Jul 14, 2014

Liberté, Egalité: Bleu de Pays


My meandering tribute to Bastille Day starts with some fine nuggets derived from the national motto: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, or Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood. Some of my favorite signs at the recent Gay Pride Parade: a float promoting condom usage that says "Liberty, Equality, Protected" and sounds better in French, and another that advocates for "Liberty, Equality, Secularism".

You may be tempted to celebrate by going to Bastille, the home of the former prison that was stormed 225 years ago today as the start of the French revolution, but be warned that you won't find a prison. Or even the walls of a prison. Or even the remnants of the walls of a prison. As far as I can tell, there are no markers of the Bastille prison at all. But at least on Bastille Day, they bother to decorate the column, inaugurated in 1840, that stands in the Place de la Bastille roundabout where the prison (roughly) used to stand. That's a whole lot of blue, white, and red. Yes, I know that sounds funny to an American (where it's always red, white, and blue), but the French always name their flag's colors in that order. Blue first.
Even with the name "La Colonne de Juillet" ("The July Column") in this place, the column doesn't commemorate the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Rather, it commemorates the re-storming from July 27-29, 1830, when the people overthrew and drove out King Charles X then -- after fighting yet another revolution -- installed Louis Philippe Ier, from the House of Bourbon, and declared him not "The King of France" but rather "The King of the French". They may have thought this was more of a populist victory than it seems to me.
If you are confused by the constant back-and-forthing of monarchies, revolutions, and republics in France, join the club. (And just for your information, we are currently living in what is called the Fifth Republic.) I am so glad that I had to study the American revolution in my history classes instead.
The column is topped by a statue that is nearly universally identified as the winged-god Mercury but is, in fact, Génie de la Liberté (the "Spirit of Liberty") by Auguste Dumont. It is purposefully made in the manner of Mercury, but here holds the torch lighting the way for a new government, and the remains of broken chains.
There is so little to show you what Bastille used to look like, I turn to the illustration by Lise Herzog in a children's book by Pascal Varejka, called Il Etait Une Fois Paris ("Once Upon a Time, Paris"):
In fact, the best current reminder of the 1789 -- first -- revolution is actually an enormous station-long commemorative tile mural at the Bastille metro stop.
And while we're meandering through Bastille Day history and detouring at interesting metro stations, my favorite is Arts et Metiers, which makes you feel like you've gone 20,000 leagues under the sea with Jules Vernes.
Cité is rather picturesque, too, and it's also the deepest station in the Parisian metro system. It's a bit of a bummer when the elevators are broken.

But just because you have to go the Bastille metro to get much of the Bastille revolutionary flavor doesn't mean there's nothing special to mark the day. Ceremonial flyovers attract our attention, especially since flying over central Paris is normally illegal, so you only rarely hear or see planes overhead.

Even when we're in Paris, we can't be bothered to go to the Eiffel Tower for the Bastille Day fireworks. First of all, it doesn't get dark till so late that the fireworks happen around 11pm, which is hard for the girls. Then, many of the critical metro stations are closed, and the roads are a nightmare, making it all very far and annoying. And finally, hundreds of thousands of people descend on the best viewing spots, and we don't feel like going there six hours early to claim a spot. So instead, I just walk down a few bridges for a nice view with a hundred or so like-minded folks, see a nice display, walk home, and hit the pillow by midnight.


THE CHEESE: Bleu de Pays

Bleu de Pays is a mountain blue cheese from the Cantal Auvergne region. It's made from raw cow's milk, and if you're ever in doubt, just check out the cute cow on the sticker of this Lou Peyrou sample.

Bleu de Pays is a farmhouse cheese made by several farms, in an area known more for hard cow's cheeses than blues. I want to be encouraging, and on the positive side, the Bleu de Pays is pleasantly creamy. On the other hand, however, it's bland. On the other, other hand (evidently, I've got three) -- and to be totally fair -- I try a sample of this cheese straight from the case, cold. And I'm told that if I actually bought it, brought it home, let it sit around and age for a few days, it would get more flavorful. Especially if I let it sit around where it's warm; then I bet it'd get real flavorful, alright.

But even mild, I suppose this is good for those of you who don't like blues, though if you don't like blues, you still probably won't eat it. Because it's blue.


This cheese is the Blue, White, and Red nation's Blue of the Nation. I want to say that it's revolutionary, which might be a stretch, but at least it's made in what is normally hard cow cheese territory. And then there is this: Liberté, Egalité, Bleu de Pays. It sounds good! Maybe I should make that my manifesto.


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