Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quatorze Juillet

Today is a public holiday commemorating the Storming of the Bastille, which occurred in Paris on the 14th July, 1789 in the wake of considerable civil disobedience and public unrest which is, I suppose, a polite way of saying that the people were starving, homicidal and outraged. The medieval fortress and prison represented royal authority in central Paris and was stormed by the mob in search of weapons and ammunition on the morning of July 14th 1789. While the prison only contained seven prisoners at the time of its storming - the Marquis de Sade had been moved out ten days earlier- there was allegedly a shedload of explosives to plunder (there wasn't as it turned out) and its fall was the flashpoint of the Revolution.  It rather seems as if so many constitutions have thrown out the baby with the bathwater – Russian Communists were replaced by despotic oligarchs, the Chinese imperial dynasty with Mao, and the foppish and extravagant French court of the incompetent Louis XVI (who, it would seem, was asleep during sex-ed and didn’t quite get the idea at first of what was expected of him with Marie Antoinette), with the bloodiest revolution in recorded history. Marie Antoinette was certainly enough of a bubblehead to have uttered the “let them eat cake” remark widely ascribed to her but there is no evidence that she actually did so - another urban myth. The peasants-have-no-bread story was in common currency at least since the 1760s as an illustration of the decadence of the aristocracy.  But, enough history. Each year there is a firework display in every centre of population across France and in many places where the French reside in any significant numbers. The last time I was in France in July was in 1976 – fireworks cancelled in Lyon because of a drought, but this time, the clouds rolled away and a dazzling display lit the heavens for the hour preceding July 14th. The largest and most extravagant is on the Champ de Mars – most recently the venue for a gigantic screening of a rather bad-tempered World Cup Final, but traffic is gridlocked across the 7th arrondissement, so it seemed a sound move to stay away. As an historical footnote, the Constitution allows for a presidential pardon on July 14 and since 1991 the President has pardoned many petty offenders (mainly traffic offences) on 14 July. In 2007, President Sarkozy declined to continue the practice, so nobody is going to get away with running a red light on the Place de la Concorde any more, where Louis and Marie lost their heads, and, ironically, people still do in the manic traffic. Boo.
Anyway, here’s a really bad video taken with my pitiful little phone camera of the festivities in Poissy. It’s traditional to dance with the firemen afterwards, I am told. Whatever…

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