Cérémonies du 11 novembre

We hadn’t realised that the French still hold their major commemoration of the First World War on armistice day, November 11th, and that it is a bank holiday there – unlike in Britain, where remembrance day is largely celebrated on the nearest Sunday (we officially moved it to that date in 1939 so as not to hamper the war effort), as well as a number of related events at the weekends around – such as the War Widows that I’d photographed on the previous Saturday (8th Nov.)

war widows at Cenotaph

I’d planned a walk around one of my favourite areas of Paris – Belleville and Ménilmontant in the north-east – calling in at a few shows on the route, but by the time we’d got to the fifth place that was closed we were beginning to get the message.  And also rather tired of walking, so we went into the café opposite the town hall in the 20e where I sat down to enjoy a Blonde (the only beer on their list I hadn’t tried before)  while Linda tried to warm herself up with a hot drink.

Rue des Cascades

Suddenly we heard the sound of a brass band, and then saw out of the window an approaching procession, and I picked up my camera and rushed out, leaving Linda to guard my camera bag and half-finished beer.

Coming across the place and going down the street towards the back of the town hall was a military band leading various dignitaries with red white and blue sashes,  a couple of banners, a group of children and a small crowd of adults. It was the l’UFAC (Union française des associations de combattants)  and the  Comité d’entente des associations d’anciens combattants et victimes de guerre along with other associations of patriotic citizens commemorating the 90th anniversary of the official ceasefire (at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) in 1918, although they were doing it a few hours later in the day.

The parade (which I later found had started at the  Père-Lachaise cemetery just down the road) came to a halt at the back of the town hall where there was a memorial to a Brigadier killed in the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Although the November commemoration in France is for the First World War, there were also groups at the parade remembering the French Jews who were deported and mainly died  in labour and concentration camps in the Second World War.

As an outsider whose oral French is pretty poor it was a little difficult to understand the finer details of the ceremony that followed, in which flowers and a large wreath were laid, and also I found it rather difficult to know exactly how I should behave in photographing the event. I also soon realised I had made a big mistake in not bringing my camera bag in my haste, as the card in the camera was full and after taking a handful of pictures I had to start deciding which images could be deleted so I could continue to shoot.

Nov 11

There were a couple of French photographers  – perhaps from the local press – there, but all they were doing was standing around looking rather bored, and I decided in any case that they were not where I would want to photograph from. You can see a few more photos of the event on My London Diary.

After that they all went into the courtyard of the town hall (another place I’d been hoping to see a show)  and I went back to finish my beer.  Then we decided to take the short walk down to the cemetery and have a walk through there – one place at least that was still open. Again, more pictures of this on My London Diary.

Pere-Lachaise

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