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France, Fleamarkets and Fireworks

Bonne Fete Nationale “Vive le 14 juillet!”

Bastille day to the English speaking world, but the French call today the Quatorze Juillet. However it is referred to, France’s National Day is certainly celebrated with great enthusiasm.

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As I write this I can hear the fireworks from my nearest town (I stayed home to be with my nervous dog who hates the noise) and see colourful flashes and sparkles in the distance. Fireworks are apt because the Bastille was stormed on 14 July 1789, during the French Revolution. A Medieval fortress prison and armoury in the centre of Paris, the Bastile was seen as a symbol of the despised Royal power, its fall signalled the start of the Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité that has become France’s National motto.

My most topical find today - a 200th anniversary of the French Revolution mug, filled with a very welcome cup of strong British tea!


Today is a public holiday, and traditionally many vide greniers take place (vide greniers literally means ‘empty your attics’, they are the street flea markets we all love so much)

This morning, the alarm went off at 5.30 am and truffling for quintessentially French timeworn treasures began early, a morning of searching through dusty boxes for the quirky and eclectic with that special ‘je ne sais quoi’. I love the thrill of finding a treasure and then the negotiation, in my second language, the nuances needed certainly are great practice. Being able to banter as much as barter in French is a great skill to have! Speaking French, however imperfectly, and having a joke with the seller goes a long way to cementing Anglo-French relationships. However excited you are with the treasure you've spotted, never forget to start with "Bonjour Monsieur / Madame" and end with "Merci, au revoir" or you will be viewed as plain rude.

Plants and sometimes local delicacies are often also for sale at vide greniers, here in the shadow of the town's medieval walls


Both vide greniers today were held in medieval château towns with beautiful architecture and faded gamour, redolent with history, making it a pleasure to stroll round the streets and enjoy the details.

The morning mist over the 15th chateau and chapel


Have you been to a Juillet 14 vide grenier? They are much more festive than the regular Sunday ones, there's a real holiday vibe; people celebrating with proper national pride, gathering together to find a bargain is one of the national pastimes on the National Day.

In towns across France, stalls line the streets, the roads are closed to allow people to stroll, chat and take their time. The air is full of charcoal smoke, large grills lit in the street outside cafés and butchers’ shops, they cook big meaty sausages served in baguette with mountains of frites which you can eat at the temporary long trestle tables and benches set up outside.

I was out too early for lunch, but I enjoyed a pain au chocolat and café noisette on the terrace of a café, watching the people come and go; finding bargains, negotiating, shifting heavy purchases on trolleys, animated conversations, gestures, smiles, children clutching a new toy from the boxes stall holders put under the tables to allow them to rummage while their parents search and chat.

The atmosphere is very convivial and the stalls are both professional sellers ‘brocanteurs’ and individuals who’ve set up from their car boot or on a table outside their home. Bring lots of small change and a smile, both help your negotiations.

Many stalls lined the narrow and winding medieval streets leading up to the church


How else is La Fête Nationale celebrated in France?

Traditionally with lots of fireworks and there is an impressive military parade in front of huge crowds along the Champs Elysee. Last year it was a simpler ceremony and a thank you to health workers from the Elysee Palace, this year there was a parade and fly past but with many fewer spectators and everyone in masks as infection rates climb in France and new restrictions are soon to be in place.

Celebrations are local, with family, friends and neighbours. There is the tradition of the bal des pompiers (the paramedic fire brigade) and shared communal meals today, sadly but sensibly, many were cancelled due to the worsening health situation. But what does not change is the sense of pride people feel in being French, that is palpable when the President closes his address to the nation with ‘Vive La Republique, Vive La France!’

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