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French Items from 2009:                                         to enlarge a photo, click on it
Rue Saint-Exupery   Paris Syndrome
  Ecluse des Lorrains   The picture book cottage   Pollarding   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
In the 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 note.)
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 depot.
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 combat.
rueHis 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 Saint-Exupery:
"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 Christmas.

Paris syndrome
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.

Ecluse des Lorrains
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 Lateral.
bec d'allier lock allier
Bec d'Allier where the Allier enters the Loire Ecluse des Lorrains - channel on left with gate open, Allier on right with gate closed The river Allier at the lock
sign at lock at lock
Sign on the lock showing map of the waterways Ryan, Ciara and Harry reading about the lock 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.

neighbour neighbour neighbour neighbour neighbours
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 less diverse.
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.

pollard Baugy Baugy

Apremont sur Allier
Apremont 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.

Historically 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, economic conditions 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.


Who dislikes France?

It is a myth that Americans don't like France. A recent poll had these percentage results:

QUESTION: Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the country of France?









































It 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.

The burka
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 outside France.
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 France.

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.map

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 system.
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.

French holidays
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 team).
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 plenty.

Also, I have found a local blogger http://www.fabfrog.com/ . 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 and animosity
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:
  1. (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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
From the Crimean War to the present (1854-) the French and English have consistently been allies.
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.