Bastille, my soul …

Today is le 14 juillet, the date on which France celebrates its liberation from a tyrannical (or at least breathtakingly clueless and inept) monarchy.

“Bastille Day” was a significant turning point in France’s history, bien sûr. But what many people don’t know is that it was also the birthday of a most curious French pastime: protesting.

I’ve often marveled at the French penchant for protesting. Joining the European Union? Protest. Tax reforms? Protest. Change in retirement age? Protest, protest, PROTEST!!!

Here’s one protest I accidentally joined last September.

But it wasn’t until last night that I thought about the origins of this cultural habit. It’s deeply rooted in history, as it turns out.

On July 14, 1789, an angry mob stormed the dreaded Bastille with two simple, almost comical demands: “Surrender the fortress. And give us your weapons.”

Two of the assailants were invited in for a chat. But the negotiations dragged on and the mob grew restless. By 5:30 p.m., the mob had rushed the fortress and liberated its prisoners (seven inmates, in all: four counterfeiters, two madmen, and an arrogant young aristocrat who had been sent there by his father).

Anyway … the peasants’ successful siege taught the French some important lessons. First, don’t keep a mob waiting. And second, never underestimate the power of a few committed people working toward a common goal.

As my friends in France gather tonight to watch the fireworks, I hope they’ll remember that second lesson. A few committed people—working together—really can overcome seemingly impossible odds.

Vive la France. Et vive la révolution!


    • I’m not a big fan of setting other people’s stuff on fire, but I’m glad there are places where people still feel free to voice their displeasure, I guess … (though, selfishly, I’d rather they not do it when I’m trying to get to the airport!).

  1. The school year just started here in Paris, and already today — yes, we’re still in September people — most city schools shut down! What’s even more bizarre is it’s only a one day strike, so I’m not sure if it’s just a warning shot or what. I definitely concur it’s an odd pastime, and like you said quite easy to unwillingly become part of a parade! But 1789 was definitely the start of a power-to-the-people vibe that still runs through the veins of Frenchies today, and in the long run I think the quality of life here is better for it.

    • It’s hard to tell sometimes what purpose the manifs have — if they have any at all. But they can make for great people-watching as long as the tear gas isn’t flying. And I concur that the revolutionary/rebellious spirit has made life in France better in the long run. To a foreigner’s eyes the French attitude may smack of entitlement, but there’s something to be said for trying to preserve a way of life and the things you value. BTW: I’m a long-time fan of yours [grins and then blushes] so it’s wonderful to find your comments here. Thank you!

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