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Has it really been ten years since we welcomed the Millennium in Paris? The years have flown by, filled with many visits to France, which inspired the beginning of our Music and Markets Tours business with the inaugural tour in Provence in 2003, dozens of new friends in this inviting country, and even the purchase of a village house in the south of France. The helpful advice gleaned from Bonjour Paris, and the encouragement and friendship of Karen Fawcett have been of great influence in all of these adventures – merci beaucoup!
We’re in Paris once more to celebrate a decade of the new millennium, right where we started it!
Reminisce with us – with our very first Bonjour Paris article, dated January 1, 2000 – on that magical time that just seems like yesterday:
“The City of Light dazzles the eye even more than usual on this millennium eve. At my first glimpse of Paris, coming up from the Metro at Place de la Concorde, a familiar shiver of excitement runs down my spine–we’re here again! The huge roue de Paris, a 185 foot high Ferris wheel, grabs my attention first, then off to the right the rows of glittering trees leading the way down the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, and always, the piece de resistance, the beautifully illuminated Eiffel Tower, glowing golden in the night sky.
What better way to appreciate it all than from above? My husband, Kirk, and I join a young couple in one of the gondolas and swing up above the sparkling city. Oohs and aahs drift through the air as we eagerly look out over the festive city, its monuments decked with lights for the millennial celebrations. Those shrouded Ferris wheels lined up down the Champs look interesting–wonder what they’ll be tomorrow at midnight? We join the crowds below and walk along the sparkling street, peering through the crowds at the varied structures. One has a cow theme–a large papier-mâché one surrounded by several black and white plastic “blow-up” toys. Another is edged with world monuments–the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Great Wall of China, and others. There are several simple windmills, a huge wheel of bells and drums, and a bandstand of percussionists rehearsing for the big night.
The next morning we drive into town from our hotel in the outskirts. After our first 2 reservations in downtown Paris fell through, this is where we ended up–glad to get a room even this close! Our plan is to park near the center so we’ll be able to drive back to the hotel after celebrating in town. Leaving the car several stories underground in a garage in the Opera district, we hope that the elevator, parking gates, and automatic payment booth will actually work after the turn of the century.
Now on to scout out our spot for viewing the Eiffel Tower midnight magic…
Walking around the corner onto Boulevard Montmartre, I’m distracted by the charming Passage Jouffroy, one of Paris’ early 19th century precursors of the shopping mall. It houses an eclectic mixture of small shops–so many interesting things! Several hundred francs later, we’re on the Metro. Surfacing at Trocadero, there’s the tower–fading upward into the mist. 12 hours ‘til 2000, the display reminds us. We pick our spot for tonight–beneath the Passay metro overpass, along the Seine, and hope that not too many thousand others pick the same place too!
Later, in the evening, we walk along the festive and crowded streets of the Latin Quarter to the tiny 12th century church of St. Julian le Pauvre. Les Trompettes de Paris are on the program for tonight. They delight the capacity audience with the pure notes of baroque trumpets, accompanied by a reproduction organ of the same period. Opening with Vivaldi, always a crowd-pleaser, they continue with Bach, Telemann, and Handel, interspersed with lovely arrangements of seasonal carols.
From the serene, candlelit church, we stroll along the narrow cobbled streets of one of the oldest sections of town, and pass St Severins, another beautiful old church. The rumbling tones of its massive pipe organ surge invitingly into the street as people enter the sanctuary. “Let’s look inside,” suggests Kirk – and we walk into one of Paris’ most beautiful churches.
Tonight it’s filled with parishioners participating in the final mass of the millennium. I’m delighted by the elegant simplicity of the interior, and the heartfelt participation of the audience. Using the song sheet we were given as we entered, we can even sing along with the choral responses. Delicate papier-mâché angels “float”, hanging on invisible string, above the chancel, and candles nestle against the wide columns, backed by a unique second row of twisted, tree-like pillars.
Out on the street once more, we stop at a tempting window and order a “take-away” pita sandwich to eat on the way to the party at the tower. We’re entertained by a street performer twirling chains ending in balls of fire, cheered on by passers by.
At about 10 we get to “our spot” at the Passy Metro. Police have blocked off the side of the bridge where we’d hoped to stand – but on the right bank we find a convenient bar to sit on with a great view of the tower. Where are the countdown numbers?? How will we know when it’s 0 hour?? We find out that the clock stopped around 7 PM, and revelers are supposed to check their watches to know when midnight arrives. Too bad–I was really looking forward to that countdown!
The crowd gets thicker and thicker, and the police, part of a greatly increased force of 73,000 gendarmes, and soldiers, have their hands full keeping party-ers off of the bridge. Even in the crush, everyone’s happy, smiling–the party’s in the streets!
The group next to us is from Puglia, in southern Italy–up for a 3-day celebration. “Why Paris?” I ask. Because it’s the best party around! I agree! We check our watches–whose is right? It’s getting close, uncork the champagne, get ready!
Suddenly the tower explodes with fountains of light at the base–looking like a rocket launch. The crowd roars, the confetti flies, and the champagne flows….and the show just gets better as the stunning fireworks climb up the tower, level by level, each one more breathtaking than the last. A sky full of fireworks sets the night aflame.
Bonne Année! Tanti Auguri! Happy New Year!
What could top this?? But the mayor has invited everyone to walk to the Champs Élysées to see what the wheels are doing…so off we go, with the tens of thousands of Paris’ guests for the night. Step carefully – the streets are layered with confetti, streamers, broken champagne bottles, and a firework or two. Sirens warn us of a police cavalcade approaching from the rear…and we watch the policemen in the back of the busses toasting each other with their own bottles of champagne.
The “world wheels” down the center of the Champs Élysées are turning – one with giant confetti tumbling around inside netting as a truck laden with 50 or more horns serenades the crowd. The simple windmills we had wondered about are transformed into fire spinners, or mysteriously lit snow-twirlers, sending puffs of white to drift down on the street. It feels like ALL of the invited millions have indeed come for the party. In fact, we’re carried along by the packed crowd, sometimes pressed into the boarded up windows of the cafes along the street.
Enough of this! I’d like to see those fascinating wheels in action, but not at this cost – it’s even hard to breathe! So we walk over a block and window shop at Cartier, Hermes, Nina Ricci, and the like ‘til we get to a more passable section of the Champs. By now all the Metros are closed, and the streets remain full of party-ers walking home. Our route takes us down Haussman, past the entertaining windows of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, busy with richly costumed fairies and playful animated scenes of 3rd millennium imaginations. The sheets of lights hanging above us are the prettiest street decorations we’ve seen–trust the Grand Magasins to do it up right!!
All ages walk along, even little ones still up at 2 am, though some sleep on their parents shoulders. We stop to call our daughter in the States. They’ve been watching the celebrations in Paris on TV, telling two-year-old Cassidy that that’s where Gran and Granddaddy are. As she watches the fireworks sparkle, the announcer says “and now, the Grand Finale!” Cassidy hears “Gran” and is sure he’s talking about HER Gran, right there on TV! Getting close, she looks for me in the crowd. Yes, sweetie, I’m there – and the image of that sparkling Eiffel Tower will forever remind me of our dazzling entry into the new millennium, right here in the City of Light.”
A decade ago the only lodging we could find (see above) was a hotel on the outskirts of the city. This year, we’re in the ancient heart of the city, on Ile Saint Louis in one of the loveliest apartments we’ve ever seen – A Fine Taste of Paris.
A decade ago we watched the fireworks from across the Seine. This year we were even closer, at the home of one of those wonderful friends we’ve met over the last ten years right beside the Eiffel Tower – quite a bit quieter and less crowded!
We’re looking forward to even more France in the next decade.
Kirk and I send our best wishes for 2010 to our fellow Francophiles of Bonjour Paris.
Anne Woodyard has written about food and travel for France Today, Dream of Italy, and BonjourParis. She and her husband are the founders of Music and Markets tours, through which they introduce others to the wonders of Europe.
Photo credit: TalkingTree/Flickr Creative Commons.