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French Gather for Bastille Day Binge

July 14, 2000

BORAN-SUR-OISE, France (AP) _ What better way to celebrate in this nation than to eat? On Friday, the French commemorated Bastille Day with their longest-ever lunch _ a more than 600-mile stretch of ``Incredible Picnics.″

The giant banquet ran through 337 towns and cities, from northern Dunkirk to Prats-de-Mollo on France’s border with Spain.

``It’s a bucolic rendezvous and a chance for townspeople to get to know each other,″ said Philibert de Moustier, the deputy mayor and picnic organizer in this sleepy village about 25 miles north of Paris. ``It’s a time for renewing old friendships.″

Despite an unseasonable chill and intermittent showers, some 1,000 people from Boran turned out for the revolutionary picnic, a highlight of French millennium festivities.

Families in rain slickers toting umbrellas, tents, folding tables and chairs, coolers and picnic baskets brimming with homemade delicacies thronged to the banks of the Oise River.

De Moustier, 43, a count and cereal farmer who lives in the centuries-old family chateau, said locals waited until the last minute to unfurl a mile-long ribbon of red-and-white checked tablecloth _ as emblematic of France as the tricolor flag _ manufactured for the occasion.

Boran’s quaint, one-lane bridge over the Oise was wrapped with leftover tablecloth, Christo-style, creating a colorful backdrop against threatening skies.

``We wouldn’t have missed the picnic for anything, so we brought our parasol, and plan to use it as an umbrella,″ said Francine Delattre, who entered her crab quiche in Boran’s Tastiest Picnic contest.

Besides lunch, there was a tug-of-war, pony rides and a tent where children could have their faces painted.

Bastille Day marks the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, setting off the French Revolution, which put an end to the monarchy.

Friday’s $7 million extravaganza is the brainchild of Gad Weil, who said it would help break down everyday barriers of class and social position still palpable in this nation of 60 million.

Host towns and cities were chosen among picturesque sites along the Green Meridian, a French invention for timekeeping and navigation the country used until 1911, when the world adopted the Greenwich meridian, the imaginary perpendicular line slicing the globe from the north to south poles.

The Green Meridian has been the focus of many 2000 celebrations in France. Earlier this year, French schoolchildren planted thousands of trees along it, and more recently, historian Claude Teillet has been doing the trek on foot, recording ``brief sensations of pure happiness″ for Le Monde newspaper.

Paris sites for the picnic included the Louvre Museum’s 18th century courtyard, the famed Pont des Arts footbridge over the Seine, and the Luxembourg Gardens, where some 17,000 picnickers were granted special permission to lunch on the grass.

Elsewhere in France, the bistro-style tablecloth crossed air strips at Orly airport, Carcassonne’s medieval ramparts, high-speed TGV train tracks and Roman ruins in southern France.

Some picnics had themes. The circus came to Savigny-sur-Orge south of Paris, while Saint-Martin-du-Tertre, north of the capital, set up a giant chess board peopled with live, costumed pieces.

Epinay-sur-Seine planned an Impressionist picnic recalling the sun-drenched landscapes of the famed 19th century school, and Morangis, a southern Paris suburb, entertained picnickers with jousting matches, fire-eating and other medieval games.

Boran, a medieval village nestled amid acres of wheat, corn and beetroot fields with a population of 2,247, is close enough to Paris to one day become a suburb.

For the moment, it’s not. There are no supermarkets or high-rise apartment buildings in sight, and free range chickens still can be bought on the farm where they are raised.

``This is a great day for Boran,″ said Raymonde Dupuis, director of the town’s sports and culture association, taking shelter under a freshly trimmed willow tree.

``It’s as impressive as the day the Queen Mother (of England) came to Boran by train to visit the town beach _ the only sandy beach in the region.″

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