Tuesday was a public holiday in France. Arguably, it was the public holiday: July 14th, the Fête Nationale. You may even think it was Bastille Day.
We were surprised to discover that French people don’t refer to it by that name and would quite likely have no idea what you were talking about if you wished them a good one in those terms.
This might strike you as odd if you’re not French, given that – at least in the UK – Bastille Day is the generic term for this particular celebration. And with coverage in the British media typically confined to a 20-second newsreel loop of military parades down the Champs Elysees, with Mirage jets overflying the Arc de Triomphe, we were expecting an outpouring of patriotic fervour across the land.
Not a bit of it. Too much red, white and blue is associated in France with far-right politics and round here, like most of rural France, is rock-solid Parti Socialiste.
It’s an interesting contrast with England on April 23rd (not even a bank holiday, remember),which tends to be characterised by a rash of white vans driving around flying the red cross on a white background flag of St George (not even English, remember).
Au contraire, July 14th in France struck me as being much like an August bank holiday in the UK, but without the traffic jams and with more interesting things to do than go to Homebase. Which, admittedly, is just about anything.
Anyway, this is what we did:
In the afternoon, we went to the horse races. Rather amusingly, this took place at a ‘hippodrome’ called La Sagne, which adds a whole new layer of meaning to the expression ‘horses for courses”.
I’m not really one for the gee-gees – although I did get on a pony once. I don’t follow them and I think the last time I had a bet was on the Grand National in about 1990. Neither the flat races or the steeplechase kindled any new enthusiasm in me for the glorious uncertainty of the turf. As for trotting, I’m absolutely positive that nothing would ever persuade me to sit on a two-wheeled trolley in such close and dread proximity to a horse’s rear end. There’s just too much that could go wrong.
Then in the evening we went to Faire-Le-Dodo (87)’s very own ‘Grande Fête Nationale’, one like many similar events across France, involving a communal meal, followed by a ‘spectacle’ and culminating in a fireworks display. There were probably a couple of hundred people there: quite a significant proportion of the local population.
The repas champêtre consisted of what a mock-Tudor pub in Dudley would probably describe as ‘rustic fayre’, which is pretty much its literal translation. Crudités, a duck leg of heroic proportions – and considerable resilience – with flageolet beans, ‘salad’ (i.e. lettuce) and a slice of apple tart, washed down with a plastic beaker of sangria out of a box. To be honest, it was more about the occasion than the cuisine, although perhaps by spurning the offer of something white and wobbly in a dish, which could have been tripe, we not only gave ourselves away as Brits but missed the best bit.
I doubt it, though.
The ‘spectacle’ wasn’t particularly spectacular. A son et lumière with a medieval theme, something about a damsel being rescued from a dragon by a knight, who was not St George but the Duc of a local village. The best part was the brevity.
The fireworks were pretty good, though.
And we never heard La Marseillaise once.