Monday, July 14, 2008

France's National Day

Le Jour de la Bastille, the national day of the French, marked the beginning of the revolution. National days are sometimes independence days. Sometimes they are saints days. In the US, we marked our liberation from England and the british empire and celebrate the heroes, Jefferson, Paine, Henry, Washington and company, who lead the revolt. The french revolted from tyrannies of class, and before it settled, the entire social order went through ordeal. Civil war, defensive and imperial war followed, and terror was caused by the revolutionary government. The travail attempted to consume, and recast, the entirety of France and her people. Most of Europe became involved and political life was changed in the world. The cost in lives was horrendous and the arguments have not settled. Society is more egalitarian to-day, and more contentious.

There will be a military parade on the Champs-Elysées and plenty of the tricolor. Military jets will lay tricolored contrails over the Arc d
’ Triomphe. After this year there may be no survivors of the first world war. Bastille Day 1919 was a victory parade, led by a thousand les mutilés de guerre [disabled war veterans is our country’s euphemism for those mutilated by war]. It was sobering, and altogether proper to show and remind, what war does.

Really, the day is loaded in pride and pain.
The day is, also, a day of patriotic fervor for France. France, ultimately, breathes the very same air that intoxicated de Gaulle:
La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur.
France for the french catholic, is the eldest daughter of the true church; and for all french patriots she is the guardian of right and protectoress of civilisation. The french believe, that, french citizenship is a great gift, and that spirit extends to the concept of ‘citizen of the world’.

The avatar of France is Marianne. Why that name? One response: Marie and Anne are very popular names; another is the queen was Marie Antoinette, and Marianne would balance and contrast; another is that Juan de Mariana S.J., the brilliant professor and historian, wrote De rege et regis institutione (1598), in which, he comes to the conclusion, that, it is right to overthrow a tyrant; and there are others, certainly.

Marianne is on everything: posters, currency, postage, paintings, busts. She personifies France, and she was born of the revolution. She is akin to a secular Sainte Jeanne d’Arc, another La Pucelle. First she was anonymous, bare breasted and wearing the liberty (phyrgian) cap of the emancipated slave. At the end of the last generation, an official human model has been designated as her representative, and her face is the one copied.

The first, was the actress who mesmerised the world in the late 50’s and the 60’s, Brigitte Bardot. She has since been convicted, and fined five times, for impolitic remarks, particularly concerning animal slaughtering issues, against mohammedans; most recently last month. She is an eccentric, but how can France censure Marianne?

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