Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's Bastille Day!

"Happy July 14!"

That just doesn't sound like much in English, does it? So we francophiles toss around "Happy Bastille Day." That sounds festive.

Of course in French, one never says "Joyeux Jour de la Bastille," either. In France you celebrate le quatorze juillet because it's a national holiday and everything is closed (even hospitals, as my friend Mary Blake reminds me. Though I disagree with her: I don't think they throw out all the existing sick patients for the day, but they just don't admit any new patients except tres urgent. But I digress.)

One of my favorite parts of le 14 juillet in France is watching the défilé militaire down the Champs Elysees in Paris. I've never had the right connections to get a good parade-viewing seat, and so have always relied on watching it on television. How utterly different from an American July 4th parade, with the shiny old fire trucks and home-grown, home-town floats! The military splendor of soldiers marching, the overhead patrouille of aircraft. Two full hours of formal regalia. Thrilling to the bone.

One of the cultural, adjustments I had to make when I lived in France was realizing that France doesn't celebrate July 4th with the same exuberance that the US celebrates Bastille Day. A few festive or commemorative gatherings here and there, to be sure. But, I wondered, do the French realize how much Bastille Day is a major party in the US? From Boston to New York to San Francisco to many towns and cities in between, Bastille Day is a major cause for celebration in the streets. Don't take my word for it: google it and find out for yourself.

And as much as I adore and admire David McCullough, I think he underestimates the American celebration of Bastille Day in today's New York Times column. Please read his wonderful The Greater Journey, the stories of some remarkable Americans in Paris in the 19th century. Totally engrossing and riveting: buy it today if you haven't already.

For this American francophile, Bastille Day in the US means afternoon petanque in Golden Gate Park, and evening champagne with some French dignitaries, while the rest of San Francisco whoops it up into the wee hours with lively wine-filled festivities. We may not have the feu d'artifice, but man, we Americans DO celebrate July 14!

Vive la France!

image via wikipedia


Chrissy Brand said...

Happy Bastille Day! I remember being in Paris on 14 July once, trekking across town on my first ever euro-rail trip!


Jean(ne) in MN said...

I was just asking myself the same question, since french family wished us Happy 4th of July (also a bit strange, but thoughtful. Alliance Francaise of Minneapolis has many events this weekend, but not petanque.

Des Coulam said...

Hi Polly, If you try this link you will hear the fly-past as they flew directly over my apartment.

Des Coulam said...

Polly ... re the fly-past. I sent you an incorrect link earlier. It should be -

Best Wishes

A Frenchman said...

Hello! In fact, the date DOESN'T commemorates the capture of the Bastille in 1789, but the Fete de la Federation of 14th of July 1790, where the King and the People celebrated the unity of the Nation: so it's shouldn't be in english "Bastille Day"! But many French people too think it commemorates 1789!

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