YESTERDAY, 14th JULY, WAS a day of national celebration in France. Le Quatorze Juillet, also known as La Fête Nationale, but never Bastille Day as it’s often referred to in English-speaking countries, is the French national day commemorating the 1790 Fête de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14th Jul 1789.
Although the day is marked across France, the centerpiece event takes place in Paris with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Élysée to be reviewed by the Président de la République.
Each year on 14th July a huge crowd lines the Champs Élysées to watch the parade, although how many of them actually see anything is questionable. I though always head to the west of Paris, conveniently close to home, to enjoy a close-up view of the defile aérien, the fly past of aircraft and helicopters of the military and civilian services heading for the Champs Élysées. Being a lifelong enthusiast of both sound recording and aviation, recording a flotilla of aircraft and helicopters flying overhead in close formation at 1,000 feet seems to me to be a perfect way to spend a morning.
A note to the loyal readers who come to this blog to learn more about the social and cultural history of Paris and to enjoy the everyday sounds of the city: Although the rest of this post may seem more suited to aviation geeks like me, please stick with it because, if nothing else, I’m sure you will enjoy the sounds!
This year, 64 fixed wing aircraft took part in the defile aérien: 53 from l’armée de l’air (the French Air Force), 6 from la marine nationale (the French Navy), 2 from la sécurité civile and 3 from other countries comprising an M346 advanced training aircraft from the Republic of Singapore, an Alpha Jet from the Belgian Air Force and an A400M military transport aircraft from the German Air Force.
As always, the défilé aérien opened with nine Alpha Jets of the Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team, flying their ‘Big Nine’ formation. But this year there was a twist, an unintentional twist, or as France Info put it: “La Patrouille de France s’est emmêlée les pinceaux dans les couleurs du drapeau.” In other words, the Patrouille de France got in a tangle with the colours of the French flag.
Take a look at the aircraft on the far left of the picture. When a pilot flying in close formation makes a mistake it usually ends badly, but when a pilot in a prestigious aerobatic display team presses the wrong button and emits red instead of blue smoke then that is undoubtedly a bad career move.
Here is a schematic of the aircraft fly past from which you can see the variety of aircraft involved this year.
The logistics involved in parading all these aircraft one after the other are complex, not least because the maximum speed of some of the aircraft is slower than the slowest speed of others.
Here are some facts:
From the first aircraft to the last, the fly past stretches for 50 kilometres with 6 kilometres between each block of aircraft. The space between the aircraft flying in close formation is between 5 and 10 metres.
All the aircraft fly past at 1,000 feet, or 305 metres.
The fighter aircraft fly past at 300 knots, around 550 km/h; the navy fighters at 280 knots, around 520 km/h; the navy patrol aircraft at 200 knots, around 370 km/h and the transport aircraft at 180 knots around 330 km/h.
And this is what they sounded like as they passed me today:
Aircraft Fly Past 2018:
I record the sounds of the défilé aérien every year but this year I was able to find a spot to record from that was devoid of people and almost out of earshot of traffic – a rare find indeed.
Some forty-five minutes after the parade of fixed wing aircraft it was time for the rotary wing flotilla; the helicopters.
Here is a schematic showing the helicopters on display today.
This year, there were 30 helicopters, including 18 light aviation helicopters from the army; five helicopters from the air force; two from the navy; three from the gendarmerie and two from the sécurité civile.
From the first helicopter to the last, the fly past stretched for 8 kilometres with 1 kilometre between the two main aircraft blocks. They flew at a height of 400 feet, 120 metres, at a speed of 90 knots or 170 km/h.
And this is what they sounded like as they passed overhead:
Helicopter Fly Past 2018:
While recording the sounds of the défilé aérien I was able to use my smart phone to take some pictures. Unfortunately, my competence at multitasking didn’t stretch to capturing pictures of every passing aircraft so, for those of you who would like to know more about at least some of the aircraft taking part in this year’s défilé aérien here are some of the pictures I captured.
A C135 air refueling tanker from Flight Supply Group 2/91 “Brittany”, followed by a Mirage 2000N from Fighter Squadron (EC) 2/4 “La Fayette”, and three Rafale from EC 1/4 “Gascogne”.
An Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport), a new multi-role aircraft providing personnel and freight transport, air refueling and intelligence gathering. It is followed by four Mirage 2000D from N° 3 Fighter Wing.
A C135 refueling aircraft from Flight Replenishment Group 2/91 “Brittany” followed by four Rafale (three Rafale C two-seater and one single-seater Rafale B) from the 30th Fighter Wing.
An Awacs E-3F from the Airborne Warning and Control Squadron 00/036 “Berry” followed by four Mirage 2000-5s from EC 1/2 “Cigognes”.
Four Mirage 2000 from the EC 2/5 “Ile-de-France” and two Alpha Jets from the 3/8 “Côte d’Or” training squadron, the only French squadron simulating enemy action to train pilots and confronting them with all types of threats.
Two Alpha Jets from l’École d’aviation de chasse (EAC) at̀ Tours and three Alpha Jets from l’École de transition opérationnelle (ETO) at Cazaux, including one Belgian Alpha Jet, and one Singaporean M346 from the 150th Squadron stationed at Cazaux Air Base. For 20 years, a detachment of the Singapore Air Force has been stationed there to train its fighter pilots.
An Airbus A340 from the 3/60 “Esterel” Transport Squadron.
An A400M Atlas from 61 Wing and two Casa CN 235 from 1/62 “Vercors” and 3/62 “Ventoux” Transport Squadrons.
A Canadair CL415 and a Dash Q400 MR from la sécurité civile used in fighting forest fires. These aircraft have been deployed in the firefighting role in France, Europe and in the rest of the world.
Two Airbus lightweight, multipurpose Fennec helicopters from the helicopter squadron 3/67 “Parisis” and one from 5/67 “Alpilles”.
One EC145 and two EC135 helicopters from the gendarmerie nationale.
An HAP Tiger, followed by a Cougar, and a Gazelle from the 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment.
IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR again, mid-July, la Fête Nationale and one of the high points of my sound recording year: the défilé aérien du 14 juillet.
Le quatorze juillet is the French National Day, commemorating the 1790 Fete de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.
Each year, La Fête Nationale is celebrated throughout France but the centerpiece event takes place in Paris with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République. The défilé aérien, or fly-past, is part of the parade.
This year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I, 145 US troops took part in the parade in the Champs Elysées with their President, Donald Trump looking on.
As a lifelong aviation enthusiast, the parade in the Champs Elysées and the presence of Donald Trump were of much less interest to me than the events in the air.
This year the défilé aérien was made up of 63 aircraft: 49 from the French air force, 6 from the French navy and 8 from the United States, all flying in close formation.
The Aircraft Fly-Past:
Nine Alphajets of la Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team, led the fly-past complete with their signature bleu – blanc – rouge smoke. Then, close behind, came six F-16 Fighting Falcons of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, and two Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors, single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft developed for the USAF.
Created in 1953 and based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, the Thunderbirds Squadron tours the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft.
The US Thunderbirds and F-22 Raptors heading for the Champs Elysées
This was the first time I had seen either the Thunderbirds or the F-22 Raptor so I was able to tick yet more boxes in my ‘plane spotting’ list as well as adding their distinctive sounds to my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
Another first was to see not one but TWO Airbus A-400M Atlas military transport aircraft flying in formation. This multi-national, four-engine turboprop aircraft was designed by Airbus Defence and Space as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities which, along with its transport role, can also perform aerial refueling and medical evacuation. The first of these aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in August 2013.
Two Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft heading for the Champs Elysées
A little over half an hour after the aircraft had passed, the helicopters hove into view, 29 of them representing the French Army, Air Force, Navy and civilian services all flying in close formation.
The Helicopter Fly-Past:
Note: It’s hard to record the sound of helicopters en masse without making them sound like a hive of insects!
The défilé aérien is an event I look forward to each year, not because of the display of military hardware and fighting power on display, but simply because I have always been fascinated by aircraft. I guess I’ve never lost that child like wonder of watching and listening to flying machines.
Here are some more of my iPhone pictures of this year’s défilé aérien:
CHINESE NEW YEAR’S DAY is the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar. But on the Gregorian calendar the date is different each year falling somewhere between the 21st January and the 20th February. This year, Chinese New Year’s Day fell on Monday 8th February.
In the Chinese calendar, 2016 is ‘l’Année du Singe’, the Year of the Monkey, the ninth of the 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle.
In Paris, Chinese New Year is celebrated across the city culminating in the Carnaval du Nouvel An Chinois, the Chinese New Year Carnival in the 13th arrondissement, which took place yesterday.
The Carnaval du Nouvel An Chinois is always boisterous occasion. A huge crowd lines the streets to watch the colourful parade circulating around the largest Chinatown in Paris and, as I do every year, I went along to join in the celebrations and to record the sounds.
Parisian Chinese New Year 2016:
This year’s parade may have been dampened by rain and tempered by the lack of firecrackers but it didn’t stop this annual spectacle from being as exuberant as ever.
SUNDAY, 7th FEBRUARY saw the 19th edition of the Carnaval de Paris. The theme this year was Le Monde fantastique aquatique.
Led by Basile Pachkoff, Président de l’association Droit à la Culture, the carnival procession left Place Gambetta in the 20th arrondissement and made its way to Place de la République.
Today’s Carnaval de Paris is a revival of a carnival dating back to at least the sixteenth century when the carnival parade would take place on the Sunday prior to Mardi Gras and was led by the traditional “Promenade du Boeuf Gras”, a decorated live ox.
In those days it was a time of rejoicing lasting from Epiphany until Lent whereas today it’s simply a one-day event. The Carnaval de Paris with its dancers, masks, music and colourful costumes still retains the spirit and exuberance of the medieval festival.
In the February afternoon sunshine, I joined the carnival procession in Avenue Gambetta to record the sights and sounds.
Sounds of the Carnaval de Paris 2016:
IT’S THAT TIME of the year again! An annual colourful procession through the streets of the 18th arrondissement, an elephant representing Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune, people adorned with strings of jasmine and shattered coconuts laying at the roadside means that it must be La Fête de Ganesh.
The Parisian Fête de Ganesh begins at the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple in rue Pajol, the largest Hindu temple in France, where religious ceremonies precede the procession through the streets of the neighbourhood.
As the procession gets underway, a water truck precedes it and the streets are washed. It seems that cleanliness really is next to godliness.
Leading the procession are the drum dancers.
Dancers carrying an arch of peacock feathers on their shoulders come next …
… and then ladies carrying clay pots with burning camphor on their heads.
Next, pulled by two large ropes made of vegetable fibre each twenty metres long, comes the five metre high chariot carrying the statue of Ganesh, the God with an elephant’s head. The chariot is entirely covered with red and white cloth and decorated with garlands of fresh flowers, bananas and areca wrapped in betel leaves.
Coconuts play a significant part in the procession. Piles of them are placed at the roadside and during the procession they are broken by smashing them onto the ground. The coconut shell symbolises the world, the flesh represents individual Karma and the coconut milk the human ego. By breaking the coconut, one offers one’s heart to Ganesh.
The milk from hundreds of coconuts is spread across the streets for Ganesh’s chariot to pass over.
Singers and musicians follow Ganesh’s chariot and throughout the course of the procession offerings are made and food and drink distributed.
Sounds of la Fête de Ganesh 2015:
With its vibrant colours, intoxicating exotic smells and multi-textured, rhythmical sounds, la Fête de Ganesh is truly a multisensory experience.
LE QUATORZE JUILLET, or la Fête Nationale Française, is the French National Day, commemorating the 1790 Fete de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
Each year, La Fête Nationale is celebrated throughout France but the centrepiece event takes place in Paris with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République.
And each year, when all eyes are on the Champs Elysées, my eyes turn skywards to the défilé aérien, the fly-past by aircraft from the French L’Armée de l’Air and helicopters from the air force, the navy, the army, civil security and the police.
This year, this wonderful piece of aerial choreography was masterminded by Général de division Jean-Christophe Zimmermann, commandant en second de la défense aérienne et des opérations aériennes, Paris.
Watching and waiting for the défilé aérien
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of France and the l’Ordre national de la Libération, France’s second national Order after the Légion d’honneur, instituted by General De Gaulle, Leader of the “Français Libres” – the Free French movement – with Edict No. 7, signed in Brazzaville on November 16th, 1940. Admission to the Order is meant to “reward individuals, military and civil organizations for outstanding service in the effort to procure the liberation of France and the French Empire“.
To mark this anniversary the French aerobatic display team, the Patrouille de France, opened proceedings by paying a tribute to the French Resistance by flying twelve Alphajets in a formation representing the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the Free French movement.
The Free French Air Forces (FAFL) were honoured with a C135 tanker aircraft from flight refuelling group 2/91 “Bretagne”, followed by four Rafale C jet fighters of 2/30 squadron “Normandie-Niemen” and four Mirage 2000 multirole jet fighters of the 2/5 fighter squadron “Ile de France”.
La Fête Nationale 2015 – The Aircraft:
While listening to my recording of the aircraft passing you can see the composition of the entire aircraft procession in the chart below.
Click on the image to enlarge
Apart from the Patrouille de France formation the highlights for me were the magnificent Airbus A400M multi-national, four-engine turboprop, military transport aircraft with its delicious throaty growl and, bringing up the rear, the Airbus A340 strategic transport aircraft.
Appearing in the defilé aérien for the first time, this A340 from the transport squadron 3/60 “Esterel” took part in a recent operation to transport of 17 tons of emergency humanitarian cargo to Nepal following the earthquake that struck the capital, Kathmandu, in April this year.
Airbus A400M: Image via Wikipedia
About an hour after the aircraft passed it was the turn of the helicopters.
La Fête Nationale 2015 – The Helicopters:
While listening to my recording of the helicopters passing you can see the composition of the entire helicopter fleet in the chart below together with some interesting facts about the height, speed and distances flown by all the participants in the défilé aérien.
Click on the image to enlarge
I’ve been fascinated by flying and anything that can fly for as long as I can remember and to see all these aircraft and helicopters passing overhead is always a highlight of my year.
And every time I see flying displays like this I am reminded of the poem, Locksley Hall, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in which he foretells the future with prophetic accuracy:
For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)
IT HAS BECOME a tradition that on the first day of May each year sweet scented sprays of Lily of the Valley (Muguet in French) are sold on the streets across France as a symbol of springtime and good luck.
Amidst the sprays of Lily of the Valley on sale everywhere in Paris yesterday another tradition was playing out.
La Fête du Travail was the name given to several festivals that originated from the eighteenth century onwards to celebrate the achievements of workers. In France, la Fête du Travail merged with International Workers’ Day, a day originally established in the late nineteenth century as an annual day of protest to demand the eight-hour working day. Today, La Fête du Travail and International Workers Day are celebrated on May 1st and the day is a national public holiday.
In Paris it has become traditional for people representing the two extremes of the political spectrum to use the May 1st public holiday to take to the streets to make their voices heard.
On the morning of May 1st, the Front National representing the political far right hold their annual défilé from the Palais Royal to Place de l’Opéra pausing in Place des Pyramides to pay homage at the foot of Emmanuel Frémiet’s gilded statue of Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orléans and heroine to the far right. In the afternoon an assorted collection of organisations representing the far left gather in Place de la République and march along the Boulevard Voltaire to Place de la Nation.
For the past three years I’ve recorded the Front National event on May 1st rather than the event at République because, given the rise of Marine le Pen as Président of the Front National and the party’s increasing popularity with the French electorate, it seemed to me that this was likely to be the more newsworthy event.
This year though I decided it was time to redress the balance and forsake the Front National in favour of the far left manifestation on the other side of the city.
The manifestation beginning in Place de la République was jointly organised by the French Trades Unions, CGT (Confédération générale du travail), FSU (Fédération syndicale unitaire), Solidaires (Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques) and l’Unsa (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes).
From the plethora of literature handed out along the route I was able to deduce that there were two main themes to the manifestation:
First, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks on January 11th this year, democracy, peace and freedom of thought and expression are common goods that must be defended against all forms of totalitarianism, hate speeches, stigma and attempts to divide.
And second, against a background of austerity measures and reforms reducing workers’ rights and social protection in many European countries, these policies must be reversed and investment made in quality jobs and growth.
Sounds of le défilé de la Fête du Travail :
After many years of recording sounds in Paris I like to think that I’ve developed a journalist’s nose for a good story, or at the very least for being in the right place at the right time. But this year I’m afraid I got it wrong, the little spray of Lily of the Valley in my pocket failed to bring me good luck.
While standing in the rain for three hours recording this manifestation passing me in Boulevard Voltaire I was completely unaware that the news story of the day had already taken place elsewhere, at the Front National défilé at Place de l’Opéra!
During Marine le Pen’s speech there earlier in the day three bare-breasted women appeared on the balcony of a nearby hotel. The women from the Femen activist group unfurled banners linking the Front National’s logo with the Nazi party and had “Heil Le Pen” and “Stop Fascism” written across their chests. For five minutes, they drowned out Le Pen’s speech using a bullhorn.
I was particularly disappointed when I discovered what had happened, not because I have any affection for Marine le Pen and the Front National or that I’d missed seeing the topless women, in fact I’d seen them before when I was recording the International Women’s Day march in Paris a few weeks ago. No, my disappointment came from the realisation that I’d completely missed capturing an historic sound event that would have been a priceless addition to my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
I am reminded of the great American poet, Maya Angelou, who in her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
I’m afraid that the sounds of the disruption at yesterday’s Front National rally are and are destined to remain my untold story.
HOT ON THE HEELS of the Marche Mondiale des Femmes that took place just over a week ago to mark International Women’s Day, Paris was celebrating women again yesterday this time with Le Carnaval des Femmes.
Organised by L’association Cœurs Sœurs, the Carnaval des Femmes is a revival of the traditional Fête des Reines des Blanchisseuses de la mi-Carême dating back to the eighteenth century. The current president of L’association Cœurs Sœurs, Basile Pachkoff, the man responsible for reviving the Carnaval de Paris, is one of the driving forces behind reviving this historic festival.
An 1880 report prepared by the chambre syndicale des blanchisseurs for the Ministry of the Interior estimated that some 94,000 women and 10,000 men worked in laundries in Paris, either in brick-and-mortar laundries across the city, or in the bateaux-lavoirs – wooden constructions floating on the river. Their ages ranged from about 15 to 60 and they worked 12 to 15 hours a day for a remuneration of between 18 to 35 francs a week.
A laundry on the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin
Léon et Lévy (1864-1917). Lavoir sur le canal Saint-Martin. Phototypie. Paris (Xème arr.), vers 1900. Paris, musée Carnavalet. Image courtesy of Paris en Images
It was mainly the women who did the washing and the ironing but although the work may have been long and hard and poorly paid, once a year Paris treated them like royalty.
At mi-Carême, or Mid-Lent, an air of celebration gripped Paris with a hugely popular festival often referred to as une grande fête feminine, or a great female party. And it was the blanchisseurs, the laundresses who took centre-stage.
A Queen was elected from each laundry and during the mi-Carême festival all the Queens paraded through the streets with much fanfare.
The 1874 election of a laundry Queen in a lavoir
La fête des blanchisseuses dans un lavoir du quartier de Plaisance, à Paris, le jeudi de la Mi-Carême 12 mars 1874. Image – Le Monde Illustré
In 1891, the président de la chambre syndicale des maîtres de lavoirs took the initiative to create a committee to bring together all the individual laundry processions in Paris thus giving rise to one large procession and to the Queen of Queens of Paris.
Yvonne Béclu, Queen of Queens, 3 March 1921. Image – l’Agence Rol
Like the Carnaval de Paris, the Fête des Reines des Blanchisseuses de la mi-Carême faded away in the mid-twentieth century but thanks to Basile Pachkoff and others, both have now been revived.
Now in it’s seventh year, the revived Carnaval des Femmes may be a shadow of the huge nineteenth century festival but at least it has been revived and judging by the procession yesterday it certainly contains some of the same enthusiasm and exuberance as its predecessor.
Sounds of the Carnaval des Femmes 2015:
SUNDAY, 8th MARCH was International Women’s Day and a large number of events took place in Paris to mark the day.
To mark la Journée internationale de la femme last year I went to the Marie Curie Museum in the 5th arrondissement where there was an exhibition in the garden of the museum of photographic portraits celebrating the careers of prominent women, past and present, who worked or are currently working in the fields of science and medicine. You can see my report about that exhibition here.
To mark the day this year, I thought I would do something completely different!
I arrived in Place de la République on Sunday afternoon to record the sights and sounds of my first manifestation of the year, the Paris contribution to the Marche Mondiale des Femmes 2015.
It was a very lively and good-natured manifestation and although both women and some men took part I decided to mark my contribution to International Women’s Day 2015 by only recording the sounds of the women.
No further words from me can add anything to the words of these women marching through Paris yesterday, they were quite capable of expressing themselves.
Just a word of warning:
So as not to offend anyone, I should point out that there is a rather explicit picture at the end of this blog piece so if you think you might be offended by it then I suggest you just listen to the sounds and don’t scroll down any further.
That said, I’ll simply let the women tell their own story.
The sounds of International Women’s Day 2015 in Paris:
JUST ONE WEEK on from this year’s Carnaval de Paris the streets of Paris resounded to the sights and sounds of the celebrations for the Chinese New Year.
There are three main celebrations in Paris for the Chinese New Year, one around the Marais, another in Belleville and, the largest of the three, in Chinatown in the 13th arrondissement, the one I attended.
In the Chinese calendar this year is the year of the goat, which is associated with the virtues of kindness, warmth, and artistic sensitivity.
Each year the centrepiece of the Chinese New Year celebrations in the 13th arrondissement is the colourful and sound-rich procession that begins in Avenue d’Ivry and then winds through Avenue de Choisy, Place d’Italie, Avenue d’Italie, Rue de Tolbiac, Boulevard Massena, finally arriving back at Avenue d’Ivry some three hours later.
Sounds of the Parisian Chinese New Year 2015:
As usual, I arrived early and like some of those preparing to take part in the procession I had time to grab a quick bite to eat. For some it was a sandwich …
… but for me it was a take-away to eat on the hoof served by two charming young ladies.
Before the parade set off I came upon this man manhandling a rather unruly horse …
… and a couple of stray lions.
Paris has a large and thriving Chinese community and for the Chinese New Year celebrations they, and many other Parisians, either take part in the procession or take to the streets to watch it with crowds standing ten deep in some places along the route.
In crowds like this recording the sounds and taking photographs at the same time is always a challenge. The best place to record the best sounds is seldom the best place to capture the best pictures but with good planning, a journalistic instinct for being in the right place at the right time, and judicious use of one’s elbows it’s usually possible manage to do both. I believe it’s called ‘multi-tasking’.
If it comes to a choice though, I always put capturing the sounds ahead of capturing the pictures because why wouldn’t you want those fabulous Chinese rhythms and sonic textures, not to mention the chorus of Chinese firecrackers, to take centre stage!