It’s a French festival…with a Canadian twist! The upcoming Bastille Day celebration will bring French art and culture to all corners of the world, including Vancouver on July 14. And this worldwide event may have been started by Canadians, says Victoria Batrel.
“It’s National French Day. In French we call it, “la fête du 14 juillet” [the festival of July 14],” says Batrel, who is coordinating the event. “The word came out apparently, in New Orleans or New York, more than a century ago. We don’t really know who introduced it, [but] it might have been the Acadians, French-speakers who went to Louisiana from Canada in the 18th century.”
The festival, at which visitors can experience examples of French art, music, and food, will be held from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown. Admission is free, and everyone is welcome.
Galette and raclette
Bastille Day, similar to other national holidays like St Patrick’s Day, began to be celebrated after WWI, during which governments emphasized patriotism in their advertising campaigns, Batrel explains. However, the event itself is connected to events that occurred during another violent historical episode – the French revolution.
“[Bastille Day] is linked to the fall of the Bastille prison in the middle of Paris,” she says.
“The prison was a royal prison, so people were thrown in jail for nothing. The people rebelled. Nowadays, the festival retains these patriotic roots,” says Batrel.
“Canadians can come and discover French culture, wines, live music. We have a kid’s corner, [and] a storytelling workshop,” she says. “Kids will create masks and learn how to tell their own stories, how to express themselves.”
There are more games for children, she notes.
“We also have chamboule-tout, tin boxes painted with French numbers and piled in pyramids,” she says. “You throw the ball at the boxes and then rebuild. It’s a game to help kids learn the numbers.”
“And of course, there’s food,” adds Batrel.
“We’re selling crêpes, but also galette,” she says. “It’s a savory crêpe from Brittany, made out of buckwheat. It’s gluten-free. You have galette for lunch and crêpe for dessert.”
Beginning at 12 p.m., visitors can enjoy a wine and cheese platter. And, for the first time, the festival will also have another dish involving cheese, raclette, a French dish involving meat and melted cheese.
“Most foreigners know fondue,” Batrel clarifies. “[But] in France we eat more raclette. The machine looks like a barbecue. You put sausages, sliced meat and potatoes on top. Under you have heating with flat spoons [where] you melt cheese.”
Raclette is usually a winter food, but Batrel comments that it can be enjoyed in the height of summer too.
“I remember in Melbourne; it really worked!” she says, laughing. “It was the middle of the summer, and Australia is hot. I was eating raclette at 41 degrees!”
Raclette is a symbolic addition to the festival, which Batrel hopes will help bring the community together to celebrate.
“[Eating raclette] is a gathering moment,” she says. “Everybody has their spoons.”
A feast for the eyes and ears, too
The idea of coming together is present in other aspects of the festival.
There will be art from French glass artist Aurélia Bizouard, and Parisian photographer Ghislain Kossi-Brown, and visitors are invited to enjoy this art both alone and in groups.
“There’s a white cube, with walls, and inside a projection of painted glass with music,” says Batrel. “You can go inside and sit and experience.”
The art will be immersive but also interactive, says Batrel. Children in particular are invited to meet the artists.
“There’s a treasure hunt. In French it’s parcours,” Batrel says. “[There] are puzzles and puns, wordplays. They need to go to the vendors and to the artists and ask them questions. We tried to create a real interaction between the artists and the kids. And it’s fun!”
For more information, please visit www.bastilledayfestival.ca.