Voila – what an incredible day! Today we experienced three once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: playing under the Eiffel Tower, performing a concert in the park at Notre Dame, and leading the parade at the Ravivage de la Flamme Service for the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. Life doesn’t get much better than this!
At 10.30am, we felt like naughty school kids as we headed to the Eiffel Tower, all of 2 minutes’ walk from our hotel, where we hoped to find a nice security guard who would let us play a few tunes. Alan had spoken to security from Australia and again last night, but we still hadn’t had a definite response about an exact location for our playout. In true flash-mob style we walked to the tower and set-up right underneath, in the centre of the square, and played Waltzing Matilda as a crowd quickly gathered around us to listen and take photographs. The sound of the drums and the band echoing around the tower was like nothing else. One American family had heard us from half way up the tower and their daughter had excitedly commented, ‘Look mummy, there’s a parade.’ We played around 8 pieces and finished playing just before two security guards in suits approached and told us to move out to the grass area to the side rather than being under the tower. Our timing was perfect and we had got away with our plan! It was then that we noticed three burly army/security men had moved in around us, each dressed in full army greens and carrying a mean-looking sniper gun. We stayed for a while to get lots of photos (yes there was a lot of kissing under the tower) and couldn’t believe how perfectly things had gone. What a super start to the day; the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky and the band spirit was high.
After returning to the hotel and packing all the percussion equipment in a coach, we headed to Notre Dame Cathedral where we set up in the outdoor rotunda to perform a concert to all those relaxing in the park. We had a wonderful audience who clapped, cheered and took selfies with us it the background. We even had a security guard who requested people move away – haha, how famous! Some little French school children came and sat on the steps to watch and we even had a groupie, Doug, from Fish Creek who found us on his first day in Paris. As the band members sweltered in the open rotunda, sunscreen was frantically passed around and our band supporters provided a continual stream of cold water bottles. One highlight was Craig playing Roses de Picardie, a famous French tune, and hearing the audience singing over the top of the band. Many listeners meandered through the park, with others sitting on benches in the shade or approaching band members and supporters to find out more about our tour. Wally made the comment, ‘Wow, I could not be happier right now’, and he was right, it had been an incredible day for our band in a beautiful city.
From Notre Dame we were driven straight to the Arc de Triomphe where we were dropped off along the Champs Elysees (how posh), the famous avenue leading up to the Arc. Amazingly, we would be the fourth non-French band in 120 years to lead the procession and music at the national service of the Ravivage de la Flamme in honour of the Unknown Solider at the Arc de Triomphe. What an honour. Mr. Eric Brisse, the Musical Director of the Amiens Brass Band, had initiated the involvement of our band in this honoured, annual event, and for this, we thank him greatly. The Arc de Triomphe was built by Napolean between 1806 and 1836 in honour of those who fought in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War 1, symbolic all soldiers who fought for France and died during the war.
Upon arrival, our Musical Director, Drum Major and wreath layers were ushered through an underground walkway to an official’s office deep under the Arc, in which around 15 officials, ministers and ‘important people’ were jammed in for a briefing session prior to the service. Our crew was then taken upstairs to the flame to discuss the band’s positioning and role throughout the service. A big thank you to Eric Brisse for translating for us so that we had some idea of what the plan would be! Upon returning to the band, we formed in band formation and waited with interest to see how the police could possibly stop the hundreds of cars that drive around the Arc de Triomphe roundabout 10-abreast without lanes so that we could march across the massive road…. and live! There are 12 avenues joining the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe, and in the case of an accident, both parties are considered 50% responsible in regards to insurance, no matter what the circumstances.
When the signal was given and the cars were stopped from each direction, we led members of the French Army, veterans and dignitaries on the march along the cobblestones of the Champs Elysees towards one of the world’s most famous landmarks. We played Waltzing Matilda as we had done in the Whit Friday Contest in Saddleworth, to a crowd of thousands. Phil, our Drum Major, was incredulous about how we were going to possibly make it across the roundabout, on to the service area, then perform a right wheel (right turn), countermarch to turn ourselves around, then halt whilst still playing for those still marching in, but somehow we did it perfectly. No-one tripped on the bumpy and slippery cobblestones or small step in the playing area, everyone managed to squeeze through the entrance gates whilst still playing, and more importantly, no-one was run over.
14 year old Brandon Salter from Traralgon was chosen to carry the French flag throughout the service; a task which we were informed was an incredibly great honour and something that no other international participant has ever been invited to do. The service was lovely and involved many young children presenting flowers around a flame which burns at the centre of the service. Young Lachlan Wilson and Tracy Olivier from our band were chosen to present the City of Traralgon wreath and another wreath along with Australian Army Major Simon Patching and the Latrobe City Mayor, Cr. Dale Harriman, which was a very great honour and proud moment. Dale marched with the official party and performed all official duties with pride.
Following the service our band continued to play marches whilst the official parties, including the mayors, met with the children and guests and had official photographs. Our band was given the opportunity to have photos at the memorial and with the dignitaries and the sniper guards. We also had a Gippsland Grammar Old Scholars photo, as 11 of our bandsmen and women are ex-students of the Gippsland Grammar Music School.
We were blessed to have been an integral part of this national annual service and thank Eric for this unbelievable opportunity. None of us could have ever imagined that the City of Traralgon Band would stop the traffic at the Arc de Triomphe and contribute in such a profound way in remembrance of the Unknown Soldier, who represents all those lost in WWI. This was a very fitting end to the solemn part of our journey through France.
Other highlights from the past 24 hours include:
- We met with the lovely Lauren Hill, daughter of Sue and Daryl, who is holidaying in Paris before starting a Contiki Tour next week. Brass Band Tours are the new Contikis, Lauren!
- Brad met an American trumpet player in the lift and he even knew what a baritone is. Bless him.
- Brad also accidentally met the local hashish dealer on the streets on his first night.
- Poor Brad was also skun by a clown who expected payment of €10 for taking photographs with them. I think we might leave you at the hotel next time Brad!
- Kim took a photo of men involved in illegal gambling on the streets and was harassed until she convinced them that she had deleted the photo. I will post it for you all to see later ;0
- Nelson argued with a taxi driver regarding fare price.
- Ali was grabbed by an illegal street vendor but was luckily okay.
- Jennie also shared a fascinating story of an ancestor which she had had only learnt about when meeting with a cousin in the past week. Jennie and Neil had met up with Jennie’s relative Jackie and her friend Marion (from Liverpool) whilst in Manchester. Jackie’s grandmother was the sister of Jennie’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Lovelady. Jennie found out how her great-grandmother was quite an adventurous person for her time. In a note to the blog, Jennie wrote: ‘She was born into a strict catholic family in Liverpool, and when she grew up she trained to become a nurse. She worked as a nurse on a cruise ship, and there she met the famous (and somewhat licentious) artist Aubrey Beardsley. Eventually, Elizabeth became Aubrey Beardsley’s private nurse. She must have had some influence in Beardsley’s life because she persuaded him to convert from being a Protestant to being a Catholic – a big thing in those days. When Elizabeth eventually resigned from her employment, Beardsley was so grateful that he gave her one of his drawings (probably worth hundreds of thousands of pounds today). Elizabeth brought the drawing home to her strict Catholic family and the various family members were shocked by the nudity and what they saw as licentiousness in the picture. Elizabeth’s older sister, who according to Jackie’s grandmother was very severe and ruled over all her sisters, took the picture and burnt it.’ The meeting was very beneficial from Jennie’s perspective. She finally met Jackie and Marion, whom she had been looking forward to meeting for a very long time, and found out this interesting news about her spirited great-grandmother.
Sadly, we have only one more full day on tour. After such a jam-packed and thrilling day today, tomorrow will no doubt be a big day spent cramming in all the city hightlights and attractions before our departure on Saturday.