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Spring flowers

Posted on April 23rd, 2015

April is a wonderful time to be in Provence. Birdsong fills the fields and forests, eagles circle the sky and yesterday we listened to a nightingale at 11:00 am. A few days ago I disturbed two sanglier (wild boar) in the forest, who rushed off noisily through the undergrowth. The countryside is changing rapidly from brown to green as plants, trees and vines recover from winter. Almond and cherry trees have finished blooming to be replaced by wild apple and quince. Wild flowers are everywhere, carpeting the ground in all shades of pink, red, white, bue and yellow. A small sample of the spring flowers seen in the past few days can be found HERE

Impasse

Posted on April 11th, 2015

For the past three months a standoff has existed between the French Government and the Vatican. This impasse is due to the refusal of the Vatican to accept the French nominee for ambassador to the Holy See. President Hollande and his cabinet proposed Laurent Stefanini for the role at the beginning of January. Normally such nominations are accepted within four to six weeks, but this time there has been a stony silence from the Vatican, widely interpreted as rejection. Stefanini is a senior career diplomat and Chief of Protocol for President Hollande, who is said to strongly support his appointment. So why the problem? The Vatican has refused to comment, but Laurent Stefanini is openly gay, while others speculate the Vatican is signalling disapproval of France’s…

Madness in middle France

Posted on April 1st, 2015

Not much happens in Pont-Saint-Esprit these days, but on 15th August 1951 something remarkable occurred. Pont-Saint-Esprit is a small town of 10,000 people, close to where the Ardèche river flows into the Rhône about 40km upstream from Avignon. It’s a sleepy place, dominated by huge churches paid for by taxes from a strategically placed bridge over the Rhône, built in the 13th century.  On that day in 1951 more than 300 people began hallucinating, 250 suffered serious and lasting impairment, 50 were interned in asylums and 7 died. Symptoms included convulsions, hallucinations and suicide attempts, together with vasoconstriction, vomiting, headaches, muscle pain and stomach cramps. Townspeople panicked, variously blaming the baker, water fountains, foreign powers, germ warfare, the devil, the railway company, the Pope, Stalin, the church…