Updated: Mar 3, 2021
On July 14th, we were in Nancy when Le Quatorze Juillet parade started with a bang. Air Force jets appeared suddenly, flying low over the buildings. They filled the air with noise and were gone before you could tell what was happening. Boom! Whoosh! The ceremonies had begun.
The army band began playing, and military units marched past the reviewing stand, followed by a long line of tanks, missile launchers, and other pieces of military might. The crowd was still vibrating from the jets when helicopters gently followed their path. The veterans were honored during a brief ceremony, and then the fire department appeared. The crowd applauded, and the military saluted as les pompiers marched past, leading a parade of bright, shiny red trucks. A fire department band finished up, exiting the square and disappearing onto waiting buses. Just as suddenly as it had started, the parade was over. This parade was as short as the July 14th parade we watched last year in Epernay. That parade marched around a roundabout, and this parade marched in one corner of Place Stanislas and out the other. As the crowd dispersed, we followed the locals' lead and strolled over to a nearby restaurant for lunch. While enjoying our meal, we pondered the differences between French and American parades.
At 8:30 that night, we returned to Place Stanislas for a program of music and fireworks. When we arrived, all of the cafés were already full, and we felt lucky to find a table. We thought that our seats were pretty good, as we were sitting next to the wall of the café, a little higher than everyone else, and we had a view of the whole square. We were hoping that we would have a good view of the fireworks too.
We watched the square fill up as darkness fell.
The band was good, but we had to laugh when they began their show celebrating France's national holiday with Mac the Knife. They played for a long time before we heard their first French song.
We were happily ensconced at our table, enjoying the music and watching all of the activity, while the waiters were busy trying to keep up with the crowd, which kept expanding. Friends found friends, carrying extra chairs from one table to another to squeeze in together. New tables and chairs kept appearing, spreading the café further out into the square. We were captivated by the scene when suddenly all of the lights went out, and KABOOM! An explosion filled the sky.
What was happening? Everyone around us was suddenly running for cover. Burning embers were falling from the sky. Our ears were still ringing from the noise of the explosion as we watched the waiters race to crank in the awnings before they caught fire. From our seats against the wall of the café, where the overhanging roof protected us from most of the falling flames, we could see the crowd staring over our heads with their mouths open. Cautiously, we looked up and saw that the fireworks were exploding directly over our heads. We should have been afraid, but we couldn't stop laughing. It was all so daringly French and so different from our American fireworks experiences.
Like Dorothy in Oz, we knew that we weren't in Kansas anymore.