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Ecluse des Lorrains
The picture book cottage
Apremont sur Allier
Who dislikes France? The Burka Many languages of France How green are the French? French holidays French and Anglo-Saxon friendship and animosity
Rue Saint Exupery
neighbouring village of Avord, where our doctor and pharmacy are and
where we often get our shopping, is the street Rue Saint-Exupery. It
is named after Antoine de Saint-Exupery, writer and aviator. (Lyon
airport is also named after him and he was once on a French bank
Avord likes to honour its aviators (even if they are
more famed for their writing then their aviation). That is because it
is an Air Force town with 'la base aerienne d'Avord'. The base was
started in 1912 to train pilots and was the most important aviation
school in the world during WW1. Between the wars it was used for
pilot training and plane development. During the war it was occupied
and used by the Germans. At the end of WW2 the base was heavily
bombed by the allies and then completely destroyed by the Germans
when they where withdrawing. The French re-built the base and it now
employs 2500 military and civilian personnel and covers 1100
hectares. From the center of France, it is the home of the country's
AWACS (surveillance, command-control-communications), the Air Force's
in-flight refueling, mission support, technical support, logistics
and training, and is also a major air ammunitions storage
Antoine de Saint-Exupery is an interesting man. He was
born in Lyon in 1900 to a noble family and raised in a castle with
his siblings, which he remembered as a paradise. He trained as a
pilot in 1921. International postal flights were his career,
including the Casablanca-Dakar route and routes in South America. To
obtain the Paris-Saigon route, he took part of a race to Saigon. His
plane crashed in the Libyan Desert where he and his co-pilot almost
died from lack of water but were saved by the Bedouin. When France
was taken in WW2, Saint-Exupery took refuge in the US and then joined
the Free France Forces, flying in the Mediterranean. He died there in
books had an aviation theme. He loved flying. The
most famous, The Little Prince, is unlike the others. It is related
to his crash in the desert with its hallucinations. The Little Prince
is an alien from his own planet. It is written for children with
Saint-Exupery's own drawings.
When I first knew Harry, he
lived out of his car and motel rooms. You could count his possessions
in a few minutes (can you believe that - not one piece of junk) but
one of the possessions was a copy of the little book in French.
Here are a couple of quotes from Antoine de
"The aeroplane has unveiled for us the true
face of the earth."
"Grown-ups never understand anything
by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and
forever explaining things to them."
Picture is the view
down the rue St Exupery from across the place decorated for
Steven Fry’s wonderful-and-terrible-at-the-same-time TV show, QI,
brought up the existence of ‘Paris syndrome’ a few night’s ago.
Apparently this is suffered in a mild form by many Japanese tourist and
some have such severe cases that the embassy must be fly them back to
Japan for treatment.
It seems that the Japanese have very high expectations of Paris. Paris
is culture; Paris is sophistication; Paris is beauty. They save up a
good deal of money for their trip of a lifetime to Paris. Coming from
Japan, the tourists arrive jet-lagged, tired and time-shifted. They
then get more fatigued by hectic sight-seeing. The icing on the cake is
that they are profoundly disappointed with the reality of Paris and
also suffer severe culture-shock.
Paris is nothing like they imagined and have seen in the movies and
magazines. The people are not exclusively stylish and beautiful; there
are a lot of very ordinary people. The language problem is immense. It
is hard to find a French person who speaks Japanese and equally hard to
find a Japanese person who speaks French. Even the sound and the way
French is delivered is a shock to the Japanese. Parisians have very
little patience with anyone who makes no attempt to speak French. What
other Europeans might find the expected mild rudeness of French waiters
is unbelievably rude to the Japanese, who are, if anything,
unbelievably polite. It seems the Japanese find that they do not have a
taste for the famous French cuisine, the ingredients and presentation
can actually be quite discussing to the Japanese. So in some cases,
starvation adds to fatigue, jet-lag and depression. It is no wonder
that some go over the edge and start being delusional.
Florence and Jerusalem also have syndromes with delusional behaviour
brought on by too much art and religion respectively. The Japanese are
not especially prone to these.
Running beside the Loire is a canal
called the Canal Lateral a la Loire. Where the Allier river joins the
Loire there is a small channel to join the Allier to the Canal
Lateral. This was to allow boats to travel from the Allier to the
canal system in the center of France easily. A lock, Ecluse des
Lorrains, was built where this little channel joins the Allier. It is
the only round lock left in France. Boats no longer pass through the
system but it is used today to maintain the water level in the Canal
Lateral by allowing water into it from the Allier when needed. The
Allier is dammed at this point to maintain its water level. The
system was built in 1835. The trade that made the lock economical was
the shipment of sand from the Bec d'Allier to the rest of France. The
boats of sand came up the Allier from its junction with the Loire to
the lock and they moved to the channel that took them to the Canal
Lateral. When sand stopped being shipped by boat, the lock was left
with no traffic but still useful for moving water to the Canal
|Bec d'Allier where the Allier enters the
||Ecluse des Lorrains - channel on left with
gate open, Allier on right with gate closed
||The river Allier at the lock
|Sign on the lock showing map of the
||Ryan, Ciara and Harry reading about the
||Ryan and Ginger down in the barrel
The picture book cottage
Our neighbour on one side is the woman
who owned the row of houses. She sold them and the house across the
street but kept the one little house. The property was part of a
working farm once. I believe she intended to use the little house she
kept as a place to holiday in the summer. But she is very old and has
never been to the house so we have never seen her. However, she
spent a small fortune having her roof redone with old tiles and
traditional methods. Every week except in the dead of winter, two or
three gardeners arrive to put the yards in good order (the back and
front yard of the house, a small outbuilding and yard across the
street and a little orchard behind it). All is as it would have been
many, many years ago. It is like having a museum next door.
|next to our front yard
||next to our back yard
||next to building plot
One feature of
towns and villages here
is pollarded trees. They are common here compared to the UK and even
more so compared to North America. The history of this way of growing
trees is interesting.
Apparently people have been pollarding
and coppicing trees since the days of early agriculture in Europe (at
least 4500 years ago). Whole areas of forest were managed by
communities until quite recently.
The art is to cut all the branches off
the tree repeated, every 5 to 30 years, so that the tree forms a mass
of young branches from a swelling at the end of the trunk. If the
tree is cut near ground level, it is called coppiced and if it is cut
about head height it is called pollarded. In both cases, the result
is a number of long straight poles harvested and regrown. Uncut trees
grown with pollarded and coppiced ones are called standards and were
often grown amongst the cut trees.
So why do this? It is easier to harvest
wood with ordinary tools and not much manpower. The wood can often be
used as is. Depending on how long the branches are left to grow there
is material all the way from less than an inch in diameter for
hurdles and baskets, through various weights of poles for fences and
furniture, to a foot in diameter for building. A good deal of the
wood was made into charcoal in the days before coal and coke were
common. Cattle were given the leaves and twigs to eat while the scrap
wood was used in heating and cooking. As well as household fires
there were kilns and oven of various sorts such as pottery kilns
needing firewood. Bark was harvested for tanning. A lot of products
that could be sold came out of a managed wood. Pollarding had the
advantage that the forest floor was available for grazing by cattle,
sheep and deer. Pigs were often turned out in the woods to eat
acorns. It was an important part of the peasant economy.
This type of managing produced very
long-lived and healthy trees. Some of the oldest trees in Europe
spent their youth in a number of centuries as pollards. Ancient
coppice woodlands are biologically close to the original 'wildwood'
because they are remnants of it, with the same mix of trees. More
modern, post-medieval, planted forest (whether coppiced or not) is
I enjoy the look of French streets with
their neat lines of pollarded trees. The first picture shows a newly
cut pollarded tree with one cut a couple of years before behind it.
The other two pictures are of the very fancy pollarded trees that
line the town market in Baugy.
Apremont sur Allier
is one of the
villages called 'most beautiful villages of the Loire'. It is on the
Allier and not on the Loire and is in the Cher but it is very close
to the Loire, to Nevers and to Burgundy.
the village had
quarries and also carried building stone on flat-bottomed boats to
locations along the Allier and Loire. The Orleans cathedral and the
Abbey of St. Benoit sur Loire are built of this stone. So the
population was stone workers and river boat sailors.
Between the wars,
were bad for the area. Two men, Eugene Schneider of Le Creusot and M.
Galea, remade the village into a tourist attraction. Many buildings
were demolished and replaced by buildings that were constructed as
medieval Berrichon (traditional Berry style) homes. This transformed
the village into a sort of living museum.
As well as the village
buildings, the big
tourist attractions are the gardens in the Floral Park, the remains
of Chateau d'Apremont (an Anglo-Burgundian fortress), and a museum of
horse drawn carriages.
It is a myth that Americans don't like
France. A recent poll had these percentage results:
Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the country of
seems the results were about the same for men - women, for black -
white - latino, and for young - middle-aged - elderly. The figures
for France were almost identical to those for Europe as a whole, New
York city and San Francisco. It appears that no group is unfavorable to
these places except southern Republicans, not even Republicans in
general or non-Republican southerners.
France has a parliamentary commission
looking into the issue of Islamic veils. Sarkozy has said, "The
problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it's a problem of
liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign
of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is
not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women
prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of
all identity. That's not our idea of freedom." There are very
few Muslim women in France who wear the veil, only the women of one
Saudi sect. These women are fairly generally seen as a threat to the
republic's secular values and its gender equality. Many Muslims in
France are in favour of a ban on the burka including, of course, the
three female Muslim members of the French cabinet. On the other hand,
this attitude towards the veil has been attacked by many especially
So every one is saying that women
should have the right to dress as they like. But that translates into
both 'women should not be forced to hide their faces' and 'women
should not be forced to expose their faces'. It really depends on
whether you believe that the women have been forced or brainwashing
into wearing the veil. There are non-Muslims and there are Muslims on
both sides of the argument. Which is more coercive: governments or
religious leaders? Which is protecting a women's freedom: civil
society or her male relatives? Do we want freedom-from or freedom-to?
Is this about sexism or cultural intolerance?
I know where my prejudices are. I know
they are prejudices but I cannot shake them. I feel offended by women
in veils. I am not offended by turbans or skull caps or head scarfs.
Although I don't feel that women should be forced not to wear veils –
they should not be fined, imprisoned or have their veils ripped off
on the street. They should not be allowed to have occupations that
require face-to-face communication with the onus on the veiled women
to show that adequate communication is possible.
A women in a veil may think she is
showing religious faith and modesty. But when I see her my immediate
impression is not of a believing, modest person.
I see first someone who has made
herself into a sexual object. She is saying that men have the right
to view her as a sexual object and so she hides. And then she is
surprised when men make more rude sexist remarks when she is veiled
then when she isn't. Over and above making herself a sexual object,
she is confirming a men's right to be a sexual predators. She is
saying that it is women's lack of modestly and not men's lack of
self-control that causes women to be molested. I find that very
offensive to my male friends. She is also saying that if I am
molested, it is my fault for not being modest enough. I find this
offensive to me and my female friends. If she is wearing the veil
freely, then she is confirming that sexism is proper. She is also
endorsing a double standard.
Secondly, I see someone who does not
want to engage in communication with me or most anyone. I am not
saying she is unwilling to talk but she is unwilling to communicate.
She is making it clear that she has nothing to communicate to me. I
find this offensive. It is the same feeling I have when trying to
talk to someone in mirrored sunglasses – why am I talking to this
arrogant person who does not want to communicate with me.
Thirdly, the veil say that the wearer
is very, very, very different from the rest of us and wants to be so.
The message is that she does not want to be part of the community.
The purity of her religious belief does not allow her to engage in
ordinary contact with ordinary people. This just strengthens
intolerance of Muslims – just the opposite of what we need.
So in my prejudiced view it is very
hard to think of the veil as anything but a proud, sexist, separatist
badge or as a terrible prison. I hope that France continues to make
the veil socially unacceptable but stops just short of making it
illegal. I am happy that veils are not allowed in French state
schools and that French citizenship has been denied to a women
because she was veiled. But illegal – no. There should not be laws
against being offensive. People should have the right to be offensive
if they want as long as they are not promoting hate. I assume the the
Republic will make it clear that the veil is unwelcome and that it
will do it in a way that is acceptable to the majority of Muslims in
Many languages of France
We learn that someone we know spoke
Occitan with her grandmother as a child in the south of France. This
started me looking at the other 'french' languages.
The Latin that was spoken throughout
the Roman Empire, the ordinary language of the legionaries, was a
fairly uniform dialect, closer to the Romance languages then to
Classic Latin. Romance Latin became the language of Gaul, replacing
the Celtic languages. This uniformity in Gaul changed after the
invasion of the Germanic tribes. The Visigoths settling in the south,
the Burgundians in the Rhone and west, and the Franks in the north.
This resulted in three groups of Romance languages.
In the north was the L'oil family
which included the language that became French proper plus Picard,
Walloon, Norman, Champenois, Lorrain, Gallo, Poitevin, Saintongeais,
Franc-Comtois. The language in the part of the country we are in,
Berrichon, is part of this group.
In the west was the
Franco-Provencal family, including Bressan, Dauphinois, Forezien,
Jurassien, Lyonnais and Savoyard.
In the south was the L'oc or
Occitan family, including Occitan proper, Vivaroalpenc, Auergnat,
Bearnese, Landese, Languedocien, Limousin, Nissart and Provencal.
On the edges of what we now call
France were some Romance language that didn't come under the
influence of these particular German tribes: Catalan, Corsican,
Ligurian, Piedmontese. Also on the fringe were some non-Romance
languages: Basque, Breton, Alsatian, Flemish, Franconian.
Ile-de-France, specially Paris and its
language became more and more powerful as the French kings based in
that area became more powerful. The massacres of the Albigensian
Crusade weakened the southern languages as well as bringing the south
under the firm hand of the French king. The formation of the French
Academy in 1615 further strengthened the King's language. Despite
this, French was still not established as the language of France at
the time of the French revolution; in 1793, 1 in 4 Frenchman did not
speak any French at all and 7 in 8 could not speak French well. The
revolutionaries began a program of uniting France by making French
the sole language of France (in their somewhat ruthless way). This
policy was carried on by Napoleon until the use of French became the
sign of being a good French citizen. Only in recent times has there
been a change of attitude and moves toward appreciating and
protecting other languages and dialects in France – the change has
begun but it is only half-hearted.
How green are the French?
Some things in France are really,
really big and a little scary. The EDF Company, Electricite de
France, is the world's largest utility company with annual revenues
of close to 100 billion dollars. It generates and distributes
electricity in France and also in some other parts of Europe and
around the world (a finger in all continents except Australia). After
WW2 it was formed by the nationalisation and merging of all the
companies in the France electrical system; now it is a private
company but its shares are largely in the hands of the French
Republic. It produces a quarter of all the electricity produced in
Europe and is in the process of acquiring a portion of the British
EDF runs 59 nuclear power plants in
France which accounts for almost all its generation, and exports 18%
of its power from France to Italy, Holland, Belgium, Britain and
Germany. It also runs some nuclear plants in other countries.
So France looks on the surface to be
'green' because of its low carbon footprint for an industrial nation.
But I don't think many environmentalists look at it that way. The
nuclear stations in France tend to be inland rather than on the coast
and use lake and river water or cooling towers for cooling. This can
put terrible strain on some valleys. The waste radioactive fuel is
processed on the channel. There is a great deal of pressure to close
the plant as unsafe by people inside and outside France. There is a
feeling that EDF sells electricity too cheaply and that the France
government encourages the use of electricity.
You might expect the French to be more
frightened of a reactor accident then they seem to be. The French
may be somewhat uninformed on energy and global warming compared to
the Germans. They are more willing to recycle than the British. They
are very aware of fossil fuel use - but on the subject of nuclear
hazards they seem to be blind.
With his green hat on Sarkozy announced
a carbon tax to help cut the use of petrol, gas and coal. It is
estimated that it will average about 100 euros per family per year.
It is going to be made revenue neutral by the lowering of some other
taxes. France will be the first large country to join Finland,
Sweden, Denmark and Slovenia in a carbon tax.
There are no nuclear stations near us –
but then there is no wind farm either.
The French holidays still catch us
unprepared although we do usually have three French calendars (gift
from the Bank and purchased from the fire fighters and the football
Next year's holidays:
Janvier 1 Jour de l'an
(Jan 1 New Year's Day)
Avril 4 & 5 Paques
(Apr 4 & 5 Easter)
Mai 1 & 2 Fete du travail (May 1 May Day)
Mai 8 & 9 Victoire 1945
(May 8 & 9 VE Day)
Mai 13 Ascension
(May 13 Ascension Day)
Mai 23 & 24 Pentecote
(May 23 & 24 Pentacost)
Juillet 14 Fete National
(Jul 14 National Holiday)
Aout 15 Assomption
(Aug 15 Assumption)
Novembre 11 Armistice 1918
(Nov 11 Memorial Day)
Decembre 25 & 26 Noel
(Dec 25 & 26 Christmas)
There are only 10 but don't worry about
the French having enough days away from work and school. They have
Also, I have found a local blogger
Berry Deep France has the following blurb:
“Strangers in a strange land. Nearly
20 years in "La Belle France", some of us never came here
for a lifestyle change, we live here because we don't live somewhere
else. Welcome to a few thoughts on life in Bourges - the "real"
smalltown France. The same hassle as life anywhere else with
different-shaped bread. Berry Deep France, for ex-pats, angry
parents, bed and breakfast bankrupts or Saturday night rockers.
Sometimes contreversial, sometimes funny, often informative, but
never boring. Life in France as it really is.”
French and Anglo-Saxon friendship
Harry and I had a mild disagreement
about whether England/America were traditionally allies or enemies of
France. I thought that they had been enemies for so long and so
recently that it was still easy to slip into animosity as happened in
the lead up to the Iraq war. Harry thought that the mood had been
friendly for a long time. It hinges on whether 150 years is a short
time or a long time.
The way I see it is that there were
three periods of bad feeling:
From the Crimean War to the present
(1854-) the French and English have consistently been allies.
- (1066- about 1330) Following the
Norman conquest, for several centuries, the English speaking
commoners in England saw their lords as a French community that was
quite separate from them and in very many ways their oppressors.
Wars during this period might look today like England and France
were sometimes allies and sometimes enemies but I think at the time
this was seen by the English as quarrels among the French lords. The
animosity was between the English peasants and the French
aristocracy and did not involve the French peasantry.
- 1337-1453 - The Hundred Years' War
was a finally unsuccessful attempt by the English throne to take the
French throne. The English held large tracks of France during this
time but lost the series of wars in the end.
- 1688-1815 – What is sometimes
called the 'Second Hundred Years' War' was a finally successful
attempt by the English to stop French expansion in Europe and
overseas. It ended with the defeat of Napoleon and a drastically
smaller French Empire especially in the New World. The French and
Indian Wars and the War of 1812 caused distrust of the Quebec French
in New England.
So what about this 150 years? To Harry
150 years is old, old history. I think whether we realize it or not,
we are affected by the beliefs and attitudes of at least our
grandparents perhaps our great grandparents. Of course, you can only
know that this is happening if you know what your grandparents
thought. In this sense, fore-warned is fore-armed.
The increasing unity of Europe works
against old animosities. This is probably why the English-French
relationship is more stable then the American-French one. All three
are definitely allies now.