Highlights of Milwaukee's famous summer festival, "Bastille Days," the largest French festival of its kind in the United States. A Photo Essay. Text by Gabrielle Verdier.

Since WFC is exploring present-day French connections and encouraging future ones, the "Bastille Days Festival" seemed like a perfect venue for making those connections more alive than ever. For the last seventeen years, "Bastille Days" the largest French festival of its kind in the United States, has celebrated July 14, the French national holiday, with four days of festivities, including music and foods from the French-speaking world. The street surrounding Cathedral Square Park are transformed into a mini French city, with sidewalk cafés, wine bistros, street minstrels and a 43-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower festival. Very fittingly, the French festival is located in the heart of historic East Town, or Juneau Town, the area developed by Milwaukee's first permanent settler and mayor, French Canadian Salomon Juneau.


Why is the French festival called "Bastille Days"? Why does it take place in July?

As many people know, the French national holiday, equivalent to our Fourth of July , is celebrated on July 14. In France it is usually not referred to as "La fête de la Bastille" but simply "le quatorze juillet," the fourteenth of July. On that day, in 1789, the people of Paris attacked the "Bastille," a medieval fortress (finished in 1382) which had become a state prison and a hated symbol of royal absolutism.. Many people, including the philosopher Voltaire and the Le masque de fer ("The Man with the Iron Masque") had been imprisoned there without trial. After the people of Paris attacked and destroyed the Bastille prison, the Revolution began spreading across France. Although it was at times brutal and bloody, the Revolution resulted in the foundation of the French republic, based on democratic principles. The ideals of the French Revolution, liberté, égalité , fraternité, spread and led to the overthrow of despots and the establishment of republics in many countries of Europe and Latin America. Le Quatorze Juillet became the national French holiday in 1880. It is celebrated with spectacular fireworks, great parades down the Champs-Elysées and other grand streets and, especially, dances in every quartier or neighborhood. Today, the site of the Bastille prison is a huge intersection on the southeastern side of the right bank of Paris. In the middle stands the colonne de Juillet, a tall bronze sculpted column that commemorates the revolution of 1830. The ultramodern opera house of Paris, l'Opéra Bastille, was built just a few years ago on the eastern side of the Place de la Bastille. But the place has remained the gathering point for protest and celebration by popular factions in France.

**Storm the Bastille in Milwaukee!** Every year festival-goers can celebrate the independence of France with a re-enactment of the historic storming of the Bastille. This exciting event is lively and physically challenging but peaceful. Thousands of runners and walkers take to the streets on the Thursday evening opening the festival for a 5K run and a 2-mile walk, sponsored by M&I Bank.

The French Market at Milwaukee's Bastille Days Festival, July 9-12, 1998
Le Marché Français à la kermesse de la Bastille, 9-12 juillet 1998
To make this festival even more French, the WFC project, working with East Town Association, the festival sponsors, invited 27 students from France with their 3 teachers to set up a "French Market." The students are majors in marketing and design at NEGOCIA, a leading Paris business school run by the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with which UW-Milwaukee recently concluded an exchange agreement. Under a colorful tent decorated with Eiffel towers (the decoration was provided by SOPEXA, Foods and Wines from France), the students set up booths and demonstrated how to prepare French desserts, such as crêpes and gâteau Basque, and specialties from Martinique. They also offered samples of typical French beverages and demonstrated products of France with good humor and Gallic charm.

Lead teacher Paul Lapoule (the one with the straw hat -- "un canotier" -- backpack and walkie- talkie and Negocia student Alexandre (with the Perrier apron), toast Bastille Day festival-goers and invite them to sample one of the world's most famous, calorie-free beverages. Since 1863, this sparking mineral water has been bottled only at Source Perrier, Vergèze, near Nîmes in south-central France. The carbonation in Perrier comes from a naturally occurring source found deep beneath the spring. If you visit the modern bottling plant, don't miss seeing the fabulous Pont du Gard, the three-tiered aqueduct crossing the Gard valley built by the Romans in 19 BC. [Photo by David H. Pruszska].


Cecile explains the varieties of French hard candies on display while Aurore answers questions about Lorina beverages in three different lemon flavors. Located in Alsace, famous for its history of tradition and the quality of its spring waters, Lorina was founded in 1895 by the Geyer Brothers. For over a century Lorina has been producing its exceptional lemonades with natural spring water, coming from the Vosges Mountains at a temperature of 52 degrees F, ideal for the sparklingness of this beverage. Lorina bottles are real collector's items, with the embossed seal representing La Collégiale de Munster, a beautiful Gothic church, and the words "Geyer Frères, Maison fondée en 1895." The Munster region is also famous for producing a very pungent cheese. [Photo by David H. Pruszka]

Cider from Normandy was also a great beverage success on hot summer days. Ombeline serves samples of cidre normand and various non-alcoholic spritzers, such as Cocktail Raisin-Pêche Pétillant (Peach Grape Spritzer) produced by Bel Normande. Alliance Française member Michelle Sment models the traditional costume from Brittany, complete with a beautiful starched lace coiffe bretonne. La Bretagne produces its own varieties of cider which are often served with crêpes bretonnes (with sweet fillings) or galettes de sarrasin (buckwheat crêpes, with salty fillings). Several Negocia students also made both varieties of crêpes at the French Market. [Photo by David H. Pruszka ]

What would a French market be without French cheese? There are at least 300 varieties of cheese produced in France. Thibault offers samples of several French cheeses (including brie, roquefort, camembert, gruyère and French feta) and explains how they are made. Many of the cheeses, donated to the French Market by Besnier Inc., are produced in Besnier's north-American cheese factory located in Belmont, Wisconsin! [Photo by David H. Pruszka ]

Gaëlle and Isabelle display a wide variety of fun and fanciful Louis Pion watches. And for just $2.00 they change batteries as well! [Photo by David H. Pruszka ]

Among of the most popular displays were the Articles de Paris, including tee-shirts, hats, clever pen-shaped perfume bottles, and various other souvenirs. By the time this picture was taken on Saturday, Ludovic had very few items left to offer. [Photo by David H. Pruszka]

Cotton candy is not a regular feature of the Bastille Days Festival. But young and old lined up for smiling Stéphanie's pink "barbe à papa" (literally, daddy's beard). [Photo by David H. Pruszka. ]

The World Cup Soccer finals in Paris on July 12 were a great culmination of Bastille Days. The French students, their host families and dozens of festival-goers were able to view the exciting match between France and Brazil under the French Market tent, thanks to honorary French Consul, David Erne, who provided the big-screen TV. [Photo by Gabrielle Verdier ]

At 4 PM, Central Time, when the match ended with France's decisive victory over Brazil, the cheering from the French tent could be heard all over downtown Milwaukee. [Photo by David H. Pruszka. ]

The French students and the fans of A Les Bleus, équipe de France danced through the crowds and ended up singing the Marseillaise on the main stage of the Bastille Days Festival. Never had the festival been more French. Although such a spectacular finale cannot be repeated often, festival-goers (about 200,000 during the four days) hope that the Marché Français and the French students from NEGOCIA will come back to Milwaukee's "Bastille Days" and contribute to this annual French Connection in Wisconsin well into the 21st century. [Photo By Gabrielle Verdier ]

Negocia students and faculty got a taste of Wisconsin's summer and gracious living by staying with host families in the Milwaukee area. From left to right: Professors Gabrielle Verdier and Martine Meyer of UW-Milwaukee, organizers of the exchange (Martine is wearing the official "Wisconsin's French Connections" tee-shirt featuring the black and white cow with fleur-de-lys spots -- "la vache fleurdelisée"); Negocia students Maïa, Caroline, Laure, Sabrina; teacher Christiane Theyssier and another Caroline. [Photo by host mother, Janet Carr.]

**Cultural Highlights of the "Bastille Days Festival"**

In 1998, the "Cultural Tent" was renamed "Wisconsin's French Connections" in recognition of the statewide sesquicentennial project. Among the displays were familiar favorites and new exhibitors, including teachers and students contributing to WFC.

The Alliance Française. This worldwide association to promote French culture was founded 115 years ago (in 1883) in Paris. In 1902, the American, James Hazen Hyde (son of millionaire Henry Hyde "King of Insurance"), decided to group together the scattered French cultural organizations in the US as the Federation of Alliances Françaises. Today there are 146 Alliances Françaises chapters in the US with over 30,000 members, and over 1,000 chapters worldwide with over 400,000 students. On March 20, 1998, the Milwaukee chapter celebrated the 80th anniversary of its founding by Mme Amélie Séraphon of Downer College. The Milwaukee Alliance always sets up a colorful and informative booth at Bastille Days. On this photo, Colette Lesage converses about French events with festival-goers while artist Lucien Lesage imagines his next painting. Colette has directed a number of very successful amateur French theater productions in Milwaukee ( and in other places such as South Africa). Her husband Lucien, a retired doctor, is also a talented artist. [Photo by David H. Pruszka. ]

Lucien Lesage is seated under a clever poster he designed to announce free mini-French lessons offered by the Alliance school at Bastille Days. "This is your last chance, French lessons, yes or no?" Who would hesitate? Of course French lessons are infinitely more fun than the guillotine! [Photo by Gabrielle Verdier]

Mini-French lessons: -- offered three times a day -- for FREE! And fun they are!Learners, young and not so young., gather around Alliance Française master teacher Béatrice Armstrong and try their "Bonjour! Ça va bien? J'adore le français et le quatorze julllet, la fête de la Bastille. Vive la France! Vive le français!" [Photo by David H. Pruszka. ]

Another traditional exhibitor is Milwaukee's French Immersion School. MFIS is older than Milwaukee's "Bastille Days Festival." This year, 1998, it celebrated its twentieth anniversary ! Along with the German and Spanish Immersion Schools, MFIS makes Milwaukee one of the few cities in the United States to offer this array of schools that teach another language to our children beginning in kindergarten. MFIS is also successful because of the incredible dedication of proud parents. On this photo a PTA member welcomes festival-goers to admire the work and pictures of students and graduates. [Photo by David H. Pruszka]

In 1997, an international bookstore finally opened in Milwaukee!Europa Books, a subsidiary of a Chicago-based bookstore, offers the latest in books, magazines, audio and video tapes published in France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Spain and Latin America. The manager, Danielle, is a graduate of the French program at UW-Green Bay and was a student of WFC web-master. Prof. Ken Fleurant. [Photo by David H. Pruszka]

In 1998, the "Wisconsin's French Connections" project was very prominently featured in the Cultural area. The displays attracted many festival-goers interested in Wisconsin's French History and their own family French connections. In this display, the timeline of Wisconsin's French and French-Canadian past is illustrated with a number of interesting images, from the sixteenth-century to the present. We learn that French-speakers who came to Wisconsin also included many Belgians and immigrants from other French-speaking regions around the world. [Photo by Gabrielle Verdier]

Old and New! Here is an old-fashioned poster display of WFC's ever-growing website! We used yarn to make links. But many people were interested and fortunately, webmaster Ken Fleurant could demonstrate the site using his powerful lap-top and state-of-the-art equipment lent by UW-Green Bay. [Photo by Gabrielle Verdier ]

The WFC Cultural display at Bastille Days also featured the best student projects contributed to the Sesquicentennial and originally displayed at the French Connections Fair at UW-Milwaukee on May 7, 1998. Teacher Nancy Sturino's students at Wauwatosa West High School did research on French families in Wauwatosa and prepared an interesting poster. Among the names they found are: Chasse, Champine, Ternes, Olson, Brunet/LaVenture/ Austin, LaBelle, Belanger, Morgan, Roix, Chartrand, Reuchlen, Valmond, Roberdeau, Shungo. [Photo by Gabrielle Verdier]

Teacher Beth Waschow and her students at South Milwaukee High School also contributed a fascinating project on French names and French amilies in South Milwaukee.

The youngest French students also made wonderful contributions. On this photo, we see charming floats representing French names in Wisconsin contributed by students from Woodlands Elementary School and cleverly entitled Amazing Feats: French Footprints in Wisconsin. Woodlands school students, under the direction of teacher Jody Schneider, also performed very entertaining skits on that theme. Above these are sophisticated posters on French gourmet foods and fashion across the centuries contributed by high school students. [Photo by David H. Pruszka]


**For other projects displayed at "Bastille Days" and elsewhere, please click on Student Projects.**

Why are these students so motivated and creative? Just ask the "Troubadour Teachers!" Jody Schneider and Veronika Kropp at Woodlands School at Milwaukee French Immersion School have been inspiring their students to create and perform in songs, music and skits, all French related!

Thanks to the Troubadour Teachers" who pioneered the event a few years ago, the Bastille Days Festival now includes a delightful Children's Stage. Children K-8 dance, sing, perform skits, puppet shows and music on French-related themes. [Photo by Gabrielle Verdier]

Watching the performances on the Children's Stage are none other than their Royal Majesties, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, who recovered their heads for the Bastille Days Festival and are all smiles! (They had lost their heads in 1793 by guillotine, a little over three years after the original storming of the Bastille in 1789, the event that started the French Revolution.) [Photo by Gabrielle Verdier]

The Bastille Days Festival features great entertainment for all ages on four different in addition to the Children's Stage. Chanteuse Robineau -- Robin Pluer -- whose repertory includes the great cabaret songs of the legendary Edith Piaf has drawn crowds to the festival for several years. She performed 2-hour concerts on the Firstar Beaux Arts Stage during the four evenings of Bastille Days. Edith Piaf (1915-1963), the French Judy Garland, sang of joys and heartbreak in the streets of Paris. Among her famous songs, La Vie en rose (which she composed herself) and Le Diable de la Bastille. [Photo by David H. Pruszka.]

The traditional French Mass is celebrated each year during the "Bastille Days Festival" on Saturday evening at the historic Old Saint Mary's Church, 836 North Broadway. Altar boys march in with the flags of France and the United States, in celebration of more than two hundred years of Franco-American friendship, since the time that Benjamin Franklin visited France and persuaded the king to send the Marquis de Lafayette and a French army to help the Americans in the American Revolution. [Photo by David H. Pruszka]

Alliance Française members Mary Emory (president) and Michelle Sment read the scriptures in French at the French Mass. Mary is wearing the familiar French beret (a wool hat originally from the Basque region in southwestern France) while Michelle, in traditional Breton costume, displays her allegiance to the principles of the 1789 Revolution by wearing the cocarde tricolore on her left shoulder. The word cocarde comes from "coq" (the rooster is the national emblem of France -- le coq gaulois -- the Gallic rooster, probably because the Latin word for rooster was gallus) and its rounded shape suggests the rooster's comb. It was made out of pleated ribbon and usually pinned to the hat. Its use goes back many centuries; people of various regions identified themselves by wearing the cocarde in the colors of their region. La cocarde tricolore, the red white and blue emblem, became a symbol of the French Revolution when in 1789 King Louis XVI added red and blue to the royal white cocarde in an effort to placate the people of Paris, whose colors were red and blue. The coq gaulois eventually replaced the royal fleur de lys as the national emblem. [Photo by David H. Pruszka]

"Bastille Days" is sponsored by the East Town Association

 


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