There’s very little more interesting to me than reading authentic historical documents — there’s an immediacy and an “every-dayness” about them that can transport my imagination back in time to understand what life was like for people living through huge historical events. So, when I found a site online that sells old French newspapers… well, I had to get a few for myself! Thanks, then, to the people at CadeauRetro.com for a fresh look at one of the most interesting periods in the recent history of the deep heart of France: that incredible weekend in June 1940 when Clermont-Ferrand became the capital city of France.
We watched Season 2 of Victoria on Amazon last week. One of the episodes was especially interesting to me: in it, Queen Victoria’s husband (Prince Albert) gets tremendously excited from meeting Charles Babbage, inventor of a great mechanical “difference engine” designed to perform complex calculations.
I’ve written elsewhere about the persistent stereotypes that French people have in mind when they think about the Auvergne – that gorgeous, wild region that dominates the deep heart of France. Auvergnats are isolated, people say; they mash their words so you can’t understand them, the only eat cheese, they’re stingy… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxdsBM5-n7Q&feature=youtu.be So I was particularly amused to see this new video, “The Truth About Clermont”, online last week. In it, a young woman announces to her friends that she has decided to go to the Université Clermont Auvergene. They scoff – “mais, c’est super nul!”, they say as they mock her choice. Then they trot out all the specific stereotypes French people think of when they think of Clermont-Ferrand, […]
Karen and I just watched all five episodes of Lupin, the French series that is dominating the Netflix popularity charts around the world. We love a good “heist” story – and Lupin starts with a very good one – but it evolves into something even better: a story about a “gentleman thief”, a hero who operates outside the law but is driven by a bigger sense of justice and “doing the right thing”. (Think The Equalizer but with some elegance and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.) The series also makes for a good opportunity to practice your French, if you’re inclined that way; you can watch it dubbed in English, or reset the language to French and turn on English […]
Editor’s note: This week the French press has been covering the 80th anniversary of the terrible events that led to the sudden “fall” of France as Hitler’s armies swept past the Maginot Line and into the heart of the country. We’re reminded again of how rapidly the social order tumbled into chaos with the great “Exodus” of refugees moving from north to south; we’re hearing again DeGaulle’s moving speeches on the BBC calling on French people to fight back against the Nazis. …and all of that set me wondering about the days, 80 years ago this week, when the war finally came to Clermont-Ferrand in the deep heart of France. How can we even imagine how it felt to stand […]
I don’t know why I have waited so long to write about the Chateau de Tournoël since the 800-year-old castle figures in several of our most enduring memories of France. It was a ramshackle pile of rubble when we first moved to the Auvergne in 1997. But the castle ruins dominated the horizon from several vantage points as we drove back and forth from our house in Sayat, north of the Auvergnat capital of Clermont-Ferrand, and we wanted to know more. Tournoël was one of the first places we visited en famille — and it truly was a ruin in those days, uninhabited, unrestored, and a little dangerous. I have vivid memories (and some old videotape) of us climbing up […]
There’s a huge party in Clermont-Ferrand this weekend. Yesterday the players of the ASM Clermont Auvergne rugby team came home from England to celebrate their victory over La Rochelle (by a dominating score of 36 – 16) to claim this year’s Challenge Cup. The annual tournament brings together 18 of the best clubs from three major leagues — England’s Premiership Rugby, France’s Top 14, and the international Pro 14 — plus 2 more teams from the Contintental Shield tournament representing the second tier of European Clubs. It was an exciting match for Clermont Auvergne fans. Greig Laidlaw (from Scotland) accounted for half of all the ASM’s points, and the Guardian newspaper described the action as ” a Barbarians-style […]
I was surprised at first, in the aftermath of the terrible fire which ravaged Notre-Dame de Paris this month, by the sudden big flow of readers who’ve searched out my article on why there are roosters on top of so many French churches… Then I saw this picture from the recovery of Notre Dame’s own rooster, which had been sitting atop the spire that tumbled down so dramatically in the course of the fire. And the discovery was even more important than I’d imagined; according to the Catholic News Agency, “the rooster also functioned as a lightning rod for the cathedral and contained one of the thorns from the crown of thorns, as well as relics of the French saints […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]