Insights into the French way of life and European travels by an Australian living in the Loire ValleyHeader photo: Blois in spring, 2016. All photos on website copyright by Rosemary Kneipp unless specified otherwise. All rights reserved.
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They’ve been fixing up Place de la République for ages but I only saw it finished very recently and I don’t see what they’ve really achieved, except for reducing traffic. It doesn’t look anything like the architectural sketches published by the Mairie de Paris.
But then, maybe the fact that I was feeling under the weather influenced me! This is my sixth day of LA GRIPPE (the flu) and hopefully my last. My translation work is way behind schedule so I’m sure you’ll understand why my posts this week are a little on the light side!
We went to visit Mr and Mrs Previous Owner recently and I wanted to know what they did to get rid of the moss on the front stairs. “Sur le perron“, replied Mr Previous Owner. “No, the front steps”. “Oui, le perron“, he insisted.
And here I had been labouring under the misconception all these years that the perron was something quite different. According to my Larousse dictionary, it is an outside staircase with a small number of steps ending in a platform leading to a front door, as can be seen in the following photo.
I check my Dicobat building dictionary and it doesn’t mention anything about the number of steps, so I can now talk about “notre perron”. As far as I know, we have nothing in English to describe this concept.
On another but slightly related subject, we’ve been looking for a solution for some time to stop treading mud into the house when it rains, particularly in winter. The area in front of the house is a combination of grass and gravel with no clear delineation.
We recently went to Truffaut to see what we could find. There was a large selection of pas japonais (pas meaning step in this context). For some reason, I thought that pas japonais were slightly staggered to the left and right to naturally follow your steps.
After buying the last 10 pas we liked, we laid them in light rain and I posted a photo on Facebook. “I would call them stepping stones”, said a friend. She’s right of course. I was so disappointed. We’ve ordered some more for the rest of the garden but I can see we’ll have to lay the other ones again. It’s so annoying trying to remember whether you should be starting with your left leg or your right leg. Sigh.
This is a photo of my fève collection from the galette des rois. You can click on it to see the fèves in more detail. You can see that some come from the same bakery (the two see-through carafes, the sugar and jam, for instance). I haven’t kept any of the less interesting white plaster ones. Anyone who wants to make their own galette can buy fèves on ebay and amazon or, alternatively, as someone suggested on Facebook today, you can use a whole almond!
The flat one with the gold leaf is the latest addition, brought home by Jean Michel from work.
Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Renovating a château – Visiting Southern Italy – No pants in the Paris metro
Welcome to this week’s Blogger Round-Up. Three posts caught my eye immediately this week. The first, by Janine Marsh from The Good Life France, tells the story of an Australian couple who have bought a château in the south of France to renovate. It is a stunning project and I wish them luck and the finance to carry it through! Liz from Young Adventuress lures us to the less-known south of Italy, starting with Positano on the Amalfi Coast and ending with Matera. And I couldn’t resist the write-up on this year’s no-pants subway event by Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris. Enjoy!
French Château Rescued from Ruin
by Janine Marsh from The Good Life France, an independent on-line magazine about France and all things French, covering all aspects of daily life including healthcare, finance, utilities, education, property and a whole lot more.
How many of us dream of owning and renovating a French chateau? A palace that was lived in by French aristocrats, where the rich, powerful and famous partied and where every room reveals a story from the past?
Karina Waters is from Perth, Western Australia where, in what “feels like a previous life now” she worked in corporate and tax accounting and lived with her husband Craig, a surgeon and their two children. In 2011 Karina and Craig decided to buy a home in France. They had lots of French friends who on their first viewing trip in the region of the Dordogne did their best to come up with ideas for “what would suit an Australian family”. Karina and Craig spent a week looking at the houses their friends had chosen. Karina says they were all “renovated, clean and neat, ticking the box for a quiet life”. She returned to Perth “frankly disappointed”, her ideal home would be more “shabby chic, rustic, petit chateau style” and she hadn’t seen anything that came even near that description. Read more
Postcards from Southern Italy
by Liz from Young Adventuress, a globetrotter currently in New Zealander who likes to zig while the rest of the world zags, travelling, eating and blogging her way around the globe
Maybe I’m wrong (please tell me if I am) but after spending some time in southern Italy, I’ve realized a few things, the first and foremost being that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Rome, Florence, Venice, and all those great cities and regions of the north get heaps of love from us foreigners, and for good reason, they rock. But what about the south? Read more
“There’s a place in France where the ladies (and men) wear no pants” – No Pants Subway Ride 2014 in Paris
by Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris, an American by birth, Swiss by marriage, resident of Paris with a Navigo Pass for the metro that she feels compelled to use
Metro line 1 is notorious for pickpockets. Every couple of stops, there’s a public announcement in at least four different languages warning passengers to keep a close eye on their belongings. If you happened to be riding the metro from Charles de Gaulle – Étoile in the direction of Bastille at approximately 3:45 pm yesterday, it might have occurred to you that the pickpockets had been busy stealing more than just wallets. In honor of the third annual No Pants Subway Ride in Paris, many of the passengers were traveling trouserless. While participants without bottoms read newspapers, studied route maps or nonchalantly chatted on cell phones, astonished passengers tried their best not to stare at all the exposed limbs in the middle of winter. Read more
It’s my mother’s 7th birthday. She goes off to school happily to share the excitement of the day. But jealousy rears its ugly head and a little boy says, “In any case, you’re adopted”. When she gets home from school, she learns the heartbreaking truth – well, part of it, anyway.
Her real mother, Ada, conceived her in the ship that took her family – her husband and four children aged 2 to 10 – to Australia. She died in childbirth in Brisbane in 1920. My mother, Ada Joan, who only weighed one kilo at birth was unofficially adopted by an older couple who didn’t have any children of their own. To keep her alive, her foster mother strapped her to her chest at night.
When my mother was eight months old, her father took the other children back to England, promising to send for her when she was old enough to travel. He never did and never made any contact with her at any time.
It’s now a few months after her 7th birthday and my mother has started corresponding with her older sister, Moira, and will do so until she’s fifteen. The letters are poignant.
But Moira wants to visit her in Australia so my mother cuts off all correspondence because, as she explains to me later, she is afraid her sister won’t like her.
The year she turns 18, my mother’s foster parents, whom she loves very much, both die within six months of each other leaving her no family at all. By then she is living and working in the Crown Sollicitor’s office in Canberra. She gets engaged to a man called Jack, I think, but like so many other young men at the time, her fiancé is killed in World War II.
Back in Brisbane after the war, she meets my father, the oldest of a family of 9 children from a sheep property in northern New South Wales. They get married in Brisbane in 1948. After three years without any sign of pregnancy, they are about to adopt a baby when my sister is conceived.
I am born the next year and my two brothers soon come along, each spaced three years apart. My mother has two miscarriages after that. She is devastated. She wants a big family. We are on holidays on the Atherton Tablelands when she miscarries the second time. I don’t understand what’s happening but suddenly my mother is in hospital.
In 1966, my sister is 14. We’re holidaying on a nearby coral island and are visiting friends. My brothers are playing out the back of the house and my sister goes to check on them. The next thing, one of the boys comes back to tell us that a rock has fallen on my sister. Death must have been instant. There is absolutely no explanation why a ten-ton rock should have moved as that precise moment.
My mother has lost the first person of her own flesh and blood she has ever known. When I have my own son and daughter, I realise what it must have been like. I am utterly paranoid the year each of them turns 14. I am always aware of the great fragility of the life of a child.
Many years later, I am visiting my mother who is on holiday in London. She asks me to go with her to the births and deaths registry at Somerset House. We track down her parents’ birth and marriage certificates and are able to find some addresses in the north of England. None of them, however, produce any results.
It is not until my mother is 70 that a genealogy expert at the university in Townsville tracks down her older sister Moira who is then a retired registered nurse living in Canada. My parents go to meet her in Toronto and learn the rest of the story which proves even more devastating.
It turns out that my mother’s parents were travelling out to Australia to see her mother’s mother who, for some reason no one seems to know, was living in Brisbane at the time. My mother’s maternal grandmother LIVED IN THE SAME STREET as my mother until she died, without ever acknowledging her in any way. She is buried in the Kangaroo Point cemetary in Brisbane.
Moira has kept my mother’s letters all these years and that is how we have them today. She is able to give very little news of the rest of the family. One of her brothers also emigrated to Canada and was blown up in a laboratory accident. She herself has never married. The two sisters keep in regular contact after that, mainly at my mother’s instigation, but after my father dies in 1993, there are no more trips overseas so the two sisters don’t ever meet again.
After my mother’s death in the year 2000, I try to phone Moira but get no answer so I send a card. There is no response. A couple of years later my younger brother receives a letter from a sollicitor in Canada telling us that Moira has left her very small estate to a charity and asking if we want to contest the will, which we don’t of course.
In today’s world of the Internet and social media, my mother’s story would have ended differently, I believe. Australia back in 1920 was really at the end of the earth. Communication was slow and difficult. But it doesn’t explain her grandmother’s attitude, does it?
We were invited by our neighbours for a galette des rois. Liliane and Alain had bought two types – one with almond filling (frangipane) and one with apple filling just in case we didn’t like frangipane. I took along some Christmas crackers (or bonbons as we call them in Australia) which, surprisingly, I had found at Truffaut, the local gardening store, so we ended up with two sets of crowns! Françoise, being the youngest, should have gone under the table, but we let her close her eyes instead and indicate who should have which piece – not that Alain took any notice of her. He just went ahead and served according to the size of the piece! Jean Michel got the first fève and crowned Liliane who then got the second one.
OK, this maybe isn’t the brightest subject in the world but it’s a very interesting false cognate. The first time I heard the word incinération used in French in relation to death I thought it was a joke. I couldn’t believe that incinération could really be the French word for cremation. But it is. And the verb is incinérer. It sounds so down to earth. They do say crématorium though and not incinérateur (except when talking about the cremator or high-temperature furnace). It seems, however, that with today’s environmental focus on waste incineration, crémation is becoming the more usual term.
Not that I’ve been to a lot of crematoriums – or burials (inhumations) for that matter, I’m pleased to say, despite my age. In France – and this is borne out by IPSOS, the national survey institute – the trend is definitely towards cremation.
The nicest crematorium I’ve been to is Père Lachaise. An English friend’s mother was cremated there last summer. Given its celebrity, I would have imagined that it would be restricted to people living in the area, but apparently not.
Before the ceremony, we wandered around the surrounding graves and it felt very calm and peaceful.
But I’m getting sidetracked. Another word used in relation to crématorium is columbarium from the word colombe which means dove. The columbarium is a wall with lots of little niches in which urns can be stored. The first time I heard the word was in the Cinque Terre where cremation is preferred to burial due to lack of space.
I don’t know about other countries but in France, you can’t just do anything with a person’s ashes (cendres). If you wish, you can disperse them in a site cinéraire in the crematorium, sometimes called a jardin de souvenir. If you’d like the ashes to be dispersed at the foot of a tree or shrub, it’s called mémorialisation.
Outside the crematorium, ashes can’t be dispersed near a place of residence, so that rules out private gardens. Larger areas such as forests and meadows are possible, provided you have the owner’s authorisation. Dispersing them at sea is fine if you respect maritime law. You have to declare that the ashes have been dispersed at the town hall of the person’s birthplace.
You can bury the urn containing the ashes on private property if you obtain autorisation from the préfet first.
I found all that information in a little brochure at a crematorium in Greater Paris.
For this week’s Blogger Round-Up and as a follow-up to my last Friday’s French post, I thought I’d find three different posts about the galette des rois or the French cake of kings, an increasingly popular tradition in France which starts on or about January 6th (feast of the Epiphany) and continues right up until the end of the month. Susan from Days on the Claise explains how to make your own galette, Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris reports on turning the tradition into a fund-raising initiative for maladies orphelines while Janine from The Good Life France gives us a very complete description of the galette and its various traditions. You might also like to read my own post on the subject written a couple of years ago. Enjoy!
Galette des rois, à peu près
by Susan from Days on the Claise, an Australian living in the south of the Loire Valley, writing about restoring an old house and the area and its history and running Loire Valley Time Travel.
Well, sort of. I’m going to tell you how to make a quick and easy version, that, although it won’t be in the same league as Walt’s and your local pâtissière’s, is still a very acceptable addition to the post-Christmas table — and the real thing is getting very expensive, so homemade is an economical option! Read more
King Cake (Galette des Rois) and the meaning of “Maladie Orpheline”
by Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris, an American by birth, Swiss by marriage, resident of Paris with a Navigo Pass for the metro that she feels compelled to use
In spite of having been married to a native French speaker for many years, I’m not fluent in French. But since we raised our children in a bilingual home, my comprehension is usually fairly accurate. All of this is just a roundabout way of admitting that I felt really foolish after incorrectly translating maladie orpheline on Twitter. Here’s the tweet:
Best pastry chefs in Paris sell King Cakes to fight childhood illnesses. Jan 4. Place Saint-Germain des Prés:quefaire.paris.fr/fiche/76201_la…
In a hurry to help spread the word about a fund-raising initiative by some of the top pastry chefs in Paris, I didn’t take the time to google maladie orpheline. Instead, I rapidly translated it as “childhood illnesses” and waited until my walking French dictionary returned home from work. “I’m confused about something.” Read more
Galette des Rois – The French Cake of Kings
By Janine Marsh from The Good Life France, an independent on-line magazine about France and all things French, covering all aspects of daily life including healthcare, finance, utilities, education, property and a whole lot more.
The 6th of January is a special day in France, it is the 12th day of Christmas, the date of the Epiphany and most importantly the day when all over France the cake known as galette des rois is traditionally served.
This flaky cake known as the King’s Tart is a piece of French gastronomic history which goes back several centuries.
The cake is made of a seriously buttery puff pastry, filled with almond paste, baked and often decorated beautifully with candied fruit. Patisseries and boulangeries compete to create the most magnificent of cakes and supermarket shelves will be heaving with boxed galette des Rois from the end of December. Read more
We kept on passing Château de Beauregard when cycling to Chambord and Cheverny, so we finally scheduled a visit on a Sunday morning in March. We were surprised to run into friends from Montrichard who had just finished their visit! It’s a small world, isn’t it?
The château started off as a manor house in the 15th century and was confiscated from the owner, François Doulcet, by Louis XII when he was found guilty of embezzlement. François I used the house as a hunting lodge before giving it to his uncle René de Savoie who sold it to Jean du Thier, Henri II’s finance minister in 1545. Work carried out between 1553 and 1559 turned Beauregard into one of the finest châteaux in the Loire Valley. A gallery and an L-shaped wing were added to the original building.
The harmonious Italianised architecture includes arcades in the gallery surmounted by terracotta medallions. Its high white chimneys “à la Chambord” are incrusted with slate. All that remains of Jean du Thier’s interior decoration, however, is the Cabinet des Grelots, his work cabinet, with its delicately sculpted caisson ceiling completed in 1554 by the royal cabinetmaker Scibec de Carpi. The name grelot is derived from Jean du Thier’s coat of arms: 3 gold bells (grelots) on a blue background.
But it was Paul Ardier, Louis XIII’s minister who was responsible for its most prominent feature. After retiring from political life, he decorated the Grand Gallery between 1620 and 1638 with 327 portraits spanning three centuries (1328 to 1643), forming the largest collection of historical portraits in Europe. They are not all works of art, of course, but the collection is impressive.
Ardier’s son and granddaughter added the Delft floor tiles, lapis lazuli ceiling and sculpted murals. The Ardier family left the château in 1816.
The west wing was destroyed in the 19th century and a second gallery built on the south side. It was modernised in the 20th century by the Tillier family before being bought by the Pavillon family in 1925. It was opened to the public in 1957. Restauration is ongoing and the landscaped park has now been completely restored.
The château also houses a portrait exhibition of dogs owned by famous people. The International Animal Portrait festival was launched in 2012.
We did not explore the grounds which are obviously not their best in mid March. The Cabinet des Grelots and the Portrait Gallery in particular are quite exceptional but the other rooms are somewhat disappointing.
Some effort has been made to recreate the atmosphere in one of the bedrooms but I’m afraid it’s not very convincing. Dog lovers, however, will no doubt appreciate the exhibition, even if it seems a little incongruous.Opening hours 18th November to 14th February, by reservation only (groups). 15th February to 30th March 11 am to 5 pm, 31st March to 29th June, 10 am to 6 pm, 30th June to 31st August, 10 am to 7 pm, 1st September to 2nd November, 10 am to 6 pm, 3rd November to 11th November, 11 am to 5 pm. Restaurant open from 10.30 am to 6 pm from 1st to 29th May, July and August. Prices Park and château : 12.50 euro (park only : 9 euro); children from 5 to 13 : 10 euro (park only : 9 euro)