BY HEATHER J. CHIN AND LINDSEY RIBACK
Smith Street’s annual Bastille Day festival on July 13 was a French-tastic success, bringing French tourists, French-Americans, and Francophiles together for a day of crepes, foosball, live music, and, of course, pétanque.
Organized and sponsored by the popular eateries Bar Tabac and Provence en Boite, as well as the Smith Street branch of the South Brooklyn Local Development Corp, the street festival celebrating the start of the French Revolution is arguably the most popular in the city – even more so than the one in Manhattan – exactly because of the atmosphere of community revelry among the large French-American community.
“The thing I like about Smith Street is walking to work; businessowners here have family here, so it has that homegrown feeling,” said community organizer Bette Stoltz.
“In France, we celebrate with family in a small village, big dinner, and some fireworks,” said French transplant Max DeBlais. “Here is nice because of the [liquor] and it’s very French. I would play pétanque with my grandfather. Here, the courts are a bit short, but the feel is still there.”
Starting at noon sharp the pétanque tournament – the largest in the United States – took over most of a two-block stretch of Smith Street, with metal and wooden balls flying and rolling across the sand all afternoon.
Similar to bocce, the goal of winning pétanque is to throw three metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball – “cochonnet” – while the player remains standing in an outlined circle.
The manager of Bar Tabac said the celebration is “crazy, but a very good day for everyone,” with over 10,000 people streaming in to celebrate.
Leslie Bernat, one of the owners of Provence en Boite, who has organized the tournament for the last 7 years, also commented, “People love the way we celebrate. It’s a day of fun and relaxation, where you can get a bit to eat and hang out.”
“It’s becoming a popular sport because anyone can play, whether you’re a professional or amateur,” Bernat said.