The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

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Homage in Nice

Posted by on in Sunday Photo


Tagged in: Bastille Day Nice
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Silent Sunday - 19 July 2015

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Nice view Baie des Anges




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The French Flag - le Tricolore

Posted by on in French Culture & Traditions

       cannes mairie 

Flags on the Cannes Town Hall for VE Day

The national flag of France was designed in 1794 and having been through a few variations over the years its design was definitively written into the constitution in 1958.  It comprises three equal vertical bands of blue, white and red starting from the flag pole.  It is known as the Tricolour or le Tricolore.

     drapeau roquefort les pins

The Tricolour, European and town flag outside the Mairie in Roquefort les Pins

National flags serve as potent patriotic symbols and France displays its patriotism by hanging flags on all public buildings such as Mairies (town halls), schools and court houses etc.  The Tricolour is often combined with the European and the town's own or regional flags.  During public holidays that commemorate war, flags are prominently displayed on war memorials and sometimes other public spaces like bridges.  Even buses can be decked out with little ones.  This also happens for the National Day on the 14th of July. The Tricolour is always draped behind the President of the Republic when he addresses the nation and it is raised every day in Army barracks across the country.  But what you will never see, unlike in the USA and many parts of northern Europe (Scandinavia in particular), is flags on private buildings/homes, not even during big sporting events. I found it surprising to discover, when researching this piece, that not only is it a crime to desecrate the French flag in a public place, but also to distribute images of a flag desecration, even when done in a private setting.  Serious stuff!

                    Lycée Masséna Nice

The flag flying outside the beautiful Lycée Masséna in Nice

The French are a great sporting nation and love supporting their national teams by dressing in bleu, blanc, rouge and waving their flag.  My family is composed of three different nationalities/cultures and we are happy to reflect this when at an international sporting event.  We've been lucky enough to have the mighty Tour de France pass through the area twice in recent years and have decked ourselves out in the Australian, British and French flags, cheering on riders from all three countries. They were great occasions to get all patriotic and proudly support our three nations.  

                    multicultural family

walking to see the Tour de France

We also had the great fortune to go to the London Olympics in 2012.  We travelled light and forgot to pack flags, so counted on buying some more at the venue.  This was not a problem for the British flag (obviously) and the Aussie one too but there were no French flags!  Now I know France can often be accused of exaggerating its own importance in the world, but I don't think it's expecting too much to think there would be a supply of Tricolours in the enormous souvenir shop along with flags from tiny South Pacific island nations, barely-heard-of central Asian republics, minute European Principalities et al.  We assumed they must have just run out of stock but no, we were told they didn't carry the French flag!  So much for the Entente Cordiale....It has to be said this was the only negative in an otherwise amazing and memorable day and luckily for my tri-cultural boys they had other flags to carry.

     London Olympics

at the London Olympics without a French flag

Over to you.  What can you tell me about your flag?  Is it prominently displayed in the country where you live?  Do you know its history?  Do you own a flag?  I'd love to hear from you.

     Roquefort les Pins école primaire

the local school's flag with no wind!


This post was written for the MKB Multicultural Carnival hosted by Kid World Citizen, the theme being "flags".


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tricolour flagTomorrow is Bastille Day or as the French call it, le quatorze juillet (the 14th of July) or la Fête Nat (short for Fête Nationale – National Day). The term "Bastille Day" is not used in France despite the date celebrating the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 marking the beginning of the French Revolution and the end of the Absolute Monarchy.

National Day is celebrated across the hexagon (mainland France) and all its overseas dependencies and territories by holding balls and fireworks displays. It's a public holiday and it's a joyous one. It's fun. It comes at a time when everyone is feeling good as it's summer (how decent of those revolutionaries not to have taken the Bastille in November), with most French starting their long summer holidays - it's a time to relax and enjoy. One of the most enjoyable and typically French ways to celebrate is at a Fireman's Ball, "Bal des Pompiers", which take place all over France though most famously in Paris.

bal de pompiersThe origin of the Bal des Pompiers is not clear but what is sure is that it started in Paris. Initially they were a way for firemen and their families to relax and celebrate the public holiday within the confines of their stations. But on a certain 14th of July 1937 passers by in Montmartre (an area of Paris) liked what they heard and knocked on the door of the local fire station. They were welcomed in and the following year many other stations opened their doors to the public. Nowadays fire stations all over the country organise balls, either within their walls or in public squares. The tradition has spread to other public holidays too, particularly the 15th of August. Typically the music is traditional French guinguette style – small folk bands with an accordion – though more and more it's becoming a DJ affair with chart-topping hits blasted out of a sound system. Whatever the style of music, it's a festivity that cuts across age, class, race, military or civilian; everyone puts aside their differences and gets into the fun. It is a true fête populaire bringing together whole communities.

There's a little known fact about firemen that may also have something to do with the origins of the ball; the Pompiers of Paris, considered the most glorious and brave of them all, are actually part of the Army (and the Pompiers from Marseille are in the Navy.) This may well be why the Bal des Pompiers is linked to the 14th of July as the other main part of National Day celebrations is the grand military parade that takes place on the Champs Elysées in Paris.

defilé 14 juilletThis show of military might, associated more commonly with former Soviet states, communist countries and dodgy dictatorships, is the prime event of the official state celebrations. Thousands of foot soldiers, mounted soldiers, armoured vehicles and planes parade down (and over) the "most beautiful avenue in the world" (as the French modestly call the Champs Elysées!) It is televised, watched across the nation and goes on for hours. And in 1993, my husband, JF took part during his hated military service.

Based in Trier, in Germany, his regiment, the 61st Artillery, transferred to Satory Military camp near Versailles a few days before the National Day. Then picture this; early on the 14th they drove the tanks up the motorway to Paris! Arriving at Avenue Marceau at 5am they had a 6 hour wait surrounded by increasingly large crowds of tourists, mainly Japanese and mainly female (the lure of the man in uniform?) Standing army-style rigid & stock still, facing forward without the slightest of sideways glances they finally set off just as the heavens opened. As JF's position was manning the gun (with firing pin removed!) on top of the tank he got soaked to the skin during the 20 odd minutes of the descent. Somewhere I have a photo of him taken by his sister but of course I can't find it now I'm writing about it. If I ever do I'll update this blog.  For an apolitical pacifist like JF this was a truly ridiculous event but nearly 20 years later he's still dining out on the story. There really aren't many people who can say "I drove down the Champs Elysées in a tank"!

boys in cagnes fete natHow long such a show of military power will continue in this day and age who knows. Abolishing it was part of the Green Party's manifesto at this year's Presidential elections, but it didn't go down well and they didn't do well and everyone else seems to enjoy it, so I imagine it's pretty far off. As for tomorrow, my young boys will undoubtedly watch some of it on the telly, being at an age where all things military, guns and warfare hold endless fascination, but JF will not. We'll celebrate at the Prom Party on the seafront in Nice. The famous "Promenade des Anglais" will be pedestrianised for the evening, there will be food stalls and street entertainers, and seven different bands are playing. Everyone mills about happily in large family groups. It's gorgeous weather, hot with a light breeze and under the warm Mediterranean sky we'll finish the evening with fireworks over the Bay of Angels.

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