Vive la France!
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Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé! Lynne Mortimer celebrates Frenchness in the wake of the 228th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.
Trans: Arise, children of the fatherland, the day of glory has arrived.
On July 14 1789 the French Revolution began with an attack on the fortress prison in Paris that was a symbol of the stark social inequalities. The revolution marked the beginning of a seismic shift in European politics – one that would strike fear into the hearts of the monarchy and aristocracy across the continent. Change would follow but it came gradually as ruling dynasties in many countries toppled. Meanwhile, other monarchies would survive, albeit with diminished power.
The storming of the Bastille, in Paris, on July 14 was symbolic of the nation's discontent with its ruling class. And here, in honour of la revolution, we celebrate 10 things we love about France.
1. The language. It is the language of love... and Delboy. 'Mange tout, mange tout, mon brave,' he expressed, eloquently. A nifty translation at www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/onlyfools/lingo reveals, that he is saying 'it's my pleasure' rather than ordering a flat green pea pod. The cockney trader imagined 'Tel aviv,' to be French for 'you never can tell'. He did not reserve all his linguistic genius for the French, however. Münchengladbach was his German for 'hello'.
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While we may wait a long time for President Emmanuel Macron to whisper 'Je t'adore' into the collective British ear (though he may do it for bankers) there is no doubt 'I adore you' sounds better in French.
2. Bread and pastries. A French person once told me you could always identify a British holiday maker by the way he/she held a baguette. Apparently we hold it as if it has a flag on top, while the native of France will tuck it under an arm or into his/her bicycle basket. But we do love a French stick. Also popular is the croissant or, as my daughter called it when she was tiny, cressole. This is a crescent of flaky, buttery pastry best eaten warm from the oven. Profiteroles were de rigueur in the 80s, along with the Italian import, Tiramisu. Puffs of cream-filled choux pastry, they are drizzled or smothered in chocolate and look good stacked up at parties. The eclair, the macaron and tarte tatin might also be considered BSF (British Standard Fare).
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3. The Tour de France: The most celebrated bicycle race in the world the Tour is not untarnished by scandal but it remains a gruelling contest for the best pedallers in the world. Apart from the years of the two world wars, the race has been run every year since 1903 and is the oldest of the three Grand Tours (the other two being the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España). Since 2010, the UK has won the Tour four times. Before that? Never.
4. The style: There is no doubt that the French, and the Parisians in particular, have style. Coco Chanel's designs have left an indelible imprint on the fashions of the last century, epitomised by the Little Black Dress of the 1920s, a simple, elegant garment designed to be a wardrobe staple.
5. Paris - the most romantic destination
6. Café society: Pavement cafés where you drink coffee and pastis (an aniseed flavoured aperitif) and smoke Gauloises... although not so much with the cigarettes, these days.
7. Sex, kissing and arty French films: Actor Brigitte Bardot was dubbed 'sex kitten' after appearing in the 1957 film And God Created Woman, directed by Roger Vadim. Not that I've seen it...
8. Stuff we don't eat: The French have a formidable reputation for devouring parts of animals about which the British are squeamish. In a Parisian restaurant I asked the proprietor to tell me about andouillette was, She clutched her tummy and mimed what I can only describe as disembowelment. It was accurate. Andouillette is a sausage made with pork intestines (aka chitterlings as provided by Corporal Jones for Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army), sometimes with added tripe. I didn't order it.
10. Taking to the streets. (see storming of the Bastille below); also the July Revolution of 1830, the February Revolution of 1848, the riots of May 1968)
In May 1789 the deputies of the French Third Estate decided to form a National Assembly. While the King, Louis XVI began to recognise the validity of their concerns it was not enough to appease the people of Paris. When the finance minister, who was sympathetic to the Third Estate, was dismissed on July 11, the people stormed the Bastille. They were seeking arms and ammunition to defend themselves, fearful that they would be attacked.
The Bastille was a fortress-prison in Paris which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet (literally 'signet letters'), arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed and did not give any reason for the imprisonment. At the time it was stormed, The Bastille held only seven prisoners but did house a large quantity of ammunition and gunpowder.
The crowd was eventually reinforced by mutinous Gardes Françaises ('French Guards') and this persuaded Governor de Launay, the commander of the Bastille, to capitulate. He opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre but a misunderstandin led to a resumption of fighting and 200 attackers and just one defender died. In the aftemath de Launay and seven other defenders were killed as was the elected head of the city's guilds.
Late in the evening of 4 August, after a very stormy session of the Assemblée Constituante, feudalism was abolished and three weeks later, on August 26, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was proclaimed.
NB The Marseillaise was written in 1792