A while ago, La Montagne, the main newspaper chain covering central France, had a great idea: interview a group of French tourists arriving in the Auvergne for the first time just as they are getting off the bus, then catch up with them again a few days later to see if their opinions have changed. The question: “What preconceptions do you have about the Auvergne and its inhabitants?” Jean, a 70-year-old from Paris, said he thinks of Auvergnats as “coal merchants and brasserie owners”. Denise, also from Paris, said “When you say Auvergne to me, I immediately think of volcanoes and the stinginess of the people.” The final word came from Bernard, another Parisian: “For me, the Auvergne means ‘prehistoric’”. […]
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!
Color is not the only signal that autumn has arrived in central France. The smell of wood smoke becomes pervasive in the areas just outside town, early-morning frosts form on the windows. At work, the first chilly day means a cold day in the office as the radiators clank and wheeze their way back into action after the long summer. People in the street shiver in winter clothes (even though the temperature is still in the 50s or 60s [12 – 18 C]) , woolly scarves wound around their necks up to the bridge of their noses, heavy layers of sweaters and pea-coats covering the rest. It’s harvest time, too, and as people have been doing in this corner of […]
Autumn is not just a physically beautiful phenomenon in the deep heart of France – although the rich colors of the leaves and tendrils of wood smoke rising from chimneys do give it the quality of a fine Renoir painting. It’s also part of the annual rhythm of life here – work hard all year, leave for vacations in August, then come back charged up and ready to attack again after the rentrée in early September. That’s reflected in the number of events and programmed activities you’ll find at this time of the year in central France. Here’s a round-up of 6 of the most interesting things to do this fall in the Auvergne region. People in this part of […]
Since I started this blog, I’ve tried several ways to explain 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, you’ve also had a taste of some of central France’s best cultural offerings – from the incredible International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand to the great MuPop Museum of Popular Music in Montlucon and the classical music festival held every August in La Chaise-Dieu.
In August – while everyone (including me!) is away on vacation –I’m posting a shorter article each week with a look at a specific destination or aspect of life in the deep heart of France. This week: how Romanesque architecture (which dominates the medieval buildings of central France) manifests itself in a modern location far away, at the Kaiser Jubilee Church in Vienna. Regular “feature-length” posts will resume after vacation. I’ve written often about my love for the Romanesque architecture in central France. It’s visible in the big “showcase” basilicas in Clermont-Ferrand, Brioude, and Issoire, but you can see it, too, in many smaller towns – St. Menoux, St. Saturnin, Charroux, Lavaudieu, among others. They all have in common the […]
Religion – a tricky subject anywhere in the world – can be especially difficult to bring up in France. There’s a broad perception (based on dozens of polls – the French seem to like contemplating this question) that France is now a mostly secular society, and that the massive influence of the Catholic church from the Middle Ages to the Revolution is mostly a historical relic. There are thousands of ancient churches and crumbling old abbeys, but it seems rare to see a new one. That’s why, when Karen mentioned the visit she made with her women’s group to a 20th-cenury abbey at Randol, we decided we had to go back there together to learn more about what was going […]
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 […]
One of the things I missed most when we first moved to France was watching college football every weekend in the autumn. (This was in the days before Slingboxes and other solutions to seeing American television.) It didn’t take long, though, before I found a most satisfying substitute: rugby. More specifically, French “Top 14” league rugby, and our local team, the ASM Clermont Auvergne club. And all this came rushing back to me last Sunday, as the team from Clermont-Ferrand was crowned once again as the national champion of France! For an American football fan, it takes some work to understand the different rules and rhythms of rugby… but it’s worth the effort. These are guys that make American pro […]
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 […]
The ocean is 450 miles away (by river) from Brioude. The mighty Loire River, known to every tourist who ever took a daytrip out from Paris to see the fabled chateaux of the Loire valley, begins as a trickle in the Allier River up in the mountains just 60 miles away. Odd, then, to find a monument to the salmon, one of the world’s most popular ocean-going fish, in this town in the Haut-Allier, part of the larger region of the Auvergne in the deep heart of France.But the Atlantic salmon has a long and distinguished history in this part of the country, and that’s why it’s worth a visit to the Maison de Saumon (“the house of salmon”) in […]
I roll into Souvigny on a hot summer afternoon and it seems the whole town must be taking a siesta. The funk of rich vegetation moldering in the sunlight reminds me of an August afternoon on a farm in Virginia. A couple, murmuring in German as they walk toward one of the old houses, seem to be the only other tourists in town.