Bastille Day!

Bastille Day! We were looking forward to being in France for their national holiday. For years, we have watched the Tour de France and heard the announcers always say what a magical day it was. The entire countryside would be in full celebration of Bastille Day on the 14th of July. We didn’t really know what they were celebrating, but we knew we wanted to be part of this tradition.

In France they actually don’t call it Bastille Day, much to our confusion. It is Fête Nationale or 14th of July. What are they celebrating? Liberty, fraternity, equality. On this day in 1789, peasants stormed the Bastille (a prison/munitions storage) and released prisoners and blew stuff up. But it is pretty confusing as to what Bastille Day actually is. The Wikipedia article says that the date is actually the year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and the holiday is marking the successful end of the revolution (as it would turn out, the revolution lasted a few more years and became much more bloody). One of our French friends finds it strange that a date celebrating the ideals of the revolution (Liberty, fraternity, equality) by having a huge military parade down the Champs Elysees.

But we got up early and Amy had 2 goals: see a giant French flag hanging beneath the Arc de Triomphe and see the French fighter jets fly over the Arc leaving contrails of red, blue, and white (colors of the French flag). We accomplished both before noon. We found our way to a back entrance to the parade, and it ended up working really well. We didn’t see the parade, but got to see a lot of military vehicles queue up. It was pretty cool.


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IMG_1271After the flyover we headed back to pack up and clean up the apartment. Amy was going to do the Sunday Skate at 2:30. They shut down a section of the streets of Paris for nearly 10,000 skaters to go through the streets. Everyone meets up around the Bastille (nothing to see, just a statue now) and heads out with a police escort both in front and behind. Amy was nervous but excited; Nathan was nervous to see his wife go off with thousands of strangers.

Normally they do between 20-25 kilometers (12-15 miles). It was blazing hot. About 90 degrees and sunny. Pretty early in the ride, Amy found a group of women with quad skates, she asked if they did roller derby and of course they did. They were part of another league in Paris. Amy was very thankful for their company. At the halfway point, Amy headed back to the Bastille. They still had another 1 1/2 hours and we had a party to get to. It turns out that the derby girls suggested Amy take the subway part of the way back because the roads weren’t good to skate on. Adventure! She didn’t have any shoes, so navigating the subway in skates was very fun and a lot scary.

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IMG_1285Amy was exhausted after her skating adventures, but we still had a full day ahead of us. We had to finish packing up all of our gear and make sure to leave the apartment nice and tidy and then bring all of our gear to a roller derby party. Viking (yes, a derby name) invited us to a BBQ at his house. We got there some time around 7pm and entered the party zone. They had been celebrating since 1:30pm and there were a lot of bottles strewn about and a ton of young French people crowded into a not so big backyard.


Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. It’s always a little awkward because we really don’t know anyone, but we tried to chat with some of the Panam roller guys. It was a big derby party with at least 3 Paris leagues represented. We arrived shortly after the ketchup and shaving cream fight. Some how we were okay with that. We hung out for over an hour and talked of politics (mainly US and French), continually amazed at how well many Europeans have an extensive knowledge of American politics compared to our understanding of theirs.

We left the revelry of the party and headed back to Julian and Michelle’s who invited us for dinner for boeuf bourguignon. We were exhausted from our very busy day, but were incredibly grateful for their hospitality and incredible food. It was a wonderful way to end Bastille Day. We heard the fireworks, but didn’t try and find a view; we kicked back and enjoyed good wine and conversation.


Rodin, Resistance and Roller Derby

IMG_0901We started our second museum pass day off by heading to the Rodin Museum. Amy seemed to be getting sicker, but she toughed it out. We wandered through the beautiful outdoor gardens dotted with sculptures by the master Auguste Rodin. Some we had seen before (The Thinker) as Rodin created multiple bronze castings of his works. We were in the midst of the city but it felt like we were miles away – it is very peaceful.

Among the sculptures outside is a series of infographics on walls giving the history of the museum and of Rodin. Basically, when he became well known and wealthy, he bought the property, which was a run down convent, and transformed it into his home and studio. Towards the end of his life he worked with the State to bequeath many of his works and the property itself to the people, on the condition that it would be maintained and open as a museum.

IMG_0905That’s all great and everyone benefits from seeing this master’s works. But Nathan says: too bad Rodin was a creeper and cheated on his wife. And Amy encourages Nathan: stop reading about any of these artists’ lives. And Nathan says: I really want to know who I can look up to both for their work and how they lived their lives!

Inside the museum are many more sculptures, maquettes, studies, and more. There is a whole room of beautiful marble sculptures. We particularly like how Rodin leaves much of the sculpture roughly shaped, with the more polished figures emerging from the stone as if they were being born from or discovered inside it.

IMG_0911Next up was Napoleon’s tomb and the Army Museum. Napoleon is an interesting character. We have heard that he specified the construction of his tomb to be such that visitors would have to bow before his remains as they looked over the railing. The building that houses the tomb is very impressive.

Amy was excited to see some of the French history of WWI and WWII, but also of post-colonial France and their involvement in Vietnam. We saw impressive displays, many of which were interactive, documenting the rise of war across first Europe and then much of the rest of the world.

IMG_0924It always had seemed like France had just laid down to Hitler during WWII, but French resistence was all around. Much of it was headquartered in London, by famous leaders like Charles de Gaulle. While Vichy France isn’t celebrated, it perhaps isn’t as villified as it once had been. The Vichy government was a puppet of Hitler that allowed the Nazis free reign in France, but also ended up protecting the lives of many French citizens. They believed their choice to be: 1) fight and be destroyed, or 2) comply and survive.

From a WWII bomber. Anyone see a resemblance to a certain movie?
From a WWII bomber. Anyone see a resemblance to a certain movie?

IMG_3498After the Army Museum we walked over to Rue Cler for lunch at Cafe du Marche, recommended by Rick Steves in his Paris guidebook that we’ve been using a lot. Amy ordered a “salad” (in case we haven’t mentioned it yet, the French have a very loose definition of what constitutes a salad, as you can see by the photo – the top dish is the salad). Nathan ordered duck confit. Both were good, though we prefered the food from the other cafe we had tried on Rue Cler.

We headed back to the apartment shortly after lunch, to rest before roller derby practice. So Amy decided that on this long trip to Paris and Europe that she couldn’t live without her roller derby gear. She contacted a local league, the Paris Roller Girls, and they said she could practice with them. Everything was awesome so far.

IMG_0933In the derby community it is common for a skater to skate with other leagues while she is in their town. Amy wanted to do the same. PRG’s player-coach Cherry Lielie tried to set up a few skates with the PRG (they just finished their season with a double header in Dublin, winning both bouts) but it didn’t work out.

Cherry is also the coach of the Paris men’s roller derby Panam Squad and invited Amy to practice with them. It was amazing. All of the guys and girls were so nice and their English impeccable.

Most leagues practice outside in various open areas. Of course these areas are popular with all sorts of skaters and so once again Amy found herself in the middle of the roller hockey-roller derby showdown for space. The Panam squad even had chaulked the pavement, but the hockey people were having none of it and kicked us to a smaller area with more glass. Yay! In roller derby you have to adjust quickly and so we did, clearing away glass and drawing a new track on the pavement and then getting right to practice. It was hard, but a ton of fun.

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After an hour or so of really tough drills mainly working in the pack and how to block as a pack and in partners, the guys were ready to scrimmage.  I had my very first opportunity to referee.  I was a jammer ref and I was awful.  I do think that all derby girls should try their hand at refereeing to both better learn the rules and see what a difficult job it is to be a ref.  I asked the roller derby girls who were there if anyone ever yelled at the refs.  They looked at me like I was crazy.  Of course they don’t.  All of the refs are their friends and they are just volunteering, so why would you yell at them?  Let’s just say, I’ve felt a bit convicted.  There are many leagues in Paris and so the girls volunteer at the guys’ practice to ref and vice versa.  What a great system!

After practice, we went to a nearby Asian cafe and had wonderful beer and bobun (a delightful noodle soup deliciousness with chopped up egg roll on top).  It was a great night.  Yet another derby community that doesn’t disappoint.  The Panam guys and Cherry and Heloise (also jam refereeing) welcomed me in and taught me a lot.