Despite all our protestations about avoiding the classic tourist sights we nevertheless thought we might have a quick look at the Arc and then take a stroll down the Champs-Élysées before heading off on a little expedition to find old market arcades. So it was definitely not our intention to turn up for the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month ceremony to commemorate Armistice Day but there it was with all the grand boulevards that radiate out from the arch closed off to traffic and the length of the Champs-Élysées itself lined with barriers. I don’t know whether I should have been surprised or not but there really weren’t that many people there. Although it was a weekday it was, we realised later, a public holiday so I guess a lot of normal workday traffic was absent and the folk who would normally have been working in the area safely at home. We found that some shops and businesses were still open while others were not.
There was a huge video screen set up adjacent to the arch on which we could see some of what was happening. François Hollande was the leading dignitary officiating but other faces were recognisable such Nicolas Sarkozy. Everything was of course super solemn and respectful except that at least one of the sombre suited figures only one row back from the leaders could be seen on the video-screen (certainly unknown to him) checking his mobile phone during proceedings. Particularly poignant was the reading out of the names of young French service men and women who had been killed in very recent times in various of France’s current overseas adventures. This only two days before the dreadful attacks that killed 130 in the streets, cafés, bars and venues of Paris.
Quite unexpectedly we could suddenly hear the clattering of horses hooves on the cobbles and a large troop of mounted cavalry appeared in all their finery with silver helmets each sporting a long horsetail plume, while the lead riders were playing bugles.
Having stopped, they remained stationary in front of our vantage point for a long time necessitating some quite expert horseman- and horsewoman-ship as we could see that there was a significant scattering of female soldiers amongst the troop. Finally, the ceremony over, it was time for the dignitary’s motorcade to speed back down the Champs-Élysées to whatever bolt holes they belonged in preceded by the wheeling cavalry.
Once they had departed we did stroll down the Champs-Élysées, finding it a bit uninteresting really. There were, of course, some of the big fashion names but US ones more than French, such as Tommy Hilfiger and Nike of course which always feels it has to have a shop in these sort of locations mainly for marketing purposes, I think. There were also a number of car manufacturers flagship showrooms – Renault, Citroen and Toyota for example. One could believe that they actually sold any cars there. It was all just for show. The weirdest of all though was the entrance to Abercrombie and Fitch aping European style and grandeur in the most risible parvenu style. Check it out.