Festive Parade Brings Fantasy to French Celebration
PARIS (AP) _ The bicentennial bash in honor of the French Revolution peaked with a parade that featured moonwalking Americans, Scottish bagpipers, Soviet tanks spewing confetti and a touching reminder of the crackdown in China.
The three days of bicentennial celebrations were to close tonight at the Eiffel Tower with what was billed as the biggest ever fireworks display.
The most offbeat event was the parade Friday night that featured a moonwalking Florida A&M University marching band, British firefighters spraying spectators with water and a Russian bear skating pirouttes on ice.
Perhaps the most poignant moment came early in the parade as hundreds of Chinese students - from Paris, Hong Kong and the United States - rode bicycles and flashed peace signs from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.
They wore headbands bearing the Chinese characters signifying ″Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.″ Some wore masks so they could not be identified, a reflection of the fear that many Chinese feel after the June 3-4 crackdown on the pro-democracy protesters.
″I came to see an unusual parade, and I got exactly what I wanted,″ said Claude Bernes, an insurance salesman. ″It was fabulous, but the only sketch that had any connection to the revolution and its ideals was the Chinese.″
The 250 musicians from Florida A&M dazzled onlookers, estimated at 1 million, as they boogied and tooted in an all-out salute to soul singer James Brown.
The band was flanked by two giant floats topped by dancing pom-pom girls and flag-waving Americans.
Some brandished messages to the folks back home - ″Mom, please pay my Visa bill,″ read one. ″Keep Abortion Legal,″ said another.
More than 30 heads of state or government - seven of them attending the summit of the world’s main industrialized democracies - were participating in bicentennial events.
″In the space of a few days, France has received on its territory three- quarters of the world’s gross national product and nearly 100 percent of the planet’s military arsenal,″ wrote the conservative Le Figaro in today’s editions.
The much-anticipated parade, entitled ″The Marseillaise″ and starring more than 10,000 musicians, turned the famed Champs-Elysees into an enchanted stage for more than three hours.
Scottish bagpipers marching in the rain shared the limelight with British ponies painted to resemble zebras, a human pyramid formed by undulating Senegalese dancers in native costume and Soviet tanks spewing confetti-snow as they recreated the Siberian winter.
The $15 million parade was billed as a ″a slightly frivolous opera- ballet″ by its creator, advertising man Jean-Paul Goude, better known for his work with Grace Jones and at Esquire magazine.
Halfway through the program, the crowd drew its collective breath as American diva Jessye Norman emerged from behind a curtain of rain - regally draped in a flowing tricolor gown - to sing the rousing verses of the Marseillaise.
″Many people were offended because our national anthem was sung by a foreigner, but I think it’s only fitting to have the best voice in the world,″ said Bernard Houri, a computer engineer.
Besides the lively and sometimes impatient crowd lining the Champs-Elysees, perched on trees and in building windows, the parade was broadcast to millions of viewers in France, Europe and the United States.
French President Francois Mitterrand, joined by about 30 heads of state, watched from behind a bulletproof glass viewing booth overlooking the Place de la Concorde, ringed with bleachers seating 16,000 invited guests.
″The most extraordinary image tonight was the ocean of people who streamed down the Champs-Elysees,″ said Jean-Michel Jeanneney, president of the Bicentennial Mission.
For many, however, being there was not enough.
″It was a great show, but it should have been for everybody,″ said Terry Golden of London. ″We waited for hours and just barely got a glimpse of the top of heads and floats. The parade was for the rich, not for the masses, which really isn’t in keeping with the revolution, is it?″