Annual Bastille Day celebration held in Piermont
BY JAMES BERNICK
The annual Piermont Bastille Day Celebration, held on Saturday July 16, took on special meaning this year in the wake of the Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice, France on Thursday. The street fair, which occurs each year on the Saturday nearest to the July 14 French National Holiday, added a moment of silence and a six gun salute to honor of the victims of the Nice attack.
Piermont Mayor Chris Sanders offered further explanation of the ceremony: “We tried to recognize the commonality between us and our allies in France. What we celebrate is the right of free assembly as well as the ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness- it’s what we all have in common.”
Sanders continued, “These heinous acts in Nice were terrible, but they shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying this day.”
When queried about the choice of Piermont as a location for the observance of French patriotism, the Mayor recognized this curiosity as a common sentiment: “It was kind of interesting because people always ask why does Piermont have Bastille Day? And frankly one of the thoughts was that we share so much with France that it’s actually quite a natural choice for celebration.”
“It celebrates the immigrant experience here in the United States as well,” said Sanders. “I talked about the gift from France which sits in New York Harbor and the poem there inviting the poor, huddled masses of the world to make a new life here. It’s who we are- and we celebrate it.”
Now in its seventh year, the Bastille Day fête has become a well known and much beloved fixture of the summer here in Rockland. Daout Celestin, a French immigrant originally himself from Nice, founded the event with his former business partner Alain Eigerman in 2009.
Celestin, who owns and operates Sidewalk Bistro in Piermont, offered additional details on its origins: “Me and my ex-partner, seven years ago, we started a little thing in the village. They do Bastille Day in the city, and it’s a great event and I thought, ‘How about we do that in Piermont?’”
“It’s getting a little bigger, and it’s a lot of fun. We have a guillotine.”
Celestin also commented on the economic benefits of the festival to Piermont: “One of the reasons we do this for Bastille Day is to showcase the businesses in the village. Some people come here for the first time, and they see it’s a really nice place.”
Asked for his thoughts on the recent terrorist attacks, Celestin’s tone grew somber. “You know something, I left Nice 30 years ago so I don’t have many friends there anymore, but we’re waiting to see in the next few days- hopefully nobody that you know was hurt.”
He continued, “This year is probably more meaningful because of what happened in Nice on Bastille Day, but it seems like everybody’s having a pretty good time. The whole community comes together- everyone is here.”
Among other attractions at the Bastille Day event were locals who dressed up in attire true to the French Revolutionary period. Two such participants were Mike Menegaux and Jack D’Amico, who also fired muskets in the six gun salute to the Nice victims.
“We’re revolutionaries,” responded Menegaux when asked about his costume. “We’re carrying Civil War era cap-lock muskets though. In actuality, French Revolutionaries would have carried Charleville muskets which are flintlock.”
Both Menegaux and D’Amico are members of a Civil War reenactment unit, the Garibaldi Guard, and repurposed their skills in historical revival for the Bastille Day celebration. “We fired a tribute for the fallen in Nice after the Mayor did his speech and had a moment of silence- at the end of the playing of the American and French national anthems,” explained D’Amico. “This year is more solemn out of respect for the people that suffered at the hands of terrorists. France is an ally and a friend.”
Lauren Mckenna, a hostess at Sidewalk Bistro, also dressed up for the occasion, alongside a number of other employees at the restaurant. “It’s a good reason for everyone to get out and visit Piermont. It’s the only street fair we have, and the only other Bastille Day nearby is in the city somewhere.”
Restaurant proprietors Ned and James Kelly of Xavier’s at Piermont and the Freelance Cafe & Wine Bar also took the time to speak with Rockland County Times. “Today is a fantastic opportunity for the Piermont community to invite everyone to come visit,” explained Ned Kelly from behind his restaurant’s food tent offerings of clams, oysters, shrimp, and crab.
As for why Bastille Day?
Said Kelly, “The French food is simply better.”