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France’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

PARIS – Bastille Day, the French national holiday, was glorious this year. The military parade, dominated by the celebration of “victory” in Mali and the joint participation of African and United Nations troops, had the perfection of a gracious, albeit muscular, ballet.

The classical concert that preceded the magisterial fireworks that ended the day was the closest thing to a French version of the Proms in London, mixing light classical and popular songs. The Eiffel Tower imbued the evening with its magic. Paris, in case anyone had any lingering doubts, remains the capital of the world – or so it seemed for a night.

The melancholia that began to seize France many years ago was all but forgotten. The celebration of the glory of the past, mixed with popular English songs of the present, seemed to indicate renewed national confidence. What was the meaning of this moment of grace? Was it purely the product of a collective delusion, an emotional Potemkin village of sorts, encouraged, if not conceived, by the authorities to restore some level of self-assurance among France’s depressed citizens?

Even if the positive emotions remain only fleeting (as seems most likely), they were real and palpable. The French seemed to be in the mood to celebrate. Of course, it could simply have been the weather; a gorgeous summer has finally settled in after a miserable spring.