French Tips

Celebrating Bastille Day with food, drink and parading Soulardians? Mais oui!

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July is a month hot enough to breed revolution -- the fact that we can't throw off the invisible hand of the sun gets people angry enough to attack whatever visible hands of oppression confront them, whether they be government officials, cops or prison guards. The heat got to the French on July 14, 1789, driving them to free the prisoners from the dreaded Bastille prison and then lop off a few aristocratic heads. Vive la France!

In one of the funnier (read: tragically stupid) incidents of the past few years, we were encouraged to shed our respect for our friends across the sea. Remember Freedom Fries? "We actually renamed it the 'Freedom Festival' last year because of what was happening, and boy did we hear about that," says Bastille Days Festival chairwoman Joanie Thomas. "The anti-French sentiment didn't hurt us that much. Our attendance was down a little, sure, but not a significant amount."

You can atone for your country's anti-Francism by attending the eighteenth annual Bastille Days Festival this weekend in Soulard. The fest begins with a farewell drink avec King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette at Nadine's (1931 South 12th Street; call 314-865-1994 for info) at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, July 16, and turns into a street parade led by the Joia percussion group at 6:30 p.m.

"The people playing the king and Marie Antoinette are always Soulardians," explains Thomas. "This year I hear Marie has a little bit planned where she'll address the peasants. It's always a lot of fun."

By 7 p.m. a mob will gather at Eighth Street and Lafayette Avenue, and the procession culminates in the inevitable: the beheading of Louis and Marie Antoinette, accomplished by way of guillotine (of course). Let the party begin! On to the wine tasting and martini bar! It's $12 to get into the tasting (in a tent at Soulard Market Park at Eighth and Lafayette, the festival's epicenter), but the streets will be packed with performers, people dancing to the musical stylings of Swing Cat Swing, and pedestrians milling from one Soulard bar to the next.

On Saturday, July 17, there's a flea market that opens at 9 a.m., and the free blues concert, which begins around noon, features Brian Curran, the Ground Floor Blues Band, Steamroller Blues and Skeet & the Inner City Blues Band. Bastille Days is a celebration of the Soulard neighborhood's French history, and the whole place will be jumping with merry revelers. Take a stroll up the brick neighborhood's incomparably scenic streets. Get a bite to eat: Soulard's restaurants will offer authentic French and Cajun/Creole delicacies, plus there will be plenty of drink to soak your peasant woes. The party continues on Sunday, July 18, starting at noon, with volleyball and washers tournaments, beer, and that Mississippi Valley delight, barbecue.

The Bastille Days Festival benefits the Boys Club of St. Louis in Soulard, and this fact is the capstone to what can only be described as a truly neighborhood-driven event. The Soulard Business Association knocks itself out to make sure you have fun every day of the year, and it also maintains one of St. Louis' most distinctive neighborhoods. So celebrate the old fight for freedom this weekend the best way we can: under Soulard's July sun, amid the old brick and the new surveillance cameras. Vive la Revolution!

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