I love attending events unplanned. The opposite being, going to events that I’ve penciled in, gotten dressed up for, anticipated, planned my day around, arranged travel logistics, researched, etc. But to just be somewhere at the right place, right time, and accidentally find myself in the middle of a really cool event? That is something else.
And that’s what I found happened on June 21st of this year.
The day of the Summer Solstice.
It was 6 or 7pm. I had been wandering around Paris for the better part of the day, and moseyed back to Montmartre to wind down. My hostel was located just a block south of the Basilica. I had already snacked on a savory pastry so I didn’t need to eat a full dinner, but I had gotten into a routine of having wine and dessert to finish my Parisian days.
For being rather later in the day, the train was packed. Highly unusual was the fact that there were so many younger folks, and they were all wearing casual, and dare I say, party clothes. Where were the older generations who just got out of work? And why were there so many young adults in going-out on a Tuesday night?
As the train made its stop in Montmartre, I got off. But so did everyone else. Again, highly unusual as Montmartre typically became fairly quiet once the sun started going down.
Instead, the streets were packed with people. Live musicians played in the street, people poured out of restaurants with drinks in hand, dancing and conversing. Perhaps this was what Parisians did on Tuesdays? Every single restaurant seemed to be overflowing with customers. And while I wasn’t planning on going to the same restaurant twice, the last place I had gone to were practically empty last time. I was sure they would be, again.
Except, nope, it was also filled! Thankfully, they had one table and I was seated pretty quickly, and I was able to enjoy a nice glass of Rosé and a chocolate fondant while I witnessed many groups getting turned away.
I did not understand it – what made today so special? Was this a regular occurrence? Was this part of the Parisian culture – party-it-up-on-a-typical-Tuesday day?
I asked my waiter, and he clued me in. That was the day of the Summer Solstice, and the city of Paris comes alive with live music and parties everywhere. One of them just happened to be in Montmartre.
How can I go back to my hostel in order to rest after learning that?
Soon enough, I nudged my way past the jam-packed cobblestone streets, trudged my tired feet up the many stairs of Montmartre, all the while enjoying the live music and dodging the sloshing beer bottles held by attendees.
The steps of the Basilica de Sacre Coeur was filled, but I managed to find a spot that didn’t intrude too much to my neighbors’ personal space. The spot overlooked the skyline of Paris off in the distance.
In front of me, a singer was performing, but his voice was drowned out by someone’s speakers playing Euro techno behind me.
I stuck around for an hour as the sun began to set and darkness overtook the sky. Most of that time was spent people watching, admiring outfits, overhearing a “photographer” trying to get permission to photograph a young woman (he wouldn’t take no for an answer for the longest time), and looking down at all the little buildings that make up Paris.
Eventually, I did make my way down the steps of the Basilica towards my hostel. But something else stopped me.
There, on the foothill of the Basilica, at 10:30pm, was a band of 20+ adult drummers drumming in sync. A crowd had formed around them, dancing and bobbing their heads to beat. My body ached from my earlier adventures, but I couldn’t help but stand amongst them to witness this act of celebration.
I stuck around for thirty minutes, and watched as each drummer enthusiastically, and with hardly a break, continued to play music for its audience. It was rather hard for me to peel myself away from it all, except the daunting realization that I needed to sleep had hit, even when Paris was still wide awake during this summer solstice.