The flavors of France will fill New Orleans this week in anticipation of Bastille Day, the French national holiday, highlighting the rich culture that has influenced the city.
“It’s not only about someone coming and landing here,” said Loretta Krasnow, executive director of the French American Chamber of Commerce. “It is about our language, how we cook, how we see things, and how we conduct business.”
“In France, it is a fun, festive holiday. It’s about the young people and a way to teach them about Bastille Day, what happened and the history. Here, we not only have the Louisiana history, but we also have the French history,” Krasnow said.
Bastille Day is one of France’s biggest national holidays, marking the day, July 14, 1789, when an armed mob of Parisians stormed the Bastille, a fortress in Paris that was used as a state prison for kings of France.
It was the unofficial start of the French Revolution.
In New Orleans, the week is packed full of cooking classes, French movies, storytelling, a wreath-laying ceremony, a block party, walking tours of the French Quarter, a bartenders’ and waiters’ race and the much anticipated Bastille Day Fete.
All highlight historic traditions with a New Orleans twist.
Starting at 3 p.m. Saturday, the French will take over the Spanish Plaza at the Riverwalk with their Bastille Day Fete. Renowned accordionist Nobert Slama will be getting the festivities underway.
“The accordion is a very typical French way to start Bastille Day. In Paris, there will be an accordionist for the day, so we wanted to celebrate it like that with Nobert Slama, who is a very talented French accordionist,” said Aurelie Champvert, executive director of Alliance Francaise de La Nouvelle-Orleans.
Traditionally in Paris, huge military parades take to the streets before the more festive firehouse parties begin.
“Traditionally, the firehouses would open and people would go out and have fun in the streets and stop in the firehouses to dance and drink. We couldn’t do it in a firehouse here, so we have a fireboat for the young kids to climb into,” Champvert said.
The free festival will have 10 food vendors, all specializing in French cuisine.
Festivalgoers can take a free language workshop, then order their food in French. Live music with French and Louisiana influences will be on stage throughout the festival.
“It is important for us to not only enlighten people about French music but also francophone, especially here in Louisiana. We have Bruce ‘Sunpie’ Barnes, as a Creole, and Feufollet, a band from Lafayette, to make this Bastille Day very specific to Louisiana,” Champvert said.
There will be a dedicated kid’s area with a mime, balloon twisting, a cooking demonstration, French storytelling and craft activities.
Dogs also will have their day, with a French Dog Contest at 4:30 p.m.
“The dog contest is really specific to New Orleans. I haven’t heard about any other dog contest for Bastille Day,” Champvert said. “The idea is for people to come with their dog, and we have three categories: best dressed, most French and the most Jules Verne,” honoring the French adventurer and science fiction writer.
Following a second-line parade, professional bartenders and waiters will speed-walk down Decatur Street from Jackson Square to the French Market for the traditional Bartenders and Waiters Race at 4 p.m. Sunday.
To close off the week of celebrations, Bastille Day on Monday will be honored with a Wreath Laying Ceremony with the Consul General of France and other dignitaries at the Statue of Jeanne d’Arc at the French Market at 10 a.m.
“There is one place where people will really enjoy Bastille Day, and that is here in New Orleans,” Champvert said. “In France, we put on a party, costume, enjoy the music and have a few drinks — I think it fits in really well into the culture of Louisiana.”