The French national holiday is a chance for New Rochelle to celebrate its French roots.
Bastille Day, observed today though it technically falls on July 14, was also a change for dignitaries to become philosophical.
Mayor Noam Bramson, for one, talked about history and the way we perceive it in his remarks in front of City Hall this morning, in a ceremony in which the French flag was raised and the French and American national anthems were sung.
Here, in large part, were his comments:
“History always presents us with many lessons, and how we choose among those lessons says a great deal,” the mayor told a crown of more than 125 in front of City Hall this morning. “It sometimes says less about historical fact and less about who we were and more about who we are and who we want to be. And so the fact that today we celebrate the principles of liberty and equality and the fellowship of all men and women rather than remembering Robespierre and the guillotine tells us what our values are and what our priorities are.
“And I think in the same way, as we look ahead to our 325th birthday next year, it’s not about It’s not about New Rochelle having been originally a tiny, agrarian, French-speaking village. It’s about the journey we’ve taken since then into a diverse and vital city that is thriving in so many ways and challenged in so many other ways and (that) at every step along that journey has been emblematic of the larger nation of which we are very proud to be a part.”
The birthday he was talking about is the 325th anniversary of the settling of New Rochelle by the first Huguenot families from France, who arrived in 1688. You can expect a year’s worth of celebrations next year.
New Rochelle has a sister city cultural exchange arrangement with La Rochelle, France, the community that gives the Queen City on the Sound it’s name.
Peter Korn, the former city manager who is now the convener of the New Rochelle Sister City Committee, gave his thoughts on the ultimate sacrifice. Bastille Day, after all, celebrates the beginning of the French Revolution.
“Some of you may ask: Why do we celebrate Bastille Day?
“One, it’s a remembrance of where everybody came from and where are roots are. And two, it’s a reminder that just ten days after we celebrate our independence, the people of France, who’ve been a partner of ours for 200 years and without whom we would not have our independence, also celebrate liberty, equality and brotherhood and it reminds us also that in order to achieve liberties and freedoms, we sometimes have to spill blood, and even after we do that, we have obligations to the rest of society.
“And so as we celebrate Bastille Day and its remembrance of liberty…and freedom and duty and obligation to all the others we live with, let’s remember the people who gave their lives since then so that we can continue to have these wonderful celebrations.”
The celebration also came with the unveiling of logos to be used in the anniversary celebrations. (See my previous post.)
James S. Kaplan, an attorney and historian and a member of New Rochelle’s Sister City Committee, gave a talk on the Marquis de Lafayette, and Jeremy Vilquin, a college student from France visiting for the summer, led the singing of the French national anthem.
Geri Kearns and Viviane Ponlset, members of the New Rochelle Sister City Committee, raised the French flag.
The photo shows New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson speaking in front of City Hall at a podium adorned with a wreath featuring the American and French flags. With him are Marianne Sussman, head of the committee arranging the city’s 325th anniversary celebrations, and Peter Korn, convener of the New Rochelle Sister City Committee.