In response to the anti-French movement in America, Ithacans coordinated an event to celebrate French culture yesterday.
The event, called Frenchfest, was hosted by the Autumn Leaves bookstore in the Commons. The event was open to the public, offering free French bread, wine, cheese and jam, all of which were donated by local vendors. Reporters from news organizations including Fox News covered the event.
Paul Glover, one of Frenchfest’s principal organizers, thought that this sort of event was necessary given the United States’ reaction to France’s refusal to support the war in Iraq.
“I think it is ridiculous that the U.S. would demolish 200 years of friendship with France because France has confronted us, on behalf of most of the world’s population, about our invasion of Iraq,” Glover said.
At the beginning of the festival, Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 declared April 30 to be Franco-Ithacan Friendship Day and presented Glover with a certificate proclaiming this.
Glover cited the military support France afforded during the Revolutionary War, as well as France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty, as examples of America’s long-standing relationship with that nation.
Glover saw the war in Iraq as a departure from America’s doctrine of encouraging worldwide liberty.
“We [the organizers of Frenchfest] believe this war is a war to liberate Iraq’s oil, not its people. The U.S. has cooperated with dictators who cooperate with U.S. interests,” Glover said.
However, opinions on the issue of the war in Iraq were varied. Indeed, Cohen said that there were as many opinions in Ithaca as there were citizens, and that each is valued.
Several U.S. veterans staged a protest outside Autumn Leaves in response to Frenchfest. John Steel, a Vietnam veteran and member of Vietnam Veterans of America, asserted that, at the very least, United States troops deserve our support.
“People [in Iraq] are now able to walk outside, enjoy freedom. Our troops did a good job and should be honored,” Steel said.
The veterans viewed France’s outspkoen refusal to support the war in Iraq as an act of betrayal.
“In World War II we liberated France. We are just looking for some support from them,” Steel said.
There were some Ithacans that saw a middle ground between these issues. One woman said to the veterans on her way past the demonstration, “Let’s not stop there [with the liberation of Iraq] … but no killing.”
One of Frenchfest’s attendees, Scott Marsland, saw the event not as divisive but as symbolic of the connection between the U.S. and France.
“There is no conflict between the French and Americans. On the working class level we are all just people trying to get by,” Marsland said.
He also expressed his feeling that the event was successful, saying, “You should be able to change the world and have fun at the same time.”
There was one French citizen present at the festival — Yoann Perrier, who is currently attending Ithaca High School. He said that he was glad to see this sort of event in America, considering the tension between the U.S. and France.
However, when asked about how close the food and wine was to what he ate in France he replied, “I don’t drink wine or like cheese, but the jam is great.”
Archived article by Matthew Vernon