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Posts from the ‘Holidays’ Category

No. 304-308: Five Things I love about le Quartorze Juillet à Paris

You can pretty much count on the French to go all out for their beloved quatorze juillet festivities in an average year, but this year it seems likes efforts have been twice doubled as the world marks the centennial of the First World War. It has been a day of huge and meaningful celebrations in the capital and around France. It has also been a lot of fun.

But before I get to the five things that I love about this day, let’s clear up a significant vocabulary inconsistency between us Anglophones and the Francophones. Chiefly: this day is NEVER called Bastille Day in France. It is ALWAYS called le Quatorze Juillet (the fourteenth of July) or la Fête Nationale (literally, National Day). Even though le Quatorze Juillet does commemorate the storming of the Bastille Prison—the beginning of the French Revolution (1789) and the end of the monarchy in France, please don’t wish a French person a “Happy Bastille Day” today. Such a greeting will unquestionably confirm to them that you are indeed one strange (and misguided) étranger, clearly a few clowns short of a circus. When in doubt, please stick to bonne fête, mais no more “Happy Bastille Day” s’il vous plaît.

With that common mistake cleared up, let’s move on to the Five Things I Love about le Quartorze Juillet à Paris:

The Parade: The French know how to put on a parade, that’s for darn sure. This year 76 countries who were all involved in the conflict, regardless of which side they fought on, were invited to march down the Champs-Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde. Although I didn’t actually count, there were supposed to be 53 planes, 203 vehicles, 82 motorbikes, 36 helicopters, 3,752 soldiers, the President of the Republic, François Hollande, hundreds of horses, numerous WWI wheeled cannons, a WWI American ambulance, the surviving ‘Marne taxis’ used to transport reinforcements to the Marne battlefields during the war, and a partridge in a pear tree. Of course, as always, there were the impressive and tricolor military flyovers. (Major props to demotix photos for their excellent photos of the parade. Something is up with my camera. Vive mon iPhone!)

The Dorky but Sincere Interpretive Dance: As this was an extra special quartorze juillet, those adorable and sincere Frenchies added an unique centennial flourish on the Place de la Concorde at the parade’s end. Choreographer José Montalvo set a dance performed by young couples dressed in black and white, each with a dove in hand, to “deliver a message of universal peace”. Its necessary seriousness made me giggle, I must admit. (Is that bad?) The best way to describe this dance was to listen to the squeals of certain expats which sounded something like this: “Oh, my gosh. That’s SOOOOOOO…. French!” Enough said. (Please check back to watch the video once it is released.)

source: AP images

source: AP images

Le Fête des Tuileries and the Poilu Bivouac: On this exceptional fourteenth of July, a fascinating WWI infantry camp was setup in the Tuileries Gardens just across from Place de la Concorde along side the annual family friendly Fête des Tuileries, a fair with the customary sketchy carnival rides, French themed food vendors, and the same lovely (but way over-priced) ferris wheel that graces that space during the Christmas holidays. It all felt a little like “home” —wherever that is for me these days.

The Firemen’s Ball: The fetching French fire brigade throw two huge parties to mark this day of independence from the monarchy: one on the night of July 13, and one the night of July 14. Each night the young and the old, and everyone in between, start to gather around 9:00 pm and keep on partying until the wee hours of the morning. In Paris le Bal des Pompiers are held in firehouses in each arrondissements. Le ball features live entertainment, crazy costumes, wild wigs, fairy lights, beer and champagne, and street dancing, but meeting the dishy pompiers up-close-and-personally is the real draw for many merrymakers. If you like Michael Jackson, and the Village People (think “YMCA”), and/or have a Chippendale dancers fetish, this is the place for you…bring your five Euro notes. An old-style drum is left at the entrance for revelers to donate funds for improvements to the firehouses and to increased staffing.

source: wikipedia

source: wikipedia

…I want to stay at the YMCA...

…I want to stay at the YMCA…

The Fireworks:  On the eve of la Fête Nationale, firework displays are everywhere in France. In Paris les feux d’artifice light up the skies behind the Eiffel Tower and this year it was too spectacular for words. I will never see a fireworks show like this again. In fact, I don’t have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to describe the wonders on the Champ de Mars tonight. It was, as the rest of the day was, a remembrance of those who fought and died in WWI. Mostly classical music was used to tell the story of the last 100 years, with John Lennon’s Imagine to remind us of what is possible. Chapeau to the fabulous French and their ability to express themselves through art. I so love this aspect of France and the French. Simply stunning. Incroyable!


Chapeau: a tip of the hat

étranger: ‪foreigner, ‪stranger, ‪alien, ‪outsider, ‪intruder

Incroyable! Incredible!

le Bal des Pompiers: Firemen’s Ball

les feux d’artifice: fireworks

pompiers: firemen

No. 255-257: French Mother’s Day: Repopulation, Advice from Vichy France and Cake

“L’avenir d’un enfant est l’oeuvre de sa mere.” (The future of a child is the work of his mother.)

                        -Napoleon Bonaparte


While Mother’s Day in America was first officially celebrated in 1914 after Anna Jarvas campaigned for six long years for a day to honor “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” Mother’s Day in France came to be celebrated with slightly more practical and economic intentions behind it: the necessity to repopulate a country distressed by its declining birth rate.


In fact, French Mother’s Day was first instituted with an award attached to it for producing a high number of children. In 1906, a medal of haut mérite maternel (high maternal merit) was awarded to mother’s who had more than nine children. By 1918, some cities in France had established les Journée Nationale des Mères de Familles Nombreuses (National Day for Mother’s of Large Families), and in 1920 it became an official national holiday celebrated on the last Sunday of May. From the 1920s through 1940 the French government continued to support the holiday to help officially promote and reward large family policy and honor those mothers’ with the ability and desire to pop out baby after baby.

During the reign of the Vichy government, in an attempt to win favor with all mothers, the occupational government (while still actively promoting large family policies), extended the holiday to honor all mothers, even those with smaller families. After the war ended, Mother’s Day gradually became less attached to politics and nationalism, and became more of a day to celebrate your fabulous do-it-all mom.

While I was researching the history of French Mother’s Day, I came across this poster from 1941 Vichy France offering advice on how French children should behave on Mother’s Day and throughout the year, according to the field marshal, no less…


Ta maman a tout fait pour toi, le Maréchal te demande de l’en remercier gentiment.

Invente la surprise la plus belle que tu pourras, celle qui lui fera le plus grand plaisir.

Offre-lui des fleurs que tu auras cueillies…

ou un cadeau que tu auras fabriqué exprès pour elle…

Fais-lui un dessin aussi beau que tu pourras…

Fais un effort en classe pour rapporter de bonnes notes…

Ne te dispute pas avec tes frères et sœurs…

Va faire les commissions sans qu’elle te le demande…

Aide au ménage en souriant…

Apprends une jolie récitation…



(Your mom has done everything for you, the field marshal asks you to thank her kindly.

Come up with the most beautiful surprise you can that will give her the greatest pleasure…

Offers her flowers that you picked …or a gift you have made especially for her …

Draw her the nicest picture you can …

Make an effort in class to make good grades …

Do not fight with your brothers and sisters …

Run errands without her asking …

Help with the household with a smile…

Learn a beautiful recitation …

(Remember) Work-Family-Homeland)


…and finally in France, fête your lovely mother with a gorgeous cake from your kitchen or pâtisserie that looks like a bouquet of flowers or something too delicious to be true.

source: Meeting the French

source: Meeting the French

 Bonne fête des mères!


No. 235: La fête de la Victoire 1945


unconditional surrender at Reims, France; source:


Arc de triomphe; source: AP Photo/Griffin

Arc de triomphe; source: AP Photo/Griffin


la Madeleine; source:


Champs-Élysées; source:

No. 230: Bourges: France’s Heartland

map_france-Bourges.jpgWe are a couple of days back from faire(ing) le pont in Bourges.

This was one of those completely unexpected, point-to-a-place-on-the-map-where-we-can-afford-the-train-tickets type of getaway. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

Bourges lies almost exactly in the center of France, so now if/when I have to leave France, I can say, both that I left my heart in France, and that I have been to the heart of France.

Bourges is a classic French town housing one of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe, Sainte-Etienne, a UNESCO world heritage site, known for its stunning stained-glass windows, some dating back as far as the 13th century, an amazingly accurate astronomical clock, and its arched-entrance, chiseled with eerie carvings illustrating a grim Judgment Day.


According to our bed and breakfast host, guests tend to use Bourges as an overnight stop when traveling north-to-south or vice versa. But I would say Bourges is worthy of a long weekend, to allow you the time to get to know the picturesque town surrounded by rivers, listen to the pealing church bells, soak up the rich history, and experience the relaxed and friendly locals.


Southeast of Orléans, this hilly city, where Joan of Arc wintered before she was burned at the stake, rises up at the intersection of the Yèvre and Auron rivers in the Department of Cher and will charm the pants right off you with its half-timbered medieval houses, cobbled lanes, sculpted gardens and marshy marais—more on that tomorrow.


May is the perfect time to visit, as the town hosts Les Printemps de Bourges Contemporary Music Festival, (we were one weekend too late), and les Nuits Lumière (Illuminated Nights), an impressive light, sound and architectural show highlighting the city’s heritage (screened across the ancient buildings) on offer every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, rain or moon-glow.


Summer may be an even better time to visit Bourges, as there were loads of signs heralding Été à Bourges and an impressive line-up of free, outdoor musical performances, of all shapes and sizes.

When all is said and done, Bourges is a super cool place to visit either on whim or as a planned stop on your itinerary. If you want to hear and feel what makes this complicated country tick, venture au coeur, to the heart of France.



au coeur: in the center, at the heart

Été à Bourges: Summer in Bourges

faire le pont: to take a long weekend, literally to make the bridge

Les Printemps de Bourges: Bourges’ Springtime

No. 225: Un Peu de Hollande en France

The windmill in the Bois de Boulogne near the Longchamps racetrack.

The windmill in the Bois de Boulogne near the Longchamps racetrack.

The award winning flowering city of Créteil.

The award-winning flowering city of Créteil.

Bordeaux vineyard

Bordeaux vineyard



Un peu de Hollande en France: A little bit of Holland in France

No. 219: One More Reason Bordeaux Makes Me Smile

It's all smiles on the Marché des Quais…thanks to a very friendly English vendeuse and her melons...

It’s all smiles on the Marché des Quais…thanks to a very friendly English vendeuse and her melons…

No. 213: The View Out My Window

Notre Dame à Bordeaux

Notre Dame à Bordeaux