Lost Royals

The idea that blue blood runs through the veins of everyday French people amuses me.

The idea of a divine ruler – an absolute power – also amuses me.

Apparently we need to have these ‘parental’ figures in society.

Jimi Hendrix rightly reflected: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

The French Revolution and the beheading of the monarchy, was an uprising in the attempts of gaining justice, peace and power for all. Whether democracy and justice were achieved is another matter. They may not have rose up in the name of ‘love’ but they did so with the aim of redistributing ‘power’.

Sometimes I feel shards of sympathy, on a very human level, for Marie-Antoinette. Selfish and damaging she was. But she was also very childlike in her desires and lack of responsibility. She was not right for the role and it is this which ruined the lives of French people and ultimately took hers. Married into the French royal family from an early age and moving from Austria, she disregarded duty to fulfil her own caprices. Of course, on a social level, I have no sympathy. As is often told, she spent France’s budget on her own luxuries, leaving French peasants to go hungry and die.

Sophia Coppola’s film focuses on the queen of France on a very human level and I recommend it as a visual and almost fantasy piece. It is perhaps for this reason I think of her the way I do. Marie Antoinette though was not a fictional character and her life was not a fantasy, just extraordinary. She is perhaps the most famous of all the French monarchs – the Henry VIII of France. Diane Kruger plays her in the upcoming film “Farewell my Queen” and I look forward to seeing how they chose to portray her.

Apparently, in the film she has a homosexual relationship with a courtier. Although in an interview, Diane Kruger admitted she wasn’t convinced that the relationship between the women was ever more than just friends.

” I’ve got to be honest with you. I think it doesn’t matter because she was certainly the favorite of the Queen. They met at a masked ball so Gabrielle didn’t know she was meeting Marie Antoinette and I think they just connected on a level, whether or not you call it love or lesbian.I don’t know if they were ever physical but… if you live in a world where you felt so isolated and alone, and you have a person, whether a woman or a man, who you think loves you for who you are rather then the Queen you are, then that is a very, very powerful relationship,” she explained.“You know I think it’s only because our notions of two women being that affectionate with each other has, in our world, a sexual connotation but I’m not sure that it was. It doesn’t really matter. I think they are very close, I think Marie Antoinette felt very close to her. And that is documented.” (Article)

What I find more interesting than this however, is that after France’s uprising, a couple of Kings tried to rule the country to no success and it became a Republic, with heirs to the throne, decedents of monarchs, wandering the streets with the rest of us.

Once upon a time, they would have been bathed in riches, duties and fame, now they’re nobody. Their hereditable ‘right’ to rule taken forever due to the irresponsible nature of this young French queen.

I imagine the men digging up the road as kings in parallel universes and realise that any one of us could be put in a different situation to the ones we are in now. The Existential side of me looks at how each moment is important for the existence of the world as we know it. For we wouldn’t exist if one thing had been done differently. The butterfly effect, sliding doors and other worlds… Every moment determines the next.

A country unwilling to recognise a monarchy, they’re more excited about ours than the idea that blue blood still exists in France. I would love to make a film about the idea of the “Lost Royals” and the idea that if one thing had changed in the lives of three key people in the world – how it would be so different today…

Easter Creatures

 

In France it’s not the Easter bunny or the Easter chick that brings children chocolate at Easter, but the church bells.

Thousands of old villages in France are built around churches. On Maundy Thursday the bells are silent to mark Good Friday the following day. Children are told, however, that the bells are silent because they are sad about the crucifixion and have left to visit the Pope in Rome. According to the tale, the church bells fly back to their tower on Easter Sunday, happy about Jesus’ resurrection, scattering chocolate as they go.

 

Some children put nests in their garden to catch the falling eggs. Others enjoy an egg hunt.

Whilst there may not be Easter bonnet parades, hot-cross buns or Morris dancing here, there is lots of chocolate. All the local boulangeries have already put together impressive displays of expensive chocolate animals. I look forward to making mine…

Cross about Croissants

I’ve just found out 3 things.

1) There is no fine for feeding birds. G just didn’t want our window ledge decorated with excrement.

2) The French word for dove is tourterelle.

3) Croissants are not French! Well not originally.

In actual fact they’re Turkish. 

Croissant…This delicious pastry originated in Budapest in 1686, when the Turks were besieging the city.To reach the centre of the town, they dug underground passages. Bakers, working during the night, heard the noise made by the Turks and gave the alarm. The assailants were repulsed and the bakers who had saved the city were granted the privilege of making a special pastry which had to take the form of a crescentin memory of the emblem on the Ottomanflag.”
Larousse Gastronomique, Jenifer Harvey Lang, editor [Crown:New York] 1988 (p. 338)

On finding out this I have decided to check the details in this book by David Halliday.

To find out how they became the culinary symbol of France.

Is this the worst choreography ever…?

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/x18va1
ALEXANDRIE ALEXANDRA Claude François par guenael76

I imagine it may be quite fun to do when you’re out? Apparently it’s a French karaoke favourite. Luckily I don’t go to karaoke. I am going to see the Cloclo film soon however, so I’m sure I’ll be seeing this odd dance again.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

If the winds are absent – which they have been for a while – the chimes of bells find their way through the village and through my open window.

I like the mellifluous sounds of the ringing bells. They make you feel part of an old, nurtured community.

In medieval times, carillons of bells were used to alert villagers of events. It was their version of the news. To notify people of an attack, the bells would increase in scale, from the lowest sounding note to the highest, which I imagine sounded like a prettier version of a siren. They would be rang for births, deaths, marriages, masses and ceremonies. And in this village they still are.

I enjoy visiting old churches and cathedrals around Europe. There’s a beauty and peace that can be found in holy places of worship.

I remember at primary school, looking up at the tall steeple of the nearby church; which was vertigo-inducing and awe-inspiring. I remember wondering how they built it so high? Sometimes we were allowed to watch the bell ringing. We all wanted a go. All these memories, from such a small, resonating, clanging sound.

As the wedding season commences I’m sure I’m going to hear a lot more from them. I just hope there are no early morning ceremonies to contend with.

Quasimodo of Notre Dame, the most famous (fictional) French bell-ringer, studied campanology (bell-ringing) in one of the most-well known cathedrals in the entire world. I can’t help but let my imagination perceive a small hunchbacked person ringing the bells here; if only to forgive early morning bell-ringing.

Image

“Feed the Birds…

…2,500 euros a bag!”

To entice back my friendly neighbourhood birds I ripped-up an almost stale baguette and lined my window ledge with the crumbs.

G said this is illegal.

I’m not sure if he’s overstating the truth or not. My little cyber search didn’t proffer too many results on the matter, so I shall take it he means “frowned upon”. He said that if ‘they’ found out I was feeding the birds, then I could be charged upto 2,500 euros. This is an extortionate amount of money. Who are ‘they’ anyway?

The bird feeding police won’t find my crumb harbouring window-ledge, as we’re three stories up and unless they have a 20 foot periscope, I think we’re ok. I don’t think G’s the snitching kind either, so I should be free from possible fines/ jail sentences for feeding the little ones in the morning.

Today a grey dove sat upon my ledge. I looked up the French word for dove but only found “pigeon”. Is one man’s dove another man’s pigeon?

I hope he/she comes back tomorrow. I’ll risk the law enforcer’s wrath and if it’s lucky I shall treat it to some fresh bread, mostly for rebellious reasons.

Source: google.com via Lenxy on Pinterest

Poached in Wine

Breakfast eggs – poached in wine.

Peaches, pears – poached in wine.

Salmon, chicken – poached in wine.

You see the pattern? The French love wine, they love food, they love putting them together. And I’m not complaining.

I’m never surprised when I’m advised by G’s family on how to cook something, “Ah, wiz zat, you cook it in vine.”

Oh yes, wine. But which wine? White, red, rosé, champagne?

Well, I’ve been told, “Never rosé, hardly ever champagne.”

Poached pear is something I’ve tried recently and absolutely loved. It’s got the fragrant flavour of mulled wine and the sweet juiciness of a fresh pear.

Here’s a great recipe for poached pear:

Ingredients:

  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick , halved
  • fresh thyme sprig , plus sprigs to seve
  • 6 pears, peeled, but kept whole with stalk intact
Method:
  1. Halve the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape out the black seeds and put in a large saucepan with the wine, sugar, cinnamon and thyme. Cut each piece of pod into three long thin strips, add to pan, then lower in the pears.
  2. Poach the pears, covered, for 20-30 mins, making sure they are covered in the wine. The cooking time will very much depend on the ripeness of your pears – they should be tender all the way through when pierced with a cocktail stick. You can make these up to 2 days ahead and chill.
  3. Take the pears from the pan, then boil the liquid to reduce it by half so that it’s syrupy. Serve each pear with the cooled syrup, a strip of vanilla, a piece of cinnamon and a small thyme sprig.

(Recipe sourced from here.)

Tonight G’s having andouillettes cooked in white wine… I can’t stand the taste of this tripe-sausage, so will stick to my pear instead!

Cycling Crazy

Yesterday it was beautiful, it stayed around 27°C for most of the day and was still warm and bright at 7pm. Thanks to technology, the hour change didn’t affect us at all. Our clocks re-set themselves and we carried on as usual. Daylight saving had begun, the long continental summer was ushered in.

We had a barbecue to celebrate the sunshine and there’s nothing quite like duck breast with salad and dauphinoise to say happy Sunday.

St. James Velo Club was welcoming in the start of the French cycling season under the sun’s warming rays. The town was alive with lycra-clad cyclists of all ages.

Around 2000 cyclists from all over France, had come to race.

I looked to G, “Why didn’t you tell me, we could have done it.”

“Yes darling, and which course, the 50km? The 104km? Or the 138km?”

“How many miles is that?”

“Well, the shortest is over 30 miles I think…”

We decided it was too long and set our aspirations on riding a tandem bike around the lake next week. The lake’s circumference is about a mile.

We walked around the stalls by the stage area, “admiring” the lycra outfits on offer, flabbergasted at the price of the equipment. The arriving cyclists looked understandably exhausted; wobbling, drained of colour and ill-looking. I hopped out of their way as they slowly cycled through to find their friends and family. One man was almost defeated by a stone, as his thin tires stumbled and faltered over a wobbly path.

“That wheel’s abut £3000″, G said, watching me watch the struggling man.

“No, what?!”

“Yeah, each wheel and then the rest of the bike… that’s another couple of grand.”

“That’s ridiculous. It’s more than your car.”

“Cycling is serious in France – altogether, I think his kit is worth around £10,000.”

I carried on watching him slowly navigate around the stoney path. He was obviously too tired to engage his logic and veer off onto the tarmac. Each stone meant more energy to be exerted. He made each little climb seem a lot more exaggerated than it would usually be, clearly eeking out the last drops of energy. Part of me wanted to get behind and push him the last little bit, part of me wanted him to fall off – mainly for spending so much on a bike. I refrained from taking pictures of people at their weakest moments, at the time it seemed cruel.

I know what it’s like to be so exhausted that you don’t want to talk. So I was surprised when G’s colleagues invited us to sit with them to drink coffee at a restaurant terrace. Apparently one had fallen off their bike because a woman had cut him up on the circuit. “Luckily” he had been filming the race from his bike and had decided to report her number. As I was learning, cycling’s serious business here, just look at the ferociously long “Tour de France”. As it was a sunny day it was ok that there wasn’t a lot of talking. People were happy to sit peacefully in the warm glow, so I did a lot of observing.

The race raises money for the charity “Un Fauteil A La Mer” which organises wheelchair trips to the coast. It is jointly organised by the local Rotary Club and supported by local enterprises. I didn’t know this until I looked it up, I thought the race was about elasticated, padded cyclists, spending loads on bikes and exhausting themselves pedalling around closed roads in the heat.

I walked around the stalls once more. There was a man stirring a big pot of a thick creamy looking mixture. He was by the nougat stand so I assumed it was some sort of nougat cream. How I wanted to try some! I approached him, his sign said “degustation”: “taste”, so I waited. And I waited some more. I looked right at him. He didn’t look back at me. I tried to get his attention. He didn’t want to be interrupted. So I went without. G was laughing at me. “He wasn’t very friendly”, I explained. I still need to learn how to engage with shop assistants it seems, even those at a friendly afternoon fair.

The official website explains that apart from a couple of broken collarbones, the event yesterday was full of “bonheur”: “happiness” and “soleil”: “sunshine”. The winner of the 138km race was Mr. Lionel Genthon, completing the track in 3 hours, 43 minutes and 8 seconds, at an average speed of 37.11 km/h. The first woman, Ms Daniele Troesch, came in at 4 hours and 18 seconds, at an average speed of 34.46. I’ll time how long it takes me to complete one lap of the lake next week to compare.

Overall, it was a lovely Sunday and it was exciting to see so many people around. Life in France is an outdoor one and now the summer’s officially here, Provence is just so much better. Talking or watching, the golden light makes everything feel better. With a little bit of colour to my cheeks, it doesn’t feel like March at all. It feels like the height of an English summer, bike race and gratin aside.

Le Flâneur

Charles Baudelaire’s stroller among men.

To walk around an urban landscape, to be part of and yet detached from the scene and the people that make it what it is.

And yet how does one stay in ‘full possession of their individuality’? If, by individuality, he means personality, characteristics, thoughts and beliefs, then how can one so stubbornly hold onto these notions of what’s good and bad and right and wrong, when travel forces you to reset your gage or measuring tool on the intangible settings established by communities. I remain a flaneur, not yet a badaud and it is this which saves me from the mundane.

As time changes me and communities absorb me, I’ll have to move on yet again… The desire to be an outsider wanting to get in, is what drives many people to travel the world and acknowledge, explore and almost be part of strange societies, tempted by the exotic, becoming part of the attraction.

The difference between holidays and travel, observation and integration, foreign and local, strangers and friends…

I shall stroll the streets this afternoon, walking through the crowds, Baudelaire for company. I’m an outsider.