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!
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, these images are a window into […]
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 deep heart of France. We’re in the […]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxRGJZydZwc There’s a lot of “hidden” or “lost” history in the deep heart of France. (Did you know, for example, that Clermont-Ferrand – in fact, much of the Auvergne – was ruled for 100 years by a Visigoth king who established his court at Toulouse? ) Today’s destination, the archeological site at Corent, gives us a glimpse into the far reaches of the Iron Age, when the Gauls dominated this part of France – although you’ll need to use a lot of imagination to put the picture together.
It’s that time of year for Americans – the big surge of patriotic celebrations, grilling in the backyard, and summer vacations! As always, it’s a good time for those of us with an affinity for France and the French to remind ourselves that we likely would not have won our independence without the massive support of France in those earliest days of our Republic.Again this year on July 4th, many of us are feeling a little tense and unsettled by the state of our political life – and it would be easy to think that the cloth of civility and civic virtues written into our founding documents is unraveling. Seen from inside the 24-hour news cycle, it’s easy to believe […]
It’s the first anniversary of this blog, and that has set me thinking (again) about why the deep heart of France means so much to me – an American from the Great Plains who found himself in late career living in the center of a foreign country. Given all the urgent issues the world throws at us, why spend time and energy on a subject so far outside my “natural” frame of reference? As it happens, right now I’m reading The Pigeon Tunnel, John Le Carré’s extraordinary autobiography. He’s thought about this puzzle, too, first as a British spy and then as a novelist. Why focus on any “esoteric” subject? For Le Carré’, the question was about German culture and […]
Long-time readers know this is not a “commercial” blog, and this post is not meant to be an advertisement. Still, I confess: I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Groupe Michelin – my corporate home for the 19 best years of my career in I.T. Yes, it’s a well-managed company (better than anywhere else I ever worked), and yes, they make the best high-performance tires in the world, but there’s more to it. Michelin has one of the longest, most remarkable stories in business history. And you can see some of that history through the particular lens of one of the most interesting museums in central France: L’Aventure Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand.
People in France (and many other countries, too) are often described these days as being in a high state of anxiety about their physical security in the face of terrorism, crime, and escalating conflict. But try imagining a time when threats were so immediate that everything about your little town was built to ward off the danger. Today’s destination – La Sauvetat, a fortified village in the deep heart of France – transports you back to such a time in the long, violent history of the country. The villagers of La Sauvetat apparently came into their fears early, even before the town had a name. This is in one of the agricultural breadbaskets of France, only 12 miles (20 km) […]
Sometimes, as we all know, words and static images just aren’t adequate to capture a feeling or an impression you get in a faraway place – we need to see movement and the passing of time to get a better feel for what it might be like to visit a place we’ve never experienced for ourselves. Since I started this blog, I’ve put a lot of effort into explaining what the “deep heart of France” means to me. You’ve heard why I love Clermont-Ferrand and the Auvergne, and you’ve seen some of the towns officially recognized as being among “the most beautiful villages of France” – places like Blesle, Charroux, Arlempdes, and Salers.If you’ve stuck with this blog for long, […]
The incredible thing about Blaise Pascal is… well, for me, almost everything. He was one of those extraordinary intellects who come along too rarely in history, but like Mozart, like Shelley and Keats, he died before he turned 40, leaving us to wonder what else he might have done if he’d lived longer. I first encountered him when, as a young professor of computer science, I was asked to teach a class on “Pascal”. In the 1980s it was a new, structured language for computer programming, a predecessor to some of the languages still used to write code.