Archive for Thursday, July 3, 2008

Americans win over the French

July 3, 2008

The French don't particularly like Americans; or so we were told. Traveling in France a number of years ago, we were cautioned against letting it be apparent that we were Americans.

We were, for example, asked not to wear flag, lapel pins and, most particularly, not to sing patriotic songs. My traveling companion and I had squirreled away in our respective suitcases head ornaments that had small wooden flags on springs that waved when worn on the head. Our guide was especially adamant that we not wear those.

We also, and this was before 9/11, had taken abroad some firecrackers that we had planned on setting off. We were, you see, traveling on the Fourth of July. The French were celebrating Bastille Day, a National Holiday of France, celebrating the fall of the Bastille in 1789 on July 14. While the country had planned celebrations for their holiday, we were admonished to lay low where ours was concerned.

On the morning of July 4, we smuggled our flag bedecked headgear and boarded our tour bus. We left the city of Paris and traveled north. When we were into the countryside, we took out our headgear and placed it on our heads.

While we were barely visible above the high back seats of the bus, our small, wooden flags waved visibly for others to see. A great quiet came over the bus, followed by murmuring that began as a ripple and became a rumble.

We had, among us, a woman with a strong voice who began a medley of American songs. She was soon joined by her husband, and then seat by seat other passengers joined in until the bus was filled to the brim with American songs. Because we were in the countryside, the windows of the bus were opened and music flowed out like paper streamers at a birthday party for a fifth-grader.

When we reached our hotel that night, in a small village whose name has long been forgotten, several of us joined together in the bar. Two of us had discussed earlier the contents of our suitcases; we were not the only ones who had brought along fireworks.

On of the guys and I darted out in the moonlight to the village centre and lit those fireworks, then ran like wild fire on a dry day. We made it back to the lobby as the fireworks exploded. We were hunkered down, watching from a window as the night air was split with exploding light and popping sounds, waiting to be arrested.

What happened instead was French residents, hanging out their windows, began gesturing and waving. A Gendarme came and went with no arrest. The square grew quiet; one, solitary, defiant firecracker exploded in the night air. Cheering erupted from the village windows and in that moment, we were one: United in one solitary, defiant voice; the battle cry of freedom.

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