Bastille Day, formally la Fête Nationale or the National Celebration, is a French national holiday that celebrates the anniversary and symbolic victory of the storming of the Bastille, a grand medieval fortress turned state political prison, on July 14, 1789. Much like America’s Independence Day, le quatorze juillet or le 14 juillet (as it’s commonly referred to in France since they don’t use the term "Bastille Day”), is a holiday filled with cheerful revelry... it is France, after all... and celebrations of French culture and national pride.
Built in the 1300s, the Bastille Sainte Antoine, as it was formally known, was originally designed to protect the city of Paris in case of an attack by the English during the Hundred Years’ War. The 100-foot-high fortress, surrounded by an 80-foot-wide moat, went through many changes over the years. It began functioning as a prison in 1417 while continuing to function as a royal castle and home to the royal treasure. It was during the reign of Louis XIII that the role of the Bastille saw its greatest changes. Louis XIII (with the help of Cardinal de Richelieu) was the first to use the Bastille as a state prison... for wealthy, upper class felons... many of whom were activists. These upper class prisoners were able to have gourmet meals, visitors, warm baths, specialist doctors, books (and libraries built for them if necessary), their own furniture, and even their own servants! Pretty impressive privileges for a prisoner! Louis XIV continued this practice of housing wealthy convicts, especially those accused of spying on or embezzling from the state. He was also fond of imprisoning those that opposed or simply irritated him, like French Protestants with religious views that differed from his. Under the reign of Louis XV, there began a decline in the number of prisoners sentenced to the Bastille, and the majority of those imprisoned under Louis XVI were social misfits instead of upper class members of French society. The Marquis de Sade, the writer and philosopher Voltaire, Nicolas Fouquet, and the "Man in the Iron Mask" were among the most famous inmates of the Bastille during the reigns of the Fab Four Kings.
La prise de la Bastille, Jean-Pierre Houël, 1788
Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix, 1830, Louvre, Paris, France
By the late 18th century, the French people, discontent with King Louis XVI’s abuse of royal power, were desperately poor and suffering from the hardships of famine (caused by two decades of poor harvests), drought, cattle disease, and soaring bread prices. Fighting for liberté, fraternité, and égalité, an armed mob of about 1000 Parisians expressed their desperation and resentment toward the tyrannical Bourbon monarchy by rioting and storming the Bastille to steal weapons and ammunition, as well as free the seven French citizens (four forgers, two crazy twits, and a count convicted of sex crimes) that were imprisoned in the notorious royal prison — supposedly for speaking out against the powerful monarchy? Hmmm... That historic bloody encounter marked the start of the French Revolution and the end of the Ancien Régime — and also led to the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The demolition of the Bastille began almost immediately and by November of the same year there was hardly anything remaining. Individual stones were taken away as souvenirs with a good bit of stones used in the construction of the Pont de la Concorde bridge across the River Seine.
Bastille Day military parade on the Champs Élysées, Paris, Jérémy Barande, July 14, 2010
Today, Bastille Day is celebrated all over France, not just in Paris. A patriotic day filled with plenty of pomp and circumstance, traditions include feasts with friends and family, music, dancing, fireworks, and the signature event — the grand military parade that marches down the Champs Élysées with Air Force jets flying overhead. A tradition that dates back to 1880, the parade is the oldest and largest military parade in the world and is led by the President of France. It starts at the Arc de Triomphe and ends at the Place de la Concorde.
Nine Alpha Jets from the French Air Force fly over the Champs-Elysées, Joe deSousa, July 14, 2017
While the grandest parade takes place in Paris, many smaller towns host their own and families and friends gather afterwards for a midday feast worthy of a king. The menu is lighter compared to winter holidays and includes quiches, salads, and crusty baguettes instead of raclette or beef bourgonion. Classic steak frites paired with frisée salad and haricots verts are also favorites. A tarte tatin is often served for dessert, along with blue, white, and red macarons. Wine and champagne flow freely. Firemen of many small villages host dances known as Bals des Pompiers (Fireman's Balls) in town squares to raise money for their fire stations, and le drapeau bleu, blanc, rouge flies proudly as people gather to dance the night away. At nightfall, spectacular fireworks shows light up the skies across the country, especially the Parisian night sky. This year's theme is Liberty.
Bastille Day fireworks, Yann Caradec, July 14, 2017
Though Bastille Day is a French holiday, Americans, French expats, and Francophiles across the US (and other parts of the world) will gather together to celebrate France's freedom from tyranny. So get out your berets and bubbly, and join in the celebration! I'll drink to that!
Joyeux Quatorze Juillet!
Ever wonder whether it's a Rococo or Régence? Louis XV or Louis Philippe? A Bergère or Fauteuil? Each week, we will highlight a word, term, or phrase to help identify antique furniture, periods, and styles.
char·cu·te·rie [ shahr-koo-tuh-ree, shahr-koo-tuh-ree; French shar-kytuh-ree ]
noun, plural char·ct·te·ries [shahr-koo-tuh-reez, shahr-koo-tuh-reez; French shar-kytuh-ree]
1. cooked, processed, or cured cold meats and meat products, originally and typically pork products, as sausages, pâtés, hams, etc.
2. a store where these products are sold.
Origin: 1855–60; <French; Middle French chaircuterie, equivalent to chaircut(ier) charcutier + -erie-ery
"So this is Christmas, for weak and for strong. The rich and the poor ones, the war is so long... A very merry Christmas and a happy new year, let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear." These well-known lyrics from John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1971 Christmas song ring true once again. We're fighting a different battle now for sure, but it's a battle nevertheless. And though much has been cancelled throughout 2020 and this holiday season because of Covid-19, Christmas has not been cancelled. We may have to celebrate in different places, different ways and break with some traditions this year to keep healthy and safe, but we can still celebrate Christmas in ways that promise yuletide cheer, laughter, and time well spent with loved ones both near and far.
There's something so magical about Christmastime... when treetops are glistening, lords are leaping, and chestnuts are roasting on an open fire. We may not be mixing and a-mingling in large groups this year, but we can still create plenty of magic for ourselves and our families, for no magic lasts longer than that which we create together. 2020 has certainly been frightful, so we're here to help make your holiday season a bit more delightful!
1. Early 20th Century French Louis XVI Style Carved and Painted Hall Tree by Louis Chambry 2. Nina's Paris L'Original Marie Antoinette Loose Leaf Tea Tin, 3.5oz and Nina's Paris Fete de Versailles Loose Leaf Tea in White Gift Tin, 2.82oz 3. 19th Century French Restauration Period Walnut Settee or Bench 4. Les Anis de Flavigny All Natural Lemon Mints and Ravissant Organic Honey and Beeswax Lip Balm by Apis Cera 5. Antique French Louis XIII Style Bleached Oak Normandy Buffet 6. Favols Strawberry Marshmallow Jam, 9.2oz and Favols Apricot Jam with Lavender, 9.2oz 7. Famille Perronneau Maritime Lavender Honey, 4.4oz 8. 1930s French Art Deco Period Walnut Armchair or Lounge Chair 9. Large 9-Light French Painted and Parcel Gilt Two-Tier Chandelier 10. Laguiole Jean Dubost 3-Piece Boxed Cheese and Wine Set 11. Herbs de Provence Tea Towel by Torchons & Bouchons 12. Antique French Louis XVI Style Painted Medallion Back Side Chairs, Set of Four 13. Ambroise Handcrafted French Beeswax Pillar Candles from Provence, Box of 2 and Faustine 100% Organic Amber Candle by Apis Cera and Lucienne Hand Rolled French Beeswax Alter Candles from Provence, Box of 9 14. 18th Century Painted French Louis XVI Period Commode or Chest of Drawers 15. Aux Anysetiers du Roy Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Fondue 16. 19th Century Country French Louis XIII Style Walnut Side Table with Drawers 17. Famille Perronneau Orange and Lemon Honey Sweets 18. Large 20th Century Handmade French Artis Flora Tapestry
One of the best ways to create a little magic is to deck the halls with French antiques and inspired gifts. From one-and-done presents that make the whole family happy to tasty stocking stuffers and Secret Santa surprises, Lolo's elves will find the perfect gifts for the naughtiest to the nicest on your 2020 list. Let us make things merry and bright with a beautiful painted and parcel gilt chandelier. Or help you stay cool under the mistletoe with lemony fresh French mints as you await that first Christmas kiss. We can spice up the kitchen for the cook who spends more time there than ever before. And you can get comfy with jolly old Saint Nick in an Art Deco chair as he reads Christmas stories to all. Covid has taken much from us, but it can't steal our holiday season or Christmas cheer. This year, spend more time rocking around the Christmas tree while Lolo decks your halls!
Bread has always been important to the French. For centuries, it was their main food source — their staff of life literally. The tale of Marie Antoinette, the queen of France, callously responding to the news that French peasants were starving from a lack of bread with the much quoted line, “Let them eat cake,” is questionable, but her subject’s hunger and anger were very real. It was their suffering and feelings of resentment that led to bread riots, the storming of the Bastille in 1789, and the eventual beheading of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by guillotine. Today, bread is considered more an accompaniment to a meal instead of the main course, but it’s still a part of every meal. And the most popular bread in France is the baguette.
Brrrr! The weather outside is frightful — one of those cold, rainy days that makes you want some good ol’ comfort food to warm your soul. On days like this, there’s nothing better than a steaming hot crock of soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup) to beat back the cold. With its flavorful broth, caramelized onions, crispy bread, and yummy gruyère cheese browned on top, soupe à l’oignon is the quintessential French comfort soup.
Lolo's French Onion Soup
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas — parties to host, chestnuts to roast, and so many gifts to buy! We’ve chosen a few of our favorite things to help you check everyone — naughty or nice — off your list this holiday season. Whether you’re shopping for your best gal pals, secret Santa, or that extra special someone, the gifts below will make even the Grinch grin.
1. Families of the Vine: Seasons Among the Winemakers of Southwest France by Michael S. Sanders 2. French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle 3. La Vie en Rose: Living in France by Suzanne Lowry 4. The French Dog by Rachael Hale 5. Pair of early 1800s terracotta cherub plaques, signed 6. 18th and 19th century French breadboards 7. 1920s porte-jambon on marble base 8. Louis XV style oval bouillotte table 9. Framed antique French oil on canvas of game birds 10. Apis Cera candles, soaps, and lip balms from Provence 11. 19th century French Rococo style red tortoise shell and gilt bronze vanity mirror 12. 19th century Louis XIII style hunting enfilade 13. 1950s French faux tortoise champagne bucket 14. Pair of 1950s Italian lounge chairs by Ezio Longhi for Elam 15. 19th century Baroque style Italian polychrome casapanca 16. Child size bobbin leg chair with rush seat
When this self-described Francophile is not reading or writing about all things French, she's dreaming up charming new ways to showcase Lolo French Antiques et More or traveling to France with Lolo to buy delightful treasures for their store. Mimi, Lolo, and their new French Bulldog, Duke, live in Birmingham, AL.