Well, I didn't have that a big hangover (see previous post)
that I had to give up posting for so many days. In fact, I've been really busy lately. Basically, I found a new job (stil as IT consultant, and still in Paris), left my current company (a kind of TV drama), and decided to join in the same time university to get a degree in law. Don't worry, I had been thinking about this for quite a long time. That's going to make year 2006/2007 (remember that in France, the "new" year starts in September - see this post
) really intense and interesting. I hope I'm not overestimating myself by joining universtiy while working, and with little chance, things will turn out well. If you want to know more details about everything, just leave your comments, and if there are too many questions, maybe I'll make a special post about it.
Anyway, let's talk today about July 14th in France. Basically, it's a day off called "la Fête nationale", which can be translated as "the National Celebration". It's the equivalent of Independence Day for the Americans, except that we don't put French flags everywhere (we do this only when France wins a football match
). The history of July 14th is quite interesting. Want to know more about French history?
In 1789, France had no more money in its budget (something like today, but there was no IMF at time), mainly due to a very bad weather for the last 2 years (taxes were mainly collected on wheat at that time. The bread price was also extremely high for the same reasons, and people were mainly eating bread at that time, so there was a lot of social movements. The King, Louis XVI, concerned on how to get more money and get back social order, asked for a special assembly to gather called "les Etats-Généraux", which represents people for the whole society. The nobles, the religous and the common people elect representatives who are sent to Versailles to discuss the social problems. Each category has only one vote, meaning the common people (Tiers Etat), although representing 95% of the French population, have as much influence as the nobles (1 vote for 2% of the French population) or the religious (1 vote for 3% of the French population).
Basically, the nobles want more influences on the driving of France: since Louis XIV, they lost all their influence. The religious don't have any special will. The common people want to be able to access to jobs reserved to nobles and the extension of taxes to the nobles and the religious (who don't pay any tax so far). The king just wants more money.
The French Revolution starts with les Etats-Généraux, on May 5th 1789. The representatives start to argue on how to vote: the common people want one vote for each representative (they would have a majority), but the nobles and the religious want the old system of one vote for each social category. On June 17th, the common people ask for the nobles and the religious to sit with them in the meeting hall of Versailles. Some accept: it's a revolution in law. The National Assembly is born, it represents the whole French people, and the three traditionnal social categories are dead in the traditionnal law.
On June 20th, they gather in the room of the Jeu de Paume (now a modern art museum) in Paris and declare they will write a constitution for France before they separate. They announce it to the King on July 9th. The King, quite unhappy, fires his prime minister (he's the responsible for all that mess... that's the proper use for Prime Ministers in France: being a fuse).
In Paris, several rumors are running, one being that the representatives are going to be arrested soon. On July 13th, the rumors gets bigger as some troops are gathered near the Champ-de-Mars (where the Tour Eiffel now is. Originally, it was just a land for military exercise). The representatives of the merchants of Paris decide to organize a local police, but they need weapons. On July 14th, they go to the Invalides (a big hospital for retired soldiers at that time, now the museum of the French army. Has always been the residence for the military governor of Paris) and collect all the weapons there peacefully, as the soldiers there refuse to fight and join the crowd. The New Paris police has now weapons, but no ammunition.
A rumor spreads that ammunition is stored into the fortress of la Bastille. This fortress, in the eastern part of Paris, was used as a special prison for nobles and political prisonners (Sade was emprisonned there until the beginning of July 1789). The new Paris Police decides to send representatives there to negociate and get the ammunition. They don't get anything.
Basically, the fortress is uncatchable, the soldiers inside are few but well-trained with proper food, and the castle dominates the surroundings by 20 to 30 meters. But the commander of la Bastille is unexperienced. Outside, the castle is surrounded by thousand of hungry people shouting, afraid, nervous, etc... At one moment, the commander looses is temper and gives order to shoot in the crowd. Hundred of dead and injured ones. Some soldiers inside the crowd leave and decide to bring back cannons, which arrive 2 hours later. Before the cannons start to shoot, the Bastille soldiers surrender. The commander is beheaded and his head is shown everywhere in the streets of Paris at the top of a rod.
Beside the ammunition stored in it, the Bastille was not an important military objective. It was more like a symbol. Under Louis XIV, a new verb was born: "embastiller", which means arrested and sent to jail (la Bastille) for several years without trial, according to the King's pleasure. La Bastille was a kind of French Guantanamo Bay, if I dare this comparison. For those of you who read French, this Wikipedia article
is really well written. Those who can't will anyway see pictures of La Bastille on the page.
One year later, on July 14th 1790, the French Revolution was keeping going. The Assembly decided to celebrate the event of the "catching of la Bastille" on the Champ de Mars and organized the "Fête de la Fédération". The king was there, and the whole society was represented. It was supposed to be a moment of national reconciliation. It worked, but didn't last long, as the French revolution soon became quite bloody (If you are interested, I can make more posts on that. Tell me your opinion in the comments).
Anyway, in 1880, under the Third Republic, it was decided that July 14th will be the National Celebration, as a very symbolic both in 1789 (against arbitrary power) and 1790 (gathering the society).
So, what do French people do on that day? Nothing, as it's a day off. This one is really respected, and it's very hard to find shops opened on that day (but not as hard as on May 1st).
Well, if you are not too lazy in bed, you can watch the military parade on the Champs Elysées in the morning, as tt's broadcasted live on 2 TV channels. My grand-dad used to be a fan of the parade (he was a former military). Right after, there is the traditionnal interview of the President of the Republic, by 2 journalists, where the president gives his opinion about tons of subjects which interest people and unveils the program for the coming year (and if it doesn't work, the prime minister leaves... French politics). If you are an important person, you are generally invited to the garden party in the presidential palace (called l'Eysée).
In small town, there is generally a ceremony with the local mayor next to the monument to the dead ones. This is quite special to France: in even the smallest French village you'll find this kind of monument; it celebrates the memory of all the French soldiers who died during World War One and Two, and also the Indochina (Viet-Nam) and Algeria Wars. The name of the soldiers is generally craved into the monument. Each town would crave the name of the deads who were living in the town.
In the evening (or the evening before, it depends), there is a ball, organized by the local firemen. Girls generally love to go there, as they love uniforms (and especially firemen's). There is generally a band, and DJ, drinks, etc... Originally, it was to help firemen to collect money to buy equipment against fire, before the French state gave them a budget in the 1970's. Anyway, the tradition remained intact.
And at night, it's the firework. Very traditionnal, too. This year, I had the luck to have dinner by the Champ de Mars, and to see the firework form the 6th floor of a Parisian building in a friend's very nice flat. Another friend brought his new EOS 350D camera, et voilà:
The rest of the pictures can be seen here: http://www.wretch.cc/album/album.php?id=H95210&book=3
the article above has been read for
times. Thank You.