“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” - Mark Twain
By Gina Biber
- The Capitol Hill Times
My mom called the other day to brag about celebrating the Fourth of July at home. Independence Day has always been one of my favorite American holidays, but for one reason or another — living abroad in Paris, for example — I have been away from the country for the past half-dozen of them.
“Well the whole family came over and we had a big barbeque,” she said. “Even your Uncle Tom came.”
“That’s nice,” I said. She knows that I adore my uncle, Tom.
“And then when it got dark the whole neighborhood came together for fireworks. It took three hours to get through everyone’s ammunition, and there are still hundreds of sparklers left over!” She knows that I adore sparklers.
My mom said all of this, not simply to relate the day’s happenings to me, but to remind me of how good it is to live in America, and to lure me home sooner rather than later. To mask my jealousy, though, I said, “Oh well that’s good, Mom, but I’m looking forward to Bastille Day.”
Unlike the United States, which became independent from their monarchy, France overthrew theirs. Bastille Day, locally referred to as le quatorze juillet(the fourteenth of July), earned its name from an event that took place towards the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. As a reaction to being ignored by the ruling-monarchy regime, angry, desperate and hungry French citizens stormed a medieval fortress that represented royal authority, and imprisoned a few political rebels. The inmates were freed and the movement gained momentum, culminating first in a constitutional monarchy, and then quickly moving towards a full democracy.
To commemorate the French Republic’s coming of age, there is an annual countrywide celebration, “La Fête National,” much like our own, full of displays of patriotism, a day off from work, family get-togethers, fireworks, and then some.
Crowds gather early in the morning, along the two sidewalks of our main street, L’avenue des Champs-Élysée, where the oldest and the largest military parade in Europe will take place in a few hours’ time. Mind you, these people don’t have portable mugs of coffee keeping them warm. By the time the President opens the parade, the sidewalks are so packed with people that it is only possible to stand with your arms flat against your sides, pressed against your neighbor, hoping to catch a glimpse of the infantry, the French Foreign Legion, troops from French allies and the Parisian Fire Brigade that march under low-flying military aircraft.
Afternoons are spent sharing meals with family members and close friends, or watching the newly elected President of the French Republic, François Hollande, address the press about the country’s current situation.
The evening takes the cake, erm, le gâteau, when it comes to festivities, though. Just as crowds gathered in the morning for the parade, the masses are drawn out again for a free, and usually good concert that is offered in the lawn spread in front of the Eiffel Tower, where the next event, a grandiose firework display, is launched. The fireworks are synchronized to a classical French hit, and for a few minutes, the city is silent, watching in awe.
As soon as the show ends and applause erupts, I know it’s time to duck into the metro and head for my next location before the other bystanders beat me to it. We’re dispersing throughout the city, but all heading to the same event.
My favorite part of Bastille Day, the one that I encourage all of my friends to visit me for, is les Bals des pompiers, “the Firemen’s Balls.” Firemen, all throughout the city, turn their fire stations into discotheques for a charity event. Each fire station is outfitted with a DJ, food and drink booths, and tipsy firemen who stay dressed in full uniform and dance with the rest of us, often making out with as many women as are willing. You can choose a station based on location or style of music, but young and old join the celebration and dance until the sun lights the city streets again.