Bastille Day. Why, the very idea of this French holiday is so genius, it must be American in origin. A celebration of the death of monarchy (both figuratively and literally), the storming of a prison, a rallying cry of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," victorious fireworks -- these concepts sound suspiciously American in origin. And it takes place in July, you say? Are you certain this isn't a Fourth of July by another name?
Mais oui! On July 14, 1789, the people of France stormed the Bastille, the prison that symbolized everything corrupt and oppressive about the monarchy; two days later King Louis XVI recognized the people as the new power in France (two days later? Louis was clearly a little slow on the uptake). The outcome of the Revolution was the immediate release of the Marquis de Sade (who had written his most infamous works while an inmate), the eventual creation of the French Republic and the source material for Rush's song "Bastille Day." Oh, and 200-and-something years later, an American city named after a French monarch celebrates the fall of the French monarchy with a big festival. History, you are a wily minx, and no one can predict your eventualities.
And so this weekend Soulard, the Frenchest neighborhood in all of St. Louis, feels its roots and sows its oats with another wild party. Bastille Days makes up for coming early by stretching the festivities over three days, from Friday through Sunday, July 8 through 10. As in years past, the official start of the party is the ceremonial beheading of King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette, who are rousted from their sanctuary at Nadine's Gin Joint & Café (1921 South 12th Street, 314-436-3045) at 6:30 p.m. Friday and then paraded to Soulard Park (South Eighth Street and Lafayette Avenue) for the decapitation. The chopping is scheduled for 7 p.m. sharp (ha! sharp!), and as is tradition, the post-regicide party shall be a humdinger. The park transforms into a Parisian-inspired paradise, with adult-beverage tasting booths, sidewalk cafés, a martini bar and the music of Patti & the Hitmen (of course). While all those French Revolutionary War re-creationists may quibble about the historical accuracy of the martini bar, this concession is a big improvement over the original idea of a cholera booth, and we support it. And we support the $5 admission, which goes to the Soulard Safety Program.
Saturday morning brings an outdoor flea market, as well as the Saturday Bazaar. This local artists' market is sponsored by Art Dimensions (www.artdimensions.org) and runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. While you search for bargains and new paintings, enjoy the live blues of Brian Curran, Ground Floor Blues Band, Skeet & the Inner City Blues Band and Michael Thomas & the Travellin' Blues Band, all of whom play for free between noon and 5 p.m. Beer and barbecue will be close at hand at all times.
After celebrating the overthrow of tyranny and the rebirth of the living arts, Bastille Days welcomes a day of competition. The annual Tour de Soulard bicycle race whizzes through the streets of Soulard (hee-hee!) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For those who have indulged in too many martinis and too much barbecue to mount a bike, a competitive washers tournament (with prizes and trophies) begins at 11 a.m. If washers are too much to contemplate, well, that's why the beer tent is within walking distance.