Monday, 13 July 2009


“The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?” - Pablo Casals

Happy Bastille Day! July the 14th is the day on which France celebrates its National Day. It commemorates the day of the storming of the Bastille, which took place on 14 July 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was a prison and a symbol of the absolute and arbitrary power of Louis the 16th's Ancient Regime. By capturing this symbol, the people signalled that the king's power was no longer absolute and that power should be based on the people and be limited by a separation of powers.

The Bastille only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture, however, the storming of the prison was a symbol of liberty and the fight against oppression for all French citizens. The revolution in France upheld the Republic’s three ideals: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all French citizens, a symbolism duplicated in the nation’s tricolour flag. It marked the end of absolute monarchy, the birth of the sovereign Nation, and, eventually, the creation of the (First) Republic, in 1792. Bastille Day was declared the French national holiday on 6th July 1880, on Benjamin Raspail's recommendation, when the new Republic was firmly entrenched.

For the wordy types amongst you (me included!), Bastille is an alternate spelling of bastide meaning “fortification”. Bastide comes from the Provençal word bastida meaning “built”. There is also a French verb embastiller with the meaning “to establish troops in a prison”.

To celebrate the day in a suitably French manner, here is something delicious to drink:

1 large pineapple
2 oranges
5 passionfruits
1 apple
1 punnet strawberries
6 tablespoonfuls icing sugar
1 cupful brandy
2 bottles of Champagne

Peel and clean the pineapple, chopping into small cubes and put into a large bowl. Juice the oranges and add to the pineapple. Wash and hull the strawberries, leaving them to drain. Half them and add to the bowl. Peel the apple and chop finely into the bowl. Add the passionfruit pulp to the bowl and stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Stir in the brandy and put the bowl into the freezer, until almost frozen solid. Break into chunks, put into a punch bowl and pour the chilled champagne over the fruit mixture. Vive la France!

France is a Western European country with shores on the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. It has an area of 544,000 square km and a population of 60 million. Its terrain is varied with high plateaux, mountain ranges and lowland basins. Its climate is mild ranging from typical Mediterranean in the South, to mild and wet further to the North. Agriculture is favoured by both land and climate making France one of the major European exporters of wheat, barley, sugar beet and wine. Manufacturing is the other major employer with rich reserves of oil, gas and coal assisting greatly the economy. French perfumes and other luxury goods are a major income earner while tourism is also a major industry. Paris is the capital city with other major cities being Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Grenoble, Rouen, Nantes and Toulouse.

The painting above is by an anonymous painter and depicts the storming of the Bastille.

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