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French Culture – Fireworks Posted by on Jul 14, 2020 in Culture, History, Music, Vocabulary

Happy Bastille Day! Or as they say in France Joyeux quatorze juillet. This year because of Covid-19 the annual celebrations of the birth of the French republic will look a little different, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate.

Un défilé, des bals, et des feux d’artifices

A typical quatorze juillet (July 14th) in France would involve un défilé (a parade) on the Champs-Elysées, des bals populaires  (local dances), and des feux d’artifices (fireworks).

This year il n’y aura pas de défilés sur les Champs (there won’t be any parade on the Champs-Elysées) and many towns have cancelled their bals et les feux d’artifices, but the song below, from Calogero, celebrates fireworks … and our shared humanity.

Along with Bénabar, Calogero is quickly becoming one of my favorite French artists. You can see some of my other posts that feature his songs here and here and here.

J’étais hissé sur des épaules I was hoisted on some shoulders
Sous ces galaxies gigantesques Underneath these enormous galaxies
Je rêvais en tendant les paumes I dreamed stretching out my palms
De pouvoir les effleurer1While I’ve translated effleurer as touch, it is gentler than that. Having its roots in the word fleur/flower it means more to caress, to brush delicately over presque Of almost being able to touch them
Ça explosait en fleurs superbes Everything was exploding flowers
En arabesques sidérales Of astronomical arabesques
Pour faire des bouquets d’univers Making bouquets of the universe
Moi, je voulais cueillir ces étoiles Me, I wanted to gather these stars
On allait2Note the use of the imparfait here, indicating an event that happened more than once in the past. aux feux d’artifice We went to the fireworks
Voir ces étoiles de pas longtemps To see these short-term stars
Qui naissent, qui brillent et puis qui glissent That are born, that shine, and then that slide
En retombant vers l’océan Falling towards the ocean
Et ça fait des étoiles de mer And it makes sea stars3Taken literally étoiles de mer would be stars of the sea but like the English translation sea stars it also means starfish
Ça met dans les yeux des enfants Putting in children’s eyes
Des constellations éphémères Ephemeral4a word used for things that don’t last/won’t last, but often specifically as a counterpoint to something that is eternal constellations
Et on s’en souvient quand on est grand And we remember then when we’re grown
Dans le ciel vibrant de musique In the sky full of music
Je voyais naître des planètes I saw planets being born
Jaillir des lumières fantastiques Fantastic lights gushing forth
Et tomber des pluies de comètes And a rain of comets falling down
Je m’imaginais amiral I imagined myself an admiral
Regardant voler mes flottilles Watching my flotilla fly
J’ai fait des rêves admirables I dreamed admirable dreams
Sous ces fusées de pacotille5means chintzy, junky, or cheap … Underneath these dime store rockets
Refrain Chorus
Puis sous les cieux incandescents Then under the incandescent skies
Quelqu’un refaisait mes lacets Someone retied my shoelaces
Je voyais des adolescents I saw teens
Au loin, là-bas, qui s’enlaçaient In the distance, embracing
Ça laissait dans mes yeux longtemps It left for a long time in my eyes
Des traînées de rose et de vert Trailing lights of pink and green
Je voyais dans mon lit d’enfant I saw in my kid bed
Des univers sur mes paupières Universes on my eyelids
Nous sommes comme des feux d’artifice We are like fireworks
Vu qu’on est là pour pas longtemps Seeing how we are not here for long
Faisons en sorte, tant qu’on existe, Let’s make sure, as long as we exist,
De briller dans les yeux des gens To shine in the eyes of people
De leur offrir de la lumière To offer them light
Comme un météore en passant Like a passing meteor
Car, même si tout est éphémère, Because, even if everything is ephemera/ephemeral
On s’en souvient pendant longtemps We remember it for a long time.

If, after the song, you’re still craving some fireworks, why not check out this amazing son et lumière (sound and light show) from New Year’s Eve at the Arch de Triomphe or last year’s feux d’artifices du quatorze juillet au tour Eiffel

And depending on when you’re reading this, you might still be able to catch this year’s show at the Tour Eiffel. After much debate, the Marie de Paris has decided to go forward with this year’s show … but without the audience. The show, which will be streamed live on TV, is dedicated “à tous les héros du quotidien qui ont œuvré pendant la durée de l’épidémie” (to the everyday heroes who worked throughout the epidemic).

Read more about Bastille Day in these previous posts from the Transparent Language French blog.

French holidays: Bastille Day

The 14th of July: French Fireworks


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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris

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