Whenever Washington, D.C. is compared to other great cities of the world, there is always one place it seems to have the most in common with:
The look and feel of Washington, D.C. is synonymous with one of Europe’s greatest towns. A lot of that is because, as most know, a French engineer took the lead in designing our capital’s layout. With its grand avenues and numerous circles, Pierre L’Enfant made it quite akin to Paris.
There’s more; not only did France help the U.S. in the Revolutionary War, they underwent a democratic revolution almost immediately after ours. This established an allegiance between the two cities that will always exist. In fact, the major holidays each country has to celebrate their momentous movements happen just ten days apart. We celebrated our independence on July 4th, while the French note theirs on July 14th.
France’s independence day is called Bastille Day, also known as French National Day, and is the anniversary of revolutionaries storming the largest prison in Paris, the symbol of political oppression throughout the country. Shortly after the riot, the French monarchy was abolished.
It became a celebrated day the very next year, and as years went by, it became another day in D.C. to celebrate democratic rule.
This year, its 223 anniversary, the weekend is full of events.
The biggest celebration comes the day before the 14th. On Saturday, the 13th, one of Washington’s best known French cafes lets loose. L’Enfant Café closes down the block around its storefront in Adams Morgan for what they call the largest Bastille Day celebration in the Western Hemisphere (all of Paris’s parties are in the East). The Bastille Day Block Party runs from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and will make any Francophile swoon. The highlight of the annual event is the French Maid Relay, where men and women in familiar lacy and frilly black and white outfits attempt to fill champagne flutes a spoonful of water at the time (sprinting back to a bucket of water down the street each time). It’s an ode to the Waiters’ Race, which were popular in Paris, showing how fast skilled waiters could work. Alongside the races will be drinks and dancing, as well as at the end of the night, a full masquerade ball. A six dollar ticket gets you in for all the day’s events.
If you want a party a little more refined, you can always hop over to French soil. Not via a seven-hour plane ride, but by heading to Georgetown and the French Embassy. On Friday, July 12th, their annual Bastille Day Gala takes place. Food will play the role of ambassador for the night, with some of D.C.’s best French restaurants catering the event. From Central Michel Richard to Bistro Lepic to Café du Parc, the most authentic Parisian cuisine will be there for you to taste. Tickets to the gala are $110 and the event runs from 7:00 p.m. to midnight.
On Saturday, if you are looking to celebrate with family, Alliance Francaise has the party for you. The Bastille Day French Festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hillwood Museum and Gardens just north of Woodley Park. The event has many kid-friendly activities, such as arts and craft projects as well as French games to play. The celebration is $5 for children and $18 for adults to attend.
With Washington, D.C. having such an integral sister city, this Bastille Day is the excellent opportunity to see just how much of French culture we have adopted here.
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