It happened 229 years ago, at the early dawn of the first French revolution. On July 14th, 1789, the French people marched over to the Bastille, a prison that embodied the absolute authority of the King, overthrew its administration, and took hold of the weapons it contained. It was the very first time the people of Paris would get directly involved with the French revolution.
The 14th of July has since become our National Day. I usually spend it on holiday at the French Riviera, the Mediterranean coast in the Southeast of France. I have always associated that day to the sand cracking under my feet while I picnicking on the beach with my family. My brother and I would go swimming in the sea until we were freezing and then we would all go to the neighboring harbor to have ice cream. As the sun progressively disappeared, I would read under its declining light until my parents forbade me to go any further. We would make jealous remarks on how wonderful it would be to be on a boat instead of the crowded beach; and then, we would wait for the National Day fireworks, say that ‘They threw it later than last year’, that ‘It was one of the best ever, without doubt’, and then hurry up to the car to avoid getting stuck in the crowd.
It’s because of these kind of moments that I love my country.
I love France, because we have so many various landscapes. If each landscape corresponded to a planet as in Star Wars, a whole galaxy wouldn’t be enough to depict them all. From the heaven-like Riviera, in which the Sun has the scent of olive oil, lavender, and the sound of crickets; to the neighboring Camargue, with its deafening flamingos and its salt marshes. From the Northern Lille that looks like a colorful mash-up between Disneyland and St-Petersburg, to the greener-than-green Périgord in the Southwest, so full of forest that it looks black from above. We have a bit of England, Italy, Germany, Spain and so much more, as much as we have mountains and prairies, dynamic towns and deep countryside, rainforests and hot beaches.
I love France, because the country still wears the remains and the open wounds of its history. We still have the aqueducts and walls built by the Romans that invaded us, which stand firm and proud in the South, thousands of years after they they were erected. Castles from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance can still be spotted everywhere, each with its own glorious past, notorious characters and architectural originality. In France, men competed with nature to create the most beautiful wonders, and it sometimes did not even need to build to win the game. The beaches of Normandy, where Eisenhower’s troops landed to free the country in 1944; the maquis, where the French Resistance would hide during World War II; or the terribly sad Verdun in the East. All of them keep reminding us that our ancestors fought for the right reasons.
I love France, because I love the way it’s seen by foreigners. Travelling to the other side of the world, I have been told about this universal cliché of Marcel the mustached cyclist wearing his beret and carrying his baguette and croissant – which is both very French and ridiculously non-French at the same time, and a quite good depiction of my late Grandfather. I have been asked whether France was in Paris – ‘well, that’s not exactly true’ – and I have been mocked for my love relationship with cheese. Last, but certainly not least, I have almost fondly fainted in front of foreigners turning our Bonjour into a ‘Boonjouh’ – which is so inhumanely cute that I can hardly breathe thinking about it. I feel so honored whenever foreigners try and learn our beautiful headache of a language.
I love France, because of our gastronomy. French-gastronomically speaking, I am a living shame; I can’t help but declare my love for thai food and, even worse, I am a vegetarian and will make a face in front of a boeuf bourguignon or a blanquette de veau. However, I’m still the first one to very scientifically demonstrate that, since France is the world center of gastronomy, and Lyon is the French center of gastronomy, and the indoor supermarket Les Halles Paul Bocuse is the Lyonnese center of gastronomy, and having lived seventeen years right in front of the establishment, I am therefore the happy embodiment of French cooking. More seriously, and even aside of our typical and universally known dishes that boldly mix meat, vegetables and tasty sauce, our cheeses are a delight, our desserts are life-saviors, and a British journalist found exactly the right word saying that our croissants are nothing but ‘buttery pillows of perfection’.
I love France, because of the memories of our past and our art. There is a place in Paris that I love among all others, called the Panthéon. Great men and women are buried in this impressive building that always gives me strength, confidence and unlimited love for those who lived there before me. Recently, an incredible woman, whose name was Simone Veil, and her husband Antoine, joined the Panthéon as a show of gratitude for Simone for her involvement in the debut of the European Union, her contribution to the memories of the Shoah after she was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, and her fight in favor of women’s rights and abortion. This country is also that of Victor Hugo, whose torrential writing style makes him our land’s most well-known Writer; of Edmond Rostand, whose character Cyrano de Begererac is a perfect embodiment of France; of Pasteur, who invented the vaccine…
I love France, because of Paris. Paris is a town like no other. It’s a whole. It’s not only because of the comforting light of the Eiffel tower that caresses one’s windows at night. Neither is it only because it’s impossible to get lost because one always has a famous monument to guide them back on path, such Montmartre, the Invalides, the Louvre or the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It can be because whenever one is randomly walking in the metro or in the streets, one can simply happen to find the Panthéon or remains of the Bastille by chance. Paris is the town of the unexpected and of the sweetness of life, that endured even when it was hit by one of the most devastating terrorist attacks of our time.
I love France, because I recently spent a weekend with young people who were sick with cancer and whose treatment was paid entirely by the social security, no matter their age or their social situation. My Grandfather – not the one that looked like Marcel the cyclist, the other one – was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was 65, and the State paid to ease his life and make it last in the best possible conditions, without even counting. These social benefits may cost a ‘crazy money’, Mr President; but last Saturday, as the sound of the Marseillaise played for a football match, all these people whose lives were saved thanks to it, got up and sang with their hands on the hearts, spontaneously declaring « J’aime mon pays » (I love my country), « Vive la France ». I sang with them.
I love France, because I was lucky enough to travel, and to see enough beauty and kindness in the countries I visited as to not compare them to mine. But every time I would go abroad, I would feel a peak of patriotism, far from any aggressive nationalism, and make myself my country’s ambassador, and hope I’d give enough of a positive snapshot of France to, one day, welcome home those people who welcomed me.
I love France, even though we did not welcome the 629 migrants saved by the Aquarius, even though we’re plagued by an enduring crisis and well-known for our strikes, even though we’re criticized for our ambiguity towards laicity and for the laws of our state of emergency; I love France, even though the memories of our past are far from being all glorious, and wars and colonization should not be forgotten.
I love France, because I have the right to point out what I think are its flaws without fearing anything. I love France, because those flaws do not make me want to leave but to try and change them a bit, at my level, because besides them, there’s everything else to love.
Vive la République, et vive la France!
Credits: An Adventurous World