By Rita Bratovich
Sydney loves to party and when we don’t have our own occasion we won’t shy away from appropriating someone else’s. So, with France about to celebrate the biggest day in its calendar, Sydney is going to join in and paint the town red, white and blue.
Bastille Day festivities will permeate the harbour foreshore and The Rocks area for four days from July 13 to 16. Although the French community here is not as populous as other migrant groups, the culture and traditions are very popular with Australians. This year’s Bastille Day Festival will be one of the five biggest events for the year happening in Circular Quay.
“It’s good to see how much Australian’s love French culture,” says Morgane Blondel, Marketing and Events Manager for Alliance Francaise who is sponsoring a Bastille Day event at The Argyle in The Rocks. It’s the sixth year they’ve held the event at the historic venue. Blondel feels the antiquity and convict overtones suit the occasion.
The entertainment will include CanCan dancers, a French band and French DJ’s Lil’M and French Mafia. Traditional fare such as French cheese, saucisson and sweet crepes will be served – perfect with a glass of provincial wine or champagne. If you’re feeling the bite of winter then enter the raffle for a chance to win a trip to New Caledonia.
Both the French and Australian national anthems will be sung during the evening and the estimated crowd of around 2000 will likely have an even spread of the two nationalities.
“We have French people coming to our events but also a lot of Australians who are Francophiles… who love French culture,” explains Blondel.
Though it’s not a prerequisite, a lot of attendees like to dress in costume or at least wear something thematic.
“One year someone came as Marie Antoinette!” laughs Blondel.
With regard to Australia’s love for all things French, Blondel says it is reciprocated, with lots of French travellers coming here on working visas.
“Australia is a very exotic destination for French people.” (!)
For the last five years, the Bleu Blanc Rouge (BBR) Festival has been held in Circular Quay to celebrate Bastille Day. BBR is now an agency and the event, which has grown significantly, has officially become the Bastille Festival: the Food Wine Art Revolution.
“Bastille is a spirit. It’s a concept, an idea of a street celebration,” says festival Director, Vincent Hernandez, attempting to encapsulate the appeal of the event. “It’s more than just a French festival – it’s French in a festival. The idea of ‘French’ – like freedom, like art, like food, like wine – we are really sharing all that.”
To that end, this year’s festival will be truly international, with four themed villages located around the foreshores of Circular Quay. Two are French, offering authentic treats from regional areas of France. The third is the Nordic Village featuring foods from Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands and a wide assortment of beer. The fourth is the lively Latin Village (Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain) where people can listen or move to salsa, flamenco or folk while feasting on pizza, gelato, paella or tapas.
After noting the success of the European Beer Bar last year, organisers have introduced a new space this year called the Electro Beer Garden. Patrons can taste craft beers and ciders from boutique breweries around Europe while chilling to Electro lounge beats.
Hernandez emphasises that the food and drink available at the festival will not only be authentic but distinctive.
“We’ve been sourcing food that you can’t find anywhere else. e.g sauerkraut is a specialty from the east side of France… you won’t find that everywhere, it’s very unique.”
Quality and originality are paramount, and they have sought supplies from small producers in France and Europe. All the wines have come from micro-wineries around the five main French regions. Local restaurants and food providers are also participating, but the same rules apply – their product must be authentic and unique. It will be a very cosmopolitan eating experience. As Hernandez puts it:
“All the great food without the jet lag.”
As well as food, art will feature prominently, though the art will be less nationalistic.
“It’s all about artists that don’t have any borders – it’s universal,” says Hernandez.
There will be 104 live performances over the four days including 23 concerts and street shows such as fire twirlers, magicians, circus artists, musicians, buskers. The Rocks will host an open air cinema with six films scheduled over the course of the festival.
Hernandez is unfazed about it being winter here (while it’s summer in France).
“Sydney weather, hopefully, fingers crossed will be beautiful again… And I guess at night, with all the fatty – but very good – food we have, it’s really nice that it’s winter. It makes you feel less guilty.”
One local French restaurant has been making their delicious sweet and savoury crepes at the festival since it began and will be a main provider again this year. Gourmandise de Paris, located in Pyrmont, has one of the most popular stalls at the festival, though, as co-owner Audrey Ekler explains, they found that out the hard way.
“The first year we sold out in 2 hours…because we didn’t know what to expect. But now we’re experienced, so now it’s good. Every year we look forward to doing it because it’s really busy and lots of customers. We love to do it.”
The crepes are made to an original recipe using true French ingredients.
“In France we use buckwheat to make savoury crepes. So they’re gluten free, they’re really nice and healthy,” says Ekler.
They’ll be creating a special new crepe on each day of the festival, including a vegan crepe.
Although Ekler has quite a few French customers coming to the restaurant, she’s doesn’t believe the community in Sydney generally is very large, so she was quite surprised at the size and popularity of the festival.
“To have one big event like this in the heart of the City for Bastille Day – it’s amazing!”
Bastille Day at The Argyle: Jul 13, 5pm. 18 Argyle Street, The Rocks. $15 (18yrs+). Tickets & Info: www.bastilledaysydney.com.au
Bastille Festival: Circular Quay, various locations/events. Info: www.bastillefestival.com.au
Gourmandise de Paris. 186 Harris St, Pyrmont. Bookings: (02)8065 0078 www.gourmandisedeparis.com