Today is a good day for red wine and revolution

By Nicolas Henry ( China Daily ) Updated: 2008-07-14 09:55:14

French and Chinese cultures have many common points, and as a Frenchman, I should know. We both share an immoderate taste for gastronomy, romantic and nostalgic passion for great stories in literature and poetry, and our most important similarity is our history of revolution.

Today is Bastille Day and it is the most French day on our calendar. In many ways it best sums up the French spirit, in which some do and some don't.

Today was the day when French demonstrated in the street against the government. It commemorates the fall of one of the most important symbols of despotism and monarchy, the Bastille Castle, which was known as the most fearsome prison in France.

To be honest, the Bastille was nearly empty of soldiers when the people's militia rushed into the jail, and the prisoners included a couple of smugglers, an incestuous noble and a simpleton named Antoine.

The real importance of the first people's victory didn't register with the people in power. In fact, in Louis XVI's royal diary, the king marked July 14 with the dramatic words: Nothing Special. As we all know, his judgment was very premature.

The French always search for every excuse to celebrate, but we're not the kind of people who are simply happy by singing an anthem, hand on the heart, with profound seriousness.

A popular event of Bastille Day is the military parade, but even this ceremony is far from the solemnity of China's National Day.

Many French ignore the parade and instead turn to the words of the poet singer, Georges Brassens: Le jour du 14 juillet / je reste dans mon lit douillet / la musique qui marche au pas / cela ne me regarde pas (The 14 of July/ I'd rather stay in bed/ I really don't care about / the rhythm of military boots).

Usually today is an occasion to gather with friends and relatives to dance or walk around the whole night, especially to see the traditional fireworks.

The fire in the sky allows young men to escape parental vigilance and try to seduce their first girlfriend during the romantic, sparkling night.

Today is an opportunity to bask in the French spirit, but how can I celebrate it here in China?

Many French expats like me received an email from our embassy last week explaining that the French community was too large in Beijing and the embassy could not entertain everybody.

I later learned that only a few VIPs would be attending the party. But what is worse, there are no firework celebrations. The embassy's budget did not allow for such an event, according to the embassy email. On a day like today, my French mind turns to thoughts of revolution. As president Anatole France said: "We thought we fought for party, and we discovered we died for industrial bosses."

No fireworks? A limited aristocratic elite partying with my taxes?

Draw your blades citizens! They want to butcher the national spirit!

So here is my plan to celebrate my national day. With the sounds of my national anthem La Marseilaise humming through my soul, I will sleep in and later wash this felony in red wine at one of the many French restaurants in Beijing.

Vive la difference!

(China Daily 07/14/2008 page10)

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