Bastille Day: Marseille could do a lot better July 18, 2008Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.
France, of course, doesn’t have July 4th. But they have something very similar — Bastille day. The is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison – which is seen as the start of modern France. So, a lot like July 4th for us back in the USA. Celebration is similar: by afternoon all the stores are closed, BBQ, and lots of fireworks.
Marseille, being the second largest city in France, is no exception. The close off the Old Port to cars and it just gets mobbed with people. Families, kids, you name it – they are there. It is a big party. Except, this time it wasn’t so family friendly. Actually, it wasn’t friendly at all!
First, technical difficulties prevented the 10pm start of the fireworks. They finally went off at midnight, after a good fraction of people had given up. Fortunately, by that time, Paula and our kid had gone home to bed. They managed to catch the fireworks over the tops of buildings.
Second, groups of kids set off fireworks. These aren’t small fireworks. Big ones. Ones that will do damage to your feet if they are near. This effectively cleared out certain sections of the street down on the Old Port. This was ok – you could spot these sections and avoid them if you wanted to. What was not ok was every now and then they would lob one of these large fireworks into the crowd that was patiently waiting for the real fireworks to start!
Third, when the fireworks finally started, everyone turned to concentrate on them rather than the explosions from the kids behind us. The kids then banded together — about 50 of them — in a scrum, and charged the crowd. Their aim was to push us into the water: we were standing on the edge of the dock. The dock is only about 8 inches above the water, so this is no big deal as long as you can swim. But the kids (some small)? And people were sitting down enjoying themselves when this scrum comes trampling in? And they were harsh. The second time they charged the crowd people got fed up and fought back. It wasn’t pretty, but they left us alone after that. Where the #*#^^@^^#@ were the police? There wasn’t one to be seen anywhere at that point. It was crowd justice, pure and simple. This is not the way a real city behaves – certainly not the second largest one in all of France.
I feel bad writing that. This town’s reputation is worse than the reality. Heck, I love this town. We will most likely return next year if we can swing the money situation too. So I feel a little like I’m betraying the town. But still, I was pretty mad.
The fireworks, on the other hand, were amazing. They had a row of barges up and down the middle of the water in the port, and they shot fireworks off them, racing up and down the line. Very cool. And the old fort dripping with fire was incredible – one of the most fantastic displays I’ve ever seen. I had only a hand-held camera, but I did what I could.