AFTER THE SPECTACULAR sound and light show attended by some 600,000 people in the Champs Élysées the night before, New Year’s Day 2015 saw la plus belle avenue du monde filled with marching bands, colourful floats and circus performers for le défilé du jour de l’An, the New Year’s Day parade.
Organised by the association, Le Monde Festif, under the chairmanship of the celebrated showman, Marcel Campion, the parade consisted of musicians, clowns, jugglers and acrobats from five famous circuses (Pinder, Bouglione, Muller, Phoenix and Romanès), as well as fifteen marching bands from a dozen countries and a fleet of classic cars and decorated floats.
I spent the afternoon of New Year’s Day in the Champs Élysées capturing the sounds and savouring the atmosphere.
Showtime in the Champs Élysées:
IT’S LATE JULY and the Champs Elysées, la plus belle avenue du monde, has only just recovered from staging La Fête Nationale and now La Grande Boucle is in town – the climax of the Tour de France 2013.
2013 marks the 100th edition of the Tour de France and the last stage in the Champs Elysées on Sunday was very special.
This 100th edition of Le Tour began in Corsica on 29th June. This was the Tour’s first ever visit to Corsica and 198 riders representing 22 teams set off from Porto-Vecchio to complete the first three stages on the island. For the next three weeks, from 29th June to 21st July, le Tour criss-crossed France covering some 3,404 kilometres (2,115 miles). It visited 37 French departments and crossed 537 French municipalities.
The 21 stages of this year’s Tour included eight flat stages, three hilly stages, seven mountain stages (with four summit finishes), two individual time trial stages and one team time trial stage.
Le Tour was followed by some 2,000 journalists and was broadcast to 190 countries on 50 radio stations and 100 TV channels, 60 of them broadcasting live to 3.5 billion viewers worldwide. The estimate is that some 12 million people watched the Tour from the roadside along the route.
Each year the final stage of the Tour de France ends in the Champs Elysées in Paris and I’ve watched every one of these finishes since 1999 – but this year’s final stage was a little different.
Instead of racing the final stage during the afternoon of the final day as is usual, this year, to mark the 100th edition of le Tour, the final stage began in the early evening at the magnificent Palace of Versailles. It then wound its way through the Parisian suburbs to arrive at the Champs Elysées as dusk was falling and, of course, I was there to watch and to record the events.
I arrived in the Champs Elysées at the same time as the publicity caravan, the 12 kilometre procession comprising 180 sponsor’s vehicles manned by 600 people advertising 37 brands. This caravan processes along the route of every stage of the Tour and by the end of it they will have handed out some 14.5 million gifts to the watching public. It took the caravan about 35 minutes to negotiate the Champs Elysées and it was all very colourful and very loud.
After 35 minutes of lively show time the wait for the main show of the day began. Some people had bagged their ideal viewing spot by the side of the road early, very early in some cases.
Others had positioned themselves with a good view of one of the many big screen televisions that line the street so as to get the best view of the action.
For me, it was all about getting into the right position to record the best sound even if I had to sacrifice the best view to do it.
In another change to the final stage this year, the riders rode 10 times around the Champs Elysées instead of the usual 8 times and that included riding around the Arc de Triomphe, something they don’t usually do.
I decided to position myself at the top of the Champs Elysées close to the Arc de Triomphe behind a conclave of Brits, all enthusiastic Chris Froome supporters. This proved to be fortuitous.
We had been promised something spectacular for this final stage of the 100th edition of the Tour de France but I hadn’t expected the dramatic sight and sound of La Patrouille de France flying overhead trailing red, white and blue smoke as the riders began their first lap of the Champs Elysées. Neither had I expected the spectacular light show that bathed the Arc de Triomphe during the Ceremonie Protocolaire at the end of the race. It was simply breathtaking and I was well positioned to see both.
Le Tour de France 2013 in Les Champs Elysées:
Whether you are interested in cycling or not, or whether you speak French or not, I hope that these sounds will enable you to share in the atmosphere, the excitement and the emotion of the end of the 100th edition of Le Tour de France.
Chris Froome has had a spectacular season this year. Having finished in second place in the 2012 tour he won the Tour of Oman, the Critérium International, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné this year and now the 100th edition of the Tour de France. A brilliant performance from him and from Team Sky. One to remember.
NESTLING BEHIND A CLUSTER of trees behind the théâtre Marigny and close to the Rond-point des Champs Elysées, the puppet show, Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées, is simply entrancing.
This puppet theatre has been here since 1818 making it the oldest marionette theatre in Paris. For generations it was owned by the Guentleur family but in 1979 it was acquired by José-Luis Gonzalez who has kept it going in the original tradition, a tradition dating back to the beginning of the 19th century.
Guignol is the most popular puppet character in France and his name has become synonymous with puppet theatre. He was created in Lyon at the very end of the 18th century by Laurent Mourguet, one time silk weaver, peddler and later a dentist. Dentistry in the late 18th century was a primitive art consisting entirely of pulling teeth for free and making money by selling potions afterwards to kill the pain. Mourguet had the idea of attracting customers by setting up a puppet show in front of his dentist’s chair.
Mourguet’s first puppet shows were based on the Italian commedia dell’arte and featured Puncinella, or Punch as he’s known in England. By the turn of the century Mourguet’s shows were becoming so successful that he gave up dentistry and became a full-time puppeteer. His puppet shows took a satirical look at the concerns of his working-class audience and included references to the news of the day. This proved to be a highly successful formula which lives on today with TV shows like Spitting Image in the UK and Les Guignols de l’info in France.
Mourguet developed characters close to the daily lives of his Lyon audience, first Gnafron, a wine-loving cobbler, and in 1808 Guignol. Other characters, including Guignol’s wife Madelon and the gendarme Flagéolet soon followed, but these are never much more than foils for the two heroes.
Guignol was supposedly named after an actual Lyonnais silk worker and he was originally performed with a regional dialect and the traditional garb of a peasant.
Guignol and the puppet shows that feature him are very much a Lyonnais tradition. In Paris, les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées departs from that tradition slightly in that Guignol wears a green coat with red facings whereas in Lyon he wears brown. Also the name of the theatre, Théâtre Vrai Guignolet, is different. This is because, according the current owner, Guignolet is for him the real Guignol of Paris as opposed to the Guignol of Lyon.
Mesdames, Mesdemoiselles et Messieurs, je vous présente …
Les Marionettes des Champs Elysées:
This sound piece is an edited version of the full Marionnettes des Champs Elysées show that I recorded but you will still hear a man dressed in black sporting a moustache opening and closing the curtains, Guignol, his wife and son, a misbehaved mouse and, of course, the inevitable gendarme, Flagéolet.
These puppet shows are often thought of as just children’s entertainment – Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées is advertised as being suitable for children from 3 to 10 years of age – but they are much more than that. In Lyon they say that, “Guignol amuses children… and witty adults.” Guignol’s sharp wit and linguistic verve have always been appreciated by adults as well as children.
It’s over fifty years since I last went to a puppet show and that was a very English Punch & Judy show. When I went to see Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées I was just as excited as I was all those years ago and I probably laughed even more now than I did then.
Whether you are young or old or whether you speak French or not, I hope you will get as much pleasure from listening to Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées as I do. Guignol’s wife in particular trying to catch the mouse with cries of, “Arrête … Arrête”, reduces me to fits of laughter every time I hear it.