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A grand day out

Posted on December 28th, 2013

Toulon rugby! One of the top three rugby union sides in France, Toulon fields a star-studded side, including Jonny Wilkinson, Andrew Sheridan and the Armitage brothers from England, Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau from Australia, Bakkies Botha, Brian Habana and Juan Smith from South Africa, Carl Hayman and Ali Williams from New Zealand, Frederic Michalak and Mathieu Bastareaud from France and Martin Castrogiovanni from Italy. The past two Saturdays I have journeyed to Toulon with friends to watch Toulon play at home. The stadium is conveniently located in the centre of town, so lunch is taken at a restaurant on the port, followed by a short stroll across the road to the game. Two weeks ago we saw Toulon beat the Exeter Chiefs in a…

How to use the internet

Posted on December 26th, 2013

French politicians have generally been slow to promote themselves via the internet. All that is changing. Here we see an upbeat, all-action video uploaded to YouTube by Jean Pichai, leader of the Union pour la Republique party, candidate for mayor of Pau in the 2014 municipal elections.  

Politeness pays

Posted on December 19th, 2013

  Proverbial tales of rude French waiters abound. Most of us can recall being treated in a casual, offhand, disinterested manner, as though we, the customers, are the real offenders. But which came first – the rude waiter or the rude customer? The owner of one small cafe in Nice, tired of brusque ill-mannered customers, has turned the tables. La Petite Syrah now displays various prices depending upon the level of courtesy displayed by the customer. “You can’t be truly rude until you understand good manners” – Rita Mae Brown

La Marseillaise

Posted on November 24th, 2013

Last night the Stade Français in Paris erupted as 80,000 people sang La Marseillaise before the rugby test against South Africa. The French have chosen their anthem well. It is rousing, memorable, inclusive and a profound source of national pride. Unlike most other national anthems it is also genuinely enjoyable. Pity the poor English, forced to yawn and fidget through the funereal tempo of a turgid hymn, for that is what it is.     Owing to a clerical error, there are two official versions. The original version used féroces soldats, (ferocious soldiers), to describe threatening forces. A variant distributed by French Embassies, however, has farouches soldats, which might refer to wild animals. Allons enfants de la Patrie, Come, children of the Fatherland, Le jour de gloire…

They shoot hunters don’t they?

Posted on November 23rd, 2013

Despite more than fifty encounters with hunters, I have never seen one with a kill. Most admit they have not even seen any game that day. Maybe this is why they shoot each other. But November has been a quiet month for hunting accidents, with only two dead so far, making thirty-three for the year to date. Many serious injuries or deaths are self-inflicted, occurring when hunters fail to apply the safety catch, then trip and fall. Not all deaths are by shooting, however. Some hunters fall down ravines or suffer heart attacks, others fall off palombières. A palombière is a tall scaffolding tower rising above the forest to shoot birds of passage using pigeons as decoys. Three weeks ago, in an accident reminiscent of…

Serious secularism

Posted on November 20th, 2013

                                  La France est une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale – Article One, French Constitution 1958   Most French are passionate about the concept of laïcité, which they understand to mean the separation of church and state, but few appreciate the underlying principles. Before the Revolution of 1789, Catholicism was the official religion of France; Protestants, Jews and Atheists could not be full citizens; being French meant being Catholic. The Church owned 6% of all land, collected a tithe of 10% on agricultural production, paid no taxes and reported to Rome. Even local priests, excluded from such wealth, joined the call for reform. Keenly aware of church…

Bordeaux blues

Posted on November 8th, 2013

Bordeaux wine is in trouble. Poor weather, poor marketing, arrogance and greed are all forcing producers to rethink their future. I have never been a great fan of the wines of Bordeaux, mainly because I resent being unable to afford them. And that is the core of the problem with Bordeaux – the price/quality equation has fallen apart. At the top end most bottles are bought for prestige or speculative investment, not for the love of wine. In recent years the status-driven Chinese market has added considerable impetus, causing proud Bordeaux producers to manoeuvre their prices higher than those of their neighbours. Once the wines are sold, however, they become victims of the investment market where prices are distinctly wobbly. Many have fallen by…

A thousand years

Posted on November 4th, 2013

The Church of Saint Anne, tucked away in the centre of Apt, was once the Cathedrale Saint-Anne d’Apt, the seat of the Bishop of Apt until the revolution. It holds relics of Saint Anne supposedly brought back from the Orient in the third century, probably from the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Anne/Hannah is venerated in Orthodox Christianity and Islam as the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus, although she is not mentioned in the bible or the koran. She is the patron saint of unmarried women and housewives, among others. A National Monument of France, the church is mostly 12th, 13th, and 19th century construction, but the jewel is the two-level crypt beneath the altar. The upper crypt dates from the 11th century and has a…

Une bonne anniversaire

Posted on November 2nd, 2013

Today marks three years living in the Luberon. Three happy and fascinating years. There is so much to like about Provence it is hard to know where to start. Here are some reasons why we love it here: The people Everyone we meet here in the Luberon is warm, welcoming, kind and courteous. It takes time to know them well, but these gently-spoken country people are always friendly and open. There is a strong sense of community, people support one another and there are groups to serve every interest, such as a choir, art classes or dog-training. We have been fortunate to make many wonderful new friends and to join a helpful and caring network. The health system Simply the best. France spends a…

Allez les bleus

Posted on November 2nd, 2013

Last night four friends went to Avignon to watch France play New Zealand in the pool rounds of the Rugby League World Cup. The venue was sold out weeks before the game and eighteen thousand people turned up. The commentator  worked hard to whip up enthusiasm as the French side took a beating 48-0, but the crowd remained good-humoured throughout. He managed to provoke a Mexican wave that completed seven full circuits of the ground, but the noisy early chants of Allez les bleus! faded as the scoreline rose. A great night out amid a haze of Gauloises………