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Caught short in church

Posted on February 24th, 2014

Every Christmas for more than fifteen years, Vincent Gils has installed a crèche de noël in the upper church at Bonnieux. Each year the crèche grows larger. It now boasts more than 150 figures representing Provençal life in the nineteenth century, even including one man rushing for the latrine.  

Unelected, unaccountable, unmerciful

Posted on February 20th, 2014

French bureaucracy is renowned for obstinacy and a lack of humanity. Stick to the rules whatever. Born in Senegal in 1945, Sikhou Camara is 68 years old and was granted French citizenship in Rouen in 1966. The law provides that spouses of French citizens may be granted citizenship after at least four years marriage, so in 1996 Camara applied. The reply was troubling. An examining judge had discovered that Camara was granted citizenship when he was 20 years of age, below the minimum 21 specified in law. Rather than rectify a bureaucratic error from thirty years before, Camara was notified that his wife was not entitled to citizenship, nor were his youngest children, born outside France. Probably familiar with the futility of challenging French…

The wild woman of wine

Posted on February 15th, 2014

Among the great pleasures of living in Provence are the wines of the southern Rhone. No other French wines deliver such a harmonious match of price and quality. The pleasure is enhanced by the opportunity to visit the vineyards, talk with winemakers and sample their offerings.  The principal red wine grape here is grenache noir, described by wine writer Oz Clarke as “The wild, wild woman of wine, the sex on wheels and devil take the hindmost, the don’t say I didn’t warn you”. Grenache is a hot climate variety delivering power, fruit and, above all, alcohol. Table wines at 16% alcohol are not uncommon. Red blends can also include syrah, mourvedre, carignan and cinsault. White wines are often good too, made from Marsanne,…

A nice old gentleman

Posted on February 11th, 2014

Regrettably the right-wing in France is much the same as the political right elsewhere – dirty tricks, corruption, criminality and a complete disregard for democracy or human rights. It’s an ugly world of greed, power and money politics. Hot on the heels of the Affaire Bettancourt, where France’s richest woman was handing over bags of illegal cash to support President Sarkozy’s presidential campaign in 2007, we have the Affaire Dassault. French billionaire Serge Dassault, France’s fourth richest man and head of the eponymous armaments company was mayor of the Parisian suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes, normally a communist bastion, for fourteen years from 1995. He is accused of vote-buying in the poorer suburbs of his electorate. Apart from propping up his own position, Dassault allegedly spent…

The old oak tree

Posted on February 11th, 2014

An oak tree has stood on the other side of the hill, near the lavoir of Font Porquiere, for probably more than three hundred years. The old tree will have witnessed the famine of 1709 when guards were placed on these roads to prevent scarce wheat being sold to Aix-en-Provence and Marseille; the plague of 1720 which killed over two thousand people in this valley; the drought of 1734; the harsh winter of 1767 when over 12,000 trees died in nearby Saignon; the floods of August 1780; and many other natural calamities. It will have seen the Marquis de Sade being transported to prison for raping servant girls at his castle in Lacoste. Today the great oak is no more. Home to a large wasps…

Operation Dragoon

Posted on February 9th, 2014

Overshadowed by the Normandy beach landings of Operation Overlord, another successful Allied invasion of occupied France took place on 15th August 1944 between Cannes and St Tropez. The coast was defended by 85-100,000 Axis soldiers, supported by a further 200,000 troops in the region. The objectives of Operation Dragoon were to establish a beachhead, capture Toulon and Marseille, then head north up the Rhone Valley to Lyon. A total of 94,000 American, French and British troops with 11,000 vehicles were landed in one day and reached Marseille in two weeks. Within a month of landing, troops of Dragoon linked up with the Overlord force near Dijon, effectively liberating south-eastern and southern France. Today holiday-makers pass a memorial and an American landing craft on their way to…