Monday, January 31, 2011
I visited the coolest graveyard over the weekend. It is kind of like the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, only smaller and much less ... famous. It holds all the renowned Lyonnais personalities and then some. It is absolutely gorgeous and, bien sur, a little creepy.
First you take the Furnicular, built in 1878, up the hill. Steep!
Then you walk past the massive Basilica of Fourviere.
Round the corner to the base of the Lyonnaise Metal Tower.
At night, from afar.
Then you walk through a gorgeous park and down what used to be the world's shortest railroad line. They brought the bodies to the cemetery on railroad cars.
Voila, Le Cimetière de Loyasse.
Inside one of the Mausoleums.
Exterior of previous interior.
This Mausoleum has been abandoned for 200 years, a plaque told us how we could contact the groundskeeper if we should wish to have it as our own or reuse the material. Cah-reepy!
This is the part that gets me: here is an example of how many family members are buried in the same hole. Oftentimes, mausoleums hold the coffins above ground, in France the coffins are put into a hole, one on top of another.
This family plot has at least 15 or 20 people in the same hole over a 250 year period.
They put them in through these trap doors. Each plot has one just like this. My fertile imagination had me hear them opening with a macabre Rrreeeeee!
This is a true story. I went to someone's funeral (I won't say who). The elderly lady was being interred with her ancestors, as I have described. This cemetery didn't have the trap door with the lovely iron rings, but the lid was lifted off the family tomb and a new hole was dug.
Therefore, there was a pile of dirt next to the grave. We all went, the coffin was lowered, and I lingered quite a while, scoping out the gorgeous old tombstones, etc. I happened to look back and noticed that they were filling in the grave as everyone else had gone.
A small backhoe was scooping up the dirt, when I saw a femur, a human bone, sticking out of the dirt!
Apparently this is normal as all the coffins and bodies who had been put in before had all decomposed into a big heap of chunks of wood, pieces of skeletons, etc. all mashed together.
I shall never forget that. And I never want to be put in a dark hole with the scattered remnants of my ancestors, thank you very much!
I regress, on we go. I walked back down the Fourviere hill.
A beautiful little steep and long stairway.
Winding down through the buildings.
And, poof, back in the old part of town--Vieux Lyon.
A 15th or 16th century building.
Voila! Gros bisous macabre et a demain!
p.s. Still a walking Bugnes-eating machine!
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Bugnes season is upon us and there is a strong possibility that I might just go utterly mad.
The closest thing I have ever found to American donuts. I am a big fan of American donuts.
Sure, there are snack shacks that sell "donuts", but one bite of the greasy, cold, plastic tasting thing and you'll chuck it straight in the nearest garbage can. But Bugnes ... bugnes ....
Bien sur, they only come once a year. They are Lyonnais, as are most culinary delights--after all, this is the gastronomic capital of France. I've read that they originate from the middle ages, that they are associated with Lent due to their high fat content (lovely, just slap em' straight onto my thighs then won't you), that they are for Mardi Gras, that they are related to Beignets ....
There are two kinds: flat and crunchy or "pillow" like. Both are deep friend and covered with powdered sugar. I prefer the pillow like one, thank you very much. In fact, I can't control myself ... on the way to the office I think to myself, 'Self, just pick up a 200 grams, take them to work, share them with the others.' I get to work and stand in the kitchen area literally shoveling them into my mouth! Then I do the same thing on the way home. The kids get a few, I get a lot!
Seriously though, you must try some. If you are feeling courageous, here is a recipe from Jamie Oliver.
Voila! Bon degustation! Gros bisous et a demain.
Labels: Yummy Food
Friday, January 28, 2011
Claude-Achille Debussy (1862 - 1918) French Composer.
He was a leading figure in the Impressionist Music movement in France, although he detested his music being labeled as such. In 1870 he and his mother sought refuge from the Franco-Prussina war with an aunt in Cannes where, at the age of 7, he began taking piano lessons. At the age of 10, Debussy entered the Paris Conservatoire where he was a student for 11 years.
He received a scholarship to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1884 which included a four-year residence at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome. He found the ambiance stifling and the monastic quarters horrendous. He elected to go his own way saying:
"I am sure the Institute would not approve, for, naturally it regards the path which it ordains as the only right one. But there is no help for it! I am too enamoured of my freedom, too fond of my own ideas."
He was greatly influenced by Litzst, Wagner, and Stravinsky among many others.
He wrote only one opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, whose debut in1902 was an instant success.
His Préludes in 1910 are often compared to Chopin's.
He was very much into literature and visual art, whose mediums were a great influence in his own musical style. He was heavily influenced by the French symbolist movement; an art movement in 1885 that influenced poetry, visual art, and theater in an esoteric, indefinite rejection of naturalism and realism. “The development of free verse in poetry and the disappearance of the subject or model in painting influenced Debussy to think about issues of musical form.”
Bien sur, his private life was a bit of a mess. At the age of 18, he commenced and 8-year affair with the wife of a wealthy Parisian lawyer. In 1889, he entered into a fiery 9-year relationship with a tailor's daughter, they actually lived together. But during that relationship, he had an affair with and became engaged to a singer. Then he left the tailor's daughter for a fashion model whom he actually married in 1899. He was soon irritated by her intellectual limitations and lack of musical sensitivity.
In 1904, he met the wife of a Parisian banker, Emma Bardac, a complete contrast to his wife. Debussy abandoned his wife who shot herself in the chest while standing in the middle of the Place de la Concorde in Paris. She survived this suicide attempt, living with the bullet lodged in her vertebrae.
Debussy and Bardac eloped to England; shortly after, Bardac gave birth to Debussy's only child, a daughter named Claude-Emma or "Chouchou" as her father called her. He adored his daughter. Sadly she passed away one year after her father from diphtheria.
Claude Debussy died of rectal cancer in 1918. His funeral procession took place in the midst of WWI arial and artillery bombing. He is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery.
His music is brilliant and beautiful.
Voila, Claire de Lune, breathtaking, reposing, beautiful, inspirational ...
(Yes, yes, it was in Oceans Eleven! That Steven Soderbergh knows his music, nest ce pas?)
Please listen to it in its entirety!
Here is the magnificent Barbra Streisand (Have I mentioned how much I adore her--FunnyGirl!) singing Beau Soir.
Vite, depechez-vous, download Debussy on iTunes!! Oh, what a delight to have that on in the house on a lazy day and just let yourself float ....
Bon gros bisous de musique extraordinaire et a demain!
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
A follow up to yesterday's blog, Philip IV and the Knights Templar, and then I'll get back to lighter fare.
The Knights Templar, or The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon, were created in France in 1118 as a religious order of monk-like knights to protect pilgrims as they traveled to the Holy Land. The Order's patron saint was Saint Bernard de Clairvaux who had communicated with the pope to set up the order.
Saint Bernard de Clairvaux (why do people look so creepy in the old days??)
During the first crusade, French nobleman, Hugh Count of Champagne, went to Jerusalem with his vassal, Hugues de Payens. He returned to France, leaving his vassal in the Holy Land. This vassal was to become the first Grand Master of the Knights Templar.
Hughes de Payens
King Baldwin II of Jerusalem allowed them to establish headquarters inside the Al Asqua Mosque which sat upon the site of King Solomon's Temple. Hence their name.
These nobel born fighting monks were the special forces of their day! They were the most highly-trained and well-equiped warriors around. The Templar Knights were forbidden from retreat in battle unless outnumbered three to one, required to stay in battle which made them reckless and ferocious, and believed that to die fighting was the quickest way to heaven ... even their horses were trained to bite and kick the enemy!
One tactic was called the "squadron charge", they would group together tightly with their heavily armed selves and war horses and charge full speed into the enemy lines. It was clear that they preferred suicide to falling back, unnerving the enemy and causing them to lose ranks.
The Knights Templar only took orders from the pope, they answered to no king and to no country. They had special passes allowing them to travel at will anywhere, unquestioned.
They themselves were sworn to poverty, but their Order grew incredibly wealthy through donations of their own wealth and that of others. They became great money managers and bankers. A system was set up where nobles who wished to fight in a crusade, could give their money to the Templars to manage in their absence. People wishing to travel to the Holy Land would give their money to the Templars in France, be issued a "letters of credit" (usually with a secret code in it as a form of identity against fraud), and could pick up their money via the "letters of credit"once they reached the Holy Land.
Eventually the templars owned huge tracts of land all throughout Europe and the Middle East, had farms and vineyards, built roads, churches and castles with an incredible team of architects, manufactured goods, ran import/export, and had their own fleet of ships.
When the crusades were finally over, the Knights Templar (not to be confused with the Teutonic Knights or with the Knights Hospitaller) no longer had a real purpose. They were caught in the middle of a dark political war between King Philip IV of France and the Pope. As the Templars were big money lenders and King Philip IV a big spender, the King owed the Templars a lot of money.
On Friday, October 13, 1307 (yes, this is were the saying Friday the 13th is bad luck comes from), hundreds of Templars were arrested in one fell swoop.
After many were tortured into false admissions of terrible acts by the Inquisitors who had practiced on the Cathars (see my blog) the century before, they were burned at the stake.
The Grand Master was arrested and burned at the stake, but none of the members of the supreme council of the Order (to whom the Grand Master took orders from) were found nor tried.
The strange thing is, hardly any of the massive treasury of Templar money was found, 15,000 Templar Knights disappeared without a trace, and their entire fleet disappeared from the ports in a matter of hours.
It is said that many escaped to England and Scotland were they continued their Order in utter secrecy.
Who knows ...? Where is their treasure? Were did their supreme leaders vanish to?
Bon, gros bisous des Templiers mystérieux et a demain!
Monday, January 24, 2011
Philip IV (1268 - 1314)
Philip le Bel, or Philip the fair, was called thus for his apparent good looks. Too bad his personality didn't match his looks; he was known to be inflexible and to have others do his dirty work for him.
He became king of France at the age of 16 or 17 (depending upon what you read), he married queen Joan I of Navarre shortly before becoming king.
Philip le Bel gobbled up land, adding to his monarchy: he wrestled Navarre form his wife's grip, took over Lyons in 1312, and tussled with Edward I of England, stripping him of all his land in France, creating hostilities that would be a precursor to the Hundred Years War which began in 1337.
All the warmongering left the king broke, so he arrested all Jews in France, expelled them from French territory in 1306, and seized their assets. Philip le Bel loved to spend money. He quickly ran through the Jewish money and began levying heavy taxes on the French clergy. Pope Boniface VIII freaked out and issued a Papal Bull forbidding the transference of church property to the French crown. Philip le Bel condemned the Pope with an assembly of French Bishops, nobles, and bourgeois, had the Pope arrested, a new Pope, Clement V, elected and set up in Avignon, France where the French king could keep an eye on him.
Still spending money like it was water, Philip le Bel ended up hugely in debt to the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar was a monk-like order of Knights set up to keep the roads between Europe sand the Holy Land safe for pilgrims wishing to travel to Jerusalem. They had also become the world's first bankers over the two hundred years of their existence (hence Philip le Bel owing them money).
The Knights Templar answered to no one but the Pope. As Pope Clement V was a pawn in Philips Le Bel's pocket, on Friday, October 13, 1307, the king had hundreds of Knights Templar arrested in one fell swoop, tortured into admitting all kinds of heinous acts, and burned at the stake. The Pope eventually disbanded the Knights Templar.
In 1314, Philip le Bel burned the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar at the stake in Paris. Jacques de Molay cursed the king of France and the pope as he burned upon the stake, saying that they would answer to God for their false accusations and murders of innocent people. Both King Philip le Bel and Pope Celment V died within a year of the Grand Master's death.
France never ceases to amaze me with her rich history and fascinating stories.
Bon, gros bisous de Philip le Bel, who wasn't all that beautiful, et a demain!
Friday, January 21, 2011
How to utterly dismiss a topic in conversation à la française:
Slouch your upper body
Assume a Gallic shrug of a shoulder
Raise one eyebrow high in sarcasm
Flap both hands dramatically
Purse your lips and exclaim, "Puh, puh, puh, c'est pas possible!"
Cross your legs and lean back in your chair
Take a puff off your cigarette and exhale whilst exclaiming, "Puh, puh, puh!"
Look to the side feigning complete disinterest
Cross your legs and lean back in your chair
Take a puff off your cigarette and exhale whilst exclaiming, "Puh, puh, puh!"
Look to the side feigning complete disinterest
I love that!
Happy Friday, gros bisous et a demain.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Did you know that French writers have been awarded more Nobel Prizes in Literature than any other country? Ha, me neither! Just goes to show, you learn something every day, nest ce pas?
Today, let's talk about Alexandre Dumas, père, French author extraordinaire (1802 - 1870).
Best known for The Three Muskateers, Twenty Years After, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne (The Man In The Iron Mask), he also wrote plays, articles and specialized in serial stories.
He was born of a French nobleman and an Afro-Caribbean Creole mother. Being of a mixed race affected him all his life. He is famous for retorting the following after being insulted:
"My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends."
He lived and wrote at the same time as another favorite author of mine, George Sand (see my blog), also born of a noble father and poor mother. Theirs was a time of turbulent change in France with the political flip flopping that went on between royalists and republicans. Rich fodder for imaginative minds it seems as France spawned a plethora of brilliant writers during the 19th century.
Dumas' works have inspired more than 200 films. My all time favorite being the 1973 version The Three Muskateers: The Queen's Diamonds starring: Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlain, Michael York (a fabulous D'Artagnan!), Christopher Lee, Gerladine Chaplin, Faye Dunaway, Charlton Heston, and Jean-Pierre Cassel (yes, Vincent Cassel's father ). Talk about an all star cast!
They went on to make two more: The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge and The Return of the Muskateers (with, believe it or not, Kim Cattrall) My family's absolute favorite movie collection to drag out and watch with a piping hot bowl of popcorn.
Alexandre Dumas built the famous Château de Monte-Cristo for himself, not far from Paris in Port-Marly, France it was designed by the French architect Hippolyte Durand.
Bien sur, he added a little writing château for himself out back, which he dubbed the Château d'If.
(Um, I could write there.)
Named after the real Château D'If, which was the inspiration for the château in his book The Count of Monte Cristo.
Dumas made a lot of money and spent it lavishly on women and drink; he was always broke. He lost his Château de Monte-Cristo to creditors, and today it is a museum in his honor.
Voila! Gros bisous de swashbuckling literature et a demain.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
It's been a while since I posted a scary story for you all. Immersed in the translation of a fascinating yet mysteriously terrifying manuscript, I have perhaps inadvertently elected to escape the dark ambiance that envelopes me daily. But, I'm back, so hold on to your seats, here goes ....
In order to tell this story properly, I must give you a bit of historical background ... set the stage, so to speak.
William the Conqueror aka William I of England aka William the Bastard was an illegitimate child born in Normandy, France circa 1028. As we all know, he invaded England in 1066 and reigned there until his death 21 years later. (He made many improvements in England during his reign.)
Then came his son, William II (1056 - 1100).
Then his son Henry I (1068 - 1135)
Henry's sons died and his daughter, Mathilda (1102 - 1167), inherited the throne of England.
She in turn gave birth to Henry II who became the husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine and father of Richard the Lion Hearted. (See my blog entry)
Before Mathilda became Mathilda of England (she was never coronated as her cousin fought her for the throne of England, starting years of civil war called The Anarchy) and before she became Empress Mathilda (she married the Holy Roman Emperor), her father, Henry I, locked her away in a Cistercian Monastery in Eure, France called Mortemer Abbey.
It was originally built in 1134 on land given to the monks by Henry I. The monks dried up the swampy land called "more mare" or dead pond. Hence its name, Mortemer.
Here are the ruins of Mortemer Abbey were Mathilda was locked up, "the most haunted abbey in France".
Located just behind today's Monestary
It is said that Empress Mathilda aka Mathilda of England haunts the ruins and the Monestary. Visitors report feeling an intensely strange presence and hear voices. Some people have seen her out amongst the ruins under the light of the moon.
But that's not all ....
During the French Revolution, blood ran in the streets of France as the noblemen, clergy, and anyone with the ability to read or write Latin were mercilessly slaughtered. All churches, monasteries, and their lands were seized and auctioned off.
By that time, there were only 4 monks left at Mortemer Abbey. The Revolutionaries chased them into the forest, chopped their heads off and dragged their corpses back into the Abbey, stuffing them into the cellar.
These 4 monks are said to haunt the Abbey.
Last but not least: the ghost of a cat is said to guard a treasure buried in the ruins of Mortemer Abbey. Many people have seen the cat. I say, follow that cat!
Bon, gros bisous qui fait peur et a demain!
Monday, January 17, 2011
Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906), French Post-Impressionist painter said to be the bridge between 19th century Impressionism and 20th century Cubism. Picasso and Matisse referred to him as "the father of us all".
Now there's a grandiose opening line if ever there was one!
Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence, just south of Lyon. His father was a wealthy banker and his mother a spirited, vivacious, and romantic person. She was his inspiration. Cézanne went to school and studied drawing; there, he met Émile Zola and Baptistin Baille with whom he became inseperable. Later, his father wished for him to study Law, but Cézanne objected and pursued his interest in art. Eventually his father gave in to his wishes and supported him financially. Upon his father's death, Cézanne received a very large inheritance meaning he never had to suffer from financial worries and was utterly free to pursue his art.
In the beginning of his career, Cézanne focused on painting landscapes and imaginative figures within them. This developed in a desire to simplify nature into its geometric essential forms. In the beginning his work was soundly rejected, finally in 1866 he had his first submission to the Salon in Paris. He enjoyed public recognition and financial success in his lifetime, but preferred to stay out of the lime light and painted primarily in the south of France, in his beloved Provence.
His work is broken down into the following categories:
Dark period, Paris 1861-187
Impressionist period, Provence and Paris (1870-1878)
Mature period, Provence (1878-1890)
Final period, Provence (1890-1905)
In 1906, he died at the age of 67 as a result of catching pneumonia while painting a landscape in a field and being caught in a downpour. He is buried in Aix-en-Provence.
Paul Cézanne was one of the most influential artists of the 19th century and the father of Cubism.
Voila! Gros bisous des beaux tableaux et a demain.