It did not take a French speaker for an individual to know that what he was experiencing down 60th Street this past Sunday, July 15th was a French celebration: the faint smell of lavande (lavender), the numerous opportunities to savor French cuisine, and the various macaroon stands spoke for themselves. In celebration of Bastille Day, the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) hosted its annual Bastille Day Street Fair.
Depending on which end of the street you entered on, (the Fifth Avenue entrance), you were greeted with a lovely French gift bag, which you could stuff with various goodies along your way, including free maps of Paris, magazines, and coupons to various places in France. You could have also used your bag for your purchases of traditional French products, including soaps from Provence, pastries, and packaged goods directly imported from various regions of the country. Although I didn’t win either, I certainly tried my luck to win a basket of French soap and even entered to win a roundtrip ticket to Paris for two.
Among the street vendors there were also artists, including face painters and balloon exhibitionists. FIAF certainly encouraged the artistic atmosphere by hosting a free photo booth with the background, “La Vie en Rose”, which dozens of people lined up for at a time, preparing their poses while they waited. FIAF also promoted the learning of the language by creating a stand where children could learn French by playing games and doing arts and crafts.
The Bastille Day festivities certainly did not end in Manhattan. In fact, Brooklyn celebrated simultaneously with a street fair hosted by Bar Tabac with a 10th Annual Bastille Day Extravaganza on Smith Street, where hundreds came out of their apartments in the afternoon to join the pétanque - playing, accordion-dancing, and Ricard drinking crowd. It was definitely a cozy environment, which a local emphasized, “it makes me feel like I am in France without even leaving my front step”, which is certainly true for the many spectators whose stair case served as their seats for the Pétanque tournament.
As with many other national and international holidays, it took a lot of bloodshed to be able to celebrate such a day over 200 years later with fairs and festivals; therefore, special tribute is paid to the many who gave their lives on Bastille Day and to those who came out around the world to honor them.