Every year I take part in the largest celebration of Bastille Day in the USA. Bastille Day on 60th Street, organized by FIAF (New York’s French Institute and Alliance Française), is a street fair stretching from Fifth to Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side. It’s vibrant, fun, and packed with French and Francophiles — some 35,000 visitors showed up this year. A perfect fit for Simply Gourmand, my online French grocery store.
This year the street fair was held on Sunday the 15th of July, one day after the official date of Bastille Day but, serendipitously enough, on the very day of the soccer World Cup finale played by Croatia and France. The finale, showed on a giant screen at the Lexington Avenue end of the fair, was of course the main highlight of this year’s event. Needless to say, the French victory was duly celebrated by many impromptu parades going back and forth on East 60th Street.
One of the things I love about showcasing Simply Gourmand at Bastille Day on 60th Street is that I get to meet actual and soon-to-be customers. We talk about the French food they love, the one they purchase on my website, and the one they long to find. I usually finish the day with a solid wish list to work on.
Another thing that makes my day is the number of multicultural couples, families, or even groups of friends that stop by. In that configuration, there is typically a French person thrilled to spot a food they love and thought could not be found in the USA. Being French, that person is eager to share their excitement very vocally. They tell their non-French partner/child/friend about the food, why it is so special, and how they eat it or use it in their cooking.
I cherish this moment and its many variations. I see the sparkles in the eye of the French enthusiast. I see the engaged smile and the curiosity of the person they are talking to. Something essential is being shared. Something warm, joyful, and yet profound. A connection between two people who have come from different places, sometimes far apart, and are keen to explore each other’s world through food and memory. The story usually has a happy ending: they buy the food and I imagine they enjoy it together soon afterward.
There’s something in the air. Maybe it’s summer in the city. Maybe it’s Bastille Day. Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s New York. Likely it’s all of that together. Even though Bastille Day on 60th Street is crazy busy at our booth I love it because, for me, that’s where the faces, the smiles, and the diversity of French food lovers come into focus in the most vibrant way. See you there next year!