Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Origins of Bastille Day

À bas la Bastille!
So what’s all this talk about Bastille Day?

Bastille Day was the day the French peasantry got to have their cake and eat it too.

The “Bastille” was a medieval fortress with 100-foot high walls. Charles V had it erected in 1370 as a “bastide” or fortification, originally a wall built around Paris to defend it from English attack. Chuck the VI turned it into a fort by walling up the openings and surrounding it with an 80-foot wide moat.

Eventually it becomes a prison and a symbol of the King’s authority. On the morning of July 14, 1789, enraged peasants stormed the Bastille. They were in a thither over the fact that the King had cancelled the Jerry Lewis Film festival at the local Cineplex. It marked the beginning of the French Revolution. (But if you ask me, the French have always been revolting.)

In fact, Revolution was an American import. The French were encouraged by Les Americains who had recently shucked off their King. 1789 was also the year George Washington was sworn in as our first Prez.

Bastille Day, celebrated annually on July 14, was chosen as a French National holiday in 1880. It is typically celebrated with parades, speeches, fireworks and with such slogans as Vive le 14 juillet! (“Long live the 14th of July!”) and À bas la Bastille! (“Down with the Bastille!”). And of course there are the omnipresent marathon showings of Jerry Lewis movies.I make fun of the French because it's perfectly acceptable here in America to do so. In our Anglocentric American world we've been taught that the french are effete peacocks. We learn about Plymouth Rock and our English origins in New England but never learn about  the French presence or the history of New France.  Thus no one ever thinks about how we wound up with American places with french names like Terre Haute (high ground) Indiana. La Croix (the cross) Wisconsin. Or a state called Vermont (green mountain.) New France dwarfed tiny little New England, running from Quebec in Canada down through Northern New York, Vermont, the Midwest, down the Mississippi and out to the Rocky Mountains. Is that how the Grand Tetons got their name? Yes, they looked like big boobs to horny French explorers.
I suspect that one reason why they've been airbrushed out of our history is because they were Catholic and we've been taught that this is a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation.We've forgiven the English for invading us in 1812 and burning down our capital, but for some reason dislike the french, instead. And though we paid back the favor to France by helping to free them in World Wars 1 & 2, we still couldn't help but tag them with the slur: "Surrender monkeys." Ou est l'amour?  Where is the love, folks?

There's an interesting piece in today's NY Times
that touches upon that history and the true debt we owe the French for actually winning the Revolutionary war for us. General Cornwallis discovered they weren't all that effete, when his army was forced to surrender at Yorktown.   Maybe one day we'll discover how to love les Francais encore.

And that is all there is to say about the fourteen day of juillet.

C’est ca. Au revoir.


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