Wednesday July 14, 2016 – Day 18 Part Two – Paris, France, Bastille Day – Mormon Tabernacle Choir European Tour Journal ~
After having an amazing visit to the Anne Frank House this morning, we ate our final breakfast in Marriott’s beautiful church-turned-dining-hall, and then said farewell to Amsterdam. Our next agenda item was a 5 1/2 hour drive to Paris!
Our bus whisked us away on the same autobahn we took to Rotterdam yesterday, so we got a second chance for a legible windmill photo. I managed one . I am pleased to report that Netherlanders also have access to vast supplies of inexpensive furniture. That store just seemed so out of place wedged in the middle of rolling pastoral landscapes filled with serene cows and windmills…
About half way to our destination, our drivers had to take a scheduled 20 minute rest stop and we were all allowed to leave the bus. About 100 people from 2 buses converged on the little convenience store – and the pay toilets. I scored a front spot in line for the toilets, and then bought some snacks – using my 50 cent Euro toilet credit coupon. [brilliant idea – why doesn’t that catch on in the US?].
I just have one question. Seriously, Mentos? You’ve been holding out Choco-Caramel from me all this time? But, why?!?
For some reason this ride didn’t feel very long to me. I think I may have taken a short nap in there – but, honestly who cares about a little driving when you are going to PARIS! I mean – the real live PARIS, people!! Only a few hours from PARIS!! I’ve dreamed of seeing this city all of my life, and now it it is finally coming true. Whoo Hoo! Did I mention we are going to PARIS?!
I guess I expected to suddenly come around a bend and see the majestic Eiffel Tower, but the reality was less romantic and more mundane. I saw some high rise apartments, and a cement freeway. And a building that had both the French and the American flag. Embassy? School? Don’t know.
We arrived at the lovely Marriott Rive Gauché Hotel. And when I say “we” I mean all 12 Buses and 600+ of us. It is the first time on this tour that we are all staying in the same hotel. Each city there have been small groups placed in a second hotel nearby. This one is actually large enough to accommodate our ENTIRE group. It is located in a tree-lined suburban area of Paris.
But, having enough rooms is one thing. Having enough elevators… yeah, never gonna happen. Mr.Mo and I were on the 7th Floor. We made the big mistake of waiting in a long line until we finally realized we could just heft the cases and take the stairs so much quicker. Which is what we did.
We had just enough time to check out our small, but cozy room [and we got a King sized bed, so we can’t complain] and leave our bags. We make our way down to the Grand Ballroom for dinner. This is our “Last Supper” together as an entire group on this tour. So, it’s a special event. Barry our Tour manager has been hinting for several days that we “won’t want to miss the Paris Dinner”. He was right. They really spoiled us! The huge ballroom had scenes from old French movies playing on the walls and everything was decorated very artsy The food! Oh my. I feel like all I have done is eat for 3 weeks. I thought of limiting myself tonight to just the Onion Soup and some Salad… but then there was the chef making homemade Eclairs for us.
I was done for.
During dinner, Barry Anderson [Tour Manager] shared some of the many miracles that happened behind-the-scenes for this epic musical missionary tour experience to be able to all come together. He talked about the logistics and some of the major hurdles that they weren’t sure would be overcome to allow us to be here. And then, how everything started to fall into place. The only regret was that we could not perform in Paris as was originally planned, due to losing our venue. But, everything has gone so smoothly during this tour which is a reflection of the huge 4 year undertaking it was to plan.
Our sweet President Jarrett stood and spoke to us and became emotional when he talked about the amazing miracles that we have seen. He shared a story about one of the area representatives who told him with tears in his eyes;
“we love the church, we love the gospel, but we are few in number, and building the Kingdom here is difficult work. Sometimes, we just feel so lonely.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for loving us enough to come to us.”
Those kind of sentiments have been repeated and echoed many times over on this tour. President is anxious for the Choir and Orchestra to go to many more people at home and abroad to help strengthen them. So, we are feeling very hopeful and excited about the possibility of another International Tour in our future. We don’t know when or where – but, we know that the Lord is opening up more doors and will direct our path.
Mr. Mo was feeling ill again and had a fever. We had some Tylenol, but he needed some stronger medication. After talking to several Choir members I returned to the room with Zinc pills, special herbal lozenges, cough and cold medicines, etc. I made him take it ALL, and then he went straight to bed. We were on the verge of a tragedy! 30 years ago when he was on his mission the city of Paris was not in his mission boundaries and he was not allowed to go – and he was obedient to the rule. He has been waiting so long to return and see Paris. And now here we are together, and he has a fever and a terrible cold and should just be staying in bed! Noooooo!
FIREWORKS AND ZOMBIES
After my man was all tucked in and snoring, I went down to the lobby and sat there feeling dejected. Here I am in PARIS, AND it is BASTILLE DAY for heaven sake! How could I just stay in the hotel and miss out on all the epic celebration and fireworks? But, I couldn’t go out alone, so I had to find someone to go with me.Perhaps several people had already gone. No one currently in the lobby wanted to go.
And then I saw my friend Michael! “Michael! It’s Bastille Day! You totally want to go with me to see the fireworks, right?!” and he immediately grinned and said, “Yeah, let’s do it!” So, off we went on a crazy adventure.
I have to share a picture of Michael now that I stole from his Facebook – [because in all of this awesome adventure somehow we never got a photo together.] So, here is Michael.
We found the Metro, bought our tickets, and then rode to the Tour Eiffel [Eiffel Tower] stop.
The Metro is above ground in this section of town. The moment we descended the stairs and got a glimpse of the street we knew that we were in big trouble. IT WAS PACKED with people. I mean, think of Times Square on New Years Eve and then times it by about ten. Wall to wall bodies, and we were being swept out into the masses and soon we couldn’t move. Right at that very moment, we heard a loud BOOM! and the crowd cheered and we realized that was the signal the fireworks were starting!!
We still could not see the Eiffel Tower because there was a building blocking our view. We tried to gradually “swim” our bodies around the people in the crowd – but we just got a lot of French swears at us – and then it got to the point that every single body was so close together it was impossible to go any farther, so then we decided to “swim” back and go another way – eliciting more French swears. We could hear the fireworks, and we could see and hear the crowds ooing and aahhhing but we just couldn’t SEE anything yet! Michael and I realized – much much too late – that we had left the train at the worst possible place. Obviously, the people with any kind of visibility of the Tower and these fireworks had arrived at least 15 hours ago! Also, ironically, we were WAY TOO CLOSE to the Tower to be able to see the actual display.
Note to self if I ever return on Bastille Day – I will not come to this spot!
But, now what? Somehow Michael and I managed to make our way backward down the street a little ways and then cross over – which brought us directly underneath the metro tracks. And then…
Viola! There she was! The Eiffel Tower! The REAL Eiffel Tower! I am seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time in my life! I am hopping up and down on my tippy toes with glee – AND there are fireworks are being blasted off of her that I am watching with my own eyes! .. sort of…
Not only were there soooo many bodies in the way, there were trees and wires and signage poles, and the metro tracks and light poles…and what you also can’t experience through the photos were the smells. Sadly, not good Frenchy smells like croissants and chocolate – nope, the other Frenchy smells of body odor, urine, alcohol and cigarette smoke. And being so tightly packed together I felt like I was the one smoking. My eyes were starting to itch, my throat was burning, my nose was running… aakkk…
but, hey! I’M IN PARIS!!!! I’m seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Fireworks! Who cares, right?
To help you visualize the crowds- here is a photo that was taken 15 hours earlier by another blogger:
Yeah, we are talking NUTS! Especially when you consider that this photo is only a small portion of the crowd which wraps around into another quai similar to this one, also into other streets and grassy areas, and all across the river… According to Trip Advisor there is an estimated 350,000 people who will be in the city each Bastille Day to watch the fireworks in person!
So, there we were, in the middle of the madness. Suddenly, there were at least 5 people smoking right next to me and I was dying because I am severely allergic to it. So, I had to relocate. Michael and I noticed a little berm area with some bushes raised up from the street located a couple dozen feet behind us. I would have been worried about the bushes, but there were already 20 people up there anyway, so we climbed up. Well, now we could not see the bottom of the Tower at all anymore due to the crowd, but we could see the tippy top. And of course, the Metro was running through the middle.
But, hey, I can’t complain – I AM IN PARIS!!
So, at this very moment, someone who arrived 15 hours ago was taking THIS photo:
And someone who arrived 15 minutes ago [me] was taking THIS photo:
I decided to try my hand at videotaping some of it.
Isn’t that little boy the cutest?
And here is what that video looked like to the people who arrived 15 hours early.
I’ve watched these Paris Bastille Day fireworks shows on YouTube. They are absolutely AMAZING, choreographed to music and telling a story – 2014 can never be topped. So, I know that these always last about 35 minutes. So, I told Michel that when we hit 25 minutes, we needed to go back to the metro and get on and NOT stay for the finale, or else we would be trapped the massive crowd. So, at 25 minutes, I looked back to determine an opening through the crowd to get to the metro, and I saw a sight that made my skin crawl. There were a mass of humans running down the street to the metro. OH NO!!! They must have had the same thought that I had.. I screamed for Michael to follow me and we started running. It felt like something straight out of a Zombie movie. You know that scene? Where all the people are just running frantically down the street and cars and buses are at a standstill and there’s a general sense of panic…
GET ON THAT TRAIN
Yeah, so we run to the metro, which is about 300 feet [90 meters] away and for some reason [crowd control?] the police have SHUT the GATE where we came out. SO, all of these bodies are slamming into the gate and literally piling on top of each other from the momentum of stopping their running so abruptly. Right at this point the Finale starts behind us in full swing, and we can’t see it we can hear the BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, echoing, and shaking the ground. Combining that with the running and screaming and I felt like I was in a war zone. I realized the terrible danger that we might be in and tried not to panic. I saw that the metro gate to the opposite platform stairs was open, so I screamed to Michael, and we ran – and suddenly there were three other Choir sisters running up the stairs right next to me to the platform! Somehow, we had all been brought together at the same exact moment. Amazing.
But now – a new danger. Hundreds of people were all running up the steps behind us and spilling into the platform area. They kept coming and coming and we were being pushed toward the edge of the platform where the train tracks were. Two young metro employees were standing on a box yelling at the crowd, but they were being drowned out by the BOOM BOOM BOOM of the fireworks, and all of the crowd noise. They were yelling French, but it was easy to tell they were trying to warn everyone that the train was coming and we needed to back up.
When the train arrived, my heart sunk. It was PACKED with people from all of the previous stops. Of Course! I hadn’t even thought of that.
And that’s when I realized we HAD to get on that train. It was our only chance! When the doors opened there were people trying to push their way out and we started trying to push our way in. One sister started to say “oh, it’s too full I will wait for the next one…” and we yelled “NO WAY! GET ON! The next one will be so full it wont even stop!” [which I learned later was true, some other Choir members had to walk over an hour all the way back to the hotel] Somehow, we all pushed our way inside within seconds of the door closing.
“ARE YOU OK?”
Have you ever noticed when a lot of people squeeze into an elevator it gets really quiet? Well, that’s how this train was. Since all of our bodies were touching, I guess the only way to achieve perceived privacy was to withdraw into silence. So, it was really noticeable when my phone chimed loudly and lit up with a text, and then within seconds so did Michael’s phone and the other three women with us. Other people on the train were receiving phone calls and text tones. It was really odd. I immediately thought what a weird world of technology we live in. When I looked down at the text I realized something was wrong. “Are you OK?” and then ,”Are you in Paris or Nice?” and then, “Please tell me you are not in Nice”. One of the sisters had received more information. She whispered to us “there’s been a terrorist attack in Nice.”
Oh, no! We all felt like crying. It was awful news.I quickly texted back that yes, we were safe, and explained that Nice is 500 miles away from Paris. Don’t worry. We are fine. All is well.
As I slowly walked back to the hotel it was sobering to think about all of the time we have been here in Europe something bad could have happened to us on this tour. But, everything went so perfectly smooth and calm. I offered a prayer of thanks for being so incredibly blessed and watched over. We cannot live our lives in fear and avoid going to public places, or travelling, or being involved in a large community event just because an attack “might” happen. But, I pray we can find a way to stop these senseless, tragic deaths.
I do not know all the answers, but I do know that the only way to drive out darkness is with light. Tonight, we celebrated freedom and unity in Paris – also known as La Ville-Lumière – The City of Light! We watched a beautiful majestic display of LIGHT as a symbol of all that is good, and right, and hopeful about this wonderful country. And, when one country celebrates freedom, all countries celebrate. And when one person shares light, all the people within that circle of light are affected positively. So, like the song says “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…” We can shine light through our Music, art, literature, words, friendship, smiles, kindness, hugs, service… all of these, and more, can be used as light for our world.
Love each other, dear ones – and shine on! – MoSop
This is part of a 3-week series sharing my experiences during the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Central European Tour from June 28-July 16, 2016. Due to security concerns, tour participants were not allowed to share anything on social media until we returned.
Check back each day for a new installment! Read the whole series here!