Published on August 14th, 2015 | by Kirsten King0
“Tout Arrive en France”… and Sometimes California: Santa Barbara’s 27th Annual French Festival
The Eiffel Tower, Pont Neuf, Le Moulin Rouge: all landmarks known the world over, whose names are almost interchangeable with that of their mother city—Santa Barbara, where these and other sights and sounds of French fame can be found… for a couple of days a year anyway. Last weekend marked the 27th annual French Festival, a celebration of Bastille Day and all manner of things à la française in Southern California’s coastal city.
On July 18th and 19th Santa Barbara’s Oak Park housed a terrene busily traversed by its Francophiles who could walk through reconstructed Parisian arrondissements as well as venture into the outlying region of Provence and even cross over into more distant lands, The Basque Country and Morocco. Not only could visitors journey through France and areas of its far-reaching influence, attendees were also invited to travel through time. Nobles from centuries long-past (and in full costume, despite the humidity in 95 degree weather) came out to greet their subjects and enjoy a fencing bout, while follies performers of a bygone era mingled in the crowds.
The fête’s focal point was, of course, a very prominent sculpture of the Eiffel tower, specially commissioned for the event and hedged with over eighty vendors selling everything (quite literally) under the sun to a target clientele of both starving artists and bon vivants. In addition to commemorative festival gear, shoppers could take home treasures from resident artists, as well as fine-lace parasols, berets, and bundles of lavender or freshly-baked baguettes. Healthy appetites were a must as the wealth of food available was irresistible. Local and guest restaurants set up their kitchens and pastry cases, serving up menu items ranging from crêpes and beignets to pomme frites and Cajun shrimp. Boissons included anything from thirst-quenching Perrier and Orangina to fine wine and ice-cold beer.
Audiences could delight in entertainment offered on three stages. Classics from Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker resounded through the recreational grounds to the accompaniment of Django Reinhardt’s mercurial guitar while traditional accordion players had a platform to themselves for the two-day duration. Spectators were dazzled by renditions of the cancan and cabaret-style bellydance.
For those milling around during the program, willing participants could take part in a number of activities for all ages: pétanque, head-in-the-hole photo opportunities as Mona Lisa or in le guillotine, scavenger hunts, a raffle, and ever-successful face painting satisfied many requests for curling mustaches. Even the family dog had occasion to dress up and strut for the affair—each evening came to a close with a Poodles & Pals Parade.
While some features of the festival may appear clichéd, superficial, or even stereotypical to the harshest critic, the enthusiasm and joie de vivre is—without question—sincere, and proceeds go toward a good cause—the support of two deserving non-profits, Santa Barbara’s Center Stage Theater and Speaking of Stories. The gathering that the festival attracts is demonstrative of France’s cosmopolitan nature, and here habitués proclaim wholeheartedly, “Vive la France!” For anyone else with deux amours, this is the place to experience the best of both worlds.