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Nataniël: Bastille Festival and me

2017-07-09 00:00

Entertainer Nataniël has been involved in the DStv Franschhoek Bastille Festival for years. He tells us why the annual celebration is important.

I have been involved with the Bastille Festival in a quiet way for many years. My friend and mentor, Franschhoek chef Topsi Venter, had a restaurant called Topsi & Company and cooked there until she was 79. For years, I used to visit, eat, learn and even cook in her kitchen. Every year, there were extensive preparations for the Bastille Festival.

Every year, Topsi and fellow chefs were cooking in a different way or for a different reason, from food stalls and large functions to private dinners, and they prepared gifts that could be sold. A lot of research needed to be done to come up with unusual and historic recipes, instead of the basics that people still associate with French food. And this is where I started to learn that there was more to France, the culture and the cooking than a lot of obvious tastes and commercial symbolism associated with that country.

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Bastille Day commemorates the French Revolution, which began with the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14 1789, and the unification of the French nation a year later on July 14 1790. Today, it’s celebrated by French communities all over the world. Unlike here in South Africa, it’s a summer holiday and traditionally starts on the evening of the 13th with the streets filled with people and lanterns. The 14th starts with a parade in the morning, relaxing at the beach or in a park, a special dinner of summer dishes and the wait for nightfall, which does not happen before 11pm. Then people take to the streets to walk through the city (something the French love to do on any day), sing the national anthem and watch fireworks. It’s not a day of drunkenness and riots, but of pride, joy and remembering the importance of freedom. It only became an official holiday in 1880, and also celebrates the recovery after being defeated by the Prussians 10 years earlier. I fell in love with France when I went to Paris for the first time 27 years ago. Paris is a hectic, unrelenting city, trampled by tourists and – like Venice – populated by irritated people trying to protect their heritage and live a normal life, but it offers art, romance, fashion and beauty like no other place in the world.

When my brother became a French citizen and settled in Nantes, the sixth largest city in France, I started going there twice a year, a routine that has become my second life. I learnt that Paris, like New York, has little to do with the rest of the country and that the French have been misrepresented in many ways – they are not the rude, beret-wearing, accordion-playing creatures the rest of the world believe them to be.

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After World War 2, Hollywood started portraying the French as these stereotypes in popular movies. To me, they’re the perfect examples of the First World – extremely kind, polite and proud. Quality of life is the most important thing. They work and study for fewer hours than any other nation, but do so with great efficiency, creating a strong economy, endorsing all important family values, making art and creativity a priority, and obeying rules in a sophisticated and complex social system. And now they have a young and attractive president in Emmanuel Macron. Apart from the Canadians, the rest of the world can only dream...

Everything works; everything has a history and a reason. And food comes first. They are passionate, argue and demonstrate, and there are organised strikes going on all the time (I love watching their strikes, passionate and passive at the same time, with a two-hour break for lunch...)

They eat with devotion and talk about food the rest of the time. They eat freshly baked bread with every meal (which makes you think they love starch, but they don’t touch rice and I’ve yet to see a baked potato make an appearance), they offer you Champagne or wine any time of the day, but only in small amounts. There’s a boulangerie, a chocolatier, a confiserie, a patisserie, a crêperie and a macaron shop on every corner, but the French are lean and fit – they know that the secret to a good life is moderation and quality.

DStv Bastille Festival tickets cost R280 at webtickets.co.za

A PROJECT IN PARTNERSHIP WITH DStv

WHY DStv IS INVOLVED IN THE EVENT

Says DStv’s Nomsa Chabeli Mazibuko: “The DStv Franschhoek Bastille Festival provides the opportunity for DStv to showcase the power of great entertainment by bringing to life our customers’ favourite content in a multisensory experience. This event helps us build meaningful relationships with our stakeholders who continuously help us to build our business. Ultimately, our sponsorship of the festival is driven by our desire to continually engage and thank our customers. You can look forward to experiencing DStv channels such as KykNet, Sundance TV, SuperSport and the History Channel in a way that you have not seen before.”

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September 17 2017