French Friday: Bastille Day à la French-American

Full disclosure: my husband doesn’t like crowds and even less when they have the potential to turn rowdy. Also he appreciates fireworks now and then but can totally live sans.

When we lived in France, July 14th called Bastille Day by the Americans and la fête nationale or simply le quatorze juillet by the French was mostly the occasion for a longer weekend.

I have a slightly different exposure to the French National holiday.

First, my parents were  juilletistes. That’s how we call the people who prefer July to August for their summer vacation. So we were always away from home on July 14th.

I’ve seen sixteen fireworks with my parents and sister, although I don’t remember the very first ones, obviously. I noticed the ambiance, however, at a fairly young age. French people, known for their guarded personality, rejoiced together, cheering of course for the fireworks shot from a lake, the ocean, or still in the mountains but moreover for liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Then, when I was single I lived feet away from Place de la Bastille. Every morning, before going to work, I bought the newspaper from a small stand at the mouth of the subway station Bastille. Call me sentimental or revolutionary, but every day I always paused before climbing down the set of stairs.

Courtesy Paris Info

Place de la Bastille is one of the most symbolic French landmarks. The Bastille fortress, turned into a prison under Richelieu, stood there until the Parisian people, mostly from the neighboring Faubourg Saint-Antoine, attacked it on July 14, 1789, hungry and desperate to end the monarchy.

The column at the center of the plaza is called Colonne de Juillet. Le Génie de la Liberté stands at the top of the column. This copper statue of a naked man symbolizes liberty. Le Génie holds a set of broken chains in his left hand and a torch in his right hand, one of his feet is planted on a globe representing earth and the other is lifted in the air to represent elation.

 

Courtesy Paris Info

Parisians have always gathered spontaneously Place de la Bastille whether to protest or celebrate.

Courtesy Getty Images

Sadly, last July 14th has been marked by the bloody Nice attack that killed 87 people and wounded hundreds more.

This year French President Emmanuel Macron has invited American President Donald Trump to the festivities including the annual military parade on the Champs Elysées. Which country still has military parades by the way ?:) The invitation has triggered expected controversy. President Trump is not too popular in France. It’s a fact. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has said that the American President’s visit symbolized also the one-hundredth anniversary of the American declaration of war against Germany in 1917. France has occasionnally reproached to the US their late intervention and the low number of soldiers who fought.

You already know that my husband and I love eating out for dinner when we travel together. We never eat out for lunch, though, preferring a picnic away from the highway. Then we look for a quiet spot and often share sandwiches, hardboiled eggs, and fruits on a town square. In these small American towns we often find a modest monument honoring local men who lost their lives at war. Their numbers during WWII and the Vietnam War are staggering. But once in a while I will also notice the name of a young man who died in France between 1917 and 1918. It can be one hundred years ago I imagine his heartbroken mom and dad, his siblings and friends who never saw him again and probably never set foot in France where he lived his last day. Also before the official declaration of war some American volunteers were already fighting in France.

The French at large won’t greet President Trump with the joyful and grateful acclamation that the first American men received when they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer on June 13, 1917, quickly followed by thousands more while two additional millions were ready to intervene if necessary. It’s a fact.

But when two countries whose paths have so many times crossed celebrate together not only Bastille Day but also their joined fight against a common enemy their leaders can only forget their differences. At least the time of a parade and fireworks. I’m sure it’s a welcome break for the American President 🙂

As for my husband and me, thousands miles away from Paris, we will be celebrating July 14th in true French-American manner since an American friend of mine invited us to join her family and a French visiting friend.

She promised fireworks.

I promised we wouldn’t chop any head.

Chance is that some of us will wear bleu, blanc, rouge.

Or maybe red, white, and blue.

The flower pics and water feature have been taken at the Horticultural Gardens at Virginia Tech and in northern Maine

Comments

  1. Merci pour this informative, thoughtful, bridge-building post. Happy quatorze juillet to you and your family.

  2. judithworks says:

    We went to the celebration in Aix-en-Provence one year. When the program was late in starting people began to should “To the guillotine”!!!!

  3. It’s also our daughter’s birthday! Happy Bastille Day

  4. My husband and I are just watching a series of lectures on “the long 19th Century,” which stretches back to Bastille Day! Have you read PARIS by Edward Rutherfurd? A wonderful book, tracing a great deal (but not all!) of Parisian/French history. Thank you for this post, and for the beautiful flowers in the colors of our countries. 🙂

  5. What an interesting post Evelyne, I enjoyed your unique French-American perspective on it as always. About 23 years ago I was in Paris on Bastille Day and watched the fireworks and it was fabulous.

    • Thank you, Andrea. Fireworks in Paris are pretty awesome, right?
      My friend did a great job on Friday night, for a non-professional 🙂
      Also another friend baked a bleu, blanc, rouge cake, using blueberries and strawberries. Which was a nice attention. I’m also baking a similar cake for the American Independence Day using the same ingredients, only decorating differently to represent the stripes and stars.

  6. “I promised we wouldn’t chop any heads.” Pretty darn funny Evelyne. As for American/French relations, I’d go back even further to the Revolutionary War. There is a good chance that there wouldn’t be any America without help from France. –Curt

    • That’s always the argument 🙂
      Some say the opposite.
      I would like to think that we shared enough values to want the same kind of Constitution.
      In any case, as soon as the USA existed they have been instrumental to the survival of France. Without the invaluable American support and loss of so many lives, over WWI and WWII, well…
      Both countries are imperfect with their own share of important issues to deal with, but they remain tied and I hope that their relationship will always be as good as possible.
      In any case, this month of July was quite special for me since I celebrated the 4th, the 14th and was even in Canada for Canada Day. More on that soon…

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