Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Bastille Day

I know - Bastille Day was last Wednesday, 14th July. Of course, an American would write the date differently, as July 14. Very few people over here (and I include continentals) would write the day as month, day, year in the way Americans do. The main exception is the newspaper industry, which seems determined for some reason to hang on to what I always think is an illogical way to express the date. I've never understood why anyone would write it the American way. After all, we don't express time as hour, second, minute. But never mind - I'm digressing into something of absolutely no importance - and probably of no interest either!

Last Wednesday was the first time we have ever been in France on Bastille Day, although I think the French now more generally refer to the day as simply 14th July, and we were interested to see what form the celebrations would take. On the way down to La Prévière we pass through the city of Rouen. The city straddles the River Seine with a multitude of bridges and we noticed that one of them was decorated several days early. I managed to take a quick snap while waiting at traffic lights.

According to a poster we saw, there were going to be fireworks but we agreed it would involve far too long a drive for us to see them.

Nothing appeared to have been arranged for La Prévière, but I noticed on an information board outside the town hall in the town of Pouancé that they were planning a firework display. This would start at 11.00pm in La Fuye (a field opposite the castle) and would be preceded by a fanfare starting a procession from the town hall at 10.00pm. Given that Pouancé is only a couple of miles from La Prévière, this seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

Our first few days saw blue skies and temperatures of 30+ (that's 90 or so in old money), which is hot as far as we are concerned, but on Bastille Day I threw open the shutters to find the sky full of cloud. The rain started just before 9.00am and continued all morning. In fact, about lunchtime it seemed to have reached monsoon-like intensity. I rang the village restaurant to book a table for the evening, convinced that the usual lengthy meal would not stop us watching the fireworks as there was no way the display could go ahead in that weather. Nicolas, the restaurateur, asked if we intended watching the fireworks, saying that he planned to take his younger son to see them.

Blue skies returned in the afternoon, and the service at the restaurant was quicker than we have ever known so we had no difficulty in getting to Pouancé in time.

La Fuye is a field which slopes gently down to a lake, on the far side of which there is a road skirting the walls of the castle. It was to be from the castle itself that the fireworks would be fired. Not only did we reach the field in time, we were actually very early. This, of course, meant that we were able to select a good spot to sit as dusk fell. The selection of music being played over the loudspeakers was not entirely to our taste, being French pop music which is usually pretty tuneless to our ears, but it did help to create an atmosphere - and was distinctly preferable to the band which led the procession onto the field at about 10.40. We had had the dubious pleasure of listening to a few of the members of the band on a previous occasion. The cacophony produced by the band at full strength was increased enormously from that of the two buglers and three drummers we had encountered before. It was something of a relief when the band stopped their attempts at playing and the French pop music restarted.

It was only a few minutes after the pop music resumption that it started to rain. Most people - but not us - had brought umbrellas and we resigned ourselves to getting wet while being unable to see anything of the forthcoming fireworks because of all the umbrellas. But it was only a brief, very light shower, and not that the fireworks would be forthcoming in the immediate future even though it was by now only about five to eleven. Eleven o'clock came and went and the DJ started getting agitated, watching the castle with a radio transmitter/received clamped to his ear. It was a French 11.00pm, ie 11.13, before the castle floodlights, the street lights along the foot of the castle walls and the temporary lights on La Fuye were extinguished. What followed was a superb display. At one time the castle was lit from within the walls by red fireworks to look as if the place was burning.

Having been involved for 25 years with the fireworks displays laid on by Brighton Lions (rated by The Times newspaper as one of the ten best displays in the country) I think I know a good display when I see one. And this was good. It lasted about 20 minutes - and was completely free of charge, laid on by the local authority. Small wonder that there was a crowd of 4,000-5,000 people - more than the entire population of the town!


#1Nana said...

It sounds lovely. Our fireworks here in eastern Oregon are shot off from the county fairgrounds...alas, we don't have a castle!

I have yet to visit France and
I envy your experience.

Brighton Pensioner said...

Nana, you will find a picture of the castle on my old blog here.