Although nothing now remains of the Bastille fortress itself, the place where it once stood remains an enduring symbol of the ideals of liberté, egalité and fraternité.
Colonne de Juliet, Place de la Bastille
The French are citizens of a nation state, unlike us, who are mere subjects of a monarchy. Moreover, that nation was forged out of palpable ideals and values: liberté, égalité, fraternité, whereas Britain was cobbled together to make its sovereigns a bit more money. Unlike Britain, they have a written constitution. Based on the same principles enshrined in the Magna Carta and borrowed by the new republic of France. Born in the French Revolution with the seminal Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, its powerful and moving opening statements include as ‘Men are born and remain free and equal in rights’ and ‘All citizens, being equal in [the eyes of the law], are equally admissible to all public dignities, places, and employments’. These words were carried to the colonies of northern america and when the English and French declared unilateral independence from Europe they incorporated it into the constitution of the United States of America.
The French constitution has been through numerous drafts, each one an expansion and refinement of the predecessor and not just a list of debatable amendments. Indeed, France is now into the fifth version of, well, itself. Having been through the wars – literally – it’s a nation continually redefining and improving itself. The country also boasts the most stirring national anthem I think I’ve ever heard, the nerve-tingling, blood-racing triumph that is La Marseillaise. Just hearing it sung in whatever context, regardless of whether you understand the words, sends shivers down your spine. Remember the scene in the film Casablanca? The collective patrons of Rick’s Bar, led by Humphrey Bogart, see off the close-harmony drone of a bunch of Nazi officers by striking up La Marseillaise and singing it over and over until they’ve deafened the Germans into submission? ** It is one of cinema’s greatest moments. It’s also testament to the power of national fervour wedded to a dynamite tune, neither of which we ever seem to match successfully on this side of the Channel, except on the last night of the Proms!
They have trains that run on time, serve decent food, have clean carriages and travel ultra-fast. Despite having a shorter working week they have a higher productivity per person than in Britain. The American induced recession means we will have to work longer before receiving a lower pension: in England we grumble in France they march to the barricades as if by instinct! They have a civic pride with people employed to wash the streets of all the major cities in France first thing every morning. Why does this not happen here? It used to when I werra lad! They have a civilised attitude towards drink which seldom, if ever, sees drunken louts rampaging through town centres of a weekend.
Finally enjoy a
Pour the brandy and framboise into a mixing glass half-filled with ice cubes. Stir well, and strain into a champagne flute. Add the champagne, and serve.