Liberte'! Egalite'! Pass the champagne!
The cry rang out through the city's streets yesterday as the French and the Francophiles celebrated the 194th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille with a wide variety of merrymaking, from waiters' races to a lawn party at the French Embassy.
Of all the celebrants, however, few could have been happier than Squadron Leader Ross Fox of the Australian Air Force. In town shopping for American fighter planes, Fox stopped by Dominique's restaurant long enough to win a footrace along Pennsylvania Avenue, for which the prize was a trip to London.
As a companion to its annual Bastille Day waiters' race, Dominique's this year sponsored a customers' competition in which 20 participants had to balance three beer cans on a tray while shuffling along a four-block course.
Fox, 30, thanked the French for sending him to England, thanked the Americans for the jets he'll fly in Australia ("They're the best") and offered this advice to the aspiring waiter-racers in the huge crowd outside the restaurant at 1900 Pennsylvania Ave.: "Run hard, but drink plenty of beer."
Then it was time for the pros. One hundred and thirty-five waiters took up the challenge, and Michael Frith of the Holiday Inn in Bethesda finished first in a scramble from the restaurant to the White House and back carrying a bottle of champagne and glasses on a tray.
A 10-year veteran of serving tables, Frith, 29, will travel to Paris by Concorde in recognition of his prowess at long-distance speed serving.
His plan: "To eat fire on roller skates under the Eiffel Tower. You know, I want to have a good time."
Across town at the French Embassy, meanwhile, more than 1,500 French nationals and others commemorated their independence with more expensive beverages and more diplomatic grace.
Women in pastel dresses and men in linen suits sauntered from the receiving line down the wide staircase to the large lawn and then toward tables laden with sandwiches, pastries and fresh fruit. As the sun grew hotter and the tarts began to melt, more people found themselves at the bars for the promised champagne.
"We never miss a year," Colette Laffly said, glancing around at four friends who nodded enthusiastically.
"It compensates, being here, for not being in France," said Irene Watts. "We're American citizens. But France is always France. It will never change."
"And the food is always good," added Watts, clearly proud of her well-stocked plate. "There is not a year when the food is not par excellence."
Jean-Paul Dumont, who arrived only three days ago to take over as the embassy's first secretary, seemed thrilled to have made the party. "The Bastille Day celebration in Washington is the most marvelous," said Dumont.
He should know. Dumont has toasted his nation's holiday at posts around the world. "In Outer Mongolia, it is nothing like this," he explained. "There, the ambassador is doing himself the canapes."
Xavier Fels, economic counselor at the embassy, added, "It's a lot more patriotic here than in France . . . In Paris it's just fun, parties in the street, fireworks. I don't think they consider what it represents. Here, it is the one time of the year we can get together and remember that we are French."
Ambassador Bernard Vernier-Palliez managed to stay out of the kitchen and headed up the receiving line. In a short speech, he focused on the historic alliance between France and America.
"Without France the United States would not exist," he said, "but without the United States, France would not be a free country."
Over on Capitol Hill at the Brasserie restaurant, the festivities were as American as hot dogs and apple pie.
Following Dominique's example, the Brasserie sponsored a waiters' race. But rather than playing "La Marseillaise," the race masters sent the competitors off to the theme from "Rocky."
The restaurant's own Jesus Bonilla copped the top prize: a week for two on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas.
The meaning of it all was summed up by Dominique D'Ermo, proprietor of the eatery that brought waiter racing to Washington nine years ago.
He explained that similar activities are held all over his native land to commemorate the event that began the French Revolution.
"It was a bloody day in France when they took the Bastille," said D'Ermo. "Thousands were killed, some of them nice people. But we cannot be philosophes and worry about who was right or wrong in 1789. We must drink and be happy, so we celebrate this way."