15 July 2009


It's July 15th. The summer solstice was almost a month ago. Memorial Day was nearly a month before that. Our first (and thankfully only, so far) real heat wave here in Paris was 2 weeks ago. We've been eating insanely luscious cantaloupe for 3 weeks. Summer vacances here started in earnest for many here about July 6, and Bastille Day yesterday is when a good number of the hold-outs will have pulled the rip-cord.

But summer on av Henri Martin didn't start until this evening, with the year's first bowls of ripe heirloom tomato pasta. Over the past half decade or so, this has been our go-to summer dinner, the combination of real tomatoes, a little garlic, peppery olive oil and fresh herbs, all uncooked and tossed with hot just-drained pasta and eaten voraciously, never getting old. Sometimes we add a little parmesan, or toasted pine nuts, or black olives, or fresh fish or even canned tuna. Tonight it was just 1 red, 1 orange, and 1 green tomato, 1 clove of garlic, a glug of olive oil, and a generous batch of basil from our balcony. Oh, and some wonderfully minty/menthol-y ground pepper. Yea, summer.

Summer in a bowl.

We've had some gorgeous days here, lately. The view off the balcony in the evening, with the strongly directional light, can be arresting. Hard to believe we really live here, sometimes.

Summer out the window.

Speaking of Bastille Day, or locally just the 14th of July, we joined the throngs of humanity near the Arc de Triomphe for the much-anticipated air show in the morning at 10:35, which preceded the military parade. The air show was about 8 groups of planes, starting with fighter jets streaming red, white, and bleu, then an AWACS aircraft, then progressively older planes including WWII-era bombers and early prop fighter planes. Pretty cool aircraft, and it would have been really interesting if you got to see them for more than 4 seconds. We kept waiting for them to make a turn and come back around for another viewing, to do some maneuvers, or, frankly, anything. But no-- that was it. For all we know they've made it to Tokyo by now.

The parade was pre-assembled in the space surrounding the Arc, the roads choked with military vehicles ready to roll. It kind of looked like Paris was occupied, even if it was just by the French, themselves. I haven't ever been to a 4th of July celebration in Washington DC, but I don't generally think of the parades as being military affairs. This seemed more like something one would expect in a May Day celebration than what I assumed a July 14th parade would be like. My recollection of French history is that they stormed the prison at Bastille that day in revolt, eventually getting around to beheading their king, destroying a bunch of churches, silencing bells, and otherwise trying to remodel French society before changing their minds and reinstalling another king. It's not like it was a big military operation. Maybe the military parade is a demonstration that no such shenanigans will be tolerated in the near future?

Like any good celebration, the evening included fireworks, the major set going off around the Eiffel Tower, 120 years old this year. We had a great view from our balcony, and they did a really great job of making use of La Tour itself as a scaffold for some of the charges, shooting them off the top and from the sides. Halfway through the 30-min show, we heard competing booming from the opposite direction, coming from another set of fireworks in the west, maybe in the Bois de Boulogne, or from one of the near suburbs, like Neuilly. We spent the rest of the show watching back and forth, heads pivoting like spectators at a tennis match. Great seats for a very good show.

The Eiffel Tower amid fireworks.

The mystery fireworks.

But my favorite part of the whole thing is the French word for firework, which I learned just yesterday: feu d'artifice (fake fire). How cool is that?

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