La cité des lumières brillantes

Sam Farley, the contributing writer for this post, is a foreign affairs and history double major with a minor in law and public policy. He is a rising senior at Hampden-Sydney College with hopes of pursuing law school upon graduation. His interest in foreign affairs sparked the idea for this post.

I am not typically one who settles for being of lower importance than a fellow countryman, but President Trump’s Bastille Day trip ensured that I would not be the most renowned American in Paris during the long weekend. In fact, it was Trump’s visit that set the tone for what would be some of the most memorable days of my life. En route to Paris, I read a newspaper article on how President Macron of France had been lavishing Trump in all the luxuries that could be extracted from the French capital after inviting him to Paris for the national holiday. The article suggested that France, with England and Germany’s ambiguity on European integration, was now situated to become America’s liaison to the European Union. Therefore, the invitation was bound to serve political purposes, especially given Macron and Trump’s conspicuous disagreements. The theme that Macron and the French people conveyed, to both Trump and myself, was that France is willing to fully embrace her diversity and revel in her identity as a society of mixed cultures and backgrounds.

The first thing for me to do on Bastille Day was to go to the world-famous fireworks from the Eiffel Tower. Half a million Parisians, and surely more tourists such as myself, crowded onto the Champs de Mars to watch the glistening spectacle. It was a good thing we arrived about 6 hours before the actual event took place to find the best possible seats. To attempt to describe the event to someone not in attendance would be futile. My inadequate eloquence could never do justice to the harmony of iron, fire, and lighting that combined to be more graceful than any sight that has met my eyes in Europe. The song selections that the sparks and explosions pirouetted and danced to were clearly carefully chosen to portray certain messages to the spectators, not least of which was the POTUS. One of the longest and most extravagant pieces – the entire show is broken into approximately twenty pieces, each with its own theme and song choice – was to the song Nation by Tibz. While the majority of the song is in French, and my familiarity with the language is minimal, there is an English chorus that emphasizes that importance of a nation that accepts its singularity, despite its citizens having different origins. Inserting the song into Google Translate confirmed my suspicion that this theme was reverberated throughout the entire song.

It was also fitting that fresh of the heels of Pride Month there would be a segment that incorporated LGBTQ iconography. It seemed that while the French celebrated their identity as a nation, they were also celebrating their individuality and diversity. The Parisians were celebrating being Parisian. The French were celebrating being French. Nobody seemed to be celebrating excluding people from French nationality. This unison was paralleled when the entire crowd broke out singing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. Macron did not invite Trump to simply admire the splendor that Paris was capable of producing, but the purpose of the invitation was surely more focused on how it was capable of producing such magnificence. This message could not have been more timely than on the day that celebrates the unity of the French people and their ability to pursue their interests as a nation.

*The city of brilliant lights