway. I turned the recorders on and presently heard the distinctive sound of very large helicopters approaching. The helicopter fly-past was shorter than usual, presumably some of the smaller aircraft were pulled at the last-minute for safety’s sake.

You can listen to the helicopter fly-past here:

And finally …

During the afternoon of le quatorze juillet, the President de la Republic used to give an interview to the press, discussing the situation of the country, recent events and projects for the future. The current President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has chosen not to do that. It was also customary for the President to hold a garden party at the Palais de l’Elysée, but not this year. President Sarkozy’s government is mired in financial scandal, including l’affaire Bettancourt, as well as a minister claiming €12,000 in expenses for cigars and another minister spending €116,500 on a private jet flight to an aid conference on Haiti. Last year’s garden party cost €730,000 so, against this background and given that his popularity is at its lowest ever, President Sarkozy has forsaken the garden party this year.

Article 17 of the French Constitution gives the President the authority to pardon criminals, and since 1991 the President has pardoned many petty offenders (mainly for traffic offences) on 14th July. The former President, Jaques Chirac had an absolute field day with this particular piece of executive privilege. In 2007, President Sarkozy declined to continue the practice.

And very finally …

The rain has stopped, the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful evening which bodes well for the firework displays later.

Note: These recordings were made in BWF and compressed to MP3 for this post.

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