By Catherine Rush Thompson
Bastille Day, the French national holiday celebrated annually on July 14th (le quatorze juillet), marks the birth of the French Republic. This holiday is named after the Bastille fortress, an important symbol for the French Republican movement. While the Bastille fortress, built in 1357, was originally designed to strategically keep invading armies from England out of Paris during the Hundred Years’ War, it evolved into an edifice for political prisoners in the 1700s. Under the reign of King Louis XVI the French people were suffering from high taxes to cover his debt, food shortages, and limited representation in government. After many years of misrule by the Monarchy, the French people united to free the political prisoners and to rise against their government. July 14, 1789, marks the date of the violent uprising that helped usher in the French Revolution.
Another symbol of the French Revolution is the tricolor flag, believed by some to represent the causes of the revolution: liberté (freedom/blue), égalité (equality/white), and fraternité (brotherhood/red).
Prior to the French Revolution the French flag honored the Monarchy and featured the early coat of arms of the French kings in the early 1200s (a blue crest decorated with gold fleurs-de-lis) and the standard of the Bourbon family (a white backdrop with gold fleurs-de-lis).
Bastille Day is celebrated all around the world. The National Geographic illustrates unique Bastille Day celebrations from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Franschhoek, South Africa in its article, 9 Bastille Day bashes that celebrate French culture: Parades, fireworks, and food honor the historic holiday that shaped modern France - (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/lists/seasonal/experience-french-culture-at-these-bastille-day-celebrations/).
Whether you have French heritage, are a Francophile, or seek a unique way to enjoy French culture, here are 10 fun ways to celebrate this year’s Bastille Day from the comfort of your own home:
Best Wishes for a Fun Bastille Day Celebration!
French Revolution: https://www.history.com/topics/france/french-revolution
The Fascinating History Behind the French Flag: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/fascinating-history-behind-french-flag/
14 Revolutionary Facts About Bastille Day: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/82401/14-revolutionary-facts-about-bastille-day
France's Striped Shirt and Beret: Origins of a Stereotype: https://www.thoughtco.com/french-striped-shirt-beret-origins-stereotype-1368581
Food Critics: The Best French Food In Kansas City: https://www.kcur.org/arts-life/2018-04-27/food-critics-the-best-french-food-in-kansas-city
By Chantal Roberts
As I write this, I am currently in quarantine longing for summer vacation. No one knows how long the requirement for physical distancing will last, or if it will be lifted and then reinstated, as some scientists propose. However, I suggest we use this time to inject more French in our daily lives.
Summer is a wonderful time in Paris. The tourists invade the capital city, while the natives rush to the countryside or beach. But for those who cannot leave the City of Lights, there are numerous opportunities to stop and enjoy what life has to offer. We can emulate that joie de vivre here in the Kansas City metro area.
Parisians love to picnic in the Jardin des Tuileries. Sun King Louis XIV’s gardener, André Le Nôtre, landscaped the gardens in 1664 into a French formal style. No doubt Molière, who would have been 42 at this time and in the midst of writing three plays (Le Mariage forcé, La Princesse d’Elide, Tartuffe, ou l’Imposteur), saw Le Nôtre’s work when he was in Paris.
Rather than packing their own picnic basket, Parisians can order from a restaurant in order to make life simpler, and you can, too. While some restaurants are using the down time to revamp their menu or kitchens in order to better serve you, Chez Elle and Café Provence are open and offering curbside pickup so you can emulate the French lifestyle.
You may prefer a light meal in the heat of the day, and Chez Elle Crêperie will hit the spot with their curbside service of three crêpes and two drinks. What better way to have lunch than with a French pancake? Perhaps you can have two savory crêpes and one sweet to take the place of dessert. Just the perfect size as to not be too heavy to cause the mid-afternoon sleepiness.
As the days are longer in June, the extended sunlight allows for more luxurious dinner in your favorite park. Chef Phillip of Café Provence can provide a three-course, prix fixe dinner encompassing wonderful appetizers such as a hearty salad or pasta dish, a main course of meat or fish, and a mouth-watering French dessert. All you have to do is find the perfect bottle of wine to accompany your meal and a shady spot to spread your blanket.
But if the park is not your style, and you prefer to have your toes in the sand, rest assured—Parisians do, too.
Every summer the mayor of Paris brings in sand, palm trees, umbrellas, and lounge seats along both banks of the Seine, and the Paris-Plages are born. You can take your picnic to Shawnee Mission Park which has a 120-acre lake and beach. Of course, you can’t be French if you don’t take your beloved Fido everywhere with you. Shawnee Mission Park also has a Doggy Beach, a small, sand beach in the park’s off-leash area. Fido and his amis won’t mind if you dip your toes in the water to cool off a bit!
By Rebecca Smith
Along with plays by Molière, the court of Louis XIV was partial to literary fairy tales, considered Art. It was the King’s desire to showcase French culture and tradition and promoting its folklore was a means of doing so. Perhaps the most recognized chronicler, Charles Perrault, enjoyed great favor with the King. Backed by his royal Patron, Perrault consistently collected the tales from country storytellers and then reworked them for the nobility, often rendering them more genteel, less rustic. Their settings were changed from the pastoral to court and sometimes a moral tone was added. In this way, the accounts were restyled into literary narratives, distinguishing them from those of other regions. Perrault’s were some of the first oral histories to be noted and recorded, even preceding the Brothers Grimm, and from them reportedly can be traced the legends of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
Perrault had been trained as a lawyer but, always drawn to poetry and prose, wrote stories for Louis XIV and in the late 1660s he brought forth Histoires ou contes du temps passe, avec des moralités: Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose). With this volume, the fairy tale was essentially established and French literary history was forever enhanced. Perrault was appointed to L’Académie Française in 1671.
The stories generally included fairies, enchantments and magic. Mysticism and transformation (from dead to alive, from human to animal and vice versa, spells, occult transportation) were common elements. Traveling was often involved and heroic rescues not infrequently supplied the denouements.
With such commanding features, the tales had long enjoyed a real popularity with women, especially of the aristocracy. The subject matter, including physical and sometimes sexual content, could preclude discussion between the sexes, so women-only salons were regularly scheduled affairs – perhaps among the earliest “book clubs”. The salons also offered the women momentary escape from the perils and stress of court life. Story lines and characters would be enthusiastically reviewed and some women would read their own creations. The Countess D’Aulnoy, was one of these writers and, indeed, her “Contes de Fèes” (“tales of fairies”), among which “Goldilocks” is said to be included, may be the origin of the genre moniker. Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve may be credited with penning “Beauty and the Beast”. Sophie Segur, although from a Russian background, was another French tale writer of note.
Many of these educated and intellectual Parisian hostess/writers were labeled “les précieuses” and their writing style “préciosité”, which emphasized refined feminine elegance and comportment to a pretentious, excessive level. Molière famously scorned these women for their demure sensibilities and in 1659 he satirized them in Les Précieuses Ridicules. Our own esteemed President and Molière scholar, Dr. Felicia Londré, elucidates.
“The précieuses were an obvious target for satirical exposé. They were like tyrants of ‘political correctness’ in their day. Their pretentiousness was most evident in their vocabulary. One could not say a vulgar word like ‘teeth.’ Any servant could name a body part. So the précieuses came up with ‘the furniture of the mouth.’ ‘Eyes’ were ‘the windows of the soul,’ etc. They passed around a map called La Carte du Tendre so they could point to regions of the heart on the map rather than trying to express emotions in common words.
Molière was not inventing those lines about calling a chair ‘an apparatus for conversation’ in his play. The women really did aim for super refinement, and it’s probably a good thing for Molière that the fad for salons had been going strong for a generation. In their zeal to rid the French public stage of vulgarity and violence (so that women could actually attend the theatre!), they had a theatre of broader appeal ready for Molière’s return to Paris.”
So both Molière and Perrault emerged as French literary stars from the royal court. Molière is, of course, considered the pre-eminent playwright of France. Perrault is the godfather of fairy tale history to whom all future creators (including the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and the Walt Disney Company) must bow. And both are read by Francophiles everywhere. Molière is read and studied and performed. Perrault is read and enjoyed and recited. Of course, one must be a strong French speaker to read a Molière play in the original, but a French language student of any level can tackle a Perrault fairy tale. FluentU highly recommends it.
Finally, at KCMOlière400in2022 we must cheer, for obvious reasons, one of Madame d’Aulnoy’s tales, “Felicia and the Pot of Pinks” (“Fortunée”, in French) in which a true princess’s status is restored. “Lovely Felicia, the day has come at last when I may have the happiness of telling you how even the flowers love you and rejoice in your beauty.”
Sources: fairytalez.com, Wikipedia.com, fluentu.com
By Catherine Rush Thompson
For those interested in exploring Molière and his work, the KC Molière 400 in 2022 site is the perfect introduction: https://www.kcmoliere400in2022.com/playlist.html. Here Dr. Felicia Londré outlines a complete list of Molière’s plays in chronological order, beginning with his first play, La Jalousie du Barbouillé (The Jealous Husband), and ending with his last play, Le Malade Imaginaire (The Hypochondriac). Dr. Londré also categorizes plays suitable for young audiences, comedies with music and dance, one-act farces, short comedies and full-length comedies, followed by plays about Molière or inspired by his work. This is a wonderful place to begin appreciating Moliere’s extensive work and comedic themes.
For as little as $0.99 you can order used books featuring Molière’s work at: https://www.alibris.com/. Better yet, local libraries offer free eBooks and access to other online resources to explore Molière from the comfort of your own home.
The Kansas City Public Library offers a range of resources featuring Molière and his work, listing twenty-nine books, three eBooks, a movie, and a downloadable audiobook, including:
The Johnson County Library similarly has a collection of Molière’s work comprised of six books, one eBook one movie, and one downloadable audiobook, including:
Mid-Continent Public Library’s Molière collection includes eleven books, three eBooks, one audiobook (CD), seventeen streaming videos, two streaming music CDs, and two DVDs. Listed below are videos available in English and French that can be streamed remotely using a library membership:
Enjoy exploring Molière!
By Rebecca Smith
Cocktails are booming or, rather, “zooming” right now. Virtual cocktail parties are flourishing, as they offer ceremony and sociability, which we sorely need. They take advantage of the additional hours we all have and the flexibility of our schedules. They add a bit of elegance to our stuck-at-home frumpiness. As Gina Bellafante wrote in The NY Times on April 26, “a single cocktail can feel like the best inoculation against dread.” She expands, “We need the ritual; we have the time. And during lockdown, it’s 5 o’clock everywhere.”
In general, since shelter-inside orders were put in place, we as a nation have apparently been imbibing significantly more. It has been estimated that over half of Americans 18 and over have been indulging and alcohol sales are at record levels. Liquor and grocery stores have seen increases of over 26% and online sellers have claimed increases of over 42%. From the beginning, alcohol sales were deemed an “essential business”, apparently anticipating the need for anxiety relief, and even home delivery and carryout cocktails have been allowed. Consumption and enjoyment have been a frequent topic on social media and spirits of all kinds have been featured. Cocktails have enjoyed a particular spotlight with photos, recipes and tutorials abounding.
The history of the cocktail is a colorful one. The American version is that it began as a result of Prohibition when fruit juices were mixed with poor bathtub gin and other spirits to disguise the flavor. The “Cocktail Hour” was said to have originated when liquor was made legal again in 1933; it was a daily celebration. When and why it dwindled is debatable but technology and “productiveness” surely played their roles. Extended hours at work and even at home, long hours on the way to and from work, parenthood duties, and constant connectedness resulted in exhaustion more than anything else. And the traditional 5:00 toast? Most weren’t even home by then and, if they were, concocting an elaborate cocktail and setting an elegant mood was far from priority. Enter the Coronavirus.
There are seemingly no end to “cocktail” origin stories and the French play into many of them. The word itself probably came from the French word “coquetier” (pronounced ko-k-tay) which refers to a kind of eggcup, in which French apothecary Antoine Peychaud of Peychaud’s Bitters, would serve a bitters and brandy mix to sufferers of stomach ailments. Peychaud, who was born in Haiti and moved to New Orleans, is recognized as the creator of the “Sazerac”, the original branded cocktail. It was made with Sazerac French brandy with Peychaud’s gentian-based bitters (hints of anise and mint) an essential ingredient.*
An engaging but likely false account is that of an innkeeper Betsy Flanagan who was said to have served French soldiers fighting in our own Revolutionary War her “Betsy’s Bracers” drink, stirred and decorated with rooster tails, i.e. “cocks’ tails”. “Vive le cocktail!” a French officer reportedly exclaimed. **
The “Coquetel”, also connected with French military serving at that time, was a specific mixed drink from Bordeaux.**
But the French contribution is much larger than just in the naming. Long admired for their flair in the galley, French superiority can be seen in their mixology, as well as in their cuisine. Saveur.com describes Harry’s New York Bar as the most famous cocktail bar in Paris and one of the most historically well known in the world.
And France can claim to have fashioned some of the all-time most beloved cocktails. These include the Mimosa, the Sidecar, the Bloody Mary (with credit to the Americans bringing over tomato juice), the Kir and Kir Royal, the French 75, the Lumiere, the 1789 and, the most dramatic, perilous and artist-connected, Absinthe. (Interestingly, a dash of Absinthe also became an ingredient in the Sazerac.)
So - À votre santé!
To cocktail à la française, check out this guide to a handy liquor cabinet. (Notice his recommendation for a sweet vermouth harmonizes with Stanley Tucci’s how-to-make-a-Negroni demonstration now going gangbusters on social platforms.)