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later French items

French items from before 2009:             to enlarge photos, click on them

Sitting dogs   What is rude?   Liberte Equalite Fraternite   Bourges Catherdral   Road numbering in France   Bourges and Caesar   The King of Bourges  Duty to French   Bourges marshes   Bourges and Calvinism   French Cultural Dimensions   French Healthcare   French taxes   Bengy's Guillaume Pelvoysin   August 29 1944   Bengy sur-Craon's history   Marianne   Bourges and King Arthur   Reveillon du Noel

Sitting dogs
In the Cher there is an architectural feature in older houses called a 'chien assis' or sitting dog. The typical country house is made from the local stone covered with rendering. The roofs have a steep slope and are covered in tile or slate. There is usually only one story but the attic is very big because of the steep slopes. A sort of dormer is put into these attics that cuts the roof line, called 'chien assis'. If the opening is a door then it is likely that the attic is used for storage and utilities. If the opening has a window then it is likely that the attic has been converted into a living space, probably a bedroom. I have started a photo collection of these odd dormers. Click on a picture to see it enlarged.

sitting dog sitting dog sitting dog sitting dog
sitting dog sitting dog sitting dog sitting dog

What is rude?
If you are waiting for some service and are being ignored - is that rude? Maybe you are just not seen. But when you sigh, tap your fingers, clear your throat, until someone looks your way and you are still not dealt with - is that rude? And when you are approached, there is no apology, perhaps even certain coolness - is that rude?
On the other hand, what if you are providing service and someone thinks they are so important that they should be served before you are available - is that rude? What if they make everyone uncomfortable with their impatience - is that rude? And when you go to server them, they do not even give you a civil greeting - is that rude?
There was a cartoon that made me laugh. A couple is in a restaurant owned, run and frequented by Swedes. They notice how friendly everyone is, how much fun everyone is having, and the lack of tension. They decide they are going to move to Sweden. While they are waiting to get their coats from the coat check, the girl is chatting to her friend and paying no attention to them. They fret helplessly and finally decide to not go to nasty old Sweden where people can be so rude. The cartoon put the paradox in 5 or 6 little panels.
I noticed the human approach in Norway. Any little bit of business was part of a much longer chat. I noticed the difference between Austria and Germany. An Austrian said to us that Austria was like Denmark - it was Germany except everything was more expensive, less efficient, less stressful and more human - but only about 5% or so. They thought it was worth a 5% drop in living standard to live in a friendlier place.
When we lived in England, we often noticed what appeared to be rudeness from Americans and Canadians. Of course, the English, like the Germans, are fairly efficient when serving people, but sometimes not quite efficient enough for North Americans. The English are not quite as strict about greetings but somewhat more strict then North Americans. But the question of rudeness between English and American people is felt on a personal level. Some particular English people find some particular Americans rude and vice versa. Very few in either group find the whole other culture rude.
The Berry region in France is particularly human in this respect. There is a lot of waiting and a lot of chatting. When I am not in a hurry, I love it. When I am in a hurry, I hate it. On balance, it is more endearing than irritating. I think it is this attitude of the French - the very civil, friendly, chatty way of going on - that makes Americans label the whole nation as rude. The French are definitely not rude; some individuals may be, especially perhaps in Paris, but not the majority and certainly not the nation.

Liberte Equalite Fraternite
Sitting in the car, waiting for Harry in front of a post office, I saw again the motto that is on all the French post offices, French Euro coins etc.etc.: liberte, equalite, fraternite, the cry of the French Revolution and the motto of all the France Republics since then. I suddenly realized what an amazing motto is it.
I had thought, of course, that these were each attractive absolute goals. We could have liberty, we could have equality, and we could have fraternity, but what we could not have is all of them together at the same time. All of them could not be absolutes; we could only have awkward compromises between these ideals. There is an argument between the rights of individuals and the rights of communities. There is an argument between economic equality and entrepreneurial freedom.
This has led some people to leave out one of the three goal or to supply a replacement for one of them. But maybe the problem is not with the three goals but with the absolute achievement of them. Maybe the right amount of liberty is the amount that is consistent with equality and fraternity. Maybe the right amount of equality is the amount that is consistent with liberty and fraternity. Maybe the right amount of fraternity is the amount that is consistent with liberty and equality. The goal of this motto could be thought of as not the achievement of three separate things but the achievement of one thing, a society with the right balanced of ideals.
Let's take equality. If we do not have enough equality then the privileged become very fearful of the disadvantaged. They start to favour police, walls and prisons; they want protection. The disadvantaged envy and feel they are being harmed by the privileged. They become militant and even violent. The outcome is a break in society (along economic, religious, racial, ethnic etc. lines) and an enormous decrease in fraternity with the 'others'. A sense of brotherhood disappears between the two groups. The only way most people feel they can deal with this situation is to circumscribe freedom.
If equality is taken too far, it takes a good deal of force to maintain an strictly equal society. Liberty certainly suffers again. People who are forced to lose something in order to protect the ideal of equality are soon going to lose their feeling of community as well.
Looking at fraternity, if there is too little, it brings out the worst in people. General selfishness, distrust and disregard for others are not good ways to have a civil and law-abiding public. To control violence and predatory behavior, freedoms are sacrificed. In the each man for himself environment, equality suffers and the rich and powerful get more rich and powerful.
If fraternity is too strong, people are under the thumb of their communities and nations. Communities who police and protect themselves in the midst of the larger society are particularly oppressive of their own populations and destructive of cohesion in the large society. Holding patriotism as an overriding value often leads to a militaristic culture with an erosion of liberty.
Too much liberty leads to a society where everyone is elbowing everyone else because one person's right to do something conflicts without someone else's right to be free of the consequences of the other's actions. Power (through litigation, money or violence) becomes everything while equality and fraternity suffer.
Too little liberty allow small groups of people to control the society with an obvious lack of equality between them and the rest of society and no fraternity between haves and have-nots.
The society that is acceptable to us, is achievable and sustainable, make us proud to be part of it, that society is the one that gives us a good measure of all three ideals: liberte, equalite, fraternite.

Bourges Cathedral
When we drive towards Bourges (the by any route), the first sight of the city is the cathedral showing on the horizon. It is very tall and sits at the highest point in the city. Although there are some tall buildings in Bourges, it is the cathedral that overshadows the rest.
During Paul's visit, I finally went inside.
Construction started in 1195. It is considered, jointly with Chartes, as the first 'high-gothic' cathedral. And high it is - the ceiling arches are 37 meters (about 120 feet) above the floor inside the body of the church. On the outside, the roof and towers are much higher.
To me, the two most beautiful things about the place are the stained glass windows and the flying buttresses.
Below are my pictures (click to enlarge) but better ones are found on the web.

cathedral cathedral cathedral cathedral cathedral cathedral

Road numbering in France
The French have a great game for matching the road numbers. We live on the D976 but nearby is a old road marker for the N76. So a road changed its number - big deal. But what happens when many roads change and it keeps happening. It becomes confusing.
Once upon a time there were N roads, national roads, important roads that were maintained by the national government. A group of nine radiated from Paris, numbered sequentially anti-clockwise. Others split off from these and carried the parent number as their first digit. The roads kept their numbers though all the departments they transverse. Oh, for the days of the logical N road numbering.
Each department also had D roads which they numbered with their own schemes. There were C roads that were maintained by communes (towns). You could more of less tell the importance and quality of a road from its letter and the number of digits it had.
Then the financing of roads changed. This need not have disrupted anything but it did. Rather than just leave the road numbering as it was and simply send the bills to a different place, the numbers were changed as the responsibility shifted. This has been going on for about 50 years.
Many roads went from Nx to D9x as ours did. But you cannot count on it as each department did as it pleased. The old road signs were also not necessarily removed. This was OK because there was not that much problem with following the signs for towns. If you are going from Bourges to Nevers, you follow the signs for Nevers and don't worry about there you are on the N76 or the D976. The signs tend to point you to the better roads so there is no need to worry about the number of digits in the road.
Then came another wrinkle. The French built autoroutes (like autobauns, motorways or autostrata) and these are the A roads. The numbering is similar to the old N system and the roads keep their numbers through all departments. It would cause no problem, just continue to follow the road signs for towns, except that some stretches are toll roads. If you need to avoid the tolls then you have to tell the difference between town signs via the autoroute and via the ordinary roads.
The European Union has also numbered existing roads throughout Europe with E numbers. Another problem is that some stretches of road are now (properly) two different roads Dx and Dy. In this case the one road seems to disappear from signs and maps only to reappear a few miles away. Thank goodness this is rare.
To drive in France taking an unusual route requires one of three things: a GPS navigation system, a love of quaint things and puzzles and a very good map, or good anger management. When I get down because I am having difficulty navigating, I tend to become cynical. I start to feel like someone is trying to control where I go or trying to make me buy an electronic navigation system.

Bourges and Caesar
Here is an interesting bit of Bourges history. 2050 years ago the city of Bourges was called Avaricon by the Gauls or Avaricum by the Romans, and was the largest and chief city of the tribe called the Bituriges Cubi. It was built on a promontory overlooking the joining of the Yeves and Auron rivers, well fortified and surrounding by river and marshy ground.
The Bituriges tribe, along with many other tribes, was part of the resistance to Roman conquest led by Vercingetorix. The Gauls decided in the winter of 52 BC on a 'scorched earth' policy; they would burn the towns and remove all the food, crops and livestock from the reach of the Romans and then harass them without large battles while the Romans were foraging for food. The plan was appearing to work well.
But the Bituriges wanted to save Avaricon from burning. "The Bituriges falling prostrate on the ground, earnestly begged that they might not be obliged to burn with their own hands the most beautiful city of Gaul, the ornament and the security of their state; especially as the town itself, almost wholly surrounded by a river and morass, and affording but one very narrow approach, was, from the nature of its situation, capable of an easy defence. Vercingetorix at first opposed their request, but at length, moved by their prayers and the generous compassion of the army, he yielded and sent a strong garrison to defend the town."
In the spring of 52BC Julius Caesar arrived at Avaricum and began a siege. Vercingetorix camped 15 miles away to trap the Romans there and not allow them to forage. The allies of Roman in Gaul could not and sometimes would not get supplies through to him. The Romans grew hungry and Caesar offered to lift his siege because of the scarcity of food but his army was by this time very angry and wanted to stay. Caesar therefore began to build siege engines. During the 25 days it took to build the apparatus, the Gauls continued their raids and attempts to burn the siege engines.
When preparations were complete Caesar began to advance the towers. As he started, a fierce storm struck and the sentries in the city took cover rather than keeping watch. This gave Caesar the ability to move right up to the walls of the city without opposition. The city quickly fell. The Romans were set on revenge for their hunger and frustration. Of the 40,000 people in the town, only 800 survived the massacre.
Later that year Vercingetorix's finally defeated Caesar and he died in battle. The Roman army melted away from Gaul as the Roman Republic fell into civil war. Vercingetorix enlarged and strengthened his confederation of tribes. His Gaulish imperial state had a constitution called the Charter of Avaricum. Each tribe had its own autonomy under its own king but all owed allegiance to an Imperial Assembly and the Emperor, Vercingetorix. For a hundred years or so this Gaulish Empire grew stronger while the Roman one grew weaker. Later of course, Roman triumphed over Gaul.

The King of Bourges
Charles VII of France was called the King of Bourges by his enemies because he had lost Paris and much of the land we think of as France.  He was also called Charles the Victorious because, in the end, he won the 100 Years War.
The war started in 1337 and continued on and off with the English progressive taking more and more French territory. In 1415 Henry V won at Agincourt. He obtained the Treaty of Troyes from the French king Charles VI. Under this treaty Henry V married Charles' daughter Catherine and their heirs were to inherit the French throne. The Dauphin, who would become Charles VII, was declared illegitimate in the treaty. When Charles VI died, Henry and Catherine's infant son was declared King of France in Paris and accepted by the Estates General. The Dauphin had very little left and was confined to the region around Bourges.
At this low point, Joan of Arc arrived on the scene. She lifted the siege of Orleans by improving the moral of the French army and after other victories in quick succession made possible the coronation of Charles VII at Reims. The infant Henry VI had not officially been crowned at Reims and the tide turned in Charles' favour. Joan was captured and burnt as a heretic in 1431, but by that time Charles was safely King of France and in Paris.
Over time, the French regained the territory held by the English. Later, in 1558, they regained the last English outpost, Calais. But it was not until 1801 that the English finally dropped their claim to the French throne. Of course, there still are the Channel Islands under the English crown.

Duty to French
I have always thought it was odd that the French felt such a duty to their language. The English seem to feel that the English language should be made to work for them. The French seem willing to work for their language. 
Below is some of Edmund Blair Bolles' review of the book The Story of French by 
Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow found in the blog Babel's Dawn (it's a great blog on language evolution). They have a great take on French.
"Speakers everywhere think of their mother tongue as being easier, more reasonable, better than other languages, but when the French make that claim they are not exactly referring to the French language as she is spoke, but as it exists in its ideal form."
"Every language has speakers who understand the difference between correct and mistaken speech. … The French commentators refer to an ideal French that will come to pass.  The French are promoting  dream version of a language that has never been realized….The ideal French promotes 'the values of clarity, precision, and rigour'. Clarity and precision are sought by most writers everywhere, but what is rigour? Even with that English spelling, it's not a familiar linguistic ideal to the heirs of Shakespeare, who like coinages, imported words, and synonyms galore. Rigor is more for the heirs of Descartes. It means a mathematical language where new words are despised and synonyms are a waste of time. It is, to English-hearing ears, an anti-verbal attitude…"
"How did such an oddity arise? ….Cardinal Richelieu established France's monument to its ideal language, the French Academy. The task its leaders assigned themselves was to: Clear the language of all the filth it has caught, either from the mouth of the people or in the crowd of the court and tribunal or in the bad speech of ignorant courtiers… That neatly summarizes the French dichotomy. There is the language as people speak it (a dirty, ignorant mess) and then there is the rigorous language that should be. The Academy is what catches the foreigner's eye, but that is merely a visible token of something inherent in French culture…."
"The Academy assigned itself the task of creating a great dictionary, but -
Their original plan had been to define the rules of usage by quoting authors-an onerous task. So instead of reading and studying the important works of the day, they decided just to make up the rules and invent their own examples. That's the underside of idealism; it is too easy. The English language has had two great quotation-based dictionaries, Johnson's and the Oxford English Dictionary. They have been paragons of actual usage and required very hard work on the part of energetic men (Johnson and Murray). The result, of course, has been an attitude toward language so removed from Paris that London might as well be on a ring of Saturn….By itself the Academy's dictionary and idealism could do nothing, but they, or more importantly, their spirit has been adopted by the editors, writers, and schoolteachers who produce successive generations of leaders…"
"They have no Dickens. But English has no Balzac either, and certainly no Proust…The role of cultural will can play more of a part in the look and feel of a language than the descriptive fatalists care to admit."

Bourges marshes
marshThe Marais of Bourges, the marshes, is a national heritage sight. Historically they were the source of food and of protection for the city. Near the center of the town is 135 hectares of gardens along a mass of canals, cared for by about 1000 market gardeners. Little flat-bottomed boats are used to get to the plots. Every year there is a fair, Fete des Marais in September. This is the smaller remains of the once extensive and uncultivated marsh.
The last time the marshes were used for protection was in the Franco Prussian War where the artillery pieces were placed in the marshes to make it impossible for the Prussians to capture them. The defensive use of the marshes goes back to early Gaul.
Gardening goes back to the 1600s. The Jesuits bought much of the marshes and then rented them out to people who would garden them. During the French Revolution, the state's land was sold and so the rest of the marshes became gardens. These gardens are what are left of marshes that almost completely encircled the town.
The water in the marshes is now carefully controlled by associations of gardeners. But there is no shortage of water as Bourges stands on the hill where the rivers Yevre, Voiselle, Auron and the Canal du Berry meet. There is a lake on the Auron on the edge of Bourges. Bourges is a city of trees, gardens, water and parks.  

Bourges and Calvinism
John (Jean) Calvin was the theologian father of the religions that came to be known as Reformed, Presbyterian, Calvinist, Puritan and, in France, as Huguenot. He had his conversion in University of Bourges. He came to Bourges as a devout Catholic student of theology and law from the Universities of Paris and Orleans and left Bourges as a convert to the new ideas of the reformation.
He became a Protestant in 1533, just 16 years after Luther publish his 93 Thesis and 12 years after Luther's final split with the Vatican. In Bourges he studied Greek from a German professor, Melchior Wolmar, and used the New Testament in the original Greek as material. Wolmar was a believer in Luther's ideas. Calvin returned to Paris as an active protestant. The next year after a 'demonstration of posters' lead Francis I to react negatively to protestant thought, Calvin fled France. He travelled some and then spent the rest of his life in Geneva.
One of the reasons that Bourges was host to reformers in its university was that the Duchess of Berry, who was also Margaret of Valois, Queen of Navarre and King Francis' sister, was a patron of the university. She paid for Wolmar and others to come to Bourges and teach. Being the Duchess of Berry, she took special interest in its capital, Bourges. Margaret was a very well educated lady and famous for her culture. Until Oct 17 1534 the King followed her lead and allowed reformers to flourish in France.
Francis probably felt gratitude to his sister. He was captured in the Battle of Pavia in Italy in 1525 and held prisoner in Spain by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Margaret negotiated his release with great skill. She also rode horseback for many days through winter weather to meet a safe-conduct deadline.
Calvin's followers in France, the Huguenots, increased despite the crackdown. Some years later the French religious wars started (1562-1598). The climax of the wars and the turn of the tide in favour of the Catholics was the St. Bartholomew massacre in 1572 when about 100,000 Huguenots were murdered. In 1685 the last of the Huguenots fled France, about 200,000 of them. They tended to be craftsmen, skilled workers, and entrepreneurs and so France lost a great deal in the killing and exile. It took some time for its economy to recover. It became a wholly Catholic country; even its atheists were 'Catholic atheists' not 'Calvinist atheists'. Yet it had a deep anti-cleric streak which clearly surfaced in the Revolution.

French Cultural Dimensions
Geert Hofstede studies cultural differences around the world. I have looked up the scores for France on four of Hofstede's five Cultural Dimensions and compared them with the scores on the few countries that we think I know fairly well. Below are Hofstede's explanations of the Dimensions, the scores of 7 places, and my reaction to the position of France in the score.
Power Distance Index (PDI) that is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society's level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that 'all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others'. Higher scores are accepting of inequality.
France 68
East Africa 64
                US 40
                Canada 39
                                UK 35
                                Norway 31
                                                Austria 11
This is not a measure of the inequality in the society but how acceptable it is to the ordinary person. France is higher than any other of my countries. This was a surprise to me. However, I am slowly finding it more probable then I did in my first reaction. There seems to be a real sense of equality in France, so maybe the French are just not bothered by the exceptionally rich and powerful amongst them.
It is an oddity because the others (except Austria)  seem to line up more or less in order of their actual inequality - so the more inequality, the more it is unacceptable.

Individualism (IDV) on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, that is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word 'collectivism' in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state. Again, the issue addressed by this dimension is an extremely fundamental one, regarding all societies in the world. Higher scores are more individualistic.
US  91
UK 89
                Canada 80
                                France 71
                                Norway 69
                                                Austria 65
                                                                East Africa 27
France is about in the middle here and that is about where I would expect it to be.
Masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM studies revealed that (a) women's values differ less among societies than men's values; (b) men's values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women's values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women's values on the other. The assertive pole has been called 'masculine' and the modest, caring pole 'feminine'. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men's values and women's values. Higher scores are more masculine.
Austria  79
                UK 66
                US 62
                                Canada 52
                                                France 43
                                                East Africa 41
                                                                        Norway 8
France is in the middle here too and that seems about right, maybe a slightly lower score than I would have expected. Definitely the order seems right. The Dimension does not do justice to the differences between the sexes in these countries. I hear tell that French woman are more practical then French men.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man's search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth; 'there can only be one Truth and we have it'. People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions. Higher scores are more avoiding.
France 86
                Austria 70
                                East Africa 52
                                Norway 50
                                Canada 48
                                US 46
                                                UK 35
This is another that surprised me at first sight - France the most likely to avoid uncertainty - but than I came to accept it. I had to put it in the context of their resistance to change in the French language unless supervised by the Academy. Another clue would be the nature of their bureaucracy, so large, so rule bound, so effective and efficient, so always RIGHT.  Still they did elect Sarkosy because he was going to make changes - but everyone knew he could only make small changes or he would have people shouting in the streets.

French Healthcare
According to some, the French healthcare system is the best in the world; according to others, it is just very, very good.
In general the system works like this: everyone is registered with the system, everyone pays for whatever treatment they want from whoever they choose, the government reimburses some part (commonly 70%) of that payment, if they want to rest covered they take out a sort of insurance. The care is good quality in up-to-day facilities, with no waiting lists and is fully computerized. People can pay for private health care, but it is the same care from the same facilities for more or less the same cost and you have to pay all the cost because the insurance coverage is only available for those in the system. Therefore everyone who can use the system does so. Coverage is for GP, specialist and hospital services, dentistry, diagnostics and drugs. There is a law of universal coverage for all legal residence of France (recently amended to be slightly less universal for foreigners). Regardless of the status of the patient, emergency care cannot be legally denied in France. That is the principle of the system - not so much a universal single payer system as a regulated and affordable compulsory insurance system. It has been in existence since 1947.
Of course it is not exactly like that, practice is somewhat different from principle. For example, people do not pay up-front as a rule. People have a little 'smart' card, called a 'carte vitale', that is recognized by the doctor's computer system. This allows the doctor to bill the government ('d'assurance maladie') directly and so he only requires the payment of the difference. If he has a way to bill the insurance company he does not need that part either to be paid directly from the patient up-front. Many people have the insurance as part of their employment or if their income is very low, the government covers all of the cost. So to most people the system appears to have no direct cost.
So who pays? There is a deduction from employed and self-employed people of a fifth or so of their salaries to finance of 'Securite Sociale'. A significant part of this social security pool goes to the health system. Short falls are covered by general taxation. Thus, all those that are earning pay for the system with a ratio of their earnings.
There is a standard cost of all services and almost all public and private doctors and facilities subscribe to this standard. However, they are allowed to charge extra ('depassements') for special reasons. One of the things an insurance policy can cover is depassements.
Another wrinkle is that the insurance is not straightforward insurance. 'Polices complementaires' or 'mutuelles' (profit and non-profit insurance) are only available to those registered with the health system. There are a very wide range of coverage types and premiums and many providers (about 1000) but it is a highly regulated industry.
The recent changes to the universal coverage do not affect most people in France, but did worry us for a while. In the past all EU citizens living in France could register with the system. As of November 2007, EU citizens who were not working, officially retired or having proof that their care would be covered by their own government could not register in the French system until they had lived in France 5 years. We have now received the documents from the UK show our status as pensioners and are re-registered in the system.
There are some interesting quirks to every country's health care. France is no exception.
On the positive side…Compared to Canada and the UK, France seems to have a lot of women doctors, close to half of doctors are women. There are a lot more GPs and also specialists per population too. Doctors appear to have time and we have never felt rushed. There are no waiting lists. Preventative medicine is evident - we get in the mail, directions and encouragement to take part in screening programs, flu shots and the like that are appropriate for our age/gender. Our local dentist has state-of-the-art equipment like I have never seen before. Pre- and post-natal care and child medicine is especially outstanding in France. The computer system appears to be the sort that Canadian and UK authorities dream of. In 2000 WHO rated France first in health care (UK was 18th and US 37th). Like Canadians, the French really value their healthcare system.
On the negative side…The French have the highest level of drug prescriptions in the world and an especially high use of antibiotics and anti-cholesterol drugs. Buying non-prescription drugs in France has been a bit of a pain. There is nothing like an English or North American drug store at least not where we live. Supermarkets have cosmetics and simple hygienic and first aid products but not any non-prescription drugs. We have to go to a pharmacy and there you have to produce a prescription, know exactly what you want for a non-prescription drug or take the advice of the pharmacist. No browsing, reading the labels, or comparing the price is encouraged. 
The system did not cope well with the heat wave in '03 when 15,000 elderly people died. Who knows whether another system would have coped any better. It was an unexpected and difficult situation.

French Taxes
Here we are in June, recovering from the tax form season. If you acquire income in two countries and live in a third, your tax situation can be complicated. In our case, we have such a tiny income that a good deal of the complication falls away. Still it is nice to have it done for another year.
France has a different way with taxes then I am used to.
1. The French system is one of those that ignores that you earn until tax form time and then asks you to state your earnings so they can calculate your tax and send you the bill. If the government suspects that you lied, they investigate. This differs from the Canadian/British systems where the system knows what you earn and takes the tax before you see the money. At the end of the year, you do the form and they assess it so that you can pay or get back what was in error. The French can arrange to pay two payments in advance of the final bill but they are still faced with a few large bills rather than the payroll deduction.
2. French taxes (if you count them all) are amongst the highest in the world. None of less, the government ministries and the social security system run in deficit year after year. This has a lot to do with the up-to-date infrastructure, the large competent civil service, and the generous social security system.
3. The mix of taxes is heavy on the sales tax side. France also gets a higher proportion of its revenue from wealth/asset tax and inheritance tax. However, there is a limit in France for your combined personal income, wealth and local taxes at about half your income. It is a bit ironic that the capitalist US has higher corporate tax than France.
4. Despite the high sales tax which is regressive, the income tax burden in France is light on large, poor families. This is partly because of an unusual way to calculate the tax bracket. Each family has a number of 'shares' depending on the number of people. The total income for the family is divided by the number of shares to find the correct tax bracket. Then that tax bracket's percentage is used to calculate the tax for the whole income.
5. The French system like the UK one is pretty easy on pensioners. There are accounts in France (from insurance companies) that are tax shelters similar to Canadian Register Retirement Fund Plans.

Bengy's Guillaume Pelvoysin
CujasGuillaume Pelvoysin is the most famous (maybe the only famous) person from the little village we live in, Bengy sur Craon. He was born to the marshal of Bengy and he grew up to be a master stone mason in the city of Bourges.
This was a good time to be an architect in Bourges. The city was recovering from a major fire, the collapse of the Cathedral tower, an earthquake and a major flood during his time building there.
The Great Fire of the Madeleine took place on July 22 1487. Fanned by a violent wind it spread quickly through the crowded wooden buildings in the east of the city until a third of Bourges was completely destroyed. The town hall and all the archives of the city were destroyed. The flames licked at the walls of the Cathedral but it did not catch fire.
Two churches were destroyed in the fire and were rebuilt by Pelvoysin. Saint-Bonnet was rebuilt on wetlands starting in 1510 and Notre Dame was repaired by him starting in 1525.
Also in 1510 Pelvoysin started working with Colin Byard and Jean Chesneau on the North Tower of the Cathedral. He ended up in charge of the work. The collapse of the tower on Dec 31 1506 had nothing to do with the fire but poor foundations. The city needed money to repair the damaged Cathedral but had none after the devastation of the fire and they did not want to raise taxes. So a sort of 'telethon' was organized where the faithful could pay for permission to eat fats in Lent. The North Tower was therefore called the 'tower of butter'. 
He is also remembered for the Hotel Cujas. Pelvoysin built it around 1515 for Durand Salvi, a rich Florentine Businessman. The building takes its name from Jacques Cujas, the dean of Bourges Law University, who bought it in 1585. It now houses the Berry Museum. (see below).

August 29 1944
French liberation started in June 1944 with the Normandy landings. Before the end of June, de Gaulle proclaimed the Provisional Government of the French Republic in liberated Paris. At the end of August, the Germans were rapidly retreating out of their positions in central France. During several weeks major convoys moved day and night down the route from Bourges to Nevers. This road goes through the village of Bengy sur Craon.
Allied aircraft frequently attacked these convoys, and also, everywhere along the route the convoys feared finding themselves harassed by the Resistance. They used their machine guns even when there were no attacks. Along the route the shutters stayed closed.
On August 29th, a group was moving dead horses off the road where they had been killed by the RAF the night before. The Germans broke discipline and decided on reprisals. Three inhabitants of Bengy were killed but that was not enough. At the Franclieu farm, another five victims were shot by the Germans while doing farm work. Before leaving, to complete the atrocity, the Germans burnt down three farms: Franclieu, Rigolettes, and Ridonnes.
A cross was erected near the scene and after the war was over, a monument was put there on land donated by the Loiseau family.

Bengy sur-Craon's history
mosaic floorThe village of Bengy sur Craon has been inhabited since pre-historic times. At 'La Croix du Ban' there is the remains of a Gallo-Roman villa. It was documented with precision but incompletely by Captain Grandjean in 1895. The living area had an interesting mosaic but it can no longer be seen.
The villa seems to have been the rural residence of a well-off landowner and the permanent centre of an estate that might be a large as 200 hectares and employed about 100 people. Already at this time cereal farming was one of the principle economic activities in the area.
The name Bengy probably derives from the name of the owner, Bannius, in Latin. The first recorded owner is Curtis Bangiaci in 1130. The spelling of the town was Bangi until the Revolution.
Christianity started to spread in the area after 450. It was probably at this time that the first church was built, no doubt in wood. The current church was built over its site. The church is in the Romanesque style, built in the 12th century under the jurisdiction of the Canons of  Bourges. St. Peter's fountain shows Celtic elements, perhaps from the time of Christianization.
During the Wars of Religion, the church was partly burnt and the village was destroyed. The church was repaired at the beginning of the 1700s. It took some damage in 1913 and has been restored.
The highway from Bourges to Never was constructed in 1830-31 and passes through the village. In 1845-46 the railway Vierson/Saincaize was built and in 1847 a station was built in the village. Bengy got a post office in 1872.
South of the village is a military firing range. In 1856 a school for artillery was created in Bourges. A firing range in 50 hectares and 2 km long was built. It was enlarged in 1861 and 1869 to be 250 hectares and 4.5 km. The range passed in 1871 to the Experimental Commission of Bourges that was created by Napoleon III. In 1914 the range was extended to 12 km. The hamlet of Craon in the municipality was destroyed and a 30 km range created in 1918. The Bourges establishment with its Bengy range is the largest centre in Europe of artillery expertise. The range area has become an excellent place for wild life. The lake of Craon in the range is a resting place for numerous migrating birds. Cranes stay all year around and geese over-winter.

Everything we get from the French government or local government has the Marianne logo. It is a toned down Marianne, made respectable now. She is still young and pretty but not as sexy as she is sometimes. She looks determined but not as fierce. And the Phrygian cap is not 'in your face' although it is still there if you look for it. You can tell the logo image is not Liberty because Liberty is middle-aged lady, modestly dressed with a tiara on her head.
Civil servants are asked to consider how Marianne would do things when they are dealing with the public. That is a pretty tame role for a revolutionary symbol. The recent models for depictions of Marianne have included Bridget Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Ines de la Fressange, and Laeticia Casta. Maybe Sarkozy's new wife will be next.

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Bourges and King Arthur
I always like to hear that an oral tradition has been found to have some substance. I so I enjoyed encountering the story of Leon Mirot, following the directions of the old poem, Chanson de Geste, discovered the ruins of Les Fontaines Salees as the elfin ruins of the poem. Les Fontaines Salees is the Gallo-Roman remains of a centre of healing. But what does this have to do with Arthur and Bourges.
Geoffrey Ashe and Marilyn Floyde put forward a new theory of King Arthur. There was a real, documented man called Arthur Riothamus, who reigned as Over-King in Britain and Breton between about 454 and 470 AD. The idea is that King Arthur was Arthur Riothamus.
Arthur Riothamus was respected in France for his fighting skill against the Saxons. He was requested by the Roman Emperor to help defeat an invasion from the south. In 468 he went to France with a British army of 12000 men to join the Romans, Franks and Burgundians against the Visigoths. Apparently he was greeted as royalty when he landed and fought a few battles with some Saxons on the coast. The Britons marched on up the Loire Valley to Bourges where they waited for the Romans to join them and to do battle with the Visigoths.
King Euric of the Visigoths was warned by a traitor of where Arthur was and that he should attack Bourges before the Romans reinforcements arrived. A long battle was won by the Visigoths who out numbered the Britains. The defeated solders were expelled from Bourges and fled to the Burgundians. They probably went to Avallon, the closest the fortified central in Burgundy.
The theory is that King Arthur (Arthur Riothamus) was wounded and went to Avalon (Avallon) for healing but died and was buried there. The Glastonbury grave is assumed to be a hoax. The reason that the French Avallon would be the place to go for healing is that from prehistoric times until the 900s there was a community of women skilled in healing at Les Fontaines Salees, near Avallon. This is the place that was rediscovered by following an old poem. There are other 'coincidences' between the two stories involving Morgan, Mordred, Excaliber etc.
The valley of the river Cure has been inhabited since Cro Magnon times. At Avallon was a Celtic Druid College and later, under the Romans, a famous school. In 376 St. Martin consecrated the pagan temple as a Christian church. A female community of healers was nearby at Les Fontaines Salees, until the Pope converted it to an abbey for men and moved it away from the river in 877AD.
Back to Bourges, it remained in Visigoth hands for a while. In 476 Euric made Bourges the centre of his administration of Aquitania. The main difference between the Visigoths and the Germanic tribes in northern France along with the Gallo-Roman enclaves was that Visigoths practiced Arian Christianity and the north practiced Nicene-Roman Christianity. Between 486 and 507 Clovis established Frankish rule in much of France. Bourges would have been taken early in this conquest.

Reveillon du Noel
Wonder what the high point of a French Christmas is? Of course, it is the meal! First you stay up very late on Christmas Eve. Traditionally the meal is after Midnight Mass and it is a long meal, called Reveillon or Awakening, somewhat ironically. The feast is a family affair, at home or in a restaurant. The menu depends on the region and is always luxury foods. There are different wines and breads to go with each course. The dessert is often a Yule Log, buche de Noel, but in Provence there are traditionally 13 desserts served. It is one of the two best meals of the year. (People couldn't afford more than two such expensive meals.) The second Reveillon is just a few days later on New Year's Eve. This time the feast is with friends, entertainment and fire works.
Of course, presents for kids are another Christmas highlight and the French can shower children with expensive gifts with as much abandon as anyone. Santa Claus is taking over but there is still Pere Noel (Father Christmas) to visit your house, accompanied by Pere Fouettard (Father Spanking). One is the carrot and the other the stick. Some children even have their gifts delivered by Baby Jesus.
Christmas decorations are as gaudy and tacky as anywhere. There is a bit of class sometimes in the creche. Every village has a nativity scene in the central market or park.
I guess people always compare Christmas traditions with their own childhood. It never really seemed right to celebrate with lobster on the beach in Kenya. I never got into ghost stories at this holiday (rather than Halloween) in England. Some feel Christmas as music, some as food, some as gift shopping, some as family gatherings, some as decoration, some as booze, some as dressy clothes and so on. I am just not interested enough in food to spend a 100 euros plus for a bang-up of a meal.