LA FÊTE NATIONALE – LE 14 JUILLET

 

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Yesterday morning dawned grey and a little cooler than it has been in recent weeks. It seemed a good time to spend a couple of hours digging in the vegetable garden; I took out the peas, which had long since turned into Triffids and then started on some of the weeds which had taken up residence and developed their plots of land into sprawling communities of jungle. I felt a little like Jack amongst the beanstalks as I cut them all down. I sewed some more baby spinach seeds and planted out some tiny lettuces to keep us going through the rest of the summer. Roddy found it funny to ask if these, too, were going to turn into skyscrapers.

A light drizzle started to fall; not enough to do any REAL good, but enough to make my hair completely frizzy and to send me into a panic – not about getting frizzy hair but because I didn’t mind that I was getting frizzy hair! I’m someone known to go to great lengths to avoid getting wet hair, is this a sign of getting old and letting all my rules turn to ruin? It’s a family joke that if I return to the house in the car and it is raining that Roddy will miraculously appear at the car-door with an umbrella, and I have been seen on many occasions running across a road with a bag, a book, or anything else to hand above my head in a sudden shower. Yet here I was, standing in the vegetable garden with Gigi, laughing at my frizzy hair, and I didn’t care – I fear this is indeed a reason to make me panic!

A few hours later clear blue skies returned, and the sun once again became an overpowering force which sent the chickens fleeing for some respite under the hedges and trees. Cats forgot about chasing lizards for a while and slept contentedly in the coolness of the house, Bentley moved away from the heat of the mat outside the front door and sidled into the shade, where he too lay semi-asleep with an ear open in case someone should pick up a lead and mention a walk. My hair had been washed, dried and all signs of frizziness gone and all crazy thoughts of not minding firmly banished!

Yesterday was La Fête Nationale, or as it is commonly called – Le 14 Juillet. This is the French National Day that commemorates the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. One of the highlights is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe which is held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées in front of the President of France and other French officials and foreign guests. Elsewhere in France it’s a day much like any other holiday, where people do their own thing and enjoy a day off from work. In the evening most towns and villages across the country have fireworks and then often a dance. Naturally, we were off to sample the pleasures of ours!

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But first dinner – some food on the grill, friends joining us with a most beautiful gift of a box of French patisserie. The children emitted that infectious excitement that they always feel when there is anything akin to a party, and the sight of the patisserie raised those levels a little higher as they debated which to choose when it was time for dessert. As darkness fell the table was groaning with leftover goodies and small faces were beaming in sugary delight. The chickens had even been treated to a few prawn heads and Bentley had found some delightful pick-ups under the table.

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As has been the way of things in our village for many years, once it was dark everyone was invited to gather at the Mairie to collect their lanterns. These were beautiful paper creations in an array of shapes and colours, containing a small candle which the Mayor lit for each and every one he handed out. At a little after 10.30pm the procession set off led by Mayor. We wound our way like a stream of fireflies through the old streets, past leaning houses that had been built centuries before the storming of the Bastille and which could no doubt tell many tales if only they could talk. Toddlers and tiny children, their lanterns almost as big as themselves, tottered along amongst the adults. Our own children had long since disappeared into the crowd, running ahead to somewhere near the front where they could be with their school-friends. The night was clear and still with a vault of glittering stars over our heads as our procession of 200 people or more wound our way through the village, lanterns ablaze. It was a very primeval procession, the flickering lights and jostling shadows perhaps a lingering memory of that evening so long ago in 1789 when the first night of the new federation might have echoed to the same ghostly mutterings.

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Culminating at the Salle des Fêtes, the processionary throng stopped for the firework display set against the backdrop of the ancient 12th Century Chateau Fort. It was at this stage I had the feeling that I was in a scene from a film rather than real life, as the setting was almost surreal; huge searchlights beamed around whilst we waited for the fireworks to begin and when the first colours burst overhead a real sense of drama overcame us all as the display unfolded and more rockets and flares soared above the battlements. Incongruously, the music from Star Wars blared out across the field, perhaps relieving us of any surfeit of excitement we may have felt being too close to history!

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As the last glowing pyrotechnic sank away downwind we wandered over to the Salle des Fêtes and the bal populaire or dance commenced. Elderly couples dancing a-deux swirled gracefully amongst younger adults, teenagers, children and toddlers. Our children swayed in and out of the crowd and time blurred into a sea of movement and flashing lights. In the early hours of the morning we wandered home, everyone content and happy and feeling a part of a very small, but very special little community – we are very lucky and very grateful to have found ourselves in such a friendly village.

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8 thoughts on “LA FÊTE NATIONALE – LE 14 JUILLET

  • Isnt it funny how in just one day, one may experience so many different ‘climates’ and activities that it seems as if you lived a week in a day.

  • In my opinion, your not caring about your hair becoming frizzy is a sign that you are becoming wiser. Enjoy the rain and other opportunities to get wet!!!

    Your story of your village’s evening celebration of Le 14 Juillet is beautifully written. What a wonderful, almost magical way to come together as a community…the paper lanterns illuminated by candles lit by the mayor, the procession, the fireworks against the battlement, everyone dancing…! A community like your village is what I hope to find and become part of someday. Congratulations to you for already having achieved that, early enough for your children to grow up there. With admiration, Leslie

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