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Vive La France: Santa Rosa Francophiles celebrate Bastille Day with picnic

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In Paris and elsewhere in the country, the French celebrated Bastille Day with grand parades, fireworks and concerts.

In Sonoma County, plenty of Francophiles also commemorated the French national holiday, albeit in a more relaxed atmosphere. French flags draped trees at Santa Rosa’s Doyle Community Park where about 100 people gathered Sunday afternoon for a picnic to celebrate the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris on July 14, 1789 — an event that symbolized the start of the French Revolution.

Lee Alderman, vice president of Alliance Française de Santa Rosa, a nonprofit that provides French language classes, brought macarons and quiche for the potluck picnic.

“We just want to have fun and promote French culture,” said Alderman, who became enamored with French culture when he visited the country on business trips over a decade ago.

It was the second annual Bastille Day celebration hosted by the nonprofit and the Santa Rosa French-American Charter School.

Families sat on blankets on the grass under shady trees, enjoying food from the potluck table. Bistro 29, a French restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa, also served crepes, as Evelyn Anderson, Santa Rosa French-American Charter School principal, greeted students and fellow Francophiles at the celebration.

“The event really highlights the love of French culture in Sonoma County and reflects the considerable size of French speakers in the area,” Anderson said.

In addition to food, attendees enjoyed yard games and rousing rounds of “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.

“It’s nice that we can come together as a community and enjoy a day out,” said Mariwenn Powell, a substitute teacher at the French-American charter school, which her two children attend.

Powell was born in France and usually spends her summers there. She said the Bay Area attracts many French due to its similarity to France, with its array of vineyards, artisanal cheeses, bakeries, farm-to-table restaurants and Mediterranean weather.

And there’s the wow factor when they tell fellow Frenchmen that they live in California, which has the world’s fifth-largest economy, surpassing the United Kingdom.

That was part of the draw for Kate-Alexandra Levine, who immigrated to the Bay Area from Paris two decades ago. Levine has taught French at the Alliance for three years.

“La joie de vivre in Northern California is exquisite,” said Levine, whose mother and sister also immigrated to the area.

Levine recalled the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower and large parties held in Paris on Bastille Day, but said no matter the size of the celebration, it’s important to remember the ideals of the holiday.

“Liberty, equality, fraternity,” said Levine, referring to the national motto of France. “These core values are still pertinent today.”

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

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