French culture celebrated as Greenwich marks Bastille Day

Vive la France!

The cry went out proudly in Greenwich last Saturday as close to 75 people gathered to celebrate Bastille Day with an early morning flag-raising outside of Town Hall and then many more came to Lewis Street for a block party with a very French theme. The two events went perfectly, according to organizers, marking an all-day celebration in town for the day more commonly known in France as le quatorze juillet, which marks the storming of the Bastille by French revolutionaries on July 14, 1789, a turning point in the formation of the modern French nation.

The French flag was raised above Town Hall on Saturday morning and First Selectman Peter Tesei read a special proclamation marking the day. Then to show solidarity between France and America, both La Marseillaise and The Star-Spangled Banner were sung by those in attendance.

 

“The United States and France have stood together in two world wars to defend and uphold the principles strongly held by our two nations,” Mr. Tesei said. “They stand together today in defense of NATO and UN-led operations. The French community of Greenwich and their friends have come here today at Town Hall to mark their commitment to enhancing the business, cultural and social life of this town and to honor the shared values that are the unshakable foundation of the friendship between France and the United States.”

The event was not just attended by town officials and residents with strong ties to France, but also by Bernard Faro, counsul general to the French embassy in New York City, and by Jean Lachaud, president of The American Society of Le Souvenir Francais Inc.

“For 231 years, France and the United States have stood shoulder to shoulder in war and, more importantly, in peace,” Mr. Faro said, thanking everyone who turned out for the event.

Mr. Faro added, “Today is a symbolic day for all French people. We celebrate the freedom and opportunity our ancestors fought for with such strong conviction. Raising the flag and singing La Marseillaise reminds us of the courageous fighters and the ideals they stood for. France will continue to defend these values side by side our American friends, with whom we fought at the rebirth of both of our democracies. … Americans and French have always stood up for one another in difficult times and France will never forget the sacrifice of American soldiers defending our country in two world wars.”

The flag-raising was followed by a special breakfast at Restaurant Jean-Louis on Lewis Street, which also played host to a night of food, music and dancing in the street later that evening. This was the first time the event, which is known as a Bal Populaire, was held in town and organizers said they were thrilled with the result. Jean Louis Gerin, owner and chef of Restaurant Jean-Louis, said it was a “great night” and thanked the Board of Selectmen, the Greenwich Police Department and Greenwich Fire Department for all their support.

“It was a tremendous success,” Mr. Gerin said. “Now that we know we can do this, there’s no reason we can’t do it again. We had a great response to it.”

A man experienced in both the restaurant and the catering business, Mr. Gerin said it is easy to know if an event is a success.

“Everyone had a very good time,” Mr. Gerin said. “In my business you know how well an event has gone based on the number of complaints you get and we did not have any complaints other than we ran out of shrimp. So if that’s the only complaint you get then you know you’ve done something right.”

Renee Ketcham, co-president of the Alliance Française of Greenwich, told the Post she was very pleased with how everything turned out, including the attendance.

“We are absolutely thrilled to see how many people came out for this,” Ms. Ketcham said. “The community has really embraced our Bastille Day program. We’ve had so much support, and as a real Francophile and co-president of the Alliance Française it brings tears to my eyes. This community is so supportive and Jean Louis Gerin has done so much work to get the town to close down Lewis Street for us. We’ve worked as a team to do all of this and it’s been wonderful. Dancing in the street is a tradition in France on le quatorze juillet and to introduce this tradition to Greenwich is huge. It’s a huge honor just to be involved with bringing this here and getting everyone in the community to come.”

The day was not designed just to mark Bastille Day but also hold to the mission statement of the Alliance Française by supporting and promoting French culture and strengthening the relationship between France and the United States. Multiple speakers at the flag-raising cited the strong relationship between George Washington and French Gen. Lafayette, who served under him during the American revolution and not only fought bravely in battle but rallied French support for the Americans in the war against the British, a critical key to the revolution’s victory.

At the evening celebration on Lewis Street a key to the Bastille that was sent to President Washington by Gen. Lafayette was prominently displayed.

“Our lives and histories are indefinitely intertwined,” Ms. Ketcham said.

Serge Gabriel, chairman of the Bastille Day event for the Alliance Française as well as the New England representative for The American Society of Le Souvenir Francais, later added, “It is very important for us, especially those who are young, to know the history of the friendship between France and America. I am very proud that we are able to do this here today.”

 

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