Paris, 14 Juillet

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We were in Paris this time last year.  I was enjoying the buzz and feeling shortchanged: we don’t have national holidays in England, at least none that carry any kind of historical significance.  No religious holidays except Christmas and Easter, and even the country’s patron Saint, George, doesn’t warrant a day off.  That’s Protestant work ethic for you.  If our May and August bank holidays do have roots somewhere in history, then they have been forgotten by the common man (and woman) and appear to have been randomly tacked on at the end of three weekends, almost like a grudging concession by an employer related to Ebenezer Scrooge.  We have no dates when we celebrate freedom from oppression, change of regime, the end of a conflict or independence.  No day that unites the entire country in a civic celebration.

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Almost all the shops were closed and there was a mildly festive ripple in the summer air.  Notre Dame was crammed with tourists.  Noisy invaders with little respect or awe for this ancient church or its prayer-soaked walls.  Calling out to one another in loud voices, stomping around in large groups.  Too loud to be able to hear her voice or her heartbeat.

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Once again, I longingly tried to imagine what it would be like to stand in an almost DSC00275deserted Notre Dame, listening to Mediaeval voices rising to the Rose Window, singing Léonin or Pérotin, music composed for a perfect marriage with Gothic architecture.  I went to smile at the stone Virgin and Child, one of my favourite Madonnas.  I like her delicate features, her gentle, youthful smile.  A few years ago, I translated a crime novel by French novelist Alexis Ragougneau, The Madonna of Notre Dame, and it brought this beautiful statue to my attention.

When we approached the cathedral exit, the noise of the crowd was suddenly drowned out by a loud roar.  A row of fighter planes tore across the sky, a trail of blue, white and red in their wake.  I find the sound of fighter planes eerie and something in my chest always seizes up when I hear them slicing through the air above Norwich, where I live, but there, in Paris, as part of the Quatorze Juilletparade, I stared and marvelled with the other tourists.  I felt strange, standing inside a church, a building symbolising peace and compassion, while above me, there were these war machines, designed for war.

DSC00280We strolled to Île Saint-Louis and stopped in a café for a late breakfast of crêpes and coffee.  There was a television broadcasting the parade on the Champs Elysées (Elysian Fields - nowhere would be called this in England).  We were the only customers and the manageress started chatting to us.  “Macron’s been lucky with the weather both years since he’s been elected,” she said. “It’s been lovely and sunny on 14th July.”

“Oh, is that unusual for this time of year?” I asked, surprised.

“Under François Hollande it always seemed to rain or something would go wrong whenever there was some kind of event.  That’s why he was nicknamed  le chat noir.”

The black cat.  How funny.

We ended up staying in the café, following the live coverage of the parade, President Macron and guests watching as what looked like the country’s entire human fighting force and arsenal processed before him.  Tanks, military vehicles, men and women in uniform, weapons of every kind, the Garde républicaineon horseback, helmets and swords gleaming in the sunlight.

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As always when watching a national parade – in any country – I felt a sense of wrongness, or at least of incompletion.  I always look at all that military personnel, at all those tanks, fighter jets, weapons, and all those politicians, and I want to ask out loud, Where are the country's writers? Where are the scientists and the scholars? Where are the all the medics? Where are the actors? Where are the farmers? Where are all the other people who contribute to the country? Have they not also played their part in forging history?

Is the nation not proud of them, too?

Scribe Doll

Comments 12

 
Stephen Evans on Thursday, 18 July 2019 21:21

As a child we used to go to a Navy air show each summer where the air squadron called the Blue Angels would perform - very fond memories of that. Later I looked forward to seeing them performing at the graduation for the US Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland.

Still I agree with you about military parades a- and think the idea of including teachers and scientists - and even writers - is excellent!

President Trump this year was so jealous of President Macron's parade he wanted one of his own. The Army brought a few tanks in on July 4th to placate him.

As a child we used to go to a Navy air show each summer where the air squadron called the Blue Angels would perform - very fond memories of that. Later I looked forward to seeing them performing at the graduation for the US Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland. Still I agree with you about military parades a- and think the idea of including teachers and scientists - and even writers - is excellent! President Trump this year was so jealous of President Macron's parade he wanted one of his own. The Army brought a few tanks in on July 4th to placate him.
Katherine Gregor on Thursday, 18 July 2019 22:05

I've never seen a July 4th parade (except for one I went to in France back in 1976!) – do you not normally have military vehicles?

I've never seen a July 4th parade (except for one I went to in France back in 1976!) – do you not normally have military vehicles?
Stephen Evans on Saturday, 20 July 2019 13:35

No - In DC, a big concert on the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial and lots of firework.

No - In DC, a big concert on the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial and lots of firework.
Rosy Cole on Friday, 19 July 2019 20:47

I think there are some complex answers to this question to do with the economy, sensitive racial issues and a departure from our Christian heritage. Widespread urbanisation has also severed us from our roots once marked by church and community, which were not separate entities. Right up until the filofax, diaries marked all the seasonal events of the natural year, together with religious observances and the phases of the moon. Holidays were part of that. This was long after such reminders were relevant to the way most folk lived.

However, I believe the overriding reason we don't have days of national celebration is that Great Britain has a monarchy, dignified by a long historical tradition (and a resounding failure at Republicanism in the 17th century). It's graven deep in our psyche. It's who we are. We're proud of our monarchy, no matter that some disparage and misunderstand it. We are privileged to share in their lives, to know all they're doing to promote this country diplomatically and apolitically where governments fail. The daily routines surrounding royal life are a spectacle that draws tourism to these shores and includes the annual Trooping of the Colour on the Queen's Official birthday. And when they have a really special occasion, they grant us a holiday so that we can enjoy it with them!

I think there are some complex answers to this question to do with the economy, sensitive racial issues and a departure from our Christian heritage. Widespread urbanisation has also severed us from our roots once marked by church and community, which were not separate entities. Right up until the filofax, diaries marked all the seasonal events of the natural year, together with religious observances and the phases of the moon. Holidays were part of that. This was long after such reminders were relevant to the way most folk lived. However, I believe the overriding reason we don't have days of national celebration is that Great Britain has a monarchy, dignified by a long historical tradition (and a resounding failure at Republicanism in the 17th century). It's graven deep in our psyche. It's who we are. We're proud of our monarchy, no matter that some disparage and misunderstand it. We are privileged to share in their lives, to know all they're doing to promote this country diplomatically and apolitically where governments fail. The daily routines surrounding royal life are a spectacle that draws tourism to these shores and includes the annual Trooping of the Colour on the Queen's Official birthday. And when they have a really special occasion, they grant us a holiday so that we can enjoy it with them!
Katherine Gregor on Saturday, 20 July 2019 19:29

Independently of my own views about the monarchy, I feel it is poor show not to make the Queen's official birthday a day off. How can you have a celebration when people have to go to work like on any other day? As for holidays on Royal special occasions, I'm afraid our boss at the language school made us work on the day of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding.

I do agree with your first paragraph.

Thank you for reading and commenting, Rosy.

Independently of my own views about the monarchy, I feel it is poor show not to make the Queen's official birthday a day off. How can you have a celebration when people have to go to work like on any other day? As for holidays on Royal special occasions, I'm afraid our boss at the language school made us work on the day of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding. I do agree with your first paragraph. Thank you for reading and commenting, Rosy.
Rosy Cole on Sunday, 21 July 2019 16:36

As the Queen's official birthday isn't a fixed date, but falls on the second Saturday in June, it solves the problem. But days of national celebration, when holidays are granted, are left to an employer's discretion and largely community based anyway. People who want to recognise them generally do. There's no obligation involved, unfair though that may seem. At least HMTQ gives her garden parties and does her best to recognise the part played by a representative selection of her subjects in all walks of life. It's not just Birthday Honours to celebrities.

As the Queen's official birthday isn't a fixed date, but falls on the second Saturday in June, it solves the problem. But days of national celebration, when holidays are granted, are left to an employer's discretion and largely community based anyway. People who want to recognise them generally do. There's no obligation involved, unfair though that may seem. At least HMTQ gives her garden parties and does her best to recognise the part played by a representative selection of her subjects in all walks of life. It's not just Birthday Honours to celebrities.
Katherine Gregor on Wednesday, 24 July 2019 17:39

The Queen's Official birthday has been allocated to a Saturday – which highlights my point about the management stinginess. I think we may agree to disagree on this one, while smiling at each other, Rosy.

The Queen's Official birthday has been allocated to a Saturday – which highlights my point about the management stinginess. I think we may agree to disagree on this one, while smiling at each other, Rosy.
Ken Hartke on Sunday, 21 July 2019 17:54

It seems that we in the US see the purpose of a holiday as a reason to have a three-day weekend. We sometimes lose the connection to the event. We used to celebrate, or at least observe, George Washington's birthday and Abraham Lincoln's birthday and even Thomas Jefferson's birthday (in some places) on the actual anniversary day. Now we celebrate Presidents' Day on a Monday in February (even though some Presidents are not worth celebrating).

We might have some military hardware on display on Memorial Day or Veterans' Day or Armed Forces Day in some places. In small-town America, there are parades for almost everything but especially for Independence Day. Almost everyone in town (not on vacation) is involved either as spectators or marchers. The local Son's of the American Revolution (in colonial garb) march by with the flag followed by the four or five little league baseball teams, the boy scouts, and a small contingent of the high school band attempting to play a patriotic tune. The town fire engine will be next periodically sounding the siren and drowning out the fledgling band. Then comes the girl scouts, the Junior Taekwondo martial arts class, and the Future Farmers of America. Local elected officials will be next in swanky or antique cars (they only walk in election years), a police car, the local modern dance class, the local gymnastics class, and a dozen or more, semi-inebriated, adult former school band members trying to perform a patriotic tune. They will be followed by a town ambulance (with occasional siren). Finally, there will be the volunteers walking the dogs imprisoned in the town's animal control center (available for adoption) and a dozen or so costumed western riders on horseback -- always followed by a glum clean-up crew. The cast of characters is usually the same but with Pilgrims at Thanksgiving and with Santa Claus and angels and elves (replacing the little leaguers) and twinkle lights for Christmas. The more "ethnic" parades like St. Patrick's Day or Columbus Day have fallen out of favor in many places over the past few years. One local exception is the traditional Marigold Parade for Dia de los Muertos in Albuquerque...a sight to behold that breaks almost all the rules for parades. I can hardly wait.

It seems that we in the US see the purpose of a holiday as a reason to have a three-day weekend. We sometimes lose the connection to the event. We used to celebrate, or at least observe, George Washington's birthday and Abraham Lincoln's birthday and even Thomas Jefferson's birthday (in some places) on the actual anniversary day. Now we celebrate Presidents' Day on a Monday in February (even though some Presidents are not worth celebrating). We might have some military hardware on display on Memorial Day or Veterans' Day or Armed Forces Day in some places. In small-town America, there are parades for almost everything but especially for Independence Day. Almost everyone in town (not on vacation) is involved either as spectators or marchers. The local Son's of the American Revolution (in colonial garb) march by with the flag followed by the four or five little league baseball teams, the boy scouts, and a small contingent of the high school band attempting to play a patriotic tune. The town fire engine will be next periodically sounding the siren and drowning out the fledgling band. Then comes the girl scouts, the Junior Taekwondo martial arts class, and the Future Farmers of America. Local elected officials will be next in swanky or antique cars (they only walk in election years), a police car, the local modern dance class, the local gymnastics class, and a dozen or more, semi-inebriated, adult former school band members trying to perform a patriotic tune. They will be followed by a town ambulance (with occasional siren). Finally, there will be the volunteers walking the dogs imprisoned in the town's animal control center (available for adoption) and a dozen or so costumed western riders on horseback -- always followed by a glum clean-up crew. The cast of characters is usually the same but with Pilgrims at Thanksgiving and with Santa Claus and angels and elves (replacing the little leaguers) and twinkle lights for Christmas. The more "ethnic" parades like St. Patrick's Day or Columbus Day have fallen out of favor in many places over the past few years. One local exception is the traditional Marigold Parade for Dia de los Muertos in Albuquerque...a sight to behold that breaks almost all the rules for parades. I can hardly wait.
Katherine Gregor on Wednesday, 24 July 2019 17:40

Very interesting. Thank you!

Very interesting. Thank you!
Rosy Cole on Thursday, 25 July 2019 12:29

Where the UK is concerned, we're indebted to our Monarch for her lifetime of dedicated service. There have been plenty of occasions over the decades where spectacular celebrations have been shared with the world, apart from her keeping in touch with visits to the regions and what goes on routinely on our behalf. The Queen owes this nation nothing further, yet she will see her Coronation Oath through to her dying day. Honour the Constitution and principled leadership will follow.

It is the responsibility of ordinary people to celebrate their culture and, as far as I can see, that is going on apace in Britain as never before. Such freedom is an immense privilege.

Where the UK is concerned, we're indebted to our Monarch for her lifetime of dedicated service. There have been plenty of occasions over the decades where spectacular celebrations have been shared with the world, apart from her keeping in touch with visits to the regions and what goes on routinely on our behalf. The Queen owes this nation nothing further, yet she will see her Coronation Oath through to her dying day. Honour the Constitution and principled leadership will follow. It is the responsibility of ordinary people to celebrate their culture and, as far as I can see, that is going on apace in Britain as never before. Such freedom is an immense privilege.
Katherine Gregor on Thursday, 25 July 2019 12:39

I don't blame the Queen or the monarch. They have little say in Government decisions. I hold Her Majesty in great respect, although I do not agree with the way this particular monarchy is set up. I feel dreadfully sorry for them, actually. I seethe whenever they are "put back in their place" if ever they express an opinion.

I blame the Government. That is what I call "the management".

I don't blame the Queen or the monarch. They have little say in Government decisions. I hold Her Majesty in great respect, although I do not agree with the way this particular monarchy is set up. I feel dreadfully sorry for them, actually. I seethe whenever they are "put back in their place" if ever they express an opinion. I blame the Government. That is what I call "the management".
Rosy Cole on Thursday, 08 August 2019 17:14

Yes, I feel confident that 'The Government' does not essentially represent the British people. When quibbles are stripped away, the Monarchy is much closer to who we are deep down.

Yes, I feel confident that 'The Government' does not essentially represent the British people. When quibbles are stripped away, the Monarchy is much closer to who we are deep down.
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