La Fête Nationale Française: One of the Best and Most Sobering Days in Lyon
Call me un-American, but after celebrating Bastille Day in France just once, I'm ready to go full on expat. (As if I wasn't already.) It's not that they recognize their national holiday so differently than Americans, there are parades, feasts and fireworks here, too. It's something else that I can't describe, the je ne sais quoi that seems to apply to everything the French do. No matter what, it's done in style.
I celebrated la Fête Nationale with my study abroad family of good friends, sadly some people had already left, either to head home or on to their next adventure. How could you not stay in France on such a culturally important day? Thanks to Sylviane and the scoop she gave me, my girls and I found a prime spot on a cobblestoned curb between Vieux Lyon and the Rhône. We passed around bottles of rosé and limoncello, reminiscing about the memories we shared this summer,
building anticipation for the impending firework spectacle.
I want to be eloquent in every characterization that I make of France, but the only way I can accurately describe this firework display, is by calling it France on steroids.
Les feux d'artifices (fireworks) were set off behind Fourvière hill, and exploded in the air right between the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière and Lyon's mini la Tour Eiffel, sprinkling streams of bleu, blanc, rouge all over the city. The chromatic spectacle lasted almost an hour - have you ever seen a fireworks display that lasted more than 15 minutes? - during which we started feeling rosé-induced giddiness and emotions. We laughed, hugged and watched the rivers mimic the vivd night sky.
When the official Bastille Day festivities concluded, it was late and we were sleepy.But there was one more spot we needed to hit before bidding adieu to Lyon.
We walked through the charmingly narrow cobblestoned streets one last time to sit on the patio of Wallace, our beloved pub. The bartender, who has come to know us by this point (don't judge), sent out a round of in honor of our loyal patronage for the last six weeks, and as a farewell gesture.
I was a sobbing wet ball of emotions by this point, which is saying a lot for someone maintains a stoic poker face 99 percent of the time. But this felt like it was it, the real goodbye.
Other than the bittersweet reality that I was leaving Lyon the next day, there was very little that could have ruined that night for me. But something very tragic happened that I didn't see coming.
Toward the end of the night, I started receiving texts from friends and family back home. They were urgent and panicky, saying things like, "Where are you?"; Are you ok?" and
"Please reply as soon as possible."
I had been out celebrating since the late afternoon, far from any televisions playing the news, and carrying a smartphone functioning on a temperamental international plan. But as the French celebrated their liberties and love of country, someone took it upon themselves to rob people of their lives, and rob the entire country of its sense of security.
2016 has been a rough year for the French in regards to attacks, and on Bastille Day, one man and a lorry truck crashed through a celebratory crowd on the Promenade des Anglais killing 86 people in Nice, France.
This news was devastating to me on so many levels. First off the cruelty and sickness behind such an attack will never be something that I can wrap my head around. People, children lost their lives while they were out celebrating vivacity and patriotism. Secondly, knowing that a three-hour train ride is all that separates me from these events is grim. I have never been this physically close to such an event before. I'm not scared, but inexplicably distressed.
I have also never been this emotionally close to a scene of terror. I was in Nice three weeks ago. I walked up down the Promenade for four days. Nice showed my friends and I the best weekend, France has shown me the best six weeks of my life. And if there is anything I have learned about this country and its people, it's that they are a strong nation and a force to be reckoned with. They may be down today, but it won't be for long and they will come together stronger in the face of tragedy.
And now, the moment is here. My life for the past six weeks is packed up in a suitcase, minus a few items of non-importance that I couldn't fit, that Sylviane gets to keep. I hope she enjoys my textbooks. Its a little heavier than it was before. Just like my bursting suitcase, I am overflowing with memories and souvenirs. I falter at the thought of leaving. Lyon feels like home in every sense of the word. I am both
comfortable and exhilarated here. My friends have become a newfound family. We have familiar haunts and yet so much left to explore. I am also continually excited and smiling with every passing day here. It's euphoric.
On the other hand, I am on the cusp of new adventures My train leaves tomorrow for Barcelona!
Au revoir Lyon, mon amour! I'll be back.