New Yorkers are no strangers to the art of celebrating. In the summertime, it seems as though streets are sectioned off weekly to celebrate various countries and cultures. Being the most diverse city in the world, it seems like no matter your origins, there is inevitably a festive day to celebrate your heritage, and with an estimated 70,000 French transplants residing in New York City, things are certainly no different for our local Francophone population.
The Bastille was a fortress and prison that famously held prisoners based on lettres de cachet, or arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed. Political prisoners that spoke against the monarchy were held on these grounds, and as a result, the Bastille quickly became a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. The fortress was also known to house massive quantities of gunpowder and ammunition, which was seemingly being used against the French people, as opposed to being used for their defense.
In an effort to both liberate the captives and arm the general populace, the people of Paris took a stand and attacked the bastille on July 14th, 1789. As the crowd proved to be a fair match to the royal military and the defenders of the fort, the gates were opened. The French Revolution had officially begun, and a long and bloody struggle to deny the King’s absolute power and fight the oppression of the French people had begun.
Just as it is with our Fourth of July, the bloody history of this critical day and the surrounding tragedies is somewhat obscured by our contemporary methods of celebration. But as an optimist that likes to eat and appreciates a good firework, that may be alright.
FIAF, or the French Institute Alliance Francaise, is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to create and offer New Yorkers innovative and unique programs in education and the arts that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French cultures.” Just as one might expect, this cultural powerhouse has also been spearheading the “largest public celebration of the historic friendship between France and the United States commemorating France’s own Independence Day” for 15 years.
On Sunday, July 15th, 60th street between Fifth and Lexington Avenues will be shut down from 12-5 to allow for a multitude of French festivities. Just about anything that an ardent francophile might expect will be available throughout the day, from diverse musical offerings, affordable wine and cheese tastings, macarons, mimes and of course, the infamous and rowdy music hall dance, the can-can. (Be sure to check out our favorites, including Le Palais des ThÃ©s and FranÃ§ois Payard.) In addition to celebrating some of the outstanding facets of French culture, it is also an incredible opportunity for the public to familiarize itself with the Institute, as they will also be offering language workshops with friendly staff on hand to explain the variety of classes and diverse cultural programming that is offered throughout the year.
You can check out the official website here for more specific information, but until Sunday: VIVE LA FRANCE! And don’t forget, French Restaurant Week is ongoing until July 15. Highlights include a complimentary tasting by Saint Germain and Bastille 1789 Whiskey at Artisanal Bistro on Park Aveue at 12:30 on July 14, as well as special deals at our favorites such as Lyon and AOC. Brooklynites can check out the Skint’s Bastille Day Bash at DeKalb Market on July 14.
Get in touch with the author @MlleFauxFrench