Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Viva La Revolution

Magnet #292: Famous Monuments of Paris

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Jasmine & Matt

The French are celebrating one of their most important holidays today, Bastille Day. To kick the festivities off, a huge crowd gathers every year in the morning to watch a parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue. French troops march in the parade, beginning at the Arc de Triomphe and ending at the Place de la Concorde, while aircraft from their Patrouille de France soar above. It's the oldest and the largest annual military parade in the world. Nowadays, France has begun inviting units of troops from its allies to participate - both Britain and Germany have joined in. There has also been a change in Bastille Day traditions since Nicholas Sarkozy became president in 2007. He has neither given interviews with the press to talk about his country's present and future, nor has he pardoned criminals, a tradition that dates back to 1991. Usually only small crimes, such as traffic violations, are wiped from the records. Well, at least he rode in this year's parade, despite a heavy downpour of rain. But the fact that he has invited soldiers from 13 African nations to march in the parade to mark that they have had 50 years free from being colonies of France has offended some human rights groups, who claim some of these governments are pretty much dictatorships. And I suppose what amounts to the French Independence Day is a poor time to bring in corrupt governments, given that it celebrates the death of the monarchy in the nation and the creation of rights for all citizens of the nation.

Bastille Day has origins that date back to the beginning of the French Revolution. Tensions had grown to the boiling point between the peasants, who were often poor and starving, and the aristocracy, who tended to flaunt their wealth. Some progress had been made toward equality, such as the Tennis Court Oath, which pledged to bring a constitution to France, and it was becoming clear that King Louis XVI was not as powerful as his predecessors had been, as he had to make concessions toward other governing bodies. But when the monarch fired his appointed Director-General of Finance, Jacques Necker, for suggesting he and the royal family have a budget, it sent his people into a frenzy. They feared that foreign soldiers were arriving to shut down the National Constituent Assembly, their best shot for equality, and they began to break out in rebellion. After looting and rioting, they organized and centered their attention on one of the most hated symbols of the Ancien Regime - the Bastille fortress. It held a great deal of weapons and ammunition to help them in their cause and it was often used to hold political prisoners unjustly imprisoned. On July 14, a crowd of under a thousand gathered at the fortress, demanding its surrender. Negotiations began, but before long fighting broke out between the crowd and those guarding the Bastille and went on for several hours. Finally, when it became apparent that a massacre of both parties might occur, the commander of the fortress, Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay, opened the gates to the inner court. In a somewhat gruesome foreshadowing of the bloodthirsty carnage that would erupt during the Reign of Terror, when the revolution was at its worst, he was beaten by the crowd, stabbed repeatedly, decapitated, and his head was carried on a pike by the mob through the streets. But the people of France considered this to be a very important moment in their quest to bring about a more equal country. Not long after that day, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was published. And by 1790, the French were celebrating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille with a grand feast and official events. In 1880, the first official Bastille Day was introduced.  For a time, the event wasn't as popular as it now is, sharing its attention with occasions like Joan of Arc Day and May Day. But when the Nazis took over France, they banned the celebration of Bastille Day, and when they were finally free, the French saw a new importance in the day.  It's since become a much beloved day to the nation and as the French have migrated around the world, countries such as South Africa, Hungary, and the United States all have their own variations of the celebration. So join in the fun - grab a good bottle of French wine, whip up a French dish such as a cassoulet or ratatouille, and get excited over the end of the monarchy and the beginning of equality in France!

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