A French fete | AspenTimes.com

A French fete

Tony Vagneur

On July 14, 1789, a band of peasants overtook the Bastille prison in Paris and the beginning of the first French Revolution was born. An odd concept had been fomenting among the underclass, specifically one that believed the king was no longer the representative of God and that all people were equal. Of course, Napoleon Bonaparte mucked it up for a while afterwards, but the idea survived and today the French celebrate Bastille Day much as we celebrate the Fourth of July.In the 1950s, a woman by the name of Terese David came to Aspen with some unique ideas rumbling around in her head about how she wanted to spend her life. To young boys, she seemed a bit on the edge of insanity with her wild hair and accent of indeterminate origin. We tolerated her occasional attempts at conversation with the illusory patience that curiosity and a smirk can afford. To make ends meet, she opened a clothing, knickknack and whatever store in a tiny Victorian on Main, directly across from today’s Main Street Bakery. I was eavesdropping the day in the White Kitchen when she confided to the “chef” that due to legal pressure from some people in New York City, she may have to change the name of her emporium to something other than the “Pied Piper.” For years, I wondered (still do) what kind of dark thought process motivates someone in the Big Apple to pick on an old lady trying to make a living out of a small miner’s cottage in the mountains.Inevitably, she changed the name to “Terese David of Aspen” and life went on, although she took on a more sophisticated line of clothing and, due to burgeoning demand (pun intended), hired a general manager by the name of Ferne Spaulding. Always one to encourage attention toward our town, Ms. David came up with the idea of celebrating Bastille Day in Aspen. Being rather young then, I’m not sure I remember why she picked Bastille Day, other than its date was conducive to a midsummer’s festival, I suppose. Also, as the signature event in a revolution against oppression, it had a basis in human terms, something that would have been important to her. For years, it was hugely successful with locals and tourists alike and began to have its own draw, sort of like Wintersköl. Unfortunately, and reminiscent of a reverse Bastille Day, aristocratic manipulators in the town of Aspen took some sort of umbrage at the under- and tourist classes enjoying themselves so much, and declared that henceforth, Bastille Day was, for whatever reasons, politically incorrect and would, in the future, be known as International Day. I would say that was also the year Aspen quit taking a stand on the hard issues, but there are those who would say it happened earlier or later, so I’ll let it go. Terese David was justifiably flummoxed, and her participation after such dysfunctional politicking was less than enthusiastic.The last Bastille Day in Aspen had reached a high level of production and on a warm, romantic evening, well after midnight, on a stage left standing at the deserted confluence of Wagner Park and Cooper Street, I found myself seated at a grand piano. A couple of friends composed the beginnings of a soon-to-grow audience as I took the opportunity to play for the town’s “last call” contingent. Well into a quiet ballad, a girl named Gisele (how could I forget?), with a soft touch and looks masked by darkness, took the stage slightly behind me and after a few nervous whispers and giggles, began massaging the back of my neck. I shivered and played with increased intensity. In the heat of this July 2005, the events all fit together in my mind, not neatly, but conveniently, as a tribute to an unconventional Terese David and the enthusiasm she had for making something inimitable happen in a town that occasionally needs an innovator to go against the current. Tony Vagneur wishes you a belated “Fete Nationale,” as they say in France. Read him here on Saturdays and e-mail him at ajv@sopris.net

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