Many of my experiences in France teeter on the insane if not singularly absurd, which is reason enough why I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I’m not sure if these events would happen in any other place than France – perhaps, but I like to imagine that it doesn’t.
The meeting I had last week was one of those strange but entertaining days where what would appear to be a boring hour or two, was instead, filled with some appeal. The actual content of the meeting was not interesting at all, but if not for the office’s medieval armor and weapon collection, which took up a good half of the office, I would’ve zoned out like I’d do in my high school history class. (Not history’s fault, the teacher’s!)
The medieval collection of armour, weapons and war paraphenalia was authentic, the real deal that a medieval soldier supposedly sported as he battled it out with medieval enemies. There’s a mace resting on the shelf of the radiator but I was hoping there’d be a different kind of mace; you know, the club with a spiked ball on a chain! (I know, I’m complaining!) In any case, the display was unexpected, weird and cool, just like my France.
Some 33 years after the last head rolled in France, the guillotine is back—as a cutting-edge display item in a Paris museum exhibit about crime and punishment. The former instrument of death was displayed at the request of Robert Badinter, the politician who ended the death penalty in France, who was thrilled to see his “old enemy” reduced to a museum object.
But with France currently facing overcrowded prisons and high rates of recidivism, not everyone shares Badinter’s view. “I think it’s a shame this stops at 1981,” one museum visitor told the Guardian. The 14-foot device had a long tradition in France, from the rolling heads of 18th-century revolutionaries to the final guillotine execution, in 1977, of convicted murderer-rapist Hamida Djandoubi in Marseille.
The 15th-century alabaster statues – considered treasures of medieval Europe – have never before left the city of Dijon, where they march perpetually around the base of the tomb of John the Fearless and his wife Margaret of Bavaria.
Now they can be seen walking two-by-two down a plain catwalk in the heart of the Met in the exhibition The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy.
Carved over a 25-year-period by Jean de la Huerta and Antoine le Moiturier, each statue represents a mourner – mostly ecclesiastical figures such as a bishop, a choirboy and rows of monks from the Carthusian order.
In their normal setting in Dijon they are only partially seen, as they are positioned between miniature Gothic arches lacing the base of the wealthy and powerful couple’s black marble tomb…
The medieval village of Cluny (in the Burgundy region of France) was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1979 and remains a legendary and awe-inspiring point of interest for millions of visitors who come to France every year. Its focus is the Romanesque abbey, founded in 910 by William the Pious (the Duke of Aquitaine) when Cluny was the center of religious reform and efforts were made to restore monastic life. It was the largest church in the world until the construction of Saint Peter’s in Rome. During the French Revolution, the Wars of Religion and its aftermath, the abbey was sold, looted and operated as a quarry. Most of it was demolished and systematically dismantled until 1823. Despite this terrible turn of events, one transept of the church survived and remains standing, as well as 18th-century convent buildings and 15th-century abbots’ residences.
A recent installment has been placed near the transept. It’s a movable screen to create the illusion showcasing the rest of the church, sections that are actually no longer there but were re-created in 3D using augmented reality technology. It’s pretty cool. I took a short video of it (below):
Guided and non-guided tours also include a 10-minute, 3D film Maior Ecclesia, which inculcates a sense of the majesty and purpose of what was once the Christian world’s largest church.
More Visitor Information
Abbaye de Cluny
Palais Jean de Bourbon,
71250 Cluny France
Telephone Number: +33 (0)3 85 59 15 93
For more information:
Websites: National Monuments of France, Cluny Office of Tourism
General Admission Fee: 7 € / Free admission for children under 18 (except for groups) Open: May 2 to August 31 from 9.30 am to 6.30 pm; September 1 to April 30 from 9.30 am to noon and from 1.30 pm to 5 pm. Closed: January 1, May 1, November 1, November 11,
“1693: Champagne is said to have been invented on this day by Dom Pierre Pérignon, a French monk. It almost certainly isn’t true.
Because Dom Pérignon lived at the Benedictine abbey in Hautvillers at the time of his “invention,” the village in France’s Champagne region, not far from Èpernay, is generally regarded as the birthplace of the bubbly.
But like many historical claims, the night they invented champagne appears more …”
“The French have always found American elections amusing, in a horror movie sort of way. They grumpily regard the American president as in some unfortunate sense also their own, but they see the campaign through their own cultural lens.
They value sophistication above almost anything, and so they regard their own hyperactive president, Nicolas Sarkozy, with his messy romantic life and model-singer wife, as “Sarko the American.”
But this year has been difficult for the French. Sarkozy has generally supported American foreign policy and has praised the United States’ openness and entrepreneurial verve. And the sudden emergence of Senator Barack Obama — black, and seen as elegant and engaged with the larger world — has sent many French into a swoon.
But the combination of two recent surprises — Governor Sarah Palin and America’s terrifying financial meltdown — has brought older, nearly instinctual anti-American responses back to the surface.
These two surprises, one after the other, have refreshed clichés retailed under President George W. Bush, confirming the deeply held belief of the French that the United States remains the frontier, led by impenetrably smug and incurious upstarts who have little history, experience or….” Read the rest
“As a kid in Brooklyn Steven L. Kaplan ate pale sliced Wonder Bread like everyone else but had an epiphany in Paris as a Princeton student in 1962 when he happened on a small bakery on the Rue du Cherche-Midi called Poilâne and bought a bâtard which he filled with cheese and ate in the Luxembourg gardens. “I can still taste that first bite,” he says.
Kaplan went on to become a professor of history at Cornell University, always fascinated by bread as one of the principal actors in French life: it is bread, he says, that seals the social contract in France, the link between the government and the governed.
When in the United States Kaplan, from what he views as necessity, bakes his own bread. In France he is recognized as the bread authority, compared recently in Le Monde with Robert O. Paxton, the American historian who forced French eyes to open on the subject of Vichy. The occasion of the comparison was Kaplan’s new book, “Le Pain Maudit” (Cursed Bread), a study of an unsolved mystery dating back more than half a century but which lingers even in the memories of those not then born: the affair of the poisoned bread.
What became a national disaster began on Aug. 16, 1951, when the inhabitants of the small town of Pont-Saint-Esprit in the Gard region of southern France were suddenly stricken by frightful hallucinations of being consumed by fire or giant plants or horrid beasts.
A worker tried to drown himself because his belly was being eaten by snakes. A 60-year-old grandmother threw herself against the wall and broke three ribs. A man saw his heart escaping through his feet and beseeched a doctor to put it back in place. Many were taken to the local asylum in strait jackets. There was no treatment, no cure and only one possible explanation: something in the bread baked the night of Aug. 15-16 had caused the calamity….” Read the rest
France’s space agency, CNES put its entire UFO sightings archive on the web.
“The saucer-shaped object is said to have touched down in the south of France and then zoomed off. It left behind scorch marks and that haunting age-old question: Are we alone in this big universe of ours?
This is just one of the cases from France’s secret “X-Files” — some 100,000 documents on supposed UFOs and sightings of other unexplained phenomena that the French space agency is publishing on the Internet.
France is the first country to put its entire weird sightings archive online, said Jacques Patenet, who heads the space agency’s UFO cell — the Group for Study and Information on Nonidentified Aerospace Phenomena.
Their oldest recorded sighting dates from 1937, Patenet told The Associated Press in an interview Friday. The first batch of archives went up on the agency’s Web site this week, drawing a server-busting wave of traffic.
“The Web site exploded in two hours. We suspected that there was a certain amount of interest, but not to this extent,” Patenet said.
The archive includes police and expert reports, witness sketches (some are childlike doodlings), maps, photos and video and audio recordings. In all, the archive has some 1,650 cases on record and some 6,000 witness accounts.
The space agency, known by its French initials CNES, said it is making them public to draw the scientific community’s attention to unexplained cases and because their secrecy generated suspicions that officials were hiding something.
“There’s always this impression of plots, of secrets, of wanting to hide things,” Patenet said. “The great danger would be to…” Read more of this article »
“When Youssoupha, a black rapper here, was asked the other day what was on his mind, a grin spread across his face. “Barack Obama,” he said. “Obama tells us everything is possible.”
A new black consciousness is emerging in France, lately hastened by, of all things, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States. An article in Le Monde a few days ago described how Mr. Obama is “stirring up high hopes” among blacks here. Even seeing the word “noir” (“black”) in a French newspaper was an occasion for surprise until recently.
Meanwhile, this past weekend, 60 cars were burned and some 50 young people scuffled with police and firemen, injuring several of them, in a poor minority suburb of Vitry-le-François, in the Marne region of northeast France.
Americans, who have debated race relations since the dawn of the Republic, may find it hard to grasp the degree to which race, like religion, remains a taboo topic in France. While Mr. Obama talks about running a campaign transcending race, an increasing number of French blacks are pushing for, in effect, the reverse.
Having always thought it was more racially enlightened than strife-torn America, France finds itself facing the prospect that it has actually fallen behind on that score. Incidents like the ones over the weekend bring to mind the rioting that exploded across France three years ago. Since it abolished slavery 160 years ago, the country has officially declared itself to be colorblind — but seeing Mr. Obama, a new generation of French blacks is arguing that it’s high time here for precisely the sort of frank discussions that in America have preceded the nomination of a major black candidate.
This black consciousness is reflected not just in daily conversation, but also in a dawning culture of books and music by young French blacks like Youssoupha, a cheerful, toothy 28-year-old, who was sent here from Congo by his parents to get an education at 10, raised by an aunt who worked in a school cafeteria in a poor suburb, and told by guidance counselors that he shouldn’t be too ambitious. Instead, he earned a master’s degree from the Sorbonne.
The 14th century castle/fort, Fort La Latte sits majestically atop a 70 meters (230 ft) high cliff along the Cote d’Émeraude (Emerald Coast) in northern Brittany. It is one of the most spectacular sites in Bretagne.
Built from the ground up on a small spit of land on the Baye de la Fresnaye by one of the oldest Breton families, Goyon-Matignon, the castle (known at the time as “Roche Guyon”), was first besieged by Bertrand du Guesclin in 1379. After Brittany became part of France, in 1490 it was unsuccessfully besieged by the English. Later, when the castle was known as La Latte, the Holy League really did it in and dismantled, plundered, devastated and set on it fire.
Between 1690 and 1715, the architect, Sir Garangeau, under the reign of Louis XIV, turned La Latte into a fort. They added military structures to defend Saint-Malo against English and Dutch attacks.
The final attempt to attack the castle was in 1815 by a few men from Saint-Malo during the “Cent-Jours”. Like their predecessors the attack was unsuccessful. It fell into disrepair during the 19th century and sold by the family in 1892, and is currently privately owned. In 1925 it was declared a monument historique, a protected place of historic interest and was slowly restored.
The Fort La Latte is a “must visit” if you’re in Bretagne. If you’re not into medieval forts, drawbridges and war paraphernalia, the views from the castle are absolutely magnificent. The surrounding area is breathtaking, and is great for mountain biking, hiking and picnicking.
We visited just about an hour before closing hours, which seems like a perfect time to go because we were nearly alone, wandering around the premises. Heaven, especially if you’re not into crowds.
If it seems like you’re walking on a Hollywoodian movie set, you actually are. Well, the fort is the real deal, but it’s been used as a backdrop for many movies. Notably, The Vikings with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, Ridicule by Patrice Lecomte with Jean Rochefort; Le jeu du roi with Marc Evans, Pierre Dux and Francois Matouret; Lancelot du Lac (made for TV movie) with Gérard Falconetti, La Danse de mort with Michel Bouquet; Metzengerstein with Jane Fonda; Chouan with Sophie Marceau and Philippe Noiret.
Fort La Latte
Open every day April 1 to September 30; October to March open afternoons, weekends, national holidays and bank holidays.
Admission: 4 Euros
Telephone: +33) 02 96 41 40 31
There’s an article in iht.com today that reveals the greatest mysteries of Stonehenge, namely, what the giant brooding stones represented. Apparently, the location was a a burial ground for several generations of a single, elite family.
This is interesting because a similar idea dominated our conversation when we were visiting the “French Stonehenge” in Carnac, in Brittany, France just about a week ago.
Carnac isn’t Stonehenge, clearly, but the place is 6000 years old (older than Stonehenge) and there is a dense collection of menhirs (standing stones, nicknamed the “Stone Army”) as far as the eye can see. Approximately 3000 of these standing stone relics are aligned in rows amidst the vast area of fields close to the Atlantic Ocean in Brittany. It is impressive too see them.
All sorts of theories and speculations popped up in our conversations about the stones’ origins: a challenging game, a landing field for UFO’s (hee), an endurance activity for physical stamina, to name a few – but what emerged as the most likely, was the cemetery theory. Not really far fetched since the dolmens and cairns in Brittany served funerary functions.
So many have ruled out the idea that the menhirs were part of a cemetery. We just have to respectfully disagree with that. Granted, there are no remnants of skeletons here, which is a reason researchers rule out a cemetery, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a cemetery! Our theory is that it WAS a cemetery, or perhaps, more accurately, a memorial for the thousands of Gaulois soldiers who left Carnac to fight against Romans their enemies at sea – and never came back. THAT is why there are no skeletal remains! Besides, doesn’t it look obviously like a veterans’ cemetery, Neolithic stye?
Later when researching this a little, I found some other theories. In the 50s and 60s, Breton children chanted the legend to tourists: All the stones were part of a Gaulois cemetery. The richer the dead person, the bigger then stone. Another theory tells the tale of Saint Cornelius. He was pursued by pagan soldiers all the way to the seashore, and with no boat to flee, his defense was to turned them into stone.
In any case, Carnac, is a well worth a visit but you will need a car to reach it. The largest city close by is Rennes, where we began and it took about one and half hours to reach Carnac from there. You can stroll among the menhir alignments freely from October to March, 9am to 5pm. During the busy season from April to the end of September, you are not allowed to pass the fenced and rock barriers – to protect the vegetation around the stones.
When you see the famous prehistoric paintings at the Lascaux Cave in Dordogne, you must purchase your tickets in the village of Montignac. (Ticket purchase is not available on-site.) You won’t feel inconvenienced by this because Montignac is beautiful and worth a stop to explore its two different areas located on both sides of the Vézère River. On the right bank, there’s a feudal town with medieval narrow streets with architecture from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. On the left bank, the suburb with a convent and priory is an indication that Montignac used to be a harbor town, a place of artisans, crafts, arts and other sell-able goods.
More information about Montignac is here (in French).
“Nearly a year into his term, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has hardly mentioned the arts or culture. In late February, he said that French cuisine should be added to the Unesco World Heritage list.
De Gaulle had André Malraux at his elbow. François Mitterrand renovated the Louvre. Just before he left office, Jacques Chirac inaugurated an immense museum for non-Western cultures, designed by Jean Nouvel, which in its confusing, heart-of-darkness, overwrought layout, epitomizes a certain kind of French arrogance. Naturally, millions of tourists now flock to it.
Every French president since the Liberation has cooked up some such pharaonic new museum or opera house or library or initiated some legacy-minded cultural program, until now.
On the way to the Olympic Ceremony, the torch will makes its way all over the world. For what it’s worth, it’ll be in Paris on April 7. Mark your calendars.
I don’t believe it’s going to be an eventless moment in history because 1) this is France; and 2) the most awesome Reporters sans frontières / Reporters without Borders will surely make an appearance. If you were able to see the initial ceremony in Greece a week or so ago, you’ll remember that some fearless reporters without borders crashed the party to demonstrate against China, which is the largest world prison for freedom of expression and human rights, among other things.
“SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — At first listen, the grainy high-pitched warble doesn’t sound like much, but scientists say the French recording from 1860 is the oldest known recorded human voice.
The 10-second clip of a woman singing “Au Clair de la Lune,” taken from a so-called phonautogram, was recently discovered by audio historian David Giovannoni. The recording predates Thomas Edison’s “Mary had a little lamb” — previously credited as the oldest recorded voice — by 17 years.
The tune was captured using a phonautograph, a device created by Parisian inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville that created visual recordings of sound waves.
Using a needle that moved in response to sound, the phonautograph etched sound waves into paper coated with soot from an oil lamp.
I grew up in the beach communities of L.A. so when strolling along the bike path or on the sand, it wasn’t often (or ever) that I’d come across anything like a 400 year old fort. It’s different if you’re on the beach in France, especially in the north.
That, to me, is the beauty of Europe. Practically everywhere, you’ll “run into” things with a long history: it makes you wonder what has happened during all of those hundreds of years inside this coastal fort. Sordid, treacherous plots? Perhaps bloody and violent wars? And thrown into the mix: love stories and happier endings? Probably not. 😀
Stumbling upon Fort Mahon Plage while exploring the north of France in Ambleteuse, which sits at the estuary of the river, Slack (there’s even a town called Slack too!), was another reminder that Europe….is old. Really, really old. And cool to someone who has grown up in a relatively new country.
Henry VIII of England had two forts built here to uphold his powerful presence towards the French kings. Henry II of France eventually conquered the forts in 1556, after killing all the English prisoners.
It was Sébastien Vauban who constructed Fort Mahon at the end of the 17th century, and because of the preservation and renovation efforts by the “Association of the friends of Ambleteuse Fort,” Fort Mahon is the only coastal fort that’s left.
The fort isn’t open to visitors in February but you can visit it from Easter to Toussaint (April to November): 3pm – 7pm on Sundays. In July and August 3pm – 7pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Entrance fee: 3 euros / 1.50 euros (children). For more information telephone: 06 75 52 73 57
Italian scientists say they have proved Napoleon was not poisoned, scotching the legend the French emperor was murdered by his British jailors.
Napoleon’s post-mortem said he died of stomach cancer aged 51, but the theory he was assassinated to prevent any return to power has gained credence in recent decades as some studies indicated his body contained a high level of the poison arsenic.
“It was not arsenic poisoning that killed Napoleon at Saint Helena,” said researchers at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics and the University of Pavia who tested the theory the British killed him while he was in exile on the South Atlantic island in 1821.
The Italian research — which studied hair samples from various moments in his life which are kept in museums in Italy and France — showed Napoleon’s body did have a high level of arsenic, but that he was already heavily contaminated as a boy.
The scientists used a nuclear reactor to irradiate the hairs to get an accurate measure of the levels of arsenic.
Looking at hairs from several of Napoleon’s contemporaries, including his wife and son, they found…
This southern version of the Arch of Triumph in Marseille is called Porte d’Aix. It was the way to connect Marseille to Aix-en-Provence (and Paris).
Inspired by the Arch of Titus in Rome and built by Architect Penchaud in 1823 and adorned by inscriptions and low-reliefs (David d’Angers and Jules Ramey), the Porte d’Aix commemorates the victories of the French Revolution, the glory of the Republic, the Consulate and the First Empire.
You can never take in too many beautiful, moated castles in your life, I’ve always said – and I’m not talking about the fake versions at popular amusement parks. Have you ever heard someone visiting Europe say, “Wow. That castle looks just the one at Disneyland!”? I have. Needless to say, that bugs me. A lot.
“It’s a REAL one, though,” I usually say.
Newsflash: the castle at Disneyland is FAKE.
The Château de Sully is worth a detour if you’re anywhere near or between Beaune and Autun in Cote d’Or, Burgundy. Not only is it the largest Renaissance castle in southern Burgundy, it is still inhabited by royalty. Since the 18th century, the MacMahon family has called Château de Sully home, or, castle sweet castle.
The MacMahons were originally from Ireland but fled to France after the defeat of the catholic English king, James II during the 17 century.
And like most tales that take place in castles, this tale includes intrigue, treachery and complicated politics but also has a happy ending. So, to make a long, historical story short, The MacMahons, several generations later, still live in the Château de Sully. Yes, the Duchess of Magenta and her kids are current residents of the castle. Luckily, a visitor can take a peek into their home by touring a corner of the castle with a tour guide. (photos are not allowed inside). I thought it seemed strange to see a pool table underneath a 400 year old chandalier and plastic toys scattered about inside the castle but people do live there!
Our guide reminded me of Johnny Depp’s little brother, if Johnny Depp HAD a little brother. Anyway. He was more entertaining and funny than any guides I’ve seen and he could tell you the whole story of the MacMahons without you needing to yawn. That’s a pretty good tour guide!
After the guided tour, you’re free to roam the premises. There’s a huge lavoir (a public basic to wash clothes). The garden is very English in style so there’ll be a bit more symmetry and order, and the potager (vegetable garden) and flower gardens to the side of the castle are very wonderfully asymmetical.
The best time to visit is when they’re having special themed events, so you can tour the castle and later enjoy a horse and carriage ride, visit a special exhibition or conference, or participate in other special events. We were there on a day where they were showcasing old vintage collector cars. (The only other time I saw a Trabbi was at a U2 concert a long time ago.) Château de Sully
71360 Sully (Burgundy)
Tél. 03 85 82 09 86
Hours: Open from April 7 – Nov 4 , 10am to 6pm
Entrance Fee: 6 Euros
Website: Chateau de Sully
As one of eight children born to parents who came to France from a mining area in the south-east of Morocco, I grew up in a housing project near Valence, in the kind of high-rise blocks that everyone saw in the scenes of torched cars and street battles on television in the rioting in 2005 and again a few weeks ago. In both instances, the unrest was sparked by allegations of police harassment but exclusion and joblessness were also key factors.
The paradox is that the rioters, for all their alienation, behaved in a very French way. Like farmers and union members who go readily into the streets, they wanted to be listened to.
What is dangerous is that people have reached a point where they see violence as the sole way of calling attention to their misery and, while I am horrified at the violence, I understand the hopelessness and anger behind the riots.
You need to look at the realities of life in the tower blocks of the urban periphery. Here there are three basic sources of income: what was known in my family as “the fruit of your labor,” i.e. staying in school to get the education that would lead to earning a good living; relying on welfare benefits; or getting into the underground economy of drugs and crime.
There will always be people who slide into the last two alternatives. The real problem comes when working hard and getting qualifications doesn’t lead to being able to earn a decent living.
In the high-rise districts around Paris and other cities the figure for unemployed youth can be as high as 60 per cent, and it’s not just school-leavers with few or no qualifications who can’t land jobs. Moreover, many of the jobs that are available to young people, even highly skilled ones, tend to be short-term and poorly paid.
My family saw education as the path out of the ghetto. My father always said, “You are the needle and your brothers and sisters are the thread. If you succeed, your siblings will follow through, so get every qualification you can.”
My parents gave me the motivation and the discipline to work hard, and taught me to believe in the system. It was only when I graduated with three degrees in economics, and was turned down for every job I applied for, that I started having doubts. When I applied for graduate work, I was turned down. I was told that while I was well qualified for the course, I would never get a job afterwards as …..
An eye-popping array of rutting satyrs, tumescent aristocrats and lusty 18th-century shepherdesses went on display in Paris on Tuesday, as France’s National Library lifted the veil on its collection of long-censored erotica.For the first time since it was catalogued in the 1830s, the library’s special pornographic section — officially entitled ‘Enfer‘ (Hell) — has been revealed in all its priapic glory. Such is the graphic nature of the material that under-16 year-olds are barred.
Some 350 books, engravings, photographs and curiosities — the oldest a 14th-century manuscript illustration of a nun picking the fruit of a phallus-tree — bear witness to man’s insatiable instinct for the lurid intimacies of the flesh
Closed to the public before
Overall more than 2000 works — including books by the Marquis de Sade, Jean Genet and Guillaume Apollinaire — were marked with the library inscription ‘Enfer’ until the department’s closure at the end of the 1960s. It meant they were off-limits to the reading public.
“Today the ‘Enfer’ section is still the focus of all sorts of false rumours and fantasies, even though it no longer exists. This exhibition is to set the record straight,” said curator Raymond-Josue Seckel.
The first golden age of French erotica was the 17th century — when titanically-endowed figures from the Greek pantheon were shown doing things to each other that certainly did not figure in the conventional myths and legends.
A hundred years later the novel was born and a secret book called ‘Therese Philosophe’ (Therese the Philosopher) lay discreetly on many a nobleman’s bookshelf. Harbinger of the enduring ‘Confessions’ genre, it told of a girl’s sexual awakening through the perusal of pornography.
Cruelty, crime and obscene delights
Contemporary police documents show the troubles encountered by another novel, ‘The History of Dom Bugger’, whose publisher was sent to the Bastille. As indeed was the Marquis de Sade, whose ‘Justine’ published in 1791 brought sex into new contact with…
Note: The exposition continues at the Bibliothèque nationale de France until March 2, 2008. Quai François-Mauriac 75706 Paris (13th), Tél : 33(0)1 53 79 59 59 – Under 16-year olds are not permitted; 7 euros entrance fee; Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10am to 7pm; Sundays 1pm- 7pm.
“For seventy years, a prayer book moldered in the closet of a family in France, passed down from one generation to the next. Its mildewed parchment pages were stiff and contorted, tarnished by burn marks and waxy smudges. Behind the text of the prayers, faint Greek letters marched in lines up the page, with an occasional diagram disappearing into the spine.
The owners wondered if the strange book might have some value, so they took it to Christie’s Auction House of London. And in 1998, Christie’s auctioned it off—for two million dollars.
For this was not just a prayer book. The faint Greek inscriptions and accompanying diagrams were, in fact, the only surviving copies of several works by the great Greek mathematician Archimedes…”
Having nothing to do with travel but everything to do with France (albeit a France from the 50s), I thought this merited at least one blog post.
While some would find it to be just trash, we thought this old newspaper was a little treasure from the past, a peek into French life 50 or so years ago – and well, who doesn’t think that some found objects rule? I absolutely adore finding old newspapers (unless there’s something vile on it like poo or vomit). It doesn’t have a date on it but I think it’s from the 50’s based on the content. I’ll be posting little bits and pieces of it in the next few days.
YAY! I was SO HAPPY that the comics page was intact (click on the photo to enlarge it). Here’s a comic strip that was actually adapted from a book by the short story writer, Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) called, Notre Coeur. I guess France back then (at least in the comic strip world) was pretty literary; I mean, there’s a lot of text and it’s hard to compare it to contemporary comic strips of today. I wonder if kids back then even liked this comic strip. It’s not as fun as Calvin and Hobbs, afterall. Anyway. The actual book, Notre Coeur was published in 1890 and was Maupassant’s last book published while he was still alive. It’s a love story. But of course!
To read the free ebook of Notre Coeur by Guy de Maupassant, download it here. (from La Bibliothèque électronique du Québec)
If you wanted to take a historically deeper look into the City of Light, here’s somewhat of an eco-tour of Roman Paris that might be of interest to you. “Eco” only in the sense that you take the visit from the comfort of your computer since it is an online tour. No driving, no flying anywhere = no carbon (dioxide) footprint traces, just you discovering life in Paris during Roman times. And no tired feet!
The site is filled with information on the history, architecture, antiquities and daily life of Lutetia (Roman Paris), traces of which are still visible.
For what it’s worth, here’s a list of gift book ideas. I started this list way too late but it could be helpful to some of you who are very last minute shoppers in need of gifts for francophiles. (For last year’s lists of Gift Ideas for Francophiles click here: Part I, Part II & Part III)
I’ve been in the U.S. for a while now and yesterday I had dinner with my mum and a few of her neighbors. One of these neighbors is a 83 year-old woman. She liked sprinkling the conversation a lot with, “When I was a little girl…” I didn’t mind that at all because what she recounted seemed so wild, interesting and seriously 70-something years back in the day. My mum actually has heard all of these “When I was a little girl…” stories (several times) so she was trying not to appear as bored as she actually was.
Anyway, this little old lady neighbor of my mum had mentioned that when she was a little girl growing up in northern California, she and her family ate margarine but it was white and they had to add yellow coloring to it. The margarine came with a packet they simply mixed in with the white butter substitute to make it a butter color. Eiuw, I thought – it reminded me of the evil Tartrazine. It also reminded me of when we’d go to a midnight movie at a certain movie theater in Germany, they’d give away (for free) bread slices spread with a white substance (resembling Crisco but when I asked Germans what this “spread” was, they said it was lard. Eiuw worse!) – anyway, I digress.
So. Margarine is white. Does that mean all margarine has coloring? Yes.
Back to granny. She then asked, “Do they have margarine in France?”
“Yes,” I said, “in fact, I think it was invented in France.” (remembering something I’d read somewhere.)
“Really??!” She was shocked that something was invented in France.
Some tidbits about Margarine (from Wikipedia):
In 1869 Emperor Louis Napoleon III of France offered a prize to anyone who could make a satisfactory (cheaper) substitute for butter, suitable for use by the armed forces and the lower classes. French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés invented a substance he called oleomargarine, the name of which became shortened to the trade name “Margarine”. Margarine now refers generically to any of a range of broadly similar edible oils. Some people have also shortened the name oleomargarine to oleo.
Manufacturers produced oleomargarine by taking clarified beef fat, extracting the liquid portion under pressure, and then allowing it to solidify. When combined with butyrin and water, it made a cheap and more-or-less palatable butter-substitute. Sold as Margarine or under any of a host of other trade names, butter-substitutes soon became a substantial market segment — but too late to help Mège-Mouriés: although he expanded his initial manufacturing operation from France to the United States in 1873, he had little commercial success. By the end of the decade both the old world and the new could buy artificial butters.
Some important health issues (from Wikipedia):
1. Harvard University researchers, in a 1994 study, reported that people who consumed hydrogenated oils, which are contained in many brands of margarine, had nearly twice the risk of heart attacks as those who consumed little or no hydrogenated oils. Several large studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health has indicated a strong link between earlier death and consumption of high amounts of trans-fat.
2. Many brands label their products legally now as “zero grams” trans-fat, which in fact means less than 500 mg trans-fat per serving.
3. Stick margarine contains the most trans fat; tub or liquid margarine has about two-thirds less.
4. Vegetable shortenings do not contain any cholesterol and have only 3g of saturated fat per tablespoon. However, they are high in transfatty acids.
Maybe I wasn’t paying attention in class the day they talked about this but the first time I’d ever heard about La grotte de Lascaux (The Lascaux Cave) and the prehistoric drawings there – was when we were visiting southwest France just about a month ago. At first, I wasn’t very excited about seeing them especially because the original cave is closed to the public and you can only visit a replica of it. I know: I was lame because I thought it would be so boring. I’m glad I we took the advice of the people around us and visited it afterall because it was surprisingly far from a snorer.
Christened “The Sistine Chapel of Prehistory,” these ancient frescoes are the most spectacular prehistoric cave paintings in the world. Dating back approximately 17,000 years ago, the original cave paintings at Lascaux, near the village of Montignac, are some of the earliest known art by man. Incidentally, Cro-Magnon man was the first to show signs of artistic ability according to scientists.
If it weren’t for two teenagers in 1940 who stumbled accidentally upon the cave whilst looking for their dog (that fell into a hole leading to the cave), we may never have known about Lascaux.
Sadly, they had to close Lascaux to the public in 1963 because the walls began developing a deteriorating fungus from all the visitors’ wows, oohs and ahhhs.
Soon thereafter, the French embarked on a huge project to build an exact, inch-by-inch replica of the Lascaux cave and the drawings. It took about 11 years.
The replica, called Lascaux 2, situated just 200 meters away from the original cave, opened to the public in 1983.
I first felt a bit resentful having to see a replica but it is nearly an identical copy of the first and it is truly amazing; the guided tour was excellent as well. You will be engaged by the bulls, elk and horses that seem to trot across a cave ceiling before your eyes. You’ll be tempted to decipher symbols and stories. Note: I don’t think this would be an interesting for claustrophobes, however.
The construction of the Lascaux II was a clear opportunity for scientists, to explore their hypotheses and knowledge about how the drawings and paintings were made.
They used the same kinds of materials they believed to have been used some 17,000+ years ago. Materials such as natural pigments like ochre, charcoal, and iron oxides. The images show animals, hunts, wars, symbols and other objects not easily decipherable.
If anything, the cave tour does inspire you to wonder about the lives of these ancient peoples. What they did; how they lived; what was their relationship to the animals around them. The scientist clearly say with certainty that animals were not domesticated until thousands of years later, but some of the images seem to point otherwise. How they can say that so confidently is beyond me because in the same breath, they will note that the Cro-Magnon man was only different to us in physical attributes (longer jaws that accommodated all their wisdom teeth! and also they were taller), and not in intelligence. In other words, Cro-Magnon man was as intelligent as man today. The 40-minute tour is very detailed and fascinating, and our tour guide was very pleased that the group was quite animated and many theories emerged into lively discussion.
Though there was a lot of debate about what could have been, clearly, these prehistoric murals and artwork, at minimum, testify to the existence of ancient and well-established civilization in the south of France, which is pretty neat.
Important Note: You cannot buy tickets onsite at Lascaux II; you must purchase them in the nearby town of Montignac, next to the Office de tourisme. Admission: 8.20 € (5.20 € for kids 6-12 years old); During the high season (May through August), reserve tickets one or two weeks in advance or arrive early. The office opens at 9am until they sell all of tickets for the day. Tours are available in French and English.
For more Information
Lascaux II: Semitour Périgord, 221 bis route d’Angouleme, BP 1024, 24001
Périgueux Cedex, Tel: +33-553-519503 or +33-553-056565
Website: Official Site for The Lascaux 2 Cave