A taste of France downunder: celebrating Bastille Day in Sydney
This article is in English. Click here to read it in French.
When it comes to celebrating Bastille Day, between the party held at the Argyle, a 3-course menu for $100 at Felix and the gun salute in La Perouse, Sydney doesn’t let you down. But if, like me, you prefer cushy weekends, the best option is to spend the day cooking, ideally with a guinea pig for whom snails do not constitute food material…
As a good Frenchie, I have always snubbed Bastille Day, its parades, its balls, its crowd… I remember well, however, the 14th of July 2008. Around 8pm, on the Paris-Bordeaux line, the empty train sped through the French countryside. Nose glued to the window, I was admiring the three, four simultaneous fireworks that followed, town after town, in the middle of an unusual calm.
None of my twenty-four other Bastille Days have been this memorable; until this year.
Bastille Day in Sydney, in the middle of winter
Sydney’s biggest Bastille Day event is the Saturday night party organised at the Argyle with the main French institutions of the city. For three years, around 2000 guests have been showing up in bleu-blanc-rouge. No wonder that, when I looked for tickets a few days in advance, the event was sold out. I felt a surge of relief.
Philippe (FR), Colin (NZ) and I (FR) had already ended our debate about the Rainbow Warrior and decided to celebrate with a Sunday dinner instead anyway (a task just as much, if not more, delicate).
Our minds were at peace. The last episode of the Brian Cox documentary, recorded the previous Thursday, was waiting for me; no need, therefore, to brave the cold in order to celebrate.
Home-made French cooking: better than a restaurant
The three of us had elaborated the dinner menu in six movements, each received with applause and cries of joy and/or surprise. Fresh Coffin Bay oysters (Claudio’s Seafood), rabbit pâté (GJ Food) and cornichons, snails with garlic and parsley butter (GJ Food), a very tender steak tartare au couteau and home-made French fries, green salad and cheeses, and finally, the perfect éclairs au chocolat (Caketown), all washed down with Mouton-Cadet.
Nom d’un petit bonhomme, we took it bloody seriously, this Bastille Day dinner.
Bastille Day, corny or not?
Celebrating France once a year with pyrotechnics and military marches seems to me like a dated initiative. In Sydney, French cancan and Chartreuse take over, and old-fashioned becomes special.
But wait! Have you ever watched someone discovering an ingredient for the first time? Colin had never eaten escargots, steak tartare or éclair au chocolat before. Raw meat and snails? “It’s freaking me out. I’m not sure about it.” Yet, his green mussels, he eats them raw.
For my part, I enjoyed this nice bizutage (hazing). Colin discovered escargots before our eyes, his face going from fear to doubt, then surprise and delight. “I just watched somebody grow up”, said Joss Whedon to Emma John.
The six courses of the meal were savoured with pleasure and deference, and I found again with happiness the ritual of the steak tartare preparation, that our Kiwi liked just as much.
It’s a pain wanting to dig out meanings no matter what, we come to take ourselves too seriously. In fact, it’s just darn great to make our loved ones discover our culture.
And you, how did you celebrate Bastille Day?Images credits:
1. Cancan dancers, via blog.belleproperty.com
2. Coffin Bay oysters, French shallots and red wine vinegar, by C. Mazurier
3. Bastille Day at the Argyle,via bastilledaysydney.com.au
4. Bastille Day 2013 – La Perouse, by Val in Sydney, via flickr.com