Only the Best of Times
Bastille Day Fête celebrates the French Revolution New Orleans-style
Charles Dickens was onto something when he opened his famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with a juxtaposition of human experiences – best/worst, wisdom/foolishness, hope/despair, etc. The French Revolution is absolutely a study in the human capacity for extremes, but so is a visit to New Orleans in July.
Arguably the most French-influenced city in the United States, New Orleans’ annual celebration of Bastille Day combines all that we do best – food, music, libations and a healthy questioning of authority. Bastille Day, or Le quatorze juillet, itself is Thursday, July 14 and it honors the storming of the Bastille in 1789,commemorating the beginning actions of the French Revolution. Tennis anyone?
The events around New Orleans that take place on July 14 include the Council of French Societies Wreath Laying Ceremony at the statue of Joan of Arc in the French Quarter; Bastille Day Wine Dinner at the Windsor Court (reservations still available at time of press); and Arnaud’s Bastille Day Dinner (sold out).
The highlight happens on Friday, July 15. This year, the Bastille Day Fête will be located at the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art (NOMA) and the itinerary on offer is sure to please. The activities outside are free and those inside require a $5 admission fee… peasants versus nobility? Nah, just a critical cultural institution trying to make ends meet.
From 4 p.m.to 10 p.m. the Fête has a great schedule of activities and performers. Outdoors in the park, demonstrations of pétanque (same premise as horseshoes), kids’ activities and food trucks will be part of the festivities.
Indoors, performer Giselle Bonfaire, a pianist and vocalist, will perform from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m and the Lost Bayou Ramblers will take over at 6:30. Gallery talks on French Modern Art & Surrealism and French Impressionism are planned, as well as two films: Delacroix and Monet. There will also be a cooking demonstration for the program led by Chef Chris Montero of Napoleon House called “French Cooking 101: The Fundamentals.”
Paws down, my favorite part of the now five-year tradition of Bastille Day in New Orleans is the Dog Contest. In conjunction with the Fête at NOMA, dogs of all shapes, sizes, breeds and insanity level of owners will be out to compete for the best French costume. There is nothing quite so inspiring as witnessing a boxer wearing a horizontal-striped boater shirt and beret being paraded in front of strangers. Traveling with pets? Register them in advance for free but be prepared to make a donation to the LASPCA for participating.
The weekend culminates on Sunday, July 17 with the French Market Bastille Day Bartender & Waiters Race, as well as the Extravaganza Musical Celebration. The “race” is more of a power walk where participants must not spill their champagne, croissants and bottled water placed on a tray. The Musical Celebration will take place Uptown at Trinity Episcopal Church and will feature Albinas Prizgintas on vocals and piano; Rebecca Todaro, harpist; Phil The Tremoloking, vocals & guitar; Laura Patterson, flutist; Fritzgerald Barrau, trumpet; and Nanette Ledet, dancer.
Celebrate your chosen destination in style this weekend and catch me if you can. I’ll be the one with croissant crumbs on my chin and a champagne glass in my hand.