On July 14, 1789, the common people of France stormed the Bastille, overthrowing the monarchy. The French never forgot it. Bastille Day is celebrated far and wide.
The esprit soars each year from the romantic boulevards of Paris to the Joseph Aubain Ballpark parking lot on St. Thomas, where for the last 50 or 60 years, the island’s French community jumps up with music, food and more bonhomie than you can shake a Tricolor at.
On Bastille Day it’s no longer a parking lot. With the French flag flying overhead, and the Eiffel Tower in the background, it becomes a dance floor, a stage for the evening’s entertainment.
The Frenchtown Civic Organization (FTCO) traditionally winds up French Heritage Week with the celebration. Called "a little bit of flair of French," by Honorary French Consul Odile deLyrot, this year’s fete was smaller, more intimate.
And it was special. Frenchtown was honored this year by the V.I. Lottery with the July 16 lottery stamps featuring scenes of the French community. Lottery Executive Director Conrad "Ricky" Francois presented a plaque to Henry Richardson, FTCO president, which Richardson graciously received, thanking his 1968 high school classmate.
The artwork on the stamps features picturesque scenes of Frenchtown, with views from the bayside, St. Anne’s Chapel, local homes and restaurants. The tickets were part of the Lottery’s "History and Heritage” series.
Francois said later, "We like to feature local culture; I think we hit a home run with this one," a remark Richardson heartily backed up. The evening’s program featured brief remarks by de Lyrot, who praised the community for participation in the week’s events, including last weekends Hull Bay Kingfish tournament; Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve; and Miss Carenage 2011 Jessica Bute, a Charlotte Amalie High School junior who has reigned over the week’s events.
Folks chatted, danced, renewed old friendships, or started new ones, while the FTCO ladies wearing tricolor beads and ribbons, circulated through the crowd with elegant canapes – "Don’t come to us; we’ll come to you." The remark signals the break with the old tradition of everyone charging simultaneously for the food stand for ham and sweetbread.
"This is so much nicer," the hostesses said.
And it is. Much more, well, let’s say, French.
Music filled the evening by Get Together, a sort of scratch band from Richard Berry’s Sea Breeze Band. Berry, who was to be a guest of honor, had to be off-island Thursday.
While taking obvious pleasure in the night’s music, tapping his foot, radio icon Leo Moron, said with an offhand smile, "I couldn’t possibly remember how many of these Bastille Days I’ve spent here. I was born here in Frenchtown, you know."
Moron was recently honored by the 29th Legislature for his decades of broadcasting the "Old Timers Show" every Sunday, as well as his contribution to local culture by keeping the traditional Quelbe music alive.
For a look at the lottery stamps, visit the V.I. Lottery site.