Friday, October 3, 2008

The grand tour: Tour de France

Well, no. We are not going to do a tour de France (which by the way does not only go through France). We will just be picking out some headlights again. I will do my utter best not to make it such a monster post as yesterday. France is a bigger country, so I should have more to say, but of course, this is not my homecountry, so the emotional urge to just say everything is less. And of course Elizabeth has already done an entire week on France, teaching you so much, what is there left for me to say?
Still... France is a beautiful country, and one of the more known countries of Europe. Too bad it has such a bad reputation in the US. Maybe you have heard the joke: "How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris?" Answer: "Who knows? They have never tried." Jokes like that always make me want to leap to the defense of France by reminding people that France, especially Louis XVI delivered funds and troops to the American revolution, or that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people. Of course I know it is more complex than that. But the instinctive dislike between the US and France is something that often bothers me because I love both. My husband claims the dislike is normal since both the US and France are very patriotic and therefor are always trying to best eachother. Too much alike. I am hoping that like Elizabeth, I can give you a little taste of France to make your mouth water and imagine your visit.

First, let us start with the map again. Where is France? France is easy to find since it is one of the bigger countries in Europe. If you see the pink English isle, you go down and find France in green. If you have very good eyes, you may even see the stip that is showing you Paris. Now how did modern day France come into being? From Gaul tribes, Roman conquest, German tribes (the Franks, hence the name France) and finally a strong monarchy, it took a few centuries for France to took shape as a country instead of a bunch of small kingdoms. Still, it was formed much earlier than for example Belgium. Some people look at 498,(with the conversion of Clovis) as the 'forming date' of France, but most Historians chose the treaty of Verdun in 843 when Charlemaignes Empire was divided in East Francia, Middle Francia and Western Francia, with Western Francia being about the size of modern day France.
I would love to give you a complete history of France here, but if I even started doing that, I would need to write a book, not a post. A rather short birds eye overview of French history that will give you an introduction without making you spend two hours reading can be found in wikipedia:
The overview however does not go into the compicated relationship between the French and the English, from the eleventh and twelfth century on. The very short and long of it is that from then on, both English and French claimed, with various degrees of validity to have a right to eachothers throne or pieces of land.
Like a good guide, let me alert you to a freebie during this visit: You can download a free e-book with the short history of France here: (If you haven't heard from it, read up on project Gutennberg, it is one of the wonders of the internet!). Bear in mind that 'short' is a relative term and that the book goes well over 200 pages. I have not reviewed this book, so I can not attest to the quality, but usually the books in project Gutenberg at least do not have any weird theories in them.
At the moment, France is battling quite a few problems politically. They've had a lot of immigrants in the last hundred years, and have not dealt well with integrating them into society. Therefor racial tensions are high. The contrast between traditional living and modern ideas also has a high impact, as well as a history of labour policies that now are catching up with them. Add to that that French are hottempered, and you have a situation that can get quite tense. France is a semi presidential republic. Both the president and the prime minister are considered leaders of the government. Both are democratically elected.
So far for Frances history and politics, barely scratching the surface. Now let us move on to one of my favourite topics: French art. Whatever your ideas of the French, few will deny the greatness of their artists. From the anonymous or known Cathedral builders, to their world famous painters, or the writers that even today are being read. I wish we had the time to also go in to the topic of science, but alas we can simply not do everything. Let it just be said that France has produced some of the most innovative scientific minds throughout the century. Think of Pierre and Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur, Louis Braille...
But... we were going to French art instead. I wish I could take you on a tour through France in reality, so you could see the mighty cathedrals. There are few countries where you see so many of the different building styles still fully present. In the next series of pictures, I will give you a short overview of some of the most famous buildings in their style: Roman, Gothic, baroque, neoclassicims and art nouveau.
(well, aparently, a technical glitch in my blog does not allow me to download these pictures at this time. I will try again later in the series, for now, a google image search on any of these terms should give you magnificent results. Come looking back later, for the photos)
Aside from the architecture, there are of course the painters. Van Gogh, Monet, Coret, Gauguin, Van Loo, Renoir.... how can I show you all? How can I express the way the artists explored techniques and tried to capture a transcendent beauty on canvas. You probably have a favorite picture of each of these artists in front of your eyes before I speak. I would have loved to show you two of my favourites, but again, the evil blog does not let me.
Since we can not seem to add more visuals today, let's speak of writers. From Moliere to Hugo to Corneille, from the chanson de roland (of which the medieval author can never be ascerted with certainty), from Madame de Lafayette to Rousseau or the poetry writers Villon, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and other less known authors, each of them had a unique talent, and a way to use their words as a paintbrush, clothing their subject or unclothing it with a skill and drama that few others have ever managed. Each one is worth a read. How about this one by Paul Verlaine?

Autumn Song
Long sobbing winds, The violins of autumn drone. Wounding my heart, With languorous smart, in monotone.
Choking and pale, When on the gale the hour sounds deep, I call to mind Dead years behind and I weep.
And I, going, Borne by blowing winds and grief, Flutter, here--there, As on the air the dying leaf.

How about that for one of those melancholy autumn days that come and go, when the most wonderful thing to do can be to stare out of the window at the floating leaves with a cup of tea in your hands? Or one of the most beautiful books for children ever written in French in my opinion: Le petit prince (the little prince). You will never regret having read this story: Http:// if you do not know it already, and my favourite quote from it: "Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye."
We've looked at French history, French art, and there are two things I still wish to touch upon in our little tour that was derailed slightly by the frustrating malfunction of this blog regarding pictures all of a sudden: the French way of life and French cuisine.
The French way of life is something many Americans are deeply interested in and again there is a duality here between admiration and distrust. Elizabeth again has done a wonderful job in explaining many of the cultural differences in her posts on France:
As you can imagine after my previous little chapter on art, beauty plays an enormous part in the daily French life, perhaps even more so than practicality. One of the reasons could be that France has been established as a country so early. While of course daily life still was hard working and difficult it did not need to be established like it did in a newer country like the US. Therefor changes came slower, and with slower changes came more time to perfect things, wether it was the inside of a house, the embroidery on a piece of linnen or the way a table was set or a meal taken. The pace of life in France is slower, and while they are certainly more hotheaded than the Belgians, in general they are people who prefer their daily life to go uninterrupted by conflicts and display a remarkable joy de vivre.
Even in France, you can see great cultural differences between the provinces of for example the provence, normandie and Bretagne. The climate difference makes for a different way of living. Bretagne being harsher and less... ornamented so to speak than the provence which bades in warm sunshine and normandie in between. Think of the way of life in Maryland and South Carolina, and you have a good idea of how different these lives can be. Paris, being a big metropolis, is a story in itsself. Even in France parisians have the reputation to be rude. You could say that Paris has the same reputation in France as New York had in the US before 9/11. I remember being warned by American friends when I went to NY about the rudeness and deceit I would encounter. (Incidentily, I had a wonderful few days and met great courteousness there, so things may have changed).
Despite those differences, you can say that the French have made joie de vivre (enjoying life) into an art form. If you have to be dressed, why not have something with a stylish drape? If you have to have a tablecloth, why not have something that pleases you whenever you look at it. The French chose to have less (and often MUCH less) but to select a better quality. Why should one buy or have something if it does not please the senses? That is why they dirve their little bycicles with a fresh baked baguette (they are baked fresh several times a day in good bakeries) and a bouquet of flowers. A French breakfast exists only of a few croissants, maybe a roll, and some jam and some coffee or chocolat. A far cry from the big English or American breakfasts, but the quality of each of the ingredients is tantamount, and there should be fresh flowers on the table with a nice cloth and some pleasing day to day china.
French women are smart in knowing that they can not do or have it all. There is no shame in going to a bakery to buy a small but intricate desert, so that you can spend your time on a wonderful and satisfying meal to come before. Entertaining does not mean 'going all out', but surounding yourself with friends that please you and pleasing those friends, in your words and presence as well as your food. No French hostess would ever spend her entire time in the kitchen. That would mean she would be failing in her job of pleasing and being plased.
And there we are at our last topic of the day: French Food. French food is again very diverse, it depends on the region and the cook how things turn out. I will here give the links to a few classics for you to try or to be inspired by. Some will be old familiars already, because the reputation for the French cuisine is worldwide known;
- French onion soup: French Toast: Madeleines (these little cakes are absolutely delicious.)- coq au vin: (the sauce with this can inspire you to make a typically French hunting sauce that is also great with roast beef and other red meats)- Crepes: - Croissants; (this recipe takes some work, but the results are sooo delicious)- Consomme: (typically French, healthy, and oh so delicious, make this a staple in your kitchen)- Garlic soup (great for autumn and winter)- Cabbage soup: (French peasant soup that is very flavourful and healthy)- Roast lamb: (I took this recipe, but really, come spring, every village has it's favourite way to do this)- Frenche Apple pie (tarte tatin): (really yummy)- French Casserole: (lots of beans in this recipe. Instead of Kielabassa, use any smoked sausage)- Grand Marnier Souffle; (delicate and delicious)- Lavender pancakes (this recipe is not a French classic, but the use of lavender IS, so I wanted to leave you with something special)- chicken breasts, French style: (boursin or other herb goat cheese is a staple in France. Try this one, truely worth it.- Stuffed vegetables: (a typical provencal dish. Great as a side dish with steak)- Boeuf Bourguignon: (a classic)- French Fish soup (Bouillabaisse) gratined potatoes (dauphinois)

There... are you hungry now? For more French recipes just google French Food or French recipes at You will see that site appear more often here. With this unfortunately, we come to the end of our little tour. Despite my best intentions, it has again become rather long. Tomorrow, we will visit the Netherlands.

What would I like you to remember for today?
- Most historians consider 843 as starting point for France when Charlemaignes empire was divided.- The French helped the Americans in the revolution against the Brittish. - Three famous French painters are Monet, Degas and Renoir- Three famous French writers are Victor Hugo, Moliere and the poet Verlaine.- the French make joie de vivre (enjoyment of life) into a true art- French cuisine is rich and delicious.

Again, I will post several assignments, and you pick out your favourite>
Research assignment:
Do an internet search on any of the following:Verdun, Charlemagne, Clovis, Charles V, Victor Hugo, Moliere, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Degas, Renoir, Van Loo, Provence, Normandie, eighty year war, hundred year war, French Resistance, Notre Dame de Paris, La Madeleine, Charles de Gaule...

Practical assignment:- Make one of the dishes that you find in the recipe section for your family- Think a few moments and try to set the table as atractive as possible, using lots of colour- Invite someone over and give hospitality French style, center the evening around eating small but delicious food that you made in advance and talkt he night away

Easy assignment:- Mention three facts you have learned about France to someone you know in the next week.

Don't forget to tell me your results!! I know it's a bit of a bother to be setting up to comment here, but I would love to hear if you have tried any of the assignments.
Be loved and blessed, and till tomorrow in the Netherlands,


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