Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

IMG_1845Happy Bastille Day!

Last night, our village was among those hosting a dinner and fireworks–done the night before the holiday because they can’t compete with the big fireworks tonight at la Cité of Carcassonne.

Here is the dinner menu: salad with gizzards; civet of duck (this civet isn’t the little animal but a kind of ragout made with lots of onions and pronounced see-VAY); bleu de coeur cheese; and apple pie. The Carnivore went, but I skipped it–too many calories and not enough vegetables.IMG_1796When it got dark, everybody went to the park of our château (almost every village has at least one château) to watch the fireworks. There is something charming about being in a crowd where you know 90% of the people. Children ran around freely; the park is their playground and they were excited by a place so familiar seen so unfamiliarly dark. IMG_1922When the fireworks started, more than a few of the little ones became hysterical. Fireworks are an acquired taste.

The crowd oohed and aahed in in unison, which added to the feeling of togetherness.

Compared with last year, the display was smaller and had some glitches. The park has an old stone bridge that used to go over the river until a flood changed its course. Sparklers hanging off the side give the impression of a waterfall of lights. Very pretty, especially with the elegant arch of the bridge. But the string came loose, and half of the waterfall turned into more of a puddle.

This one looked like one of those deep space photos. And it was a very starry night.

After the big finale, we stood around chatting with friends as people slowly shuffled out. Suddenly another firework blasted off and lit up the sky. One of the technicians took off across the lawn, flashlight in hand, toward the launching area. A couple more strays went off. A small fire burned under the bridge. Technicians’ flashlights flickered back and forth near the rose garden. Clearly little villages have to make do with the farm league of fireworks.

Tonight, though, is the big leagues. For a week, you could feel the excitement mounting in town. There were more people around, adding to the energy. July brings the Festival of Carcassonne, with concerts, theater and dance. I went to a dance performance in the courtyard of the château of la Cité–a fabulous setting (la Cité isn’t a castle but a fortified city, with a château inside it that was the last resort). IMG_1872Tonight, the only concerts are free ones at Place Carnot, in the Bastide, or “new” town (dating from only 1260, but that’s how things roll around here). Guy Lacroux will play old-fashioned bal musette dance tunes on the accordion before the fireworks, and BRBB, for Béziers Rhythm & Blues Band, will play after.

At the same time, the reason for the holiday is a serious one. The fight for freedom, for equality, for fraternity and pitching in together for the common good. They aren’t easy principles to uphold, and sometimes what seems right can turn out wrong. But France does a pretty good job, and I’m grateful to live here.IMG_1903



The fête several years ago. Are we in a Pagnol film? It got too big for the little square by the church and was moved under the giant platanes at the community hall.

If you’re in France during the summer, it’s worth keeping an eye out for local fêtes, where a big helping of charm is served with your meal.

P1030849But the ways of the village fête can be mysterious. To even find out about it, you must keep your eyes peeled for little flyers posted at, say, the local grocer or bakery or café. Or you might hear about it, literally, when the town hall makes an announcement over the local loudspeakers. You might have to buy tickets in advance, usually possible at one of the local businesses.

Place settings carried in shopping bags or your typical cute French basket

And don’t forget to bring your own place settings (BYOP!), or, as they stipulate on the flyers, il faut apporter ses couverts–plates, silver, glass, napkins. This is a very practical solution, in my opinion.

These places are taken!

Our village football team organizes a dinner, followed by fireworks at the château sponsored by the mayor, on July 13, not to compete with the huge fireworks in Carcassonne on Bastille Day. As if!

I love the before and after of the apéritif:

The meal is simple but good and hearty. This time was salad, followed by a duck stew, then cheese and a piece of fruit tart.

Sated, everybody headed to the château for the fireworks. Not big, but very correct.

In French, “correct” means not just not wrong but fair, reasonable, good value, in good taste. It can apply to a meal, clothing, people, work or effort….a useful word.


The waterfall effect on the stone bridge was more than correct.


Blazing, Amazing


Let’s not lose sight of  beauty. Let’s not forget how to feel wonder and excitement and awe.

P1040105I would have posted this on Friday, but events interfered. Looking through the photos, I thought, wait, this is what is right with France.

IMG_2425Carcassonne put on a fantastic show. It was so democratic. It was free of charge. It drew  half a million people. They came on foot. They were well-mannered, even after the street lights were turned off (seriously, doesn’t it say something when the street lights are off and people still behave?). They didn’t even litter very much.

IMG_2421There were all ages, but all were the same age–kids–before the spectacle in the sky. The crowd sent up ooohs and aaahs in unison, frequently breaking out in applause, which the pyrotechnicians across the river had no way to hear.

IMG_2341The show began with a few small, bright flashes and big, deep booms. They picked up the cadence, then the lights started to bloom across the sky, illuminating the ramparts of la Cité in ghostly, colored light.


IMG_2342It continued, like this, building ferocity until there was a storm of explosions overhead. Then it paused, letting us relax a little and realize that our hearts were racing and that we’d gotten goosebumps from the excitement.


IMG_2478And it would pick up again. At one point, there were waves of fireworks from left to right, then right to left. They began lazily, then grew faster, then came from both directions at once, then led to a new round higher in the sky.

P1040092It was a ballet of light. Looking at the photos, I thought time and again of dancers in formation.

IMG_2350The highlight is the “embrasement” or burning, of la Cité, which dates to 1898. Though it was under siege in 1209 in the Albigensian Crusade, and finally surrendered, it never was burned down.

1 before dark
3 embrasement

After 20 or 25 minutes, the explosions came so fast and furious, and were so spectacular, we thought it was the finale a couple of times over. Some 25,000 to 30,000 projectiles were fired. But the real finale was far bigger, building, building into a riot of light and color in the sky.


Bravo, Carcassonne.


Bleu, blanc, rouge

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France, je t’aime

Usually, I enjoy sharing news about France. But the happy news has been overwhelmed by the sad news.

It it lost on nobody that the attack in Nice happened on the day France celebrates its liberation from tyranny.

As we went to the Bastille Day fireworks in Carcassonne, I gave our kid instructions about what to do in case…we got separated. I wasn’t even disappointed when we were turned away from the bridge, with the best views, because it already was full. I had feared it would be a tempting target. There were arrests about a month ago related to suspected plans for an attack during the Carcassonne fireworks.

But the city’s streets overflowed with people, to an extent I had never witnessed. Officials expected 500,000. Carcassonne’s normal population is not even 50,000.

Même pas peur.

en terraceThe restaurants of Place Carnot were packed. We ate outside. #enterrace. Couples danced to old bal musette tunes, played by a live band. Même pas peur.

dancersThen everybody decamped for la Cité and the big show. People walked calmly. Even after fireworks began, there was no pushing. Politeness and civility reigned. I felt utterly safe, not even worried about pickpockets, not even after the street lights were extinguished. Going back home, some sang–silly songs, la Marseillaise. I got goosebumps and felt an overwhelming love for all this humanity.

fleetingIn Nice, people did the same things–dining en terrace, oohing at the fireworks. Même pas peur. Except that before they could get home, the bright lights of their lives were extinguished.

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Our heart goes out to them and their families.