Just Say Oui: Month-Long Festival Celebrates French Culture

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Guests mingle and enjoy French accordion music during the 2011 French Cultures Festival in San Anotnio. Courtesy photo.

Guests mingle and enjoy French accordion music during the 2011 French Cultures Festival in San Anotnio. Courtesy photo.

If the founder of the French Cultures Festival had his way, the people of South Texas would be thinking about the celebration all year long – not just in March. As the Honorary French Consul in San Antonio, James Lifshutz feels it’s his charge to share his passion with others.

This year’s French Cultures Festival begins this Saturday, March 1. Though the first festival in San Antonio was in 2011, this year marks only the second official celebration.

“The first Festival was held in 2011 and was extremely well received by the community,” Lifshutz said. “However, we did not keep up the momentum throughout the year, there was a change in my administrative staff and it was difficult to reinvent the wheel.”

Lifshutz, urban developer and owner of the Blue Star Arts Complex, feels they now have a winning formula for 2014.

“We not only focus on the month of March, to coincide with the French Cultures Festival in Houston, but also highlight various events citywide that celebrate French culture,” he said. “We started this year with three signature events, and just by searching the web and reaching out to other groups, that number has grown to 10 and counting. We’ve also added social media marketing to the mix, and we can reach more people that way through Facebook, Twitter (@FrenchCultureSA), and the newsletter – as well as word of mouth.”

Dr. N.Seth Nelson performs a free concert of French Organ Music during the 2011 French Cultures Festival in San Antonio. Courtesy photo.

Dr. N.Seth Nelson performs a free concert of French Organ Music during the 2011 French Cultures Festival in San Antonio. Courtesy photo.

The newsletter “Bonjour San Antonio!” was launched not only to publicize the festival, but to keep momentum going year-round. It features links to all the events and informative snippets on such French traditions as Mardi Gras and King Cake. Those interested in subscribing can send an email to debbie@lifshutz.com.

“Believe it or not, there are little groups of Francophiles in San Antonio and Austin, meeting on a regular basis to share their love of all things French,” Lifshutz said.

The San Antonio celebration kicks off Saturday with two main events – the Fete du Cuvee at the Bright Shawl and the Mardi Gras River Parade on the River Walk.

Dozens of river barges filled with costumed bead-tossers pass by crowds of revelers for the 2013 Mardi Gras River Parade. Photo by Iris Dimmick

Dozens of river barges filled with costumed bead-tossers pass by crowds of revelers for the 2013 Mardi Gras River Parade. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

San Antonio is a city best known for its Hispanic culture, Lifshutz said, but the French inspiration should not be overlooked.

“San Antonio has very deep European roots – our historical tie to Spain is much better understood by the general public, but indeed the French had a very important role in the formation of our city,” Lifshutz said. “Several French orders of nuns were dispatched to San Antonio where they formed institutions that still define us today – the University of the Incarnate Word, Santa Rosa Hospital, Our Lady of the Lake University, and others … Also, Francois Giraud, a Frenchman, designed and built the Ursuline campus and San Fernando Cathedral, and was mayor of San Antonio from 1872-1875. The role of the French in San Antonio and Texas is very interesting.”

Because the Francophile community is rather dispersed in San Antonio, a condition that Lifshutz hopes to improve upon, those with similar interest in things French are not always connected with each other.

“My favorite part of the festival is facilitating more of those connections,” he said. “Texas is a state that embraces all cultures, loves to learn and explore the many communities that make up this melting pot. Just look at the Institute of Texan Cultures here in San Antonio, or the French Legation Museum in Austin, or visit Market Square on any weekend. People of all nationalities are enjoying these cities and what their citizens have to offer.”

And nouveau Francophiles shouldn’t feel they’re not French-savvy enough to partake in the festival.

“All the events in this year’s festival will be accessible to novices,” Lifshutz said. “There is great variety – from a fancy gala at Villa Finale, to the Becker Wine Dinner, to concerts of French composers – just pick the events that suit your interest. You don’t have to speak French to enjoy any of the planned events.”

Participants in the Pentanque tournament during the 2011 French Cultures Festival in San Anotnio. Courtesy photo.

Participants in the Pétanque tournament during the 2011 French Cultures Festival in San Anotnio. Courtesy photo.

Lifshutz’s enthusiasm is evident as he extends an invitation to the French Cultures Festival. “Join us at one or all of the events. Bonjour, bienvenue et celebrez la France!

Author’s note: I celebrated my 50th birthday in Paris and look forward to visiting France again soon. Until then, I collect items decorated with Eiffel Towers and fleur de lis to keep the connection going.  

*Featured/top image: Guests mingle and enjoy French accordion music during the 2011 French Cultures Festival in San Anotnio. Courtesy photo.

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