Today is Bastille Day, the annual event when the French celebrate the storming of the Bastille, an episode that eventually brought monarchical rule to an end. More than just a day for the French to celebrate, Bastille Day has morphed into a day for everyone, regardless of their nationality, to celebrate everything that makes France great.
I first met France when I was 17 and spent a month in Paris as an exchange student. Excluding Canada (sorry northern neighbors) it was my first international trip and changed my life forever. For the first couple of weeks though, I absolutely hated it.
I’ve always had a natural predilection towards crankiness, and for whatever reason Paris made me cranky. My French wasn’t perfect, but it was passable and I got really annoyed when shopkeepers pretended not to understand me because I had the wrong accent. My host family also annoyed me, especially since they insisted on eating tons of seafood, even though they knew I couldn’t partake. But about halfway into the trip, something happened.
I managed to get away from classmates and overprotective chaperons for an afternoon, and explored the city on my own. I strolled through the Marais, watched street performers along the Seine and enjoyed a meal at a bistro with fantastic views of Notre Dame. Like a cartoon character, I felt a light bulb go on over my head, lightning struck and the sudden comprehension of the greatness that is Paris fell over me all at once.
After the film of grumpiness was lifted, the trip took on an entirely new personality. I spent the rest of my time in Paris learning more about it, exploring hidden nooks and gradually falling in love with this great capital.
Since then, I have returned to Paris many times, each visit deepening the intense love I have for the city. Even though I have traveled around the world to countless amazing cities, Paris remains my first and one true travel love.
So today, along with the French and the people who love them, I raise a glass to France as I reflect on everything that makes it so great.
Will you do anything to celebrate Bastille Day?