Fifteen or sixteen years ago I was in and out of France on an almost weekly basis, staying for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, driving my own car and crossing the Channel to my then home in England by the mighty hovercraft (methinks an idea for another blog topic!). One of these years (and I can’t work out which), I was over here when Armistice Day fell on a working day and, since I was unable to work that day, I took advantage of being in Paris and went to see the ceremony at the Arc de Triumphe. As I remember it, I was concerned about the masses of crowds likely to arrive there so I made my way there to arrive before 9 (anyone who knows me knows that this was an unlikely event in itself). As it was, I seem to remember that I was virtually the only one there behind a load of typical french crowd barriers. Eventually the world started to arrive and we settled down to the French version of the ceremony held in London at the Cenotaph with massed bands, armed forces
and the like marching up the Champs Elysees. Finally, just before 11 an amroured car arrived and out stepped President Mitterand and took the 2 minutes silence.
After that, the massed groups reversed their march
on the Arc de Triumphe and we all dispersed. All the photos were taken on negative or slide film which I scanned into digital format about 2 years ago and show the improvement in photography made possible by digital cameras…It looks a cold grey day and various umbrellas are in evidence although I recall little more of the event.
This year I decided to repeat the exercise since it is much easier to do now thet I live in Paris itself. A friend and ex-colleague took me up on the offer to come along as well. My visitors from the weekend had decided finally to see the ceremony from Thiepval in the Somme rather than return to Paris itself.
So all set last night with camera bag pre-packed, and alarm set. The radio came on at 7 with the French news station France-Info including an interesting item about the French President Sarkozy moving the principle ceremony at the last moment to Douaumont near Verdun, a sufficiently insensitive move that the German Chancellor discovered that her diary did not leave space for her to attend…
But never mind, there was sure to be some sort of ceremony at the Arc de Triumphe….Onwards (via the local boulangerie for pain au chocolate and chausson aux pommes) and down to the métro where….the line going to the Arc de Triumphe is shut…which is good since it implies that something is going to happen. When we finally arrive at the Arc at about 9 there are a number of tourists around and actually under the arch itself. After 20 minutes of seeing nothing official at all, we went over to the arch and I enquired of one of the ticket people….No Monsieur, nothing is happening here today until about 6 when there is a small ceremony…
So no parade, no relighting of the eternal flame (if it is eternal, why does it require to be re-lit?), no 2 minutes silence and no pomp and ceremony.
I rather preferred 1992 even without the digital photographs, however it was a glorious day and worth getting up to enjoy a quiet Paris in mid November, but M. Sarkozy, please bring the ceremony back to Paris next year please!