Archive

Posts Tagged ‘14 juillet’

Reflecting on France’s “malaise”

I hope you all had a very good Bastille Day!
As for me, I’m in a Parisian jazz outfit here in Chicago called Keops. We played the Bastille Day celebration at the Daley Plaza. It was a lot of fun.

As France celebrated its Bastille Day, it’s perhaps an opportune time to reflect on what the modern French Republic means, and the attitudes of its citizens.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times penned a poignant, if somewhat controversial, column the other day in reflection about France’s national attitudes. Excerpts below, but it’s worth the full read as these quotes could be taken out of context.

While I witnessed this feeling of “malaise” that seemed to permeate the national consciousness, I also had friends there who were positive people and looked for the bright side of the problem. There are problem solvers in the country, like any country. And the French also have a well-known “joie de vivre”. So I’m afraid Cohen’s column paints a picture that may be too dark. Nonetheless, when comparing France to the US, there is more optimism in general in the US. But in Cohen’s view, a French person would just paint this as blind ignorance.

Do you agree with his analysis?

“…Tell a Frenchman what a glorious day it is and he will respond that it won’t last. Tell him how good the heat feels and he will say it portends a storm. I recently asked in a French hotel how long it would take for a coffee to reach my room. The brusque retort: “The time it takes to make it.”

This surliness is more a fierce form of realism than a sign of malaise. It is a bitter wisdom. It is a nod to Hobbes’s view that the life of man is, on the whole, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Nothing surprises, nothing shocks (especially in the realm of marriage and sex), and nothing, really, disappoints. Far from morose, the French attitude has a bracing frankness. No nation has a more emphatic shrug. No nation is the object of so much romanticism yet so unromantic itself. No nation internalizes as completely the notion that in the end we are all dead.

Now, it is true that France lives with high unemployment in a depressed euro zone; that it is more vassal than partner to Germany these days; that it is chronically divided between a world-class private sector and a vast state sector of grumpy functionaries; that its universalist illusions have faded as its power diminishes; and that its welfare state is unaffordable.

Still, moroseness is a foible in a country with superb medicine, good education, immense beauty, the only wine worth drinking, an army that does the business in Mali, strong families and the earthy wisdom of “la France profonde.”

Malaise and ennui are to France what can-do is to America: A badge of honor…”

Bastille Day 2012

Happy Bastille Day everyone! Joyeux 14 juillet tout le monde !

How did you celebrate today? Feel free to post in the comments section your favorite places to celebrate, no matter which country or city.

I myself am in Washington DC today and among several spots to revel in the celebration, Bistrot du Coin is a local favorite.

In the spirit of transatlantic relations, this NY Times piece is interesting.

Vive la France !

Honoring France’s historical commitment to America

Renown scholar and author David McCullough wrote a nice piece in the New York Times to celebrate Bastille Day and honor France. It addresses France’s historical contributions to America, from the Revolutionary War to other efforts that have defined the US today. It highlights our similarities and encourages recognition of France among Americans. Great article. Although as an expat I can get frustrated with some details of life here, I join McCullough in saying “Vive la France!”.

Article below. Enjoy.

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Vive la Similarité
By DAVID McCULLOUGH
Published: July 13, 2011

THE recent arrest in New York of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then the head of the International Monetary Fund, has caused some people to question the American-French relationship. Though we will probably never see a Bastille Day when French flags fly along Main Street and strains of “La Marseillaise” fill the airwaves, July 14 would not go so largely unobserved here were we better served by memory. For the ties that bind America and France are more important and infinitely more interesting than most of us know.

Consider that the war that gave birth to the nation, our war for independence, would almost certainly have failed had it not been for heavy French financial backing and military support, on both land and sea. At the crucial surrender of the British at Yorktown, for example, the French army under General Rochambeau was nearly as large as our own commanded by Washington. The British commander, Cornwallis, was left with no escape and no choice but to surrender only because a French fleet sailed into the Chesapeake Bay at exactly the right moment.

The all-important treaty ending the Revolutionary War, wherein King George III recognized the United States to be “free, sovereign and independent,” was signed in Paris. The plan for our new capital city on the Potomac was designed by a French engineer, Pierre Charles L’Enfant. The first great statue of our first president was the work of a French sculptor, Jean-Antoine Houdon. The first major study of us as a people, “Democracy in America,” was written by a French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville. Published in 1835, it remains one of the wisest books ever written about us.

To be sure, our relations with France have not always been smooth. Tensions over a diplomatic snafu called the “XYZ Affair” led, in 1798, to an actual but undeclared shooting war at sea that could have flared into full-scale war had it not been for the level-headed judgment of President John Adams.

But the rewards of our ties with France have far exceeded any difficulties there have been. With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France, the size of the country was more than doubled. The Statue of Liberty, one of our most treasured symbols, was a gift from France.

No less conspicuous are the number of French names all across the map of America — cities and states, rivers and lakes: Baton Rouge, Des Moines, New Orleans, St. Louis, Terre Haute, Louisiana, Vermont, the Au Sable River, Lake Champlain. And then there are colleges and universities like Lafayette, Duquesne, Marquette, Notre Dame.

More than nine million of us are of French descent. Over a million American students are taking French, making it, after Spanish, the most commonly studied foreign language in our schools.

Times continue to change, yet we remain conspicuously fond of all manner of things French. We deck ourselves out in French fashions, French lace, French cuffs, spend small fortunes on French perfume and French luggage. We love French doors, French cheeses. We’ve made French fries a national staple, and in time-honored tradition raise glasses of French Champagne at important celebrations.

For well over 200 years, our most gifted American writers, artists, architects, composers, musicians and dancers have flocked to Paris to study and work, nearly always to their benefit and ours. John Singleton Copley, James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Richard Wright, Louis Gottschalk and Louis Armstrong, Cole Porter, Isadora Duncan and Josephine Baker, and, of course, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The list goes on and on.

Especially for American women and for African-Americans, Paris provided an atmosphere of freedom and of acceptance such as they had never experienced.

Less well known but of great importance were the hundreds of young Americans who went to study medicine in France in the 19th century, when Paris was the medical capital of the world and who brought home ideas and skills that would transform American medicine and medical education.

And there is a further reason France should hold a prominent place in our memories and in our hearts. More American history has unfolded in France and more Americans are buried there than in any other country but our own.

During World War I more than two million American soldiers served “Over There.” In World War II another generation of American soldiers numbering more than 800,000 served in France. In all, more than 60,000 Americans are buried in French soil, at Meuse-Argonne, Normandy and nine other cemeteries. At the Meuse-Argonne, the largest, lie fully 14,246 American dead. The grave markers are a sight never to be forgotten.

Though I love France and greatly value the friends I have made there, I am not an overboard Francophile. But as an American I think it is well past time to get back to respect and affection between our countries, on all fronts and with all possible good will.

For my part this Bastille Day, I intend to raise a glass or two of Veuve Clicquot in a heartfelt toast: “Vive la France!”

David McCullough, a winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, is the author, most recently, of “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 18, 2011
An Op-Ed article on Thursday, about America’s ties with France, incorrectly described the size of General Rochambeau’s forces during the siege of Yorktown in 1781. While the combined forces of the French outnumbered those of Washington, Rochambeau himself commanded fewer soldiers than Washington, not more.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 14, 2011, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Vive la Similarité.

July 14th Bastille Day celebrations in France, around the world

Bonjour à toutes et à tous !

As you know, Thursday July 14th is the French National Holiday known as “Le 14 juillet” in France and “Bastille Day” around the world. Besides celebrations in the US (some of my favorites in Washington DC: at Bistrot du Coin, as well as the French Embassy), there are celebrations all across France.

You can see fireworks schedules for major cities in France on this page . For example on the Champs de Mars in Paris the fireworks will take place from 10:30 to 10:45pm on July 14th.

A local tradition in France is also Bastille Day Firehouse parties hosted by firemen everywhere at fire stations around the country. Paris and the region has dozens of them July 13th and July 14th. You will be expected to donate money to firemen in exchange for drinks and good times.

You can find a list here and here for even more information.

Expect crowds, but enjoy!

In honor of the holiday, here is the French national anthem below, La Marseillaise, complete with lyrics.

%d bloggers like this: