Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Red Rock village of Roussillon.

Built from ochre rich rock dug from the surrounding area Roussillon seems to glow from the top of a hill in the Luberon area of Provence. The brightly coloured local earth and rock has been put to many uses over the centuries. The Romans used it in pottery glazes and the bright yellows, reds and oranges were used as dyes in the textile industry for hundreds of years until the 1930s.

Centuries of erosion and quarrying have left strange but impressive rock and cliff formations in and around the village. A walking trail - Le Sentier des Ocres - leads through this red landscape. 
You can visit a former ochre mine/factory which has been turned into a museum and shows how the ochre was made into pigment. The Conservatoire des Ocres et Pigments Appliques is on the D104 outside the village in the direction of Apt. L'Usine d'ocre Mathieu.

Also known as the Colorado Provencal, some of the scenery in the area is reminiscent of Australia's red centre.

Playwright Samuel Beckett, who wrote in English and French, lived in Roussillon between 1942 and 1945, where he helped the Resistance by hiding arms in his garden. He mentions the village in Waiting for Godot when Vladimir tells Estragon that everything there was all red. While the two tramps wait for Godot, who of course never turns up, the unlikely subject of the vendange (wine harvest or grape picking) and red Roussillon in Provence crops up. Theatre of the absurd indeed.

Officially one of the most beautiful villages in France, as given the stamp of approval by Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, an association set up in 1982, which aims to:
"avoid certain pitfalls such as villages turning into soulless museums or, on the contrary, "theme parks". Our well-reasoned and passionate ambition is to reconcile villages with the future and to restore life around the fountain or in the square shaded by hundred-year-old lime and plane trees."
The association has approved over 150 villages, which have to meet certain criteria, in 21 regions and 69 departments.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Truffaut's Les 400 Coups - one of the best films of all time


Les Quatres Cents Coups was an important New Wave film, released in 1959 by Francois Truffaut. Literally translated the title means the four hundred blows, but in French the term means raising hell. The film centres around 12 year old Antoine Doinell, who lives in Paris with his mother and father. Totally misunderstood by his indifferent parents, teachers and most other people, Antoine's life lurches from one disaster to the next. Set against a magnificent 1950s Parisian backdrop, the film pulls on the heart strings without being sentimental.
The New Wave movement was a group of film makers, which as well as Truffaut also included Jean-Luc Goddard, who broke away from the classical way of film making and created a new less formal style.
Watch the trailer then watch the film!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas Markets in France

Christmas Market in Strasbourg.

It's not too late to go to a Christmas market in France. Food, drink, lots of beautiful and original gifts to chose from, music and of course lights!  Below is a list of a selection of Christmas markets with dates. 

Amiens 25 Nov to 24 Dec.
Avignon 1 Dec to 30 Dec.
Arras 2 Nov to 24 Dec.
Bethune 27 Nov to 31 Dec.
Caen 26 Nov to 24 Dec.
Lille - 19 Nov to 24 Dec.
Mulhouse 24 Nov to 29 Dec.
Strasbourg 26 Nov to 31 Dec.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Eiffel Tower

What one thing do people most associate with France and in particular Paris? No not frogs legs or garlic - the Eiffel Tower. The 1,063 foot iron tower stands majestically in the Champs de Mer in the 4th arrondissement and can be seen from virtually all over the city. At night you are reminded of its presence by a sweeping light beam which rotates from the tower around into the far reaches of the city.

The tower was built in 1889 as the entrance to the World's Fair, (Exposition Universelle) which was held on the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and consisted of many shows and attractions.

For the first 41 years of its life la Tour Eiffel was the tallest building in the world, but then it was beaten by the Chrysler building in New York which was finished in 1930. Of course both have now been superseded.

The building is the most visited paid monument in the world. Visitors can either walk or go in the lift to the first and second floors and can go by lift to the top floor. Needless to say the views are spectacular.

Metro stops: Line 6 to Bir-Hakeim, Lines 6 or 9 to Trocadero,
RER Line C (yellow) to Champs de Mer/Tour Eiffel.
Link to Paris Metro Map

Thursday, 24 November 2011

I think therefore I am

Penser - to think.

je             pense
tu             penses
il/elles      pense
nous         pensons
vous         pensez
ils/elles    pensent

The verb penser is a regular "er" verb. I think, you think, etc, etc.

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.

Frenchman August Rodin sculpted The Thinker in 1902 out of bronze and marble. The statue has become a symbol for philosophy and depicts a man in deep thought, battling with an internal struggle. The statue was originally intended to be Dante in the front of the gates of hell, as described in his epic poem The Divine Comedy. The Thinker is now in the Musee Rodin in Paris, more information at Musee Rodin.

It was French philosopher and writer Rene Descartes who said I think therefore I am, or as he originally put it "je pense donc je suis" (present tense first person of penser and etre,) in the early 1600s. Descartes is a very important figure in the field of philosophy and was also an influential mathematician. He is credited with the introduction of analytic geometry, which then led on to the discovery of calculus. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The verb être

être - to be

je           suis
tu           es
il/elle      est
nous       sommes
vous       êtes
ils/elles    sont

The present tense of the verb être - to be. I am, you are, etc, etc. It really helps if you know the most commonly used verbs, helps when you are trying to speak French that is. 

Almond branches in bloom by Vincent Van Gogh.

The BBC has a brilliant site for help with learning French at BBC/languages/french

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

People First Not Finance

PEOPLE are out on the streets in Nice this week, making peaceful protests against banks for causing financial and economic crisis.

The protests come a few days before a meeting of finance ministers and banking big-wigs of the G20 nations in nearby Cannes. One protester made the point that the so called leaders of nations don't really care about the people, but only about the financial world.

People have come from Germany, Italy and Spain to voice their disgust at corporate greed.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Going to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre

Mona Lisa - possibly the most famous painting in the world
The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world and if you spent a minute looking at every painting it would take you four months to get round! So it's best to do a little bit at a time. There is usually a queue outside to get in, especially at peak holiday times. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is normally surrounded by a mob of tourists with cameras. It's possible to elbow your way to the front so you can actually see the painting, which is covered by glass and actually quite small.

Da Vinci started painting the Mona Lisa in Florence, Italy in approximately 1503 and finished it shortly before he died in 1519 after he had moved to France. The painting has had an interesting life and has spent  time in the chateaus of Fontainebleau and Versailles. It was also on the wall of Napolean I's bedroom in the palace at the Tuileries in Paris, before it finally came to rest at the Louvre.

The look on Mona Lisa's face has fascinated people for centuries.

At the time of writing it cost 10 euros to enter the Louvre, with under 18s free.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Paris Metro

The metro is a very good way to travel around Paris. It is simple to use. Once you know the station you need to get to you need to find out which line number it is on. But it is extremely important that you work out which direction you need to travel in. You need to look on the map to find the last destination that the train you want is going to. So if for example you are at the Gare du Nord and you want to get to the Gare de l'Est you will see that both stations are on line 4, which is deep purple, so you look from the Gare du Nord on the map run your eyes past the Gare de l'Est and see that the end of the line is Porte d'Orleans, so that's the direction you want!
In the metro stations there are lots of signs pointing to the different directions, so you follow the sign which says Porte d'Orleans, (remembering it's line 4) all very simple. Once you know that you can work out how to get all over the place, changing trains wherever you need to.

Helpfully outside metro stations it usually tells you which lines that particular station is on. Here at Place d'Italie you can see it's on lines 5,6 and 7.
Click here for a brilliant Paris Metro Map

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bastille Day! The Storming of the Bastille - July 14th

"Prise de la Bastille" (the taking of the Bastille.) 1789, by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel.
The Bastille was a fortress built in the 14th century as part of the defenses of Paris, but it was later turned into a very uncomfortable prison. It held political and religious prisoners and writers. It was also well known for locking up people who had had a lettre de cachet served against them. These lettres de cachets were bought by the wealthy and those in power and were used to imprison people who they wanted out of the way. There was no appeal against them.

Hardly surprisingly the bastille was stormed by the people and burnt to the ground on July 14, 1789, at the beginning of the French Revolution. Nothing of it remains. Where it once stood is now Place de la Bastille with a column to mark the spot.
There are many cafes, bars and concert halls in the area.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

French Food: Moules Marinieres and Moules et Frites

The French take food very seriously. In other words you can usually find really fantastic food in most cafes, restaurants and brasserries.

A very popular and common dish served all over the place is Moules Marinieres. This is the shellfish mussels, cooked in white wine, or sometimes cider, with onions, garlic, cream and a variety of herbs such as parsley, thyme and bay leaves.

Moules marinieres usually arrives at the table in a large steaming pot. You will also be given a dish to put the shells in and a saucer of lemon water to rinse your fingers afterwards. Yes you have to get in and take the mussels out of their shells, but it's very easy, you can use your fingers, a fork, another mussel shell, or just bite it out even.

Moules et Frites or  Moules Frites can be found on menus all over France. It's moules marinieres served with chips, or french fries, depending on what you call them.


Thursday, 30 June 2011

Frenchman Tsonga knocks Federer out of Wimbledon

Tennis history was made yesterday when Frenchman Tsonga beat six times Wimbledon champion on Centre Court.
In a pre match interview Tsonga had said what happens when you chase a chicken? It runs away. What happens when you chase a lion? It roars and chases you and he said he was a lion. Oh no no we all thought this is Federer the unbeatable at Wimbleon, but Jo-Wilfried showed he is a lion!
A spectacular match, made all the more exciting as Federer was two sets up before Tsonga fought his way back to victory.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was born in Le Mans in 1985, to a French mother and a Congolese father. Le Mans is one of the towns you drive through or past if you are making your way from the channel ports at Calais/Bolougne to the Vendee on the west coast of France. Tsonga now lives in Switzerland. 

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the French Open

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Camping in France

A mobile home holiday in France is an affordable way to take the whole family away for a few weeks of sun and fun. Even during the school holidays it won't break the bank and if you cross the channel by ferry or tunnel you'll have your own car with you, giving you the freedom to literally go where you want.

Many camp sites in France provide a combination of space for tents, caravans and tourers also mobile homes which come equipped with everything you need. A mobile home is usually more spacious and comfortable than a caravan.

If you haven't taken the car or the kids to France before you might prefer to book with a tour operator, such as Canvas Holidays. They arrange everything for you, such as the channel crossing, the mobile home or camp site booking, provide a route planner and kids club. Their camp sites can get busy in the summer holidays, but there will also be other British families and kids for your children to make friends with.

If you plan to tour around France and visit several sites there are guides such as  Alan Rogers The Best Campsites in France  and the Michelin Camping Guide France which list details about sites. It's always best to book during the school summer holidays. You can also book a mobile home directly with many camp sites.

Many camp sites in France are in fantastic locations, near beaches, rivers, lakes or in beautiful countryside. Larger sites have swimming pools with slides and lots of entertainment and activities. There are endless sports and other activities also available at many sites, such as canoeing, sailing, football and tennis. Table tennis seems to be everywhere, along with washing machines, cafes, restaurants and bars. So there is something for everyone.

If you take your own tent, electricity is widely available and clean wash blocks with hot showers are the norm.

Staying in a mobile home is a bit like staying in a miniature house. They have all the same things inside and are very comfortable.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Tennis - The French Open at Roland Garros in Paris

The top names in tennis have arrived in Paris for the French Open this week. The tournament, held at Roland Garros, is a major grand slam event and the most important clay tournament in the tennis calendar.

Although the clay surface can lead to long rallies the tennis at Roland Garros is highly entertaining. In fact long back of the court to and fro's can be just as thrilling as serve and volley, even if you have gone off to make a cup of tea and come back to find it's still the same point. 

Roland Garros, Paris.

Five times winner in the last six years, will Rafael Nadal keep his crown? Novak Djokovic looks like a threat, but he has looked like a threat in Grand Slams before and not seen it through. Roger Federer is also in the mix, but Rafa is very at home on clay and at the French Open - much the same as Federer on grass at Wimbledon, although of course Nadal has knocked him off his throne twice - so we shall see. But then again Federer did win the French two years ago. 

Roland Garros is on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement. As with other Grand Slam events you can arrive as early as you can in the day and queue up to buy a ground pass. This will allow you into the grounds, and outside courts though not the show courts. However there is usually the chance to buy tickets later in the day for play after people have gone home and handed their tickets back in.

There is a vast range of places to stay in Paris, from reasonably priced hotels to inexpensive apartments to of course top end luxury. 

Of course if you have got as far as the French Open the whole of Paris is there before you to see whatever you want.

The following metro stations are convenient for getting to the French Open: Porte d'Auteuil, Michel-Ange Auteuil, Michel-Ange Molitor and Porte de Saint-cloud.

You can find all the latest news about the tournament here Roland Garros. Click here Paris Metro Map for a map of the metro.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Who is at the Cannes Film Festival this year?

                                                      Cannes.                               Photo by Gilbertus

The Hollywood stars have descended on Cannes again this week for the annual film festival. And with them they have brought the usual gossip, scandal, glitz and glamour.

Films this year include The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt, who at a press conference seemed rather worried what his children would think of his portrayal of a very strict father. He hopes they will see him as a good actor. Yes Mr Pitt they will know you were acting and will think you were good. Sean Penn stars alongside Pitt.

La Conquete, (The Conquest) a biopic of French president Nicholas Sarkozy, has gone down fairly well with the critics. Meanwhile his wife, model turned actress Carla Bruni Sarkozy plays a museum guide in Woody Allen's latest film Midnight in Paris, which has not received good reviews.

Then Danish film director Lars Von Trier caused trouble when he said he was a Nazi at a press conference, getting himself banned from the festival. Von Trier has apparantly behaved badly before at Cannes and also got lots of attention then too. His film Melancholia is allowed to still be in the contest.

The contest will be judged by a panel, chaired by none other than the great American actor Robert de Niro.

Other big names in Cannes this week are Jack Black and Angelina Jolie, who do the voices in Kung Fu Panda 2, and Mel Gibson, who stars with a puppet and Jodie Foster in The Beaver.

Others in town are Sean Penn, who plays an aging rock star in This Must Be The Place, and Keifer Sutherland, who appears in Melancholia.

Leonardo di Caprio, John Hurt, Uma Thurman, Ronnie Wood and Naomi Campbell are also in Cannes. Along with Antonio Banderas, who is promoting his film The Skin I Live In, about a plastic surgeon.

Cannes seems to be mainly known for the festival, yachts, cruise ships and wealth. But it is a pleasant town with an upmarket sea front promenade called La Croisette, a thin strip of beach and lots of expensive restaurants and cafes. The famous Carlton Hotel looks out to sea from La Croisette and you'll be sure to spot at least one or two Porsches.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Isle sur la Sorgue - antiques heaven and a mini Venice.

Set on an island between branches of the River Sorgue, Isle sur la Sorgue is interwoven with canals and has a refreshing air about it. It is also the place to go if you want antiques as the town has the largest concentration of antique shops in France outside Paris.

Water wheels around the town were once used in the silk industry and in the wool, rug, and dying industries. Paper making was also big business.

The river made an ideal mote around the town and helped protect the town ramparts as far back as the 12th century.

An impressive cathedral can be found in the centre of the town next to a square with cafes and restaurants. There are many water side eateries too.

Charismatic tv chef Keith Floyd lived near Isle sur la Sorgue until he died in 2009. Floyd was known for his individual style of presenting, which included taking gulps of wine in between cookery moves and strange cuts while food was cooking to show a pottery wheel spinning round. He shot many cookery programmes in Provence. Here he is cooking chicken casserole on a boat in France..

Monday, 9 May 2011

La Fontaine de Vaucluse, the largest spring in France.

The Fontaine de Vaucluse is the name of a pretty little village where you will also find the source of the River Sorgue. From the village it is a short pleasant walk along the side of the river to the natural spring, which is hidden deep underground. Surrounded by cliffs standing hundreds of metres tall, a pool of water fills the cavern at the bottom. Depending on the time of year the pool is either a clear blue green colour or a stagnant grey. Water levels get low in summer, but in winter a real torrent can flow downstream.

The deep bottom of the hole was not found until 1985 when an unmanned submersible touched ground at more than 300 metres down. As well as being the most powerful spring in France it is also the fifth most powerful in the world, turning out millions of cubic metres of water a year.

This energy was once put to use to make paper and the old paper mill is now a museum where you can see how it was made. There is a shop selling paper made in the old fashioned way.

A shepherd facing the mistral - a popular santon design.

Also next to the river is a museum of the French Resistance. The village and riverside is so small you can't really miss any of the museums. There is also a museum of santons, which are provencal figurines, very popular especially at Christmas.

There is also a museum for Petrarch, the Italian Renaissance poet, on the site where he wrote his famous Canzoniere, which is a collection of poems to Laura, whom he loved or idolised.

Above the village is a ruined castle, which was built by monks to protect pilgrims.

Sitting at the head of a valley at the foot of the Vaucluse mountains, the village gives the whole French department its name. Vaucluse comes from the Latin Villa Clausa, meaning valley closed. 

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Luberon: village of stone huts where shepherds lived.

Le Village des Bories - just outside Gordes on the D2.

This reconstructed village of dry stone huts is fascinating to visit. It is thought that bories were used as dwellings in Provence as long ago as the Bronze Age.

The one you can visit outside Gordes dates back to the 1600s. Buildings differ slightly and labels say what each was used for. As you wander round you get a sense of what it must have been like to live in such harsh conditions and in such close proximity to your animals.

The dome shaped bories were often used on a seasonal basis and driving around the Luberon you can still spot one or two in fields.

A borie is similar to a bothy. Bothies were built out of slate in England's Lake District in Cumbria by workers on slate mines. They were also built with great skill, using no mortar or cement. Both bories and bothies were used until well in the 1900s. A display in the Village des Bories shows similar dwellings in other parts of the world. More information can be found at the Gordes website Gordes village .

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Helping to offset carbon emissions by planting trees...

The average blog emits eight pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year, so although the internet saves paper it isn't as clean as all that, with all the electricity it uses.
The average tree takes eleven pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere per year. Hence a conservation group is planting a tree for every site which displays their logo - which says this website is carbon neutral - and reminds people about the extent to which we are polluting the environment all the time.
The group is replanting the Plumas National Forest in California, which was badly destroyed by forest fires.
This sounds like a good idea. But we still need to walk when it's not essential to drive, turn all the lights out, turn off the computers, etc etc! Don't leave the tap dripping!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

La Ciotat: The first moving picture show.

The arrival of a train at La Ciotat station - L'arrivee d'un train en gare a La Ciotat. 

Auguste and Louis Lumiere showed one of the first moving picture films to an astonished audience in La Ciotat in 1895. The short film showed the Toulon-Marseille train pulling into La Ciotat station. 

You can watch it here, it's only 56 seconds long. A very impressive film, considering when it was made, notice none of the real people in the film seem to take any notice of the fact they were being filmed!

A poster for a Lumiere brothers film.
The amazed spectators, never having seen anything like it before, reportedly jumped out of their seats as the train headed into them. The Eden theatre still stands on the seafront promenade. An exhibition of the story with displays, pictures and a film archive can be seen at L'Espace Lumiere. The station also celebrates its place in cinema history with film posters.

La Ciotat is also famous as the place where petanque came to be. Petanque is just a slight variation from the game of boules, from which it originated in 1907. Petanque is the southern French version of boules and involves less walking between moves to avoid exhaustion in the hot Mediterannean sun.

La Ciotat.
A port has existed in La Ciotat since the time of the ancient Greeks and shipbuilding has always been an important industry. Although the building of ships and boats is a much smaller affair today than it once was, huge cranes used in the industry still tower over the town. 

In the charming old port fisherman sell the day's catch and cafe tables spill out onto the pavements. The Musee Ciotaden, overlooking the port, tells the town's maritime history.

The eagle's beak - Bec de l'aigle.

To the west of La Ciotat magnificent cliffs and hidden coves lead to the very pretty and well kept fishing village of Cassis.On top of the cliffs sits the Parc du Mugel, which is classified as a "remarkable garden of France" by the  French Government. Gardens have to meet certain criteria to be given this prestigious label.

The park has a tropical area, with palms, banana tress and other tropical plants and a nature preserve with Provencal species such as the native oak tree. A massive rock which looks like an eagle's beak and so is called "Le bec d'aigle" points out into the sea from the park.

To the east of La Ciotat are thin stretches of beaches leading to Les Leques, where you will find lots of cheap eateries, a pleasant seafront promenade and little shops selling all your seaside needs. 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Perched Villages of the Luberon: Gordes.

The Luberon  is classic Provence, row after row of impeccably tended vines, medieval villages clinging to hillsides, lavender fields aplenty and stunning scenery.

In the heart of the Luberon is a large valley which is surrounded by mountains, to the south the Petit Luberon and Grand Luberon ranges, as well as the Luberon Oriental, and to the north the high Vaucluse Plateau.

There are many walking trails, although the height of summer is not the best time to attempt them, as the heat may well get the better of you.


Gordes clings to the edge of the Vaucluse Plateau and surveys all she sees. Once a magnet for artists,  Gordes was a resistance stronghold in the war and deserves it's title as one of the most beautiful villages in France. It's little winding lanes lead to the most spectacular views.

Sites to see in Gordes include an impressive castle, which dates back to the 11th century, a museum and the church. 

More information can be found on the Gordes website Gordes village .

Monday, 25 April 2011

Lest We Forget - a dark episode in the history of Provence.

Camp des Milles.

Les Milles, which is situated between Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, was once a tile and brick factory. But during the second world war it was used as an internment and transit camp by the Vichy Government. Thousands of men, women and children were rounded up, kept at the camp and then deported to Auschwitz via Drancy outside Paris.
The station and railway track can still be seen. Railway wagons also remain.

Many artists and intellectuals passed through the camp, although some managed to escape. The camp is unusual in that the prisoners were given paints and decorated the walls with murals, which remain to this day.
One prisoner who was held in Les Milles for a few weeks and then released was German Surrealist artist Max Ernst.

Les Milles is the only former transit camp in France which is still in good condition and a project was set up to preserve it as it is for educational purposes. The project, called Mémoire du Camp des Milles (Remembering the Camp des Milles) works to "save, maintain and open to the public" the buildings of the  camp. The project came about as the site is "a remnant of a particularly painful and enlightening period of history. Therefore, it represents a significant part of the French national memory and of the European culture."

More information can be found at Camp des Milles.  Photos of some of the murals are at     campdesmilles/photos.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A role model from the unlikely world of politics and finance?

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde comes over as the most sophisticated, elegant and stylish politician in the world today. Impressively fluent in English she deals effortlessly with complex matters of high finance in both languages and when grilled by the likes of Jeremy Paxman (at the BBC) she actually answers the questions! Amazing!

Ms Lagarde was born in Paris in 1956 and went to secondary school in Le Havre. She studied Law at the Sorbonne and went to the prestigious  Institute of Political Studies (L'Institut d'Etudes Politiques) in Aix-en-Provence , where she obtained a masters degree. Known as the Sciences Po, the institute is situated opposite the Cathedral St Sauveur, in the heart of Aix's atmospheric old town.

Before entering politics Ms Lagarde spent 20 years living in Chicago as a high flying lawyer. Known for speaking her mind, she is said to be more popular abroad than at home.

The grand entrance to the Sciences Po in Aix.

As a teenager Ms Lagarde swam for France in the French synchronised swimming team. Nowadays when she is not brokering political deals around the world she likes to tend her rose garden and make jam at her country home in Normandy, where she lives with  her partner. She has two grown up sons from a former marriage.

She is almost the embodiment of what we expect from a French woman in terms of appearance - elegant and chic. It just goes to show you can wear a Hermès scarf and carry a Birken bag and still play a crucial role in modernising a major western economy.

The first woman ever to be Minister for Economy, Finance and Industry of a G8 country, Ms Lagarde is consistently ranked as one of the most powerful women in the world today by magazines such as Forbes.
What a bright spark to have on the international stage.

Statue of St Peter in the cloisers of the cathedral in Aix.

One of the best things about the old winding streets in Aix is that many are traffic free, or there is very little traffic. Cafe tables wait for the weary walker and the sun is never far away.

Les Quatres Dauphins, one of Aix's famous fountains.

Place d'Albertas, another well known and tranquil spot in Aix.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Emile Zola born 2 April 1840.

Emile Zola, looking
 very French.
Born in Paris, Emile Zola moved to Aix-en-Provence with his family when he was three years old. There he went to school and became best friends with the artist Paul Cezanne. Zola wrote many classic novels, such as Therese Raquin, the story of a married woman's passionate affair.

He also wrote a series of twenty novels, les Rougon-Macquart, centred around two families, getting his inspiration for a large series from Balzac's la Comedie Humaine.  Zola was fascinated with how a person's fate in life was determined by the influences of their environment and their genetic make up. He explored these ideas through the two families, the Rougon, - drive for power, money and success - and the Macquart, - alcoholism, prostitution and general bad luck.  Entertaining and enjoyable books, especially Nana, Germinal and L'Assommoir, a dramatic story of poverty and alcoholism in working class districts of 19th century Paris.

 At the drinking place or watering hole.

L'Assommoir was a slang term for a shop selling cheap liquor which was distilled on the premises. There is no direct English translation, but the word comes from the verb assommer, meaning to stun, bludgeon or knock senseless, so the nearest meaning in English would be to get hammered! There are tales in the book of absinthe and the drinking of almost pure alcohol.

Emile and Paul frequented  Les Deux Garcons a bar on the elegant tree lined boulevard le Cours Mirabeau, the main artery and place to be seen in Aix-en-Provence. A meeting place for artists, writers and thinkers in the past, les Deux Garcons now attracts the rich and famous, and tourists.

Zola's bold letter to the French president
was published in a newspaper.
Sadly Zola died in rather suspicious circumstances at the age of 62. A blocked chimney caused him to die of carbon monoxide poisoning and rumours abounded that his enemies had finally got to him. Enemies he had made when he wrote a daring open letter to the French Government - entitled J'Accuse! - accusing them of anti-semitism when a Jewish French army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongly convicted of treason and sent to Devil's Island in the 1890s. The officer was finally freed, but the Dreyfus Affair, as it was known, haunted Zola for the rest of his life, and death.

He looks hammered at l'Assommoir.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Let the train take the strain in France

The TGV (Train Grand Vitesse meaning very fast train) will whisk you to the sunny south in a few short hours. I always prefer to travel by train if possible, it's much more comfortable than flying, the check in is much smoother and quicker and you have interesting and sometimes spectacular scenery to look at. And with all the lengthy airport check ins I think train travel is just as quick if you're travelling within a country, say from the north to the south of France.

The TGV travels along some amazing routes with spectacular scenery. Sit back and enjoy it!

The very fast train (TGV) entering the channel tunnel, which links France and England, or is it leaving the tunnel?

It's only just over two hours from London to Paris on Eurostar. You could stop in Paris or travel onwards to the Alps or the south of France.

It's hard to beat the Alps as a good place for walking in the summer months. This beautiful area of mountains and lakes is also ideal for boating and other water sports during the summer.

Nice, on the Cote d'Azur, one of many destinations you can reach by train.