la Fête nationale

Jul 14, 2018 | 0 comments

In Paris it is nine hours later than it is here in Oysterville and, like everyplace in France today, people are gearing up for French National Day.  This day is to France what 4th of July is to us. For the French, though, July 14th marks two important historic events – the Storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the unity of French people on July 14, 1790.

The day is celebrated with military parades, fireworks, concerts and balls.  The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on the Champs-Élysées in the morning – while we are still fast asleep. The highlight of the celebration is the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, visible over all of Paris, as I remember.

My (then) husband and I arrived in Paris in 1964 on the evening of July 13th, jet-lagged and naively oblivious of the preparations that had been in the works for weeks.  We arrived at Madame Boyer’s little hotel late that night, happy to be in familiar surroundings in a place we had stayed several times before (I for the better part of a year back in 1958) and fell into bed.

Bastille Day, Rue Montorgueil, by Monet

The next morning it was pouring.  I think that even our northwest rainstorms couldn’t have competed with the deluge.  We nipped from awning to awning and around the corner to “our” sidewalk café on the Place San Michel and, as I remember, spent a good part of the day there, hunkered down out of the weather, attended to by our long-time waiter friend, Marcel.

My clearest memory of that soggy day is that the rain abated just in time for the fireworks display to go off as usual.   We stood along the bank of the Seine near the closed-up bookstalls and oohed and aahed even as the rain started up again.  Then a mad dash back to the café where people were grabbing chairs and holding them upside down over their heads as they rushed homeward (or, in our case, to the warmth and dryness of Madame Boyer’s.)

The next morning, we, like scores of others, were back at the Café early to return our chairs and thank Marcel and the others for their generosity.  It was a gorgeous day – not a cloud in the sky.  We sat for a long time enjoying our coffee and talking of the stormy Bastille Day as well as the historic Storming of the Bastille.

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