NEW YORK—On July 13, thousands of New Yorkers transformed 60th Street in Manhattan’s Upper East Side into a temporary Champs-Élysées in a celebration of Bastille Day.
The annual New York tradition celebrated France’s Independence Day, named after the storming of the Bastille, a prison that was raided on July 14, 1789. The event is considered by many to be the beginning of the French Revolution and a new era in French history.
There was no lack of enthusiasm or zest among the crowd, and that was especially true for Karim Simmons of the Bronx. One of many in the crowd with no French ties, Simmons was particularly passionate about France.
“Anyone can be French. It feels good to be French for a day,” he said. And did he turn French. Painting his face like the French flag and donning festive blue, white, and red sunglasses, Simmons has never left the country, but wishes that could soon change.
“I want to win the free trip to Paris [that is being raffled off],” said Simmons. “I’ve always wanted to go there.’
With French culture prominently on display, the street fair featured French customs and traditions.
In one section of 60th Street, a makeshift pétanque field was constructed. Pétanque is a predominately French game that originated over a century ago where metal balls are bowled as close as possible to a smaller ball called a cochonnet.
At the entrance, a mime welcomed visitors into the festival and elicited smiles from small children and others who valued the gesture.
At the main stage, French artists and groups, including Joséphine, Antoine Bleck, and Pascalito, entertained music connoisseurs and novices alike.
France is known for its exquisite cuisine, and participants indulged as they gravitated toward the many food booths that lined both sides of the street. Hungry bystanders stood in long, winding lines just to have a bite of French culture. Food choices were not just limited to la cuisine française, however, as kabab, pizza, and lemonade stands blended in with the crêpe and quiche vendors.
The Culinary Tour de France Restaurant Group helped sponsor this year’s Bastille Day celebration and served up authentic French delicacies that are favorites at their nine restaurants across New York City. Among the items on the menu were Panisse with Rosemary Aioli, a chickpea falafel with rosemary-garlic mayonnaise, and Quiche Lorraine, an egg-and-cream pastry with ham and Swiss cheese.
“Actually our most popular product today is the Pan Pagnat,” said Culinary Tour de France’s Director of Marketing Amir Kashfi. “It’s been a huge success. It’s canned tuna, boiled egg, cherry tomato, and olive tapenade paste on a roll.”
“Before Bastille and the French Revolution, the Aristocracy made foods like these a symbol of social status. Afterwards, when the peasants and bourgeoisie rose up, they could now eat these kinds of foods,” Kashfi continued.