The debate after Notre Dame – Should “traditional” buildings be updated?

The debate started almost the same day the Notre Dame fire in Paris was brought under control:  Should this great cathedral be rebuilt “as it has always been”?  Or should the fallen spire and fire-ravaged roof be “updated” to integrate more modern elements? Ideas for the restoration have already started to proliferate — here’s an example of one firm’s vision, and you can see several more by following this link.  Predictably, traditionalists push back hard on the idea of putting a greenhouse under a glass roof or creating a new crystal spire for Notre Dame de Paris.  But predictably, too, they ignore some key points in the history of the ancient building:           It has not, […]

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UPDATE: That day when Julius Caesar lost a battle in the deep heart of France

I just came across a short piece from National Geographic summarizing the life and accomplishments of Julius Caesar.  Before he made himself “dictator for life,” the magazine notes, he had to prove his worth as a powerful military commander — and he started that quest in the deep heart of France, trying to subdue the tribes of Gauls who controlled that part of Europe.  Here’s how National Geographic summarized his campaign in France (and the phrase that caught my attention):     Caesar’s seven-year Gaul campaign ended triumphantly in 51 B.C. The Gaul leader Vercingetorix was paraded in chains through Rome before being ritually strangled. In all, Caesar’s campaign killed or enslaved more than a million Gauls […]

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Visit the medieval Chateau de Cordès in the Deep Heart of France

Our guide at the Chateau de Cordès clearly loves his job.  He’s also the “chief gardener” for the grounds around the castle (although he admits there’s only one other person on the staff), so for our tour he has scrubbed the dirt off his hands, tucked in his shirt, and opened the doors for the five of us at the height of tourist season in the Auvergne. It’s not really surprising to him (or to me) that the Chateau de Cordès is so lightly trafficked even at this peak time of the year.  We are far removed from all the major tourist centers of France – distant even from most of the lesser known sites in the deep heart of […]

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In Greece – a surprising outpost from the deep heart of France

The Auvergne – that ancient volcanic region near the center of France – doesn’t seem at first glance like a place that would feature prominently on the stage of great world events.  Even many French people don’t know what goes on there; they hold a number of odd stereotypes about the people who live there, many of which imagine Auvergnats as a species of rural rubes.  And they’re always surprised when they actually visit the place to find how interesting, how beautiful, and how utterly civilized it is.

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At Notre Dame du Port: What happened in this medieval church echoes in the headlines of today…

On this frigid, dark winter day, I’m thinking back to another time… It was summer, 86 degrees and humid in Clermont-Ferrand, headed to 90 later in the week… Most offices and houses here don’t have air conditioning, so any respite from this oppressive heat was welcome. For me, one of the best places to be on days like this is inside the ancient basilica of Notre Dame du Port.  I leave my room, already hot as a car in a Texas parking lot by lunchtime, and labor up the sharp little street from Place des Carmes to spend an hour in the cool dark interior of this medieval wonder. Rebuilt in its current form beginning in 1185 C.E. — but […]

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The Beast of Gévaudan – A Halloween 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. To some it is […] an adaptable animal capable of living peaceably alongside humans. To others it is a demonic killing machine that ruins farmers – and whose presence is a symbol of the city’s contempt for rural life. “The Unesasy Return of Europe’s Wolves”, The Guardian, 26 January 2018

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Think your life is hard? Check out the medieval farms at Xaintrie in the deep heart of France!

I’ve always loved the “living history” sites we’ve found in different places around the world.  In the U.S., Colonial Williamsburg is perhaps the most famous, but my personal favorite is the Plimoth Plantation [sic], operating since 1947 near Plymouth, Massachusetts. It’s populated by people who have taken on the names and identities of the 17th-century colonists who came to this place on the Mayflower, and they’re happy to talk to you and answer questions, intelligently and at great length, about how they grow food, the hardships of their lives, their aspirations in coming to America, and their relationships with the Native American Wampanoags. (Just don’t ask them about anything that happened in the world after about 1622 CE.  The actors […]

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UPDATE: Blaise Pascal was a towering genius from the Deep Heart of France

      Even after more than 40 trips to Paris over the last three decades, Karen and I always find something new and wonderful to see there.  On our most recent visit, the winner in this category is the restoration work going on at the abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés on the Left Bank.  It’s only half finished at this point, but the work already done has painted the church in rich colors and gold leaf showing how gloriously beautiful it was centuries ago. But we also found two other “new” sites (new to us, that is), both with a connection to one of my personal heroes from the deep heart of France – Blaise Pascal. The incredible thing about […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]