Driving home from Annecy on Saturday night, I stumbled across a fete in Thônes. It was an early Bastille Day celebration and I was lucky enough to get there at just the right time for the march through town. The brass band started playing and the only lighting was via sticks on fire. I took a video (email subscribers will need to click through to lefrancophoney.com to see the video).
What you don’t see very clearly on the video is the first lot of marchers without instruments. They’re sapeurs – the firemen who carry axes and wear big, thick, white gloves and everything-proof vinyl aprons. They kind of look like butchers before the blood has stained their uniform. The addition of the axes adds a different dimension altogether. I was unable to capture any decent photos on my phone camera after dark, so I found this photo (with thanks to someone called kaiserdog, who took the photo). These are some of the local Thônes sapeurs.
Maybe you had to be there, but following the parade through town, with men with axes and blood-proof aprons marching to sombre music and others carrying flames, made me feel like I was part of a lynch mob. It just felt weird. A big crowd followed the marching band around town and we ended up almost back where we started before some impressive fireworks took over from band and relieved me of the awkward lynch mob feelings.
The party continued for hours after, and everyone in Thônes was happy to celebrate Bastille Day a few days early. I did it all again last night, with fireworks and a band playing in Saint Jean de Sixt. The big celebrations will hit Annecy tonight, and locals from St Jean and Thônes will no doubt attend. Why celebrate a national day once when you can celebrate it three times?