Friday, July 15, 2011

Le Bastille Day that nobody calls that here

I have not been in France for a July 14 for so many decades that I dare not count.  I think it was probably during my last college year when my siblings came over to spend summer here after I graduated.  Since then I have avoided France in Summer, the more so that my relatives happen to live in beach resort areas which become hellish in July and August.  France is best from me late spring or early fall though I do not mind it at all in winter.

Then again, after today I might have to reconsider some, or at least plan for vacations finishing on, say, July 15.
"le 14 Juillet" as we call it has become in a way an embodiment of French art de vivre (nobody here talks about the Bastille take over of 1789 like in the US where people would come to me to wish me a happy Bastille day leaving askance the first few times).  It is not that the US July 4th is unpleasant: I did enjoy very much a few of them, but the US celebrates its birthday, its independence, whereas France commemorates the revolution  (of which the Bastille take over is just a revolutionary date among many others, bloodier ones at that).  A commemoration is different than a birthday and as such over the years July 14th has become more a day to celebrate "Frenchness" rather than to debate the merits of a particular date.

Celebrating Frenchness includes celebrating the Republic, its secular nature, and thus the day starts with the military parade at the Champs Elysees, always an impressive affair.  There is something about the French flair for military parades that makes even an anti-military guy like me stop and take notice.  One cannot help but be impressed when the French Republican Guard, on horseback please, with adequate blaring brass included,  trots down to the Place de la Concorde where the president and his guests await.  The video below gives you a modest account, but toward the end you get to see some of these horseman, but sideways, not frontal as TV showed live.

Un défilé du 14 juillet endeuillé -
Les cérémonies du 14 juillet, dominées par l'émotion au lendemain de la mort de cinq soldats français en Afghanistan, ont débuté jeudi à 10H00 sur les Champs-Elysées, en présence du président de la République et de dizaines de milliers de personnes.

By the way, for US readers, the military parade was marred this year by the death of 4 more French soldiers in Afghanistan yesterday, suicide bombing.

Every year the parade has a theme and this year it was the French rescue corps, namely the fireman and even more to the point the Paris ones, "les Sapeurs-Pompiers" who also happen for Paris to belong to the armed forces of France.  At the end of the parade they offered a show which looks a lot like a corny gymnastics show, except that you need to realize that the type of activity shown in the video below are actually possible because of the required fitness state of these Sapeurs-Pompiers.  In other words, these guys in tights can actually give a run for their money to the more burly New York Fire department.  And if you think that the ladder moves were kind of dumb, well try to do them on your own and add a fire in front...

L'animation de clôture des sapeurs-pompiers de... par chartrestw

But this being France, the military parade run like its trains and at noon sharp it was all over so people could take care of the real business at hand: lunch.

In the US outdoor grills or BBQ are the norm.  Steak or at least burgers.  In France this is rather different although the al fresco idea is retained.  But unless we are in the great outdoors, we sit at a table and the meal is fully cooked gourmet fare, even if some stuff might be thrown on the outdoor grill.  And this set up being an invitation at relatives having lived in Venezuela, well, there is also a hammock in the background.

And if US football or baseball is not a tradition here at all, we do have the Tour de France which blessed us this year with the privilege of having a Frenchman hold onto the yellow shirt even though he was expected to lose it today. After all it was the first mountain stage, at the mythical Tourmalet no less, where classifications starts to shift mightily. But the guy had enough time scored ahead that he was able to hold for one more day to his jersey, to the delight of his countrymen. This live on TV while you recover from lunch.

The amiable day, of a particularly nice summer day everywhere, not too warm, ended up with fireworks, held almost everywhere, according to the means of the village or city. Being a rather nice resort town, from the beach we had a nice display. But across the bay we also saw two other fireworks taking place...

The last tradition is a main square public dance that lasted, civilizedly, until 2 AM, no more. But we also had "les forains", other street bands holding smaller dances at different street corners, etc... I had forgotten how much French like to dance (not me). Of course there is a bevy of stands selling from ice cream to crepes, while most restaurants and bars remain open at least until midnight, giving us a very nice street fair that lasts for several blocks.

Indeed, such a nice and amiable way to spend a holiday.

PS:  And no comparison to Venezuela where July 5th is a boring affair where the lousy military parade is mandatory on all TV networks, cadena.  If Chavez were not sick we would have had to endure yet another lengthy and insulting speech.  Here, Sarkozy in electoral year did not even send a short national message.  Civilization and barbary illustrated.


  1. Oh, France is brilliant in summer, just stay away from touristic areas in Paris, stay away from resorts in the South, go just a couple of kilometers off the trodden path.

    The French, together with the Britons, are some of the most military obsessed in Western Europe and yet it is a completely different story than in Venezuela, where our milicos think they belong to some holy caste.

  2. Daniel- should I apologize for wishing you a happy Bastille day rather than 14 Julliet? There are a couple of points in your mail that sort of take pot shots at US Americans. I will agree that you do not see any pot-bellied cops and firemen in Paris like you do elsewhere in the world (Venezuela and the USA for example!) and the military are very sharp in attire. French put on a great military parade. And for Mr. Kepler- to avoid Paris when if France would be a huge mistake. I've lived here in the past and am visiting at the moment and will return here as many more times as I am blessed with the opportunity. Of course avoid the tourist crap but Paris is full of wonderful French people, great cultural diversity and great food and parties. Some of the most amazing architecture in the world is in Paris and not to be missed. Just don't come when it is so damn hot and in the summer tourist season. I'm only here at this time related to work. Spring and fall are the best and as Daniel says even winter is ok. And to end, Chavez could have done much better to adopt this kind of socialism. Do you prefer "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" or "Patria, Socialismo, o Muerte?" What a contrast1

  3. Anonymous2:40 PM

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  4. Glenn,

    I also meant Paris IN summer, not altogether.
    I go from time to time to Paris. It's 90 minutes train from where I am. What I do is to avoid certain areas during peak tourist season. Paris is big and each quartier has its own life, but France in summer is more than Paris. As nature blossoms, it is a good opportunity, if one already knows the capital, to see some other places, specially with green.
    If I go to the centre of Paris in summer, for instance - before I always love to see Notre Dame, I tend to do it very very early. Else, I stay far away.
    In sommer I'd rather do as I did last year, when I visited the Boulogne-Cap Nez-Blanc area
    or some hidden villages in the Provence or Elsass

  5. Nice to hear you are having a lovely time.I especially like the mild weather you have compared to our NC scorching summer often 100 degrees F, it sounds SO refreshing-however I do find the fireman display extremely cheesy and fatally marred by insufferable music.The Fireman display zero sense of rhythm but the day in general provides a bit for everyone: parades, dancing, food, fireworks.....I'll take the dancing and the fireworks...Military displays BORE me.
    Here in the US, most people just think of 4th of July as another holiday, time for a picnic and baseball game,or a trip to the lake, rather than a chance to become patriotic in is an interesting concept that they celebrate 'frenchness'...I wish Venezuelans would celebrate Venezuelaness...thanx for the post.I love a window on another world.


  6. I've got to say Daniel, that France is a beautiful country. The images seen in the Tour's transmission just makes one wish to be there. However, I have seen too many pro ETA flags in the transmission for my liking (like this one:

    Apology of terrorism, whether done within sporting events with incredible landscape in the background, continues to be a criminal activity that French authorities ought to be looking at.

  7. Daniel,
    Lovely post! thanks for the explanation, I had completely forgotten the time I helped my son to make a french calendar, holidays -and images- included. There was not a Bastille day! hehehe.

    I especially loved the pic with the table setting... well, the whole ambiance made my day! The flower bush behind is really something.

    Sigue disfrutando y cargando las pilas. Un abrazo!

  8. RabbiBulla9:06 PM

    Agree with Kepler- so many places for camping, hiking, beautiful lakes, rivers,valleys -near small, old villages..and safe.
    Sadly Alek is right.-In some larger cities- It drives me nuts why some of the weirdest people support extreme dangerous groups-ie. ETA and I cannot accept that areas are now taken over by Moslems who hate everyone else and yet are being "taken care of"...

  9. glenn

    far from me to take potshots at july 4: i did like that holiday a lot, with loving memories of nice classical open air music concerts, bbq with friends, etc... the thing is tha tthey are different, with different objectives.

  10. OT, so now maybe Chavez goes to Brazil to save his life? I bet he is really regretting his hate of imperialism. Houston, Texas, is where the other dictators come for cancer treatment.

    (Washington consensus aside, I still choke when I think that the USA was once a colony yet draws all the ire of Chavez)

  11. Anonymous5:54 AM

    Thankyou for the post. We have my 96 year old aunt from Dole visiting with us here in Charlotte and I couldn't find any special french thing to do on 14 juillet but a nice lunch after watching Le Tour. She loved your videos of the parade, specially les pompiers and shares your appreciation of the dancing on the streets. She misses the gaiete of the people.
    I hate military parades, french, german, anywhere.


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