At first glance, Bastille Day can seem a little lame, especially when you compare it to our Fourth of July. There are no family gatherings, no parades (unless you are in Paris), no BBQs, no tri-color Jello-based desserts. Milwaukee’s Bastille Day celebration is way more festive than anything I’ve seen happening on actual French soil.
Even the event itself, when you read the details of the story, is a little underwhelming. The U.S. holiday celebrates the American people’s glorious victory in a war for freedom from the British crown’s financial oppression. Bastille Day celebrates the French people’s victory over their own money-grubbing monarchy. So, there, we’re pretty much even.
The actual storming of the Bastille, though? I’m sorry, I even have a problem with the term “storming.” A disgruntled mob showed up at the gates of the Bastille, elected two representatives to negotiate for them and the Bastille guards let them in. That’s not a “storm.” That’s a “pop-in.”
There’s just as much of a ruckus at our house when Johann’s relatives show up unannounced to find the gate closed and commence with the honking, shouting and doorbell-ringing until someone lets them in and provides them with drinks and snacks. Instead of drinks and snacks, though, the revolutionaries wanted guns and prisoners. Mostly guns, since, according to Wikipedia, there were only seven prisoners in there anyway: four counterfeiters, two madmen, and a young aristocrat who had displeased his father.
Okay, enough with the history lesson. This year, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there were actually some activities organized for Bastille Day. We had dinner in the village at a restaurant with an outdoor terrace, then walked over to the Foyer Rural (municipal building) to watch Cadenet’s marching band play. Now considering that only 5,000 people live in our little village, just the fact that they have their own marching band is pretty impressive. The fact that it seemed like all 5,000 inhabitants had come out to see them made it even more so.
After that was the fireworks display. And again, for a little village like this, it was pretty darn good (the French words for “oooh” and “aaah” are the same as the English). Following that, the whole village walked into the center of town and partied down until 1:00 a.m. The bars around the square stayed open late just for the occasion, though it was hardly necessary, as a temporary bar had been set up near the stage. Tables and chairs had been set up to create a kind of club atmosphere, and there was a generous amount of space left open for the dance floor. The band did covers of classic 80s hits which went over like gangbusters with the crowd and made the two of us giggle to no end. (I ohnly wont to zee you laving in ze purple rain.)
So while it may not be what I was used to in terms of patriotic celebrations, it was a really, really fun evening and a pleasant surprise. Allons, enfants de la patrie!