San Francisco has been celebrating Bastille Day for 142 years since the first time in 1880. But after two years when the biggest celebration was put on hold (or held on Zoom in 2021) because of pandemic restrictions, the excitement is high for the return of this year’s in-person event at the Embarcadero Plaza.
“This is an opportunity to come back together and celebrate the resilience of our French businesses,” said Chloe Soroquere, President of Comité Officiel, the official committee of French/American organisations in the Bay Area that organises the festival. “We promote French culture to the Bay Area Francophiles and reach out to the community in general … and it’s lots of fun.”
The fourth annual San Francisco Bastille Day Festival will be held Saturday, July 16 at the Embarcadero Plaza across from the Ferry Building. The free admission festival opens at 11 a.m. PST and runs until 6:30 p.m. PST. It’s a kermesse (outdoor festival) that will include organisations providing a selection of food, French products and artists, a variety of wines and Kronenbourg beer along with performances by several French musicians, bands and a mime. It also includes a Citroen vintage car show, a pétanque competition, Tahitian dance performances, tours of San Francisco’s French Quarter, a waiters’ race, Serge the Mime and more.
According to Soroquere, holding the event at the Embarcadero Plaza was approved by the City of San Francisco on January 26, 2022. That meant a short time frame to prepare for the event, line up all the sponsors and participants, signup the entertainment plus get security and safety organised.
“Everybody felt like it was a rebirth of social activity for everyone and was more attractive because it is outside,” said Soroquere. “But everything had to be accelerated.”
The effect of two years of economic issues due to pandemic rules was that there were fewer organisations and individuals to reach out to and secure their participation. Many of the smaller French businesses, and a few of the large ones too, had closed or returned to France. That also impacted fundraising as the usual supporters had smaller budgets or couldn’t participate. But the Comité Officiel found new or smaller merchants and supporters, lowered participation pricing to make it more attractive and even received funding from Soutien au Tissu Associatif des Français a l’Etranger, a French Ministère organization which contributes to the support of French organisations abroad.
The result will be a “lots of fun” day at the Embarcadero Plaza filled with booths offering popular French brands including Goudy’s French Cuisine, Marin French Cheese Company, La Crepe a Moi, My French Cuisine, Café Bastille, Petit Pot, Fabriques Delices, Artisan Macarons and many more. Wine participants are Chateau Potelle, Boisset Collection, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant and Vigneron Imports. Food trucks will represent countries with a French history (sort of) including Moroccan food, Vietnamese food and even an empanada truck run by a female French chef.
The festival will be a zero-waste event with all liquids served by the glass, food served with compostable plates and utensils and 15 recycling stations. All visitors are encouraged to bring their own recyclable bottles, cups, etc.
There will be many events to enjoy walking the plaza. A pétanque competition will be held pitting five clubs from around the Bay Area against each other. A waiters’ race will be held (traditionally called the Course de Serveuses et Garçons de Café), although more waiters need to sign up, and prizes will be awarded. Enjoy the colourful Citroen cars that will show off their distinctive style. Alliance Française chapters from San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Berkeley will share a booth to help visitors with their French and inform them of classes to take to improve language skills.
If curious about the influence France has had on San Francisco, tours of the city’s French Quarter will be offered, plus meet author Claudine Chalmers who has written books on the history of the French in San Francisco. A variety of bands will play on stage culminating in Rue 66 and French local band Dernière Minute starting just after a Can-Can dance performance.
Soroquere’s favourite entertainment is the Tahitian dance group Hui Tarava based in Daily City. One of the places she lived growing up was Tahiti and experienced the dancing since she was 12 years old.
“But what I enjoy actually is the fact that everybody’s coming back together and we’re bringing people from all over the place,” she said.
French/American friendship started with the 1778 treaty and military support for the American Revolutionary War when France became the first ally of the new United States. French citizens came to California as early as 1831 and were major players in the building of San Francisco during the Gold Rush by operating stores, laundries, restaurants and hotels on Clay Street. The French Hospital, the first in the city, was opened in 1851 and open to everyone. The “Paris of the West” continues the friendship with the 2022 Bastille Day Festival that celebrates all things French and San Franciscan. La fête commence. Let’s get this party started.
Lead photo credit : San Francisco Bastille Day Celebration 2019, courtesy of www.bastilledaysf.org