A Touch of France in Brooklyn on Bastille Day

A Touch of France in Brooklyn on Bastille Day

BOERUM HILL – Smith Street was transformed into a small French heaven on Sunday, July 14, in celebration of Bastille Day, the day heroic French men and women stormed the fortress in Paris 230 years ago marking the start of the French Revolution.

On Sunday, July 14, 2019, a portion of Smith Street turned into a haven for French expats and Francophiles celebrating Bastille Day with Pastis, live music, and a Pétanque tournament with a total of 85 teams competing. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)

A large banner declaring “Enjoy Bastille Day” and “Celebrate Frenchship” spanned across Smith Street and greeted visitors to the 17th annual Smith Street Provence Festival organized by Bar Tabac owner George Forgeois. With Pastis and chilled rosé flowing abundantly, French expats and Francophiles alike enjoyed the cheerful atmosphere while listening to live music by French-born musician Francois Wiss and his band, and watching Pétanque players battle it out for a trip to France and bragging rights.

Visitors enjoy the Smith Street Provence Festival in Brooklyn. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)
Visitors enjoy the Smith Street Provence Festival in Brooklyn. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)
Francois Wiss and band entertained visitors at the Smith Street Provence Festival in Brooklyn on July 14, 2019. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)

Two blocks of Smith Street were divided into eight individual courts and covered in sand for the game, which is similar to bocce and originates from Provence, France. This year, over 80 teams competed in the tournament throwing boules (metal balls) at a small wooden ball called a “pig,” with passions running high at times.

Festival goers watching a game of Pétanque. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)
NYPD officers from the 84th Precinct having fun at the Smith Street Provence Festival. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)

While the festival did not draw the same number of people as last year’s when the celebration fell on the same day as the World Cup final between France and Croatia—with France emerging victoriously—visitors still enjoyed the feeling of fraternité.

For Philipp, who moved from France to the United States 25 years ago, it was party time. “It’s my revolution, inside and out,” he said.  His friend Laetitia said, “It’s a good way to get out and meet people from the neighborhood. Other people from the French community come out here, and it’s a nice street party.”

Friends Liza, Deirdre, and Abby loved the festive atmosphere. Abby, whose mother is French, spent every summer in France as a child, “This day is not so much about revolution and politics, but about celebration.”

Pétanque players showing their skills in a tournament in Brooklyn, New York on July 14, 2019. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)
Pétanque players showing their skills in a tournament in Brooklyn on July 14, 2019. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)
Pétanque players showing their skills in a tournament in Brooklyn on July 14, 2019. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)
Pétanque players showing their skills in a tournament in Brooklyn on July 14, 2019. (Photo: Gabriele Gorden)

Adam, who was there with his friends John and Tim, said, “I’m not French, but we have a ton of French friends.” Referring to his friend John, he joked, “He fights the French historically, so we thought we’d follow him, he’s a Brit.” John added, “After celebrating the loss of July 4 with these guys, I thought I’d just celebrate other people’s holidays this year.”

Sarah and Brian, a young couple who had moved to Brooklyn from Ohio last February,  celebrated Bastille Day for the first time and enjoyed the positive energy and liveliness. Brian concluded, “There is so much turmoil right now; we appreciate this event and are very happy to be here.”

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