The storming of the Bastille
Trip Start Jul 19, 2009
148Trip End Oct 25, 2010
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Somehow or other we were never there to join in the celebrations but this year we are and I was really looking forward to the party, imagining it would be something like the Dutch Queens Day, when the whole country goes mad.
I looked around the shops for announcements, they are always hanging there, notifying us of the coming festivities, but not much mention of the big event. Moules frites in Tourtoirac, a petanque or jeu des boules competition in Saint Agnan, that was about it. Strange.
I ask the girl behind the counter of the Intermarche is there anything spectacular going to happen and she shrugs her shoulders and says: feu d'artifice.
Not again, I think, the French will grab any opportunity to set off some fireworks, a few bangs and sparks, nice clean fun for the kiddies, but nothing to get excited about
Anyway, Jacques calls me around dinner time, would I like a couple of courgettes, he has harvested at least 60 of them and he and Bernadette are sick and tired of courgette soup, grilled, boiled, sauteed courgette, but I too have run out of recipes and desire, truth be told, I cant stand the sight of them anymore. 'What's happening tonight, Jacques?' I ask him. 'Ah' he says, 'feu d'artifice in Terrasson.' 'Is that all?' I say disappointed. 'It's wonderful,' he answers, 'we go every year. Come and join us, I promise you, you wont be sorry.'
21.30 pm and he is knocking on the door. It's not even dark yet. 'The roads will be busy,' he explains, 'and it'll be hard to find a parking spot.' What is he on about, he must be wanting to get there early so we can nip into a bar for a couple of drinks. But I was wrong, traffic was heavy and the place was packed. We did manage a drink, only just, for it was growing dark, 11 pm now.
The crowd gathered together on one of the two ancient bridges, and stood facing the other. It was a beautiful setting, the town is split in half by the river the Vezere, a lower and a higher part, on which a magnificent old church is set. The nostalgic former gas lamps were slowly dimmed, an amber sheen lingered mysteriously and then it's dark. People fall silent. Music begins and a voice is heard, the beginning of a narrative, the history of Terrasson. It is splendidly told, the tone expressive and resonant, French at its best, a pleasure to hear the enchanting words rumbling across the streets; les troubadours, les nobles and paysans, le vin, et les potagers nudes, les truffles, et la revolution
I am touched by the wonder of it all. I have never seen fireworks like that, subtle and dreamy. Hard to describe and it didn't even feel like watching fireworks. Giant hedgehogs, bramble bushes, great bunches of lavender, a field of golden wheat, laburnum, enormous jelly fish rushing towards you. At one point, the Marseillaise playing, the image of two symbolic fleurs-de-lis lights up the skies, then shiny lances stabbing the clouds with their red-hot points, twists of honey coloured barley sugar, transporting me back to childhood, and I am amazed to see a purple starfish floating above me, surrounded by a ring of stars.
The full moon is hiding, weaving its way between the grey-white clouds, that fill the night sky like the round boulders of the Dordogne river. Long trails of smoke paint ice-trees in the heavens, where they linger for a while and then crumble to nothing. Towards the end, an ink-black cloud drifts in from nowhere and covers the moon completely, but the clouds beneath are caught in an eerie light that escapes from under the darkness. Glowing ominously, like the moonstones I love, and I imagine them a hidden sign of things to come.
Silly, I know, but such was the moment.
The grand finale is a waterfall of silver sparks spilling over the opposite bridge, then a last explosion of golden tears gently falling down on us, and I stare, not daring to move until the very last one drowned in the Vezere river.
The 14th of July, the storming of the Bastille, if there was a bang, I didn't hear it, it was the gentlest storming I ever witnessed, and surrender was total and sweet.