In the absence of fireworks on Monday evening to celebrate France's national day, the French ambassador's residence in St Clair exploded with the fluorescent, flamboyant costumes of Martinican dancers and the uptempo drumming of b�l� and binguine rhythms.
In commemoration of this year's Bastille Day celebrations, the French ambassador to T&T Jacques Sturm hosted a reception themed "La Fete de la France Caraibe" in honour of the Martinique region. Bastille Day, held on July 14 every year, marks the day in 1789 that an angry crowd of Parisians rampaged through the city and stormed the Bastille prison–a fortress and symbol of royal authority at the time. The toppling of this massive monarchical monument at the hands of the people symbolised the emptiness of King Louis XVI's claim to absolute power and in many ways sparked the French Revolution that was to follow.
Addressing the audience at the event, Sturm said Bastille Day also presented an opportunity to highlight the growing relations between continental France, the French Caribbean and T&T. With islands in the French Antilles in the process of becoming associate members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Association of Caribbean States, he said it was important to foster new relationships between islands like Martinique and their English-speaking neighbours.
Sturm also announced that after 52 years of diplomatic presence in T&T, the French embassy in Port-of-Spain is "downsizing," with its trade section being transferred to Venezuela and its consular section being transferred to St Lucia. Nevertheless, he assured audience members that the French embassy will remain in Port-of-Spain and visa applications for France and French overseas territories will now be processed by the Spanish embassy in Port-of-Spain.
He expressed hope that the visa waiver for Trinidadian citizens wishing to travel within the Schengen area will be finalised by the end of 2014.
Among the guests present were vice president of the Conseil Regional de la Martinique Christiane Mage, Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran, Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz, National Security Minister Gary Griffith, novelist and playwright Earl Lovelace and legendary masman and designer Peter Minshall. When the formal remarks came to close, guests flocked to the buffet to get their hands of some of the succulent French wine, cheese and ham on offer.
From a taste of France to a more French Antillean flavour, the event really kicked off when Martinican dance group Pom'Kanel took to the stage in their colourful traditional wear, accompanied by lively drumming and patois chanting. Among the dances they performed was le quadrille–an Africanised adaptation of an elite Parisian ballroom dance involving four couples dancing in a square formation.
In another dance called the Guerriers-Guerriers which depicts slaves having duels as they cut cane, the male dancers wore straw hats, struck the ground with their gardening hoes and swung sticks at each other in a manner reminiscent of our local stick fighting. The dance that provoked the most response from the audience was Zip-zap which featured everything from blindfolded tricks with cutlasses to flips, spins and walking handstands.
Wrapping up the performance, guests were encouraged to clap along to the drums and chant "zip-zap-zabap" while a few were pulled onstage to partner up with the dancers.
Among them was the ambassador's wife Marie-Laure Sturm who got down to some pelvic swinging of her own, much to the delight of the other guests.