Place de Jaude Bartholdi Clermont Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne Vercingetorix Sculpture

The Secret Life of Clermont’s Place de Jaude

La Montagne – the daily newspaper chain that serves most of the villages and cities in the deep heart of France – recently put together a list of “things you don’t know about the Place de Jaude” in Clermont-Ferrand. Some of the historical tidbits cited by Simon Anthony in his article were already familiar to me:  the fact that the statue of Napoleon’s General Desaix is not much appreciated by locals, and the fact that the city’s Opera was deliberately built in white-colored stone mostly to combat Clermont’s reputation as “la ville noire” because of all the black lava stone used in so many public buildings.  I had heard before, too, how a great ‘urban renewal’ project had been undertaken […]

Lafayette Hamilton Chavaniac Auvergne Haute-Loire France History Revolution

A July 4th Memory from the Deep Heart of France

Karen and I got to see Hamilton in London last month – and it was as dazzling as we expected!  (It’s also a bargain compared to the usurious after-market prices for tickets in places like New York and Chicago – we had seats in the 16th row for about $75 each, and we even encountered people who found it cheaper to buy an economy airfare to see the London show than to get comparable tickets in the U.S.  God bless Ticketmaster UK for their “no scalping” system – I only wish they could teach their American counterparts how to do it!) Of course, one of the many reasons to love the performance was to see James Pennycooke playing the role […]

Eyzies Dordogne Perigord France Cro-Magnon Prehistoric cave Font de Gaume Combarelles

At Les Eyzies – 400,000 years of human history in the Deep Heart of France

I’m bent over to half my height, but it’s not enough to protect my head from a hard thump from a stone hanging in the dark reaches of the cave at the Font de Gaume.  The light flickering on the wall is from the guide’s flashlight; we try to imagine how much darker it would have been 15,000 years ago, when one of our ancestors crawled deep into this hillside with nothing more than a smoldering torch to cut through the perfect blackness.  As the smoke collected in the narrow spaces around him, he somehow must have wormed his way onto this shelf and, lying on his back, started to daub pigments in the image of a bison on the […]

La Madeleine Dordogne Cave Medieval France Perigord

At La Madeleine: 50,000 Years of Cave Dwellers in the Deep Heart of France

The culture of the cave dweller When you hear the words “cave dweller”, your mind likely goes immediately to images of the sloping foreheads and protruding teeth of the Cro-Magnons of textbooks and Geico commercials.  In fact, though, people have been living in caves in the deep heart of France for tens of thousands of years. Karen and I have had the thrill of being among the very few visitors allowed in each day to see the prehistoric paintings on the wall of the caves at Font de Gaume and Combarelles.  We’ve seen examples like the defensive fort built in a cave above La Roque Gageac, and the remarkable network of troglodytic chapels that make up the ancient church behind […]

Cathedral Basilica Church Eglise France Auvergne Limousin Dordogne

Is it a Church? A Cathedral? A Basilica? or something else altogether?

A question of naming choices Almost every town you visit in your travel around western Europe will have some kind of prominent religious building in the center of the city.  But it can be difficult sometimes to figure out what you’re looking at, at least according to the taxonomy of the Catholic church.  Is it a cathedral? Or a basilica?  Just a regular “church”? Or something more exotic like an abbatiale, a collegiale, or a chapelle?   Cathedral at Moulins Here’s a quick guide with some examples drawn from the area I love most, the “deep heart” of central France.  (And yes, I do know that there are many other houses of worship, including mosques, temples, and Protestant halls, even […]

Gustav Eiffel Auvergne Viaduc Central France - Cantal - Deep Heart of France

Before that Famous Tower, Gustav Eiffel Built These Amazing Structures in the Deep Heart of France

Gustav Eiffel is Back in the News (Sort Of) I just ran across an article from Canada’s Globe and Mail about efforts to fund and build a major new work by Jeff Koons, the American “post-modernist” sculptor.  It’s intended, as I understand it, to be a memorial to the victims of the Bataclan assault in 2015…and it’s certainly become controversial.  The motivation is pure enough — it’s seen as a tribute between friends just as France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty was in 1886 , an act of recognition and remembrance from Americans to their French allies. The mayor of Paris says the sculpture will “bear witness to the irrevocable attachment between our capital and the United States.” Still, […]

Rooster Church Cross Auvergne France

UPDATE: Is That a Rooster On Your Church?

I’ve been surprised and a little amused that my most “popular” (most read) post in the history of this blog…is the one I wrote on how common it is to find a rooster positioned on the cross above so many churches in France.  At first I thought a teacher somewhere must have assigned a term paper on the subject to a big class as “rooster on church” became the object of the most common Google searches leading to this site.  But months have gone by, and week in and week out this little post continues to get read more often than everything else, so I guess it must have fulfilled a need.  In any case, here’s an updated version with […]

Carmes Cemetery WWI German Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne

A German Soldiers’ Cemetery in the Deep Heart of France

A traveler's faux pas One of my “most embarrassing travel moments ever” came during a family trip to Germany.  In a beer garden in Stuttgart, a woman sitting alone at the next table overheard our struggles to order dinner in German and asked (in English) if she could help.  As the conversation developed, she moved to our table and asked where we were from.  We said we were living in Clermont-Ferrand in the middle of France, and she brightened.  “Oh, my father was there during the war!” “Wow, that’s great!” I said, trying to make awkward small talk…realizing seconds too late that if her German father had been posted to Clermont-Ferrand it probably was not a reason to celebrate our […]

Bougnats Auvergne Migration France Paris

How the deep heart of France came to Paris

A country built by migrants As the debate over immigration rages across the front pages of newspapers and in the nightly TV talk shows across France, it’s easy to forget that modern France – our concept of Paris and the country it represents – is itself less than 250 years old.  It’s easy to forget, too, that what we think of as “France” today was built in large part by massive waves of internal migration.  And one of the largest of all these “immigrant” populations…came to Paris from the Auvergne, in the Deep Heart of France!   Early scrap workers in Paris Of course, people had found their way from the Auvergne to Paris in small numbers for centuries, and some […]

Auvergne Clermont-Ferrand Postcards

Check out these 100-year-old Postcards from the Deep Heart of France

Searching for treasures amidst the junk French people have plenty of ways to get rid of their old junk.  Almost every little village organizes an annual vide grenier (“empty the attic”) sale, every town of any size has at least one brocante (second-hand) store, and flea markets (marchés aux puces) pop up somewhere every week of the year.  And I, for one, am a happy consumer of what they have to sell.  One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon is combing through one of these sales, looking for an unusual wine carafe or an old print that could be salvaged from a broken frame.  But one of my favorite “finds” is a box of old postcards.  For me, […]

Gevaudan Haute-Loire Beast Horror Auvergne

The Beast of Gévaudan – A Tale of Horror From The Deep Heart of France

Note: some of the descriptions of true incidents in this post include images of graphic violence.  Reader discretion is ­­­advised. December 20, 1764 Darkness is gathering early.  This is the shortest day — the longest night — of the year, and the air is heavy with little pinpricks of ice.  Clouds hanging behind the mountain are rimmed in violet.  The only sound comes from the light slapping of the little girl’s feet on the thin, rocky surface as she slips out of the garden gate.  Then, instantly, a black shape flashes past at the very edge of her peripheral vision.  She hears no sound, but scans the scrub just ahead.  There is something moving in the grass, something silent and […]

Mont Mouchet Auvergne Resistance Maquis

At Mont Mouchet, the Largest Gathering of the French Resistance

A battlefield on top of a mountain Old battlefields are sometimes hard to decipher.  As the years pass, even deep shell craters lose their sharp definition, bullet marks on stone walls are worn down, and the whole landscape takes on a settled, green calm that belies the violence that once marked the place.  A great effort of imagination is required to reconstruct troop movements and the profound drama of long-ago conflicts. That’s especially the case today as I finally arrive at the top of the hill at Mont Mouchet.  In early June 1944, at the same time all hell was unleashed on the beaches of Normandy far to then north, another battle was unfolding in this unlikely corner of the […]