Monday, July 14, 2014

Bastille Day

If I had to say what was the best public holiday I'd ever experienced, it would have to be a 14th July in France. I've been lucky enough to be in France twice over the years on Bastille Day, once in Cannes on the French Riviera with the most amazing firework display over the bay, while the other was a crazy night in Chambery in the French alps.

The festival celebrates the 1789 storming of the Bastille and subsequent end of French Monarchy and the setting up of a Republic in France. The Bastille was a medieval fortress which later became a notorious prison and it's destruction at the height of revolutionary unrest left little remaining.  Apparently, by the time of it's demise, the prison was not as bad as it once had been. Half a century before the revolution, it had been described by a former inmate as "hell of the living", while Voltaire popularised the story of one of the prison's most famous detainees, Eustache Dauger, or the man in the iron mask. However, the main reason for its storming in 1789 was probably for the ammunition stored in the fortress.
Claude Cholat's "Siege of the Bastille" (from wikipedia)

Essentially, the Bastille became a symbol of the repressive monarchy and geographically it was situated on the tinderbox front line between affluent and impoverished areas of Paris. The first celebration of July 14th was held in 1790 as an anniversary of the event. Since then the celebration has become a fixed event on July 14th with probably the 1989 bi-centenary being the biggest of them all. I remember trying to hitchhike to Paris that year to join the celebrations. I left the ferry in Dover and saw a line of about 50 hitchhikers with signs for Paris. So I turned my board over and wrote Amsterdam on the back and spent a great few days there instead.

Anyway, enough of the past. Next year I'm planning on visiting my family in England, and while there, I intend to spend some time in France with Caroline. She's been to the West of France before, while I've spent time in the East, so we're planning a drive around the country to take in some French culture. Last week I went to the French stall in the Victoria Market and today Caroline and I got into the 'quatorze Juillet' celebrations with a French meal (Baguette, Camembert, Champagne ham and Pommery mustard) and we'll be watching the Tour de France tonight and hoping for a French victory on tonight's stage. Vive la France!

Wonderful rich wholegrain French mustard

A creamy Camembert with an earthy flavour

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