America put President Obama back in the White House last night. For those of you who were in Chicago, whether in person or in spirit, I congratulate you. Americans in Paris were celebrating too. The organization Democrats for America held two major victory parties last night: One was a black-tie affair following a sit-down dinner until the wee hours of the morning – over here the results weren’t anywhere near clear until about 5am our time. The other event was a party at a large club for younger members of the organization.
The French newspapers made the news of Obama’s re-election their cover story. One phrase in particular from the President’s Acceptance Speech, echoing Kennedy, seems to have caught the French imagination: “America has never been about what can be done for us; it’s about what can be done by us…. through self-government.” The President said to a stadium full of cheering supporters. “What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth.”
This is certainly what makes American stand out among its European allies: that sense of patriotism and duty that gushed from the President’s mouth last night and which I had a chance to experience firsthand over the weekend.
Each year, the American Embassy in Paris holds a gala for the Marine Corps birthday and it is one of the social highlights of a Parisian expat’s year. In this election year, the atmosphere held a slight tense hum swirling above the tables as marines spoke of their deep commitment to their country and how proud they are to be American. I was engulfed in the patriotic mood myself to the point of misty eyes and standing ovations.
My husband, also moved by the words of his wife’s compatriots, was particularly interested in how different such a stance is from his own country where patriotism is almost a bad word. He feels France would be a stronger, more effective, more successful nation if a few of the strong bonds that make Americans feel ‘American’ where imparted on his own countrymen, especially in these days of severe debate about which direction French immigration policy should be heading and the legalization of gay marriage (voted today).
The ball proved a glorious affair. Hosted at The Grand Hotel in Paris’ 8ème arrondissement facing the Paris Opera, women dressed in long flowing gowns and men in tuxedos filled the gilded ball room. Cocktail hour began the evening at 7:30pm, followed by a sit-down dinner and dance.
As a rather exclusive ticket in town, I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend of mine who works at the Embassy and I’m so glad we decided to go. Speaking with marines about the work they do all over the world was an eye-opening experience for me. Hearing their stories, a feeling of security and profound gratitude overwhelmed me. For all my love of my adopted country, I was, and am, intensely proud to be American.
In an unexpected turn of luck, we were seated at table number 1 right next the American Ambassador, The Honorable Charles H. Rivkin, in the grand ball room among more than 300 guests. I’m still not sure what we did to deserve the honor, but whatever it was entitled us to front row seats to this year’s Marine Ball.
Our meal was delightful: a fish course followed by a steak served with a lovely Châteauneuf-du-Pape and topped off with a cake specially made to commemorate the 237th birthday of the Marine Corps. Cut in the tradition of a wedding cake before the entire ball room of guests by a marine’s sword, the first piece was shared by the eldest member of the corps present and the youngest (to my joy from Alabama), as well as the Ambassador. To commemorate all those fallen Marines who were not able to join their brethren for the ceremony, a table of honor was set all in black – a touching mark of brotherhood and loyalty.
At around 2am, when the ball was winding down and people were making their way off the dance floor toward the bar for a final night-cap, a distinguished gentleman approached me asking if my party would be interested in coming to an after party. To be honest, I hadn’t been to an ‘after party’ since my university days, but as the host inviting me was an American writer and a fellow Francophile naturally my curiosity trumped all hints of fatigue.
I don’t know how many of you know The Grand Hotel in Paris, but it’s the one above the Café de la Paix overlooking the Opera Garnier. And it was on the second floor of this primely located hotel that this secondary event unravelled into the small hours of the morning. In a suite reminiscent of the King’s apartments at Versailles, a much smaller group of about 30 people continued the evening in these opulent surrounding immersed in conversation on sofas and standing by the twelve-foot French doors overlooking a sleeping Paris. My husband and I finally called it a night at 7:30am, some twelve hours after we were handed our first cocktail at the ball. Thank goodness this past weekend was a long one, for Sunday, as you can imagine, was a wash.
After an eventful long weekend, a ball, a streak of patriotism reenergizing my soul from conversations with impeccably mannered and committed marines, Election Day loomed over me like a brewing storm cloud, for America plays such an important role in our current global society and this is never more obvious than when seen from the outside looking in.
I’m glad the results are in, which ever way you may have voted, so we can all move forward toward putting our country back in a position of healthy, strong collaborative leadership.
Please forgive my pictures. I only had my phone with me, and the quality of the photos reflects that unfortunate oversight.