Bastille Day Highlights Here and There
T’is the week to celebrate the French Revolution when the storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789, became the iconic event for when the control over France was taken out of the hands of the monarchy and placed into the hands of the people. The Bastille prison only held seven prisoners at the time, but it was a symbol of everything the people hated, and held a desirable amount of large weapons and ammunition cache, to boot, that they needed.
Place de la Bastille in Paris is where the prison once stood, but there’s no trace of the prison left. Still, just the mention of the name “La Bastille” conjures up images of the battle that took place 229 years ago on that very spot.
Most Bastille Days, known in French as “La Fête Nationale du 14 Juillet,” I spend here in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower looming overhead while picnicking on the Champ de Mars in anticipation of the spectacular fireworks display. But in years past, when my mother was alive, I spent many a Bastille Day with her in New Orleans, celebrating her birthday, which was just the day before on July 13th. New Orleans, rich in French history, welcomes Bastille Day with a vengeance.
It’s no wonder considering the history and the spirit of New Orleans…its history with France coupled with any excuse for a party! Bastille Day had an important impact on Louisiana and New Orleans, even though at the time it had been a Spanish colony for more than 20 years. As a result of the unrest in France, free blacks along with plantation owners from Sainte-Domingue, the French half of the island of Hispaniola, now known as Haiti, fled for their lives to the port of New Orleans, increasing the number of French-speakers in the city on the Mississippi River and acquiring land outside of the city to grow sugar cane, a native crop of Sainte-Domingue.
Meanwhile, Napoleon needed money to finance his battles against the Austrian Empire and was looking for a way of raising it. He placed his brother, Joseph, on the Spanish throne and in turn, Joseph gave the Louisiana territory (828,000 square miles or 2.14 million square kilometers) back to France so that Bonaparte could sell it to America. In 1803 he received a whopping sum of 50 million francs ($8,959,828) plus a cancellation of debts of 18 million francs ($3,225,538) for the territory. Bonaparte filled his coffers and America acquired Louisiana. Everyone was happy. The rest is history.
Without Bastille Day, New Orleans would have been more Spanish than French! For those who don’t realize it, the “French Quarter,” a.k.a. “Vieux Carré,” in New Orleans isn’t as French as one might think — the architecture is Spanish. This year, the Crescent City, a.k.a. The Big Easy, a.k.a. La Nouvelle Orléans (what we call the city here in France), is hopping with activities as of this Wednesday. My favorite is the Waiter’s Race at the French Market!
If you happen to be in the “neighborhood,” check out the entire line-up here at some of these links:
If you’re lucky enough to be in Paris, however, then this is THE WEEK to be in the capital city and enjoy the celebration of a lifetime. It starts before the 14th of July with the Firemens’ ‘Balls that take place the night before on the the 13th and some take place the night of the 14th, too – and are not to be missed. About a dozen barracks of the Paris fire brigade will open their doors at 9 p.m., serve up champagne, beer and wine, snacks, and offer up a live band so that you can dance till dawn – 4 a.m. is when they might shoo you out. There may be a small entry fee, or it will be free, but their barrel will be ready for you to make donations.
See the website for more information.
I have often gone to the “casserne” on rue de Sévigné that hosts one of the best parties, but the party in front of the Mairie de 3ème beats them all. There’s no queueing up because it’s outside on the “parvis.” The band is always a great one. They start at 8:30 p.m. with a program for the kids and at 10 p.m. the band switches to more adult music. Confetti usually comes pouring out of the upper windows of the Mairie covering us all in the festive flakes making it impossible not to have a blast with family and friends.
For more information, visit the Mairie’s website.
Early the next morning, at 10 a.m. the President of the Republic will preside over the ceremonies at the Arc de Triomphe and then the military parade that will roll down the Champs Elysées beginning at 11 a.m. accompanied by an aerial show in the skies over Paris. I never attend the parade, since the coverage on TV gets you up front and up close, but when the aerial show starts, I hang out of my windows to see the jets fly over, spewing out their colorful trails of blue, white and red. It’s so exciting! Fortunately, you can see them from everywhere and there’s no need to be on the Champs Elysées for that.
Notes for the parade: At least two Métro stations in the area (Tuileries and Concorde) will be closed completely, and those along the Champs-Élysées (Champs-Elysées Clemenceau, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George V, CDG-Étoile) may either be closed or have only one entrance open. If they are open at all, they will be mobbed, so consider other nearby stations (Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, Terne, Alma-Marceau, Victor Hugo, Gare de Neuilly/Porte Maillot, even Invalides on the Left Bank). Champs-Élysées and other nearby streets will be closed to vehicles until 6:30 p.m., which means buses will be re-routed to avoid the area. This is another reason to watch it from home!
In the evening, you can count on a grand concert at 9:30 p.m. and spectacular fireworks display at 11 p.m. at the Eiffel Tower. About a million people picnic on the Champ de Mars to be a part of it and you can bet I will be one of them. It’s one of my favorite things to do in Paris and it will be one of yours, too, if you’re game to be on the grass all day long. Lots of people who haven’t had the pleasure, but have been invited, have hesitated thinking they will be bored lying around all day long (from about 3 p.m. on) in wait for the festivities to begin…but they are wrong and have eaten their words. When you get there early, you get to choose your spot (and I have come to know the best position from which the view of the fireworks is perfect).
* Quai Branly
* Jena bridge
* Place de la Resistance
* Quai Branly
* Avenue de la Bourdonnais
* Place of the military school
* Place Joffre
* Avenue de la Motte-Picquet to the Boulevard de Grenelle
* Avenue de Suffren
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Don’t forget tomorrow is the last Après Midi before our summer break. You won’t want to miss Kathleen Spivack reading from her latest novel “Unspeakable Things.” That’s Tuesday, July 10 at 3 p.m. Location and details are on our Après Midi page. See you there!