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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 the Abbey at Brantome.
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? 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 here in France. But they are rarely the […]
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, some people don’t like the fact that France will […]
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 […]
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 commonalities! This incident came […]
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 […]