We were supposed to celebrate Bastille Day in Paris this year. My calendar sent me a reminder about it late last week. It seems that when I changed our return flights, I neglected to update my schedule accordingly. We originally planned to stay in Paris until the end of July, but a sense of creeping dread at the prospect of applying for visas made me change my mind. Instead, we came home in May, on the last of the ninety days we could spend in France without a visa. And so, we had to celebrate Bastille Day a bit early this year.
To be honest, I am not very comfortable with national holidays. If you follow me on instagram, you may have read my thoughts about the Canada 150 celebrations that took place a few weeks ago. The idea that we should celebrate the piece of land we inhabit, most often by chance rather than by choice, seems somewhat absurd to me. The concept of celebrating national identity, an identity which is invariably established by the exclusion of individuals who do not meet certain criteria by virtue of their skin colour, native language or religion, goes against everything I believe in. But, I admit it – I love a good party.
And so, despite my misgivings about the demonstrations of military strength, the flag waving and chest beating that comes with national holidays, we had a Bastille Day picnic on the banks of the Seine before we left Paris. For a few hours, we pretended to forget the racist, classist, sexist vitriol that was the hallmark of the French election only a month before. (Mostly because it was windy, and we were too busy trying to keep our picnic blanket in place to think of much else. Photoshoots are often far from glamorous in reality.) We ate fresh cherries and baguette with salted butter. We drank rose. And we toasted all the wonderful memories Paris has given us over the years.
Like Canada Day, Bastille Day is not a celebration for everyone. France’s lengthy history of colonialism left deep wounds that have not yet healed. I freely acknowledge that my appearance, and my ability to speak French fluently, make life in Paris easy for me in a way it isn’t easy for many others. People often say love is blind, but I don’t believe that. We can recognise flaws and still love someone, or something, despite them. France still has a long way to go to become the country I know it can be. So does Canada. And so do all nations, really. But just for today, I’m celebrating the good things. Happy Bastille Day!