Add a little French flair to
your weekend rambling
by Mike Michaelson
(Chicago Daily Herald; 05/09/99)
Planning anything radical this summer? How about a little casual storming of the Bastille complete with the clash of steel and followed by a candlelight tour of historic French homes dubbed the Let-Them-Eat-Cakewalk ? You can join in a stirring rendition of "La Marsellaise" (and maybe learn the words -- at least of the refrain). Yell such anti-royalist sentiments as "To arms! To arms!" and "Down with tyranny!"
It's all part of Bastille Days (July 8-11) in Ste. Genevieve, MO (USA) -- just one of a lively annual calendar of events celebrating the culture and food of this historic French settlement. These include La Fête Française (May 30), which celebrates French culture with music and songs, theatrical performances, tours, historic lectures, food and entertainment from marionettes performing "Les Follies" to mimes trained by Marcel Marceau.
Jours de Fête (Aug. 14 and 15) offers tours of historic homes and artists and colonial craftsmen at work at the area's largest craft fair, featuring more than 500 booths. The popular annual Christmas Walk (Dec. 4 and 5) showcases Les Petits Chanteurs, children with bright red sashes tied around their waists who sing French carols, and offers such food and drink as mulled cider and madeleines (French-style butter cookies).
Located along the Mississippi River about 60 miles south of St. Louis, you'll find Ste. Genevieve, population 4000, full of history and bristling with boutiques, antique shops and charming bed-and-breakfasts. Billing itself as "Missouri's oldest community," Ste. Genevieve was established between 1725 and 1750 after the French founded New Orleans. One of the earlier settlements in the Upper Louisiana Territory, it still retains many excellent examples of French Colonial vertical log homes constructed by the farmers and fur traders who migrated across the Mississippi from French towns in what now is Illinois.
Later, German immigrants, many of whom came to mine rich deposits of lead in the Ozark hills to the west, added their brick step-gabled homes and business structures into the colonial town. As early as 1935 the Department of the Interior recognized the importance of Ste. Genevieve by including it in the Historic American Building Survey. In 1976 the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the downtown area a Historic District.
Genevieve, the saint for whom the town is named, was born in 422 in the village of Nanterre near Paris and at a young age moved to the city to take up a religious life. In 449, when the Franks laid siege to the city, Genevieve led an expedition to relieve the starving population by bringing back supplies that enabled the resistance to continue. In the year 451, when Attila the Hun threatened to march on the city, she urged Parisians, "Forsake not your homes for God has heard my prayers. Attila shall retreat." The invader did change his course to bypass Paris and Genevieve was credited with having averted the impending calamity.
Bastille Day commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution on July 14, 1789. On that date a mob stormed the Bastille and freed the prisoners -- four forgers, two lunatics and one debaucher. A latter day "mob," hundreds of citizens, locals and visitors, many in 18th-century costumes, assembles at Third and Market Streets to march on the old Ste. Genevieve jail. On the jailhouse steps they hear the words of Rousseau's classic "The Rights of Man," the same words heard in Paris more than 200 years ago.
Information: Ste. Genevieve Tourist Information Center, (800) 373- 7007, www2.semonet.com/semonet/; Missouri Division of Tourism, (800) 877-1234, www.missouritourism.org.
Upcoming events: La Fête Française, a French festival featuring food and entertainment, May 30 ; 11th Annual Bastille Days, with Storming the Bastille re-enactment and Let-Them-Eat-Cakewalk candlelight home tour, July 8-11 ; Jours de Fête, the area's largest craft fair with food and entertainment, Aug. 14 and 15 ; Fall Harvest Fest, hot-air balloon ascent, crafts, entertainment, food booths, Oct. 16-18.