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Interlopers

Posted on December 23rd, 2012

Like many people the world over, the Provençaux are often suspicious of newcomers, particularly if they bring wealth or promote change. This is a tale of two arrivals, one from New York, the other from Paris, who fell foul of Provençal orthodoxy. Zabar’s is a landmark kosher store on Broadway, dating back to 1934. Eli Zabar diversified into three successful New York restaurants and enjoyed his summer holidays in Provence. A decade ago he bought the Café du Progrès in Ménerbes, on the recommendation of his friend the mayor. Unfortunately the property came with a poison pill. There were two tenants, one for the restaurant, the other for the café and they detested each other, a feud well known in the village but news to…

Foggy, foggy day

Posted on December 22nd, 2012

Lacoste is one of the highest villages here, at 300 metres above sea-level. From Bonnieux and Lacoste we can look down on the clouds in the valley below.

Christmas lights

Posted on December 20th, 2012

From early December each year, all the villages and towns of France celebrate Christmas with displays, markets and decorations. Christmas markets can date back to the 16th century, as in Strasbourg, which has eleven different Marchés de Noël.  Friendly competition thrives across Provence to see who has the best Christmas street lights.

La transhumance

Posted on December 20th, 2012

In bygone days, the transhumance was one of the great sights of Provence. From the sixteenth century, as the first snows began each October, huge flocks of sheep were brought down from alpine meadows to spend winter in the warmer lowlands, returning to higher pastures in June. On these slow journeys the flocks, led by shepherds with their dogs, were able to adjust to changes in climate and altitude. Provençal transhumance routes, known as carraires, were generally between 12 and 100 metres wide with flocks being moved between the Camargue and nearby Crau along the Durance valley to the high pastures of the Trieves Plateau, towards Grenoble. Peasants living near the carraires were prohibited from encroaching to grow crops, but welcomed the source of…

Winter is here

Posted on December 8th, 2012

Yesterday saw the first snowfall of the season. Winter has truly arrived. Today the snow on the forest trails reveals tracks of renard, fouine, chevreuil, sanglier and bécasse. The roads are dangerously slippery, but fortunately we changed to winter tyres a few weeks ago. Arboristes (foresters) have returned to harvest pine trees with teams of horses. Tractors cause too much damage.  

A week is a long time in politics

Posted on November 28th, 2012

French politics are seldom boring. This week has been no different. We have been diverted by a destructive quarrel for leadership of the UMP, (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire), the centre-right party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy. When Sarkozy lost the presidential election to Francois Hollande of the PS (Parti Socialiste), the UMP moved to choose a new party leader, someone they hope will be the next president of France. The two front-runners were Francois Fillon, a former prime minister under Sarkozy and Jean-Francois Copé, who declared victory with 50.3% of the count. Fillon has fought back, claiming votes from some overseas territories were omitted and that Fillon was the true winner. So we have stalemate and an unseemly squabble in which neither candidate will yield.…

Lazy, smelly, fat, vulgar friends

Posted on November 15th, 2012

The cultural gulf between France and the United States is often discussed here. Mark Twain once remarked “In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language”. TF1, one of the leading commercial television channels in France, has recently published its thoughts on how the French and Americans see each other:   What Americans think of the French The French are lazy communists, always on strike: Americans see the French as a nation on welfare, always on vacation or on strike. All French people smoke: Around 30% of the adult population of France smoke, compared with 20% in the United States. French women are hairy, especially under the arms: The…

Funghi

Posted on November 15th, 2012

It is the season for mushrooms. Many types of funghi have appeared throughout the pine and oak forests all around the house. Some are dangerous, so it is wise to visit a pharmacist, all of whom are trained to identify mushrooms. Despite this free verification service, there were 388 reported cases of mushroom poisoning in France in 2011. Last month two people died in hospital in Lyon while awaiting liver transplants. It is thought the 75 year-old woman and 38 year-old man ate death cap mushrooms picked in the wild. The deadly plant resembles several edible varieties. Truffles will begin to appear in the markets later this month, with early season prices exceeding 1,000 euros per kilogram. Last night we celebrated with truffle omelette,…

Thou shalt not

Posted on November 13th, 2012

France has yet to witness revelations of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy to the extent seen in many other countries. Which is curious, considering 70% of French citizens identify as Catholic. But in this fiercely secular culture, less than 10% now attend church, falling below 5% in Paris. The decline of catholicism began with the French Revolution and was reignited more recently by the clerical fascism evident in Vichy France. Today the Catholic church in France is an anachronism and an irrelevance. Its leadership is considered out of touch and there is widespread rejection of Catholic moral teachings. Churches are better attended by tourists than by the faithful. As elsewhere, the Catholic leadership pretends to represent a powerful political constituency, but its support base…

The hills are alive…….

Posted on October 9th, 2012

The hills are alive, with the sound of …. gunshots. The hunting season has begun again. Each morning intrepid hunters, armed only with double-barreled shotguns, enter into mortal combat with dangerous deer, hares and small birds. Crossbows are also permitted, which somehow seem more frightening than guns. Our brave guardians of the countryside spend more on weapons, cartridges, dogs and camouflage gear than the average family spends on groceries in a year, so while most prey does appear on the dinner table, that is not the true motivation. Hunters do it for pleasure; all 1.4 million of them registered in France. Last year there were 143 shooting accidents including sixteen people killed. The good news is that 31% of these were self-inflicted and that hunters were…