Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

La Fête nationale

July 22, 2010
“My “14 juillet” souvenirs


la fête nationale – national celebration
le 14 juillet – the 14th of July
le bal des pompiers – fireman’s ball
un pompier – fireman
un defilé – parade
le parfum
– flavour
une gueule de bois
– hangover (familiar)
un bonnet – bonnet, cap, head covering
une bavette – flank (steak)
papoter – to chatter
le feu d’artifice
– fireworks


******

A mere four hours after getting home from the July 13 pre-fête nationale Bal des pompiers, just as I was finally drifting off to sleep, my phone rang. It was my friend Floriane, with the wake-up call I had requested. She had received a V.I.P. invitation to watch the big defilé along the Champs-Elysées at a very special reception being held in one of the offices above the grand boulevard, and she had invited me to be her guest. “Coucou Darlene, tu viens de te reveiller ? ” (“Hi Darlene, did you just wake up?”) she asked me sweetly, obviously bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, having had the good sense to skip the bal the night before. “Euh… non…” I fibbed. “J’arrive…” (“I’m coming.”)

I dragged myself, slowly, painfully, out of bed, cursing military parades and their early start times. Why? Why start a parade at 9:00 a.m.? What was wrong with a 1:00 p.m. parade? Or even better, a 4:00 p.m. parade?

Thirty minutes and two large cups of caffeine later, I left to meet Floriane. Having consulted Google Maps the night before, I knew that the address was a fifteen-minute walk or a mere five-minute Métro ride away. I had also checked the RATP (the Paris métro) site the night before and knew that my nearest subway station wasn’t closed, so I was all good. Or so I thought.

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Le Bal des pompiers

July 22, 2010

Photo courtesy Mélina.

la fête nationale – national celebration
le 14 juillet – the 14th of July
le bal des pompiers – fireman’s ball
un pompier –  fireman
une caserne (de sapeurs-pompiers) – fire station
un don – donation
une voyageuse – female traveler
“C’est gentil, merci.” – “That’s kind of you, thank you.”


******


Marshall:
Wow, you’re creating a holiday.
Barney: Why not? Everybody gets one – mothers, fathers, Bastilles…
“How I Met Your Mother”


Most people I know back home have heard of “Bastille Day”, although my guess is that many would be hard-pressed to define exactly when and what it was.  In fact, July 14 is la fête nationale de France – their version of Canada Day, if you will.  Somewhat oddly, it’s known internationally in English-speaking countries as Bastille Day, even though in France, it is either referred to as le 14 juillet (much like Americans refer to Independence Day as “the 4th of July”) or simply, la fête nationale.  It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, a huge feast that was held on July 14, 1790 to celebrate the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789, considered to be a major turning point in the French Revolution.

Now, talk of a national holiday generally tends to conjure up images of the kind of pomp and circumstance befitting a dignified patriotic celebration.  And while it’s true that le 14 juillet is observed over here with much fanfare, parades, concerts and fireworks—the stuff you’d typically see in other countries during similar sorts of celebrations—the French also have another somewhat lesser-known tradition linked to la fête nationale that is quite unlike any of the customs associated with our own national holidays in North America.  In typical French fashion, it flirts with the hedonistic; a backyard barbecue, it’s definitely not.  I’m referring of course to le bal des pompiers, which really deserves to be touted in travel brochures as a genuine tourist attraction right along with the Eiffel Tower, at least for us voyageuses out there.

Every July 13, the night before the official patriotic celebrations begin, France’s finest open up casernes all over the country and throw les bals des pompiers for the general populace.  The parties usually run both July 13 and 14 from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m. and entry is traditionally free, although dons of any amount are gratefully accepted at the door, with all proceeds going towards improving the conditions of workers.  Oh yes, my lady friends back home, you heard me right – on July 13 and 14 all over France there are parties hosted, staffed and filled with firemen.  Dancing.  All with cute French accents.  Don’t you wish you were here?

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A Month of Sundays

June 7, 2010
In France, the first of May goes by a few names: the Fête du Travail (Labour Day), the Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day) and even the Fête du premier mai (First of May/May Day).  On this day, it is traditional to offer friends and family a sprig of lily of the valley, symbol of spring and good luck, especially if the sprig has 13 bellflowers.  As an extra bonus, on May 1st florists are allowed to sell their bouquets of muguet tax-free.

 

un jour férié – statutory holiday; bank holiday

faire le pont – literally “to make a bridge” (bridge a gap); an idiomatic expression used to describe the common French practice of taking a vacation day in between a statutory holiday and the weekend, thereby creating an extra-long weekend

les ponts de mai – “the May bridges” (essentially, the May long weekends)

******

Like most Canadians, by the time winter is drawing to a close, I have had it up to here with short days and long nights, face-numbing winds that make it difficult to breathe, cumbersome winter layers and sub-zero temperatures.  Nothing lifts my spirits quite like the early signs of spring and summer.  Those first few days when the temperature creeps above ten degrees, I love watching as my fellow citizens emerge from their various hiding places like so many human moles, blinking, into the sun, pasty faces turned up eagerly towards the sky, even pastier legs liberated (in our eagerness to believe that the worst is over, sometimes prematurely) from their winter-long incarceration in tights. There are always those few enthusiastic crazies who go so far as to bust out the shorts and flip flops, covered in goose bumps and shivering determinedly in defiance of what the thermometer actually reads.  It’s April dammit, and if you build it, spring will come. The advent of spring means that our precious two months of summer aren’t far off.  And nothing marks the beginning of summer in Canada like the revered “May 2-4”, otherwise known as Queen Victoria Day.

As long as I can remember, the sacred May 24 long weekend (dubbed “May two-four” in honour of the many flats of “two-fours” [24 beers] that are sure to be consumed on decks, patios and cottages across the country) has kicked off the beginning of one of the best seasons of the year. Best, of course, because the weather gets warmer, the sun comes out, all my favourite fruits are in season, and the days are long, languid and lazy. But also best because May 24 marks the beginning of long weekend season – a long weekend a month for several months to come, with the exception of June.  It’s an abundance of plenty!

Or so I used to think.

In Canada, we get really excited about the fact that we have that long weekend in May.  We’re so excited, in fact, that we’re more than happy to celebrate the birthday of a dead monarch who ruled a country that isn’t actually ours – and doesn’t even celebrate her birthday themselves – because doing so means that we get that magical day off.

However, I have recently discovered that, at least as far as public holidays go, May in France kind of, well, kicks May in Canada’s ass. Continue reading »

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