Thanks to the recent rugby test games, the French have made the news again but not necessarily with glory. The tricolour fans of Auckland have rapidly forgotten about the last defeats and have kept their blue, white and red dress-ups handy, ready to celebrate their National Day, Bastille Day.
On July the 14 1789, troops stormed the Bastille, a massive jail in the east of Paris. It symbolised the despotism of the king at the time, Louis the 16th. The king, who had spent the day hunting, is reported to have written the word “nothing” in his diary, as if no relevant event had occurred.
People usually associate the date with the day the prison was overthrown. The event, in fact, celebrates the Day of the Federation, when one year later France had become a constitutional monarchy after the revolution.
If you have been in France on the 14th of July, you would have participated in some of the festivities. The French usually enjoy their sleep-in morning on what is supposedly a hot summer day. They sip their coffee (black please, no milk) occasionally dipping a fresh croissant into a cup whilst watching on television: the traditional military parade on the Parisian chicest avenue Les Champs-Elysées.
After a relaxing day, at dusk, people head off to the main square to attend the community fireworks, Feux d’artifice, in a joyful atmosphere. In Paris, the show is spectacular, the fireworks reflecting off the river Seine. You might then head towards the Fireman Ball, le Bal des Pompiers and dance to cheesy old French tunes while drinking a glass of wine. This vibrant popular street event has a lovely spirit.
If you feel like adding a bit of French panache into your winter gloom, you might consider putting on a Bastille Day Party. Greet your guests with a welcoming Bonjour and offer them an apéritif on arrival. The traditional appetizers require everyone to enjoy some alcohol, such as Kir, a cocktail made with blackcurrant liqueur or crème de cassis topped up with white wine. You will display finger food on the coffee table. Ensure that you do not offer a plate of cheese.
This would be a French faux-pas, as cheese usually follows the main dish of a meal. The idea is that after a couple of beverages, your guests will head towards the dinner table and straight away enjoy a lively conversation. A three course meal, lasting a couple of hours, will be expected (the internet abounds with traditional, yet easy French recipes such as Hachis Parmentier or Onion Soup).
You will be finishing with cheese, dessert, or both (impress your guests with a Crème Brûlée, Mousse au Chocolat Noir or Poires Belle-Hélène). Don’t hesitate to debate a current issue with passion as this is what French people do around the dinner table. You can then throw in a few games, such as a quiz on French customs or play the popular “Ni Oui, Ni Non”: you are not allowed to answer any questions with yes or no. Don’t forget to have French café music in the background.
If you’d rather enjoy a night out, there are a lot of gourmet restaurants around Auckland, which will celebrate the event. Most of them will have special menus on the day.
Pyrénées, in Remuera has invited two live-music bands to perform. Petit Bocal in Sandringham and L’Assiette in Britomart will include special three course meals and champagne on their menus.
If you like dancing to the 80’s music, Frogs.co.nz, together with Alliance Française, Amuse-Gueule Radio and Auckland Accueil are commemorating the occasion with a big party and delicious food on the 12th of July in Freemans Bay Community Centre in Ponsonby from 7:00 pm.
You might want to join the free Bastille Day Street Festival in Remuera from 10.00am to 2.00pm on Saturday 13 July with food, music, performers and competitions for all ages.
There are no excuses for not bringing some French colours into your life this month! Vive la France!