La Marseillaise

It is as stirring an anthem as any ever written. Not that the French are inclined to sing ‘La Marseillaise’ that often – the last time I can remember was before the start of the final World Cup match. Which we won. Such memories of victory are important at the moment as we are going through a bit of a rough patch in France.

I first saw the Arc de Triomphe shortly after landing in Paris many years ago. It is an impressive way to enter the city, coming from Roissy and Charles de Gaulle airport to the northwest. Driving by it on the multi-pointed Etoile, it is even more monumental than one imagines from all those beauty shots taken from afar.

It was only later that I got close enough to admire the statuary, and learn of its history. Commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate all those who fought for France in the revolutionary wars, inscribed with the names of victories and generals and home to the tomb of the unknown soldier from the first world war. Its statuary, pictured above, includes the sculpture by François Rude of The Departure of 1792, also known as La Marseillaise. It depicts the symbolic winged Liberty and celebrates the cause of the first French republic.

I am no historian; all this comes from Wikipedia. While we’re at it, here’s the scoop from Wiki on the anthem:

The melody soon became the rallying call to the French Revolution and was adopted as “La Marseillaise” after (it) was first sung on the streets by volunteers (fédérés in French) from Marseille by the end of May. These fédérés were making their entrance into the city of Paris on 30 July 1792 after a young volunteer from Montpellier called François Mireur had sung it at a patriotic gathering in Marseille, and the troops adopted it as the marching song of the National Guard of Marseille.[2]

The music, almost discordant at times, is a powerful battle cry. The lyrics are a call to arms. There is blood on the ground and fierce pride in the hearts of all who sing it.

This explains a lot about what is currently going on in France. Not that I agree with it, or condone the acts of violence and destruction. Quite the opposite. But I do recognize that it is true to the French. When there is a perceived injustice, one that goes too far, there will be protest. And it will not stop until something changes.

I just hope it will happen sooner rather than later. It breaks my heart to see the broken statues in the Arc de Triomphe, the graffiti inscribed on its walls.

And, after all, who will pay to fix it? We will. Who will suffer when the police refuse to do battle with angry mobs who throw bricks and kick them on the ground? When the shopkeepers close, when the tourists stay home. We all will. We the people, the taxpayers, the young and old, the rich and the poor.

France is known, even among the French, as being a country that is ‘irréformable’; that is, one that cannot be reformed. For as long as I have lived here, over 25 years, every government has tried and, mostly, failed to effect change. In fact, thanks again to Wikipedia, it seems that years ago during the government of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, there was a move to change the bloody, revolutionary lyrics of the French national anthem to something rather more peaceful. It failed. La Marseillaise prevails.

Now Macron’s government is trying to bring what most agree is needed reform, with a carbon tax and other budgetary measures. Will they fail? I hope not. But if they do, I will be the first to stand up and march for an even bigger change, one that will allow us to make a sweeping reforms once and for all. A 6th republic. Not one led by extremes and Antifa movements, but one that would give this country a fresh start with a revised constitution and laws.

Revolutionary, you say? Mais oui. Just listen to la Marseillaise…


  1. weggieboy · December 6, 2018 The Placido Domingo version, with a bombastic arrangement by Hector Berlioz, is so stunningly, well, bombastic, you almost want to join the march into Paris! Whew! Berlioz never did anyting low key whern he could send it to the moon.

    • MELewis · December 6, 2018

      Thanks for sharing this rendition, Weggie! The combination of Placido and Berlioz certainly is bombastic…but somehow not inappropriate!

      • weggieboy · December 7, 2018

        Yes, I felt it was an exceptionallhy spirited version, a true call to march!

  2. phildange · December 6, 2018

    As always, I can’t agree with your global vision of politics . But well I’ll just pin out two points .

    1) You say all governments failed to make reforms . Recently Hollande/Macron just destroyed the “Code du Travail”, a massive basis of everything related to work conditions, a very old wish from Wall Street, Brussels and French financial power, in order of leadership . Before that, in 2003, a so-called government of the republic had accomplished the hold-up of the millenium when they integrated the budget of “la Sécurité Sociale” in the budget of the State . This budget was BIGGER than the whole budget of the State, a thing that is never said in the “Informations” poured onto to the public . This money was the workers’s property, not the State’s . It was a part of salaries, “le salaire différé”, delayed, that everybody accepted to not receive in order to protect people from diseases, accidents and aging . And that leads me to the second point .

    2) This Social Security thing is one of the reforms impulsed by the CNR, Conseil National de la Résistance” in 1944/45, when the general motto was “From résistance to révolution” . In order to not lose everything the financial power was forced to accept a lot, including nationalization of EDF, SNCF, Banque de France .
    You see, I can tell you “le peuple de France” willingly accepted these reforms, as well as the masses had willingly accepted the abolition of feudal property in 1792 . The people of France is rather favourable to reforms, but what we have seen since the late 70s has been a continuous stream of what the real heirs of French soul call “counter-reforms”, a flow that leads our living conditions progressively towards the late XIXth century conditions, in terms of inequalities and misery . Actually, the behaviour of the very little ultra rich minority of now clearly reminds me the behaviour of the French Court in 1780 .
    All this is very confused now in French subconscious, teaching of history, politics and critical sense has been deliberately emptied in the last decades, there are no more informations except what the Anglo-Saxons call information, but behind the “Gilets jaunes” there is all this .
    And it is not because the Fascist cattle has infested the movement, as they always do and always did since Hilter had the nerve to call his anti-working class party “National-SOCIALIST !” that this movement comes from the far-right . This is what the medias try to spread, the medias all belong to billionaires, let’s never forget that .
    Same for the violences, they come from a tiny portion of … what exactly ? desperate suburban unschooled youth maybe in the best case, mysterious Black Block financed by the power as it is always the case for terrorism, some hidden police members as it often was the case in our “manifs” . I drive in France, see many Gilets Jaunes, and they are middle-aged or old calm sensible friendly members of the French working class . This is the huge majority, and what do the so-called “News” show to the world ? I prefer laughing than blowing this bloody subhuman planet …
    But I don’t forget you are a nice girl, funny Canadian import .

    • MELewis · December 6, 2018

      Thanks, Phil. Politics and friends (even blogging ones!) can be a toxic mix. I certainly can’t argue to your specific points, but I will say that my definition of ‘reform’ is probably broader. I think tinkering with things that are longstanding traditions is always going to create bad feeling, whereas the sweeping reforms that are needed in the world today require profound change that is impossible to effect in France.

      I will agree 100% with you that the ‘gilets jaunes’ are not for the most part to be found in the extreme camps. But I think the media is as baffled by that as is the government, so they point to ‘les casseurs’ and the fringes to try and make sense of it (and to some extent to get audiences…) The gilets jaunes I have seen interviewed are much as you describe, and they don’t want to be categorized or grouped with any political movement. That said, their ‘demands’ while founded in legitimate complaints are absurdly vague and based on a lot of misinformation. Which in a way is scarier than anything.

  3. suzlearnsfrench · December 6, 2018

    I appreciate both views – especially as I sit from a far and watch and read what’s going on. When I studied the French Revolution, I felt thankful I wasn’t alive. It was a long and bloody event. I view the French as the great demonstrators – they seem not afraid to make their point. I hope that specific freedom is never an issue. And I pray that these current conflicts can be mediated peacefully.

    Change is a very hard thing to manage – often impossible. Take for example the issue of Healthcare here in the U.S. It’s an absolute nightmare.


    • MELewis · December 7, 2018

      Thanks for reminding us, Suz, of one area where we are clearly better off! The healthcare issue in the US is indeed a nightmare, unless you are a full-time employee with a good job. Guess that leaves a lot of people out in the cold? I, too, am glad we have the freedom to protest in France but do wish people would learn to be more sparing with it.

  4. Katherine Wikoff · December 6, 2018

    Best version of that anthem ever has to be the one in Casablanca!

  5. Heide · December 6, 2018

    Politics aside, it’s human nature to fear change — and to resist it (sometimes violently) when it’s imposed on us. But of all the changes we humans are facing, the one I fear most is climate change. Sadly, all the protests and yellow vests in the world won’t make a difference if the scientists turn out to be right. (Aren’t I a little ray of sunshine? 🙂 )

    PS: I admire you so much for your equanimity, M.

    • MELewis · December 7, 2018

      Thanks, Heide! I think a balanced view is endemic to living in France as a bit of an outsider. Change is terrible when you feel it is thrust upon you. Change that you embrace is entirely different. As for the climate change issue, the problem is we all feel so powerless to do anything about it. Yet, it is real and indeed so very depressing… 😰

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