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Sunday, July 13, 2008

On The Scene: Philadelphia's Bastille Day

"We want blood! We want blood! Kill her!"

These quotes -- chanted by children, parents, the elderly and the handicapable -- were loud and proud today outside of Eastern State Prison, where Americans who no doubt ate Freedom Fries in 2002 flew French flags on Fairmount Ave.

Today I, Sixth Borough Correspondent At-Large Reporter Gregg Gethard, attended the "Bastille Day" festivities in Philadelphia's beautiful Fairmount neighborhood. This is an annual tradition in Fairmount and has been held for the past 14 years. Who knew? I spent nearly every weekend from the year 2000 to 2003 on a variety of possibly scabies-infested couches in dingy apartments located between Girard and Spring Garden avenues and had never even heard of this event.

My reporting headquarters was The Urban Saloon, a "suburban sports bar attached to a Day's Inn" which recently opened up on Fairmount Ave. and has already rocketed up the list of Philly's worst bar, competing for honors with The Irish Pub and Finnegan's Wake. (The Urban Saloon, however, wins points for its incredibly surreal open mic comedy night on Monday night's. Being a fan and supporter of awkward public situations, I am pretty addicted to attending and performing at bar open mic nights. The Urban Saloon has the finest in the area, I believe.)

The usually empty Urban Saloon was filled with people on ahot and humid Saturday afternoon. Lines were long for both the bathroom and at a small table set up to serve patrons warm American beers in small plastic cups. The attendees were a mix of people in their older-30's who have not completely given up on life (although there were more than just a few women wearing shirts with pictures of animals on the front) yet mixed in with recent college graduates who should face extermination.

But, standing out the most in this sea of human mediocrity, were the occassional men dressed in 19th century French gentry outfits. Most men I come across wearing these outfits are either into really singular sexual roleplay adventures or are hobos who live in the infamous "rape tunnel" around 7th and Fairmount. But today, they walked around the crowd watching Adam Eaton destroy the Phillies season just like everybody else.

Finally, around 5:30, proceedings began. Set up in the middle of Fairmount Ave., not too far from Zorba's, was a podium with a guillotine front and center. A guy in his 50's dressed as a French peasant, obstensibly a mover and shaker with the local Fairmount development community, introduced the festivities. He talked about how we lacked freedom, how we lacked rights and how we wanted change.

It felt somewhat like I was hearing a supporter talk about Barack Obama, except I didn't want to claw out my eyes. The guy talked at length, occasionally making a funny joke about Dubya or John Street. He also made reference to "Karl Rovespierre."

This allowed me to heckle with what I remembered from my European History II class (where we spent about two weeks on the French Revolution) I took my junior year in college. "I love the month of Fructidor!" was a personal favorite of my own heckles. My friend Mike started chanting "IndieMac" over and over again to remind people of our looming economic doom.

And then, eventually, standing on top of the prison was a woman claiming herself as Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette precariously stood on the edge of the prison, blasting the crowd with comments about her wealth and power. Or something like that. She sounded pretty drunk. After about ten minutes of banter, she told the crowd to chant along.

"If they have no bread... then let them... let them eat cake!"

Then, from the top of the prison, Eastern State employees dumped Tastycakes onto the crowd by the shovel-full, flying through the air, crashing into the skulls of the elderly and polluting our already precarious eco-balance.

Then, the man on the podium ordered for the storming of the Bastille to begin. A few guys carrying muzzles shot blanks above. Marie's guards fired blanks back. It was all kind of confusing until it was announced that the people had stormed the Bastille and brought out some middle aged due.

"WE FREED LARRY MENDTE!" exclaimed the dude on the podium. I, unfortunately, did not bring my "Larry Mendte Is Not A Criminal" that my friend Paul T. from Secret Pants made.

Then after a few minutes we were told that our mob had captured Marie Antoinette. She was then brought to the guillotine, not by force, and I was expecting The Reign of Terror to begin at any second. The man asked the crowd if we wanted her to die.

Everyone screamed and wished this re-enactment actress/Rembrandt's waitress death. The crowd was extremely blood thirsty yet still family friendly, kind of like a Phantoms game.

"Slice her womb," my friend Mike yelled.

Two guys in hoods took to the podium. They then tested the guillotine out by taking a leftover watermelon from Gallagher's last area show and sliced it. And then again.

Then the guy on the podium said "Oh, we're going to keep her alive instead."

Then a couple of people threw Tastycakes at them.

And then it was over.

All-in-all, it was a pretty cool afternoon. If there's one thing we in Philadelphia are good at, it's coming up with reasons to drink shitty beer in the streets. I liked this better than Two Street circa Mummer's day (too cold and too many sexual assaults) but not as much as I like the Manayunk Bike Race (good temperature and the right amount of sex crimes).

It also gave me an idea. Re-enacting foreign revolutions could become a hot new local trend. I think I want to give one a try -- the Romainian Revolution of 1989, complete with the execution of Ceaucescu and his family and with people dressed as glue-huffing Bucharest orphans.

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