Those who have been reading my blog for a while have already seen my post on the 14 of July, which is a National Holiday in France. In Anglophone countries it is called “Bastille Day” but I don’t remember hearing it called Le Jour de la Bastille in France, it is always “le Quatorze (14) Juillet.” You can see my earlier post below –
Recollection: 14th July Fete Nationale and interesting history - July 2009 here
Below is the traditional bouquet showing the French tricolor, blue red and white, painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1887 (Dutch painter, 1853-1890.)
Again this year, France will celebrate Bastille Day which, as I mentioned before, is the commemoration of the storming of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789. This was more a symbolic gesture than the deliverance of the prisoners since there were only from 7 to 11 prisoners there at the time. It was a fight against oppression, the end of the monarchy and transfer of power to the people. The starving people of Paris revolted not only against the King, but also against the powerful and wealthy Church, the taxes levied by the Church and all the privileges the Church clergy had. They rebelled against high unemployment, taxes and inflation. French King, Louis XVI went about bankrupt helping the Americans rebels win their independence from England and had incurred massive debts. So, in a strange way the American Independence could have been instrumental in bringing about the French revolution.
The celebration starts the evening of July the 13th with parades, walking bands and balls in the streets. On the 14th there is usually a parade down the Champs-Elysées in Paris and great fireworks everywhere.
It is a happy time, just like the 4th of July in the US. French flags can be seen in the streets and on some houses, which is an unusual site. Flags are not as prominently shown in Europe as they are in the US. I am not sure why. It could be that people there think that too much national pride can result in the type of nationalism (believing other countries are inferior) which brought so many devastating and bloody wars to their countries for centuries. Too much flag-waving makes them a bit uneasy I believe.
Le 14 Juillet painting by Roland Dubuc, French 1924-1998
Last year when we were in Vienna, Austria, I had a hard time finding an Austrian flag – finally found one on top of the palace. It was the same in Malta – I don’t recall whether I ever found one. In Bordighera, Italy, I walked all over town and finally found one small Italian flag at the police station. But along the route of the Tour de France many flags can be seen – from a variety of countries. Below from top left is the flag of Belgium next to the flag of the USA, then the French flag next to the flag from Luxembourg (almost the same as the French.)
The 99th Tour de France started this year on Saturday 30th June in Liège, Belgium and will end in Paris, on the Champs-Elysées on Sunday, July 22th. It will have covered a distance of 3,497 kms or 2,172.94 miles. I have written several posts on the Tour de France and its history, such as -
What is the Tour de France, July 2009 here
At the bottom of my post on Song of France and Ohio State University, July 2010 here
Tour de France in Alps - Galibier, July 2011 here
bike 102 (Courtesy Bicycle Clipart)
The route of the Tour changes every year. For 19 years now it has started in another country like Belgium, England, Italy, etc. Every other year it switches from a clockwise to counter-clockwise direction around France. It winds across flatland to high mountain tops in the Pyrénées and the Alps. Below is the route for this year.
The race is watched by millions of international fans on the roads and on TV. It really is an international event. Where can you find live sports that include members of many nations in the same teams and, in addition, a sport that can be seen every year free of charge, day after day, for three weeks? For example Sylvain Chavanel of France is in the same team as Levi Leipheimer of the USA, and Ryder Hesjedal of Canada is in the same team as Tyler Farrar of the USA, Robbie Hunter of South Africa and Johan Vansummeren of Belgium. So this is why there are so many fans waving a variety of flags. Below on the left is Yukiya Arashiro of Japan, then top right is Cadel Evans from Australia (who won the Tour in 2011) followed by Mark Cavendish from the Isle of Man, England, a sprinter who so far has won 21Tour de France stages and Peter Sagan of Slovakia who, as I am writing, has already won three stages on the tour this year.
Watching the Tour de France is like taking a trip there as helicopters hovering over the cyclists also show views of the surrounding landscape and monuments. We saw the cathedral of Rouen as well as picturesque villages, streams and castles. My photos are not too clear as I snapped them from my TV.
I have listened to TV commentators talk about all the cyclists both on US and French television. French fans would obviously be happy if a French cyclist won a stage (day-long segment of the Tour) on the 14th of July since it is a holiday and they can go and watch it live or on the television, but foreign cyclists are cheered just the same along the route. I was happy when Lance Armstrong won the Tour and am pleased to see a young American or French win a yellow, white, green or polka dot jersey, but all the men on the Tour are great fearless athletes. Right now my favorites to be the 2012 Tour winner are Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, Brad Wiggins of the UK or Cadel Evans of Australia – the country has nothing to do with it – may the best man win. I was also very excited when a young cyclist, Chris Froome, born in Kenya and a UK citizen, unexpectedly won a stage. The young Fredrik Kessiakoff from Sweden is also showing much promise.
To see the Belgians cheering the German cyclists, the Swiss cheering the Swedish cyclist and the French cheering whoever rides by make me so happy. It is so unlike the Olympic Games we watch in the US. In 1996 the Summer Olympic Games were in Atlanta. My husband and I were fortunate to buy some tickets to watch the men cycling competition. I remember it well. It was a warm and sunny day. There were different types of cyclist competition - time trials, pursuit and race. Below is one of the postcards I purchased.
All the seats in the velodrome were taken – the place was packed. When the competition was about 1 hour from being finished many spectators left. I mean a lot of them. I was quite surprised and asked my husband if he knew what was happening. He replied that the last US cyclist has been eliminated so that spectators were not interested in watching the rest of the game without any American cyclist in it. I was totally dumbfounded.
We stayed to the end. By then you could almost count the spectators. I remember the gold winner was an Italian, the silver was a Canadian and the bronze was Stuart O’Grady of Australia but there were a handful applauding at the award ceremony. I felt ashamed really as these were guests here and we were not showing them much courtesy or respect. I thought then that it was because Atlanta was not a very cosmopolitan town; however I was saddened because there had been thousands of volunteers who had worked tirelessly for the games to ensure everyone’s pleasure.
These were the “Centennial” Olympic Games, the modern games that French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded in France and which first took place in Athens in 1896.
The history of the Olympic Games is a long one. The games started in Greece around 776 BC but then declined in importance and ended around 390 AD. The games were started again, in a fashion, between 1796 and 1798 in revolutionary France and called “L'Olympiade de la République.” Then other European countries held similar Olympic Games festivals. But in the 1890s, at a French Federation of Sports convention, French Baron Pierre de Coubertin suggested that a modern version of the Olympic Games should be established. He organized an Olympic Congress at the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1894 to re-establish the games. Over 2000 people came, including some from the USA, UK, Jamaica, Sweden and New Zealand. They voted to modernize the games and the first Olympic Games took place in Athens in 1896. Below are stamps in honor of Pierre de Coubertin.
The prototype for the Olympic flag was conceived by Pierre de Coubertin and made under his direction by the Paris department store “Le Bon Marché.” It was presented the first time on 17 June 1914 to the French President of France – Raymond Poincaré.
After founding the modernized Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin became the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC.) The “Comité International Olympique” (IOC) is based now in Lausanne, Switzerland. Pierre de Coubertin, president of this committee, moved it there before the First World War so it would be in a neutral territory. To this day Pierre de Coubertin’s ideological stamp is still bearing on the Olympic Games which is the reason why French is the official language of the games (without de Coubertin’s vision, hard work and dedication. the games may not have ever become popular again.) English is also spoken at the games. Below is a French book called “The Fabulous History of the Olympic Games” by Robert Parienté and Guy Lagorce.
Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) was an educator, humanitarian and historian. (His grandfather had served under Napoléon Bonaparte.) Pierre dreamed of renewing the antique tradition of the games – “cette œuvre grandiose et bienfaisante : le rétablissement des Jeux Olympiques” (this majestic and beneficent masterpiece: the restoration of the Olympic Games) (de Coubertin.) He felt that “Olympism” was tightly joined to Culture. He also felt that it should be an ideal on fair play, gentlemanly amateurism and goodwill among all countries. Here he is below in a 1996 postcard.
But when I watched other Olympic Games on television I saw that the US cameras were most usually pointed toward the Americans to the exclusion of the others. Many American flags would be waved on the screen behind the athletes – and spectators in the US would shout “USA-USA.” I read that the Olympic authorities formally complained in the Salt Lake City games that the American televisions were too chauvinistic. They would not show a good competition if no American athlete was included, or at least, not for long. I read an article from Europe asking at the time if ABC or NBC (can’t remember which) realized that non-Americans were also competing at the Olympics and had also trained vigorously. The Olympic charter stipulates that the Olympic Games are about competition between athletes, not competitions between countries. Here is a map showing all the countries in the 2012 games. I know that American people are ultra sensitive about comments on their country and rarely say anything negative, but I am speaking honestly.
People here should be proud of their athletes – they win many medals that they deserve. But we also should be sensitive to other international athletes. National differences should be set aside during the games. Cheering is good but not the misguided über-nationalism and patriotic fervor that we have seen here during the last few games. It is disgraceful. The Independent newspaper in London said that there was "something sickening, even menacing," about the rhythmic chanting of "USA! USA!" at the games and the newspaper concluded "America is interested only in itself and cares only for itself." I was so happy to see thousands of people in Paris cheering Cadel Evans of Australia last year at the end of the Tour de France. I hope that the Olympic Games in London will show interest in all the athletes and that the American television channels will prove that in the US we can admire and cheer athletes from other countries, too.
Mohammad Ali holding the Olympic Torch at the Atlanta 1996 Centennial Games (author unknown)
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
- Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) founder of the modern Olympic Games
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