previous French items
French Items from 2012:
to enlarge a photo, click on it
Berry Buildings Saint Ursinus and
pilgrimages to Bourges
French gender problems Child rearing
Fighting Monsanto Algerian War Not medicating children MayDay in France Francois Hollande Ayrault
The European right wing The
Labour relations Charlemagne and Offa
in France La Pharmacie
Out of step with Europe Where is Alesia?
The French Quarter The Witches of Berry French Holidays in 2013 Nutella
The architecture in our part of Berry is very distinct. The region of
north Berry tends to be large properties with housing clustered in
villages. South and east Berry is a transition zone to the
architectural of the Loire Valley. The housing here is more dispersed,
grouped in the towns and also in villages.
Traditional materials used in the area are masonry walls of limestone
rubble usually coated with lime rendering. The windows and doors are
grouped on the main facades in frames made of stone. The roofs are made
of small flat tiles or terracotta tile lifts. The use of slate is also
There are several relatively common forms of construction in the area.
several buildings, consisting of a principle house,
worker's housing and farm buildings set around a courtyard, semi-open
or open. During the last century, many areas have turned into
hamlets. These areas are traditionally surrounded by a shrub.
are a strong feature of the traditional buildings of Berry. In the
past, barns housed both the herd, feed
and equipment. The vast
interior space allows for great flexibility in use. These buildings
have a porch over the door, sometimes have a shed attached.
are common buildings in the area. They occur either as
isolated or in
rows, especially in the villages along the streets. These houses have
been expanded over time, but originally they were composed of a
rectangular room with a fireplace and an oven.
locatures: small farms were rented by farmers to
the owners of large estates. They consisted of a house and farm
building. The living space is built on the same model other houses
with the animal space attached. The small size of these farms did not
allow its operator (tenant or owner) to be economically independent.
This population provided a temporary workforce. The locatures were
the first victims of the rural exodus which began to be felt around
pilgrimages to Bourges
Bourges was on a couple
of routes to other sites in the middle ages, a stopping off point on
the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and also on the way to
Sacra di San Michele in the
Italian Alps. But Bourges also had its own draw for pilgrims, the
relics of Saint Stephen and of Saint Ursinus.
Ursinus converted the
region of Bourges to Christianity in the late third or early fourth
century as part of Romes drive to convert the Gauls. According to
Gregory of Tours, it was Ursinus who went before the Senator
Leocadius to obtain a church for the growing congregation which they
then endowed with Saint Stephen’s relics.
In the sixth century the
site of his grave was forgotten and abandoned. Conveniently, Ursinus
appeared in a dream to Abbot Augustus of Bourges and to Germanus of
Paris, showing the hidden site of his tomb. Augustus and Germanus
located the relics and brought them to the church of Saint Symphorian
at Bourges were they were kept in a crypt. The church was rededicated
to Ursinus and rebuilt in the eleventh century.
A chronicle of 1055 gives
some indication of the celebrity of Ursinus’ relics at the time. It
tells of the plague which was sweeping through the town of Lisieux.
The inhabitants, knowing of the reputation of the relics for
miraculously bringing an end to such epidemics beseeched the notables
of Bourges to allow the saint’s reliquary casket to be brought to
them. The request granted, the plague stopped. This good big miracle
made his reputation as a saint.
It was good business in
the middle ages to have relics to draw pilgrims. Also to have
facilities that pilgrims need to draw other route through your town.
Now-a-days, well, Bourges
is on the mother of all Ley Lines, the Apollo-Saint Michael Axis:
Skellig Michael (south-western Ireland coast), St. Michael's Mount
(Cornwall), Mont St. Michel (coast of Normandy), Sacra di San Michele
(Italian Alps), Monte Sant' Angelo (Gargano peninsula Italy), Delphi
(Greece), Athens (Greece), Delos (Med Island), Armageddon (Israel).
French gender problems
It is happening all over. In America
and progressively in other English speaking countries – Miss. and
Mrs. is disappearing in favour of Ms. In Germany, 'fraulein'
disappeared in 1972. Now there is pressure in France (also Spain and
Italy) to get rid of the indication of marital status/age in female
titles. A few towns in France have passed rules barring
'mademoiselle' from all their paperwork and contact with the public.
The change is more of a problem for the Romance languages then the
Germanic ones, because titles are used more and are somewhat compulsory
for politeness. It has been said for a very long time that using
titles, including mademoiselle, is about formality, respect and
equality but feminists are saying titles, especially mademoiselle,
are also about undo familiarity, flirtation and discrimination.
But it is hard to mess with French. It
is well guarded. At Quai Conti, forty academicians each with a cocked
hat, a cape, a green coat and a sword ensure the correct use of
French. The Academy has been a fierce dragon's den since 1637. Some
feminists want the Academy to change the grammar rule, 'the male
outweighs the feminine', and have launched a petition. They say it is
wrong to teach this rule of grammar to children and create in their
minds a world of representations in which the male is considered
superior to female. It should be replaced by a choice in using he or
she and the rule of proximity. What a fuss over nothing say others.
The Academy is still dealing with the feminization of the names of
offices and trades which has become a can of worms. Some say that
France should follow Quebec in solving some of these problems.
In general watching parents and their
children in France is delightful; and then every once in a while some
weirdly harsh parenting happens before your eyes. An American, Pamela
Drukerman, said that it appeared that French parenting vacillated
between being extremely strict and shockingly permissive. What you
see is parents rarely shouting, never pleading, often holding hands
with their children, talking quietly. Children are quiet and
well-behaved, not afraid, curious and engaged, never demanding
When Drukerman attempted to look into
how parenting was done she found that French mothers do not do
instant gratification. The first thing their children learn is
patience. When a French baby cries in the night the parents go in and
observe for a few minutes. If the baby goes back to sleep – fine,
and if not and the baby fully wakes, continuing to cry - than it is
picked up and conforted. Two month old French babies sleep through
the night. The babies also learn quickly to have an adult timetable
for eating and by 9 months the babes are taking part in the adult
meal. Children eat adult food, all of it, without playing with it.
There is no choice, no tantrums and absolutely no throwing food. You
see families in restaurants with all ages of children enjoying
a meal together.
The idea is that
children must have very, very firm, absolute limits and almost
complete freedom within those limits. The ideal is a self-reliant
little being who can entertain themselves and a calm, loving,
respected parent somewhere in the background. You can see the
children as repressed or free depending on how you look at them but
they are certainly very civilized.
In our area of the Cher there are a
number of pigeonniers (dovecotes).
The Romans raised pigeons and brought
the practice to Gaul. During the Middle Ages, only lords could have
dovecotes and in some periods they had to be attached to the house.
Therefore a dovecote became a symbol of power and privilege. Its size
was important and related to the size of the property. You could look
at the dovecote and judge the social level of the owner.
Pigeons were eaten and their colombine
(droppings) were used as fertilizer and to make gunpowder. So the
yield of colombine was part of the calculation for the price of an
The buildings come in a variety of
shapes and sizes. In recent times many have being converted to living
and other uses. They are prized. Berry considers pigeonniers are part
of the regional heritage.
Monsanto said it has scrapped sale of
MON810 in France into the future. This is despite winning a legal
case in November to end a 3 year ban on sales in France and a similar
case in the European Court. It says it will not return until there is
broad support from farmers, consumers and government, plus a stable
business and regulatory environment.
The French Government have called on
the European Commission to suspend the authorisation to grow
Monsanto's genetically modified MON810GM corn in the EU. The request
is based on scientific studies showing risks to the environment. If
the EU does not act, France says it will join Germany, Hungary,
Greece, Luxembourg, Austria and Belgium in using the “safeguard
clause” to prohibit the sales of products on a national level. It
is also not grown in the UK.
BASF is moving its GM related business
from Germany to the US. Meanwhile a French court has found Monsanto
guilt of poisoning a French farmer with fumes from Lasso weed killer.
The anti-GM lobby is overjoyed at all
this. It looks like the European public opinion is winning its war
with Monsanto. It is too bad India could not do something before all
The Algerian War was going on when I
was in high school. We had a history teacher who was very
pro-colonialism – an elderly man who had not been able to accept
the post WW2 mood. There were many heated arguments in class about
The recent murders in Toulouse were
done by a young man who was an French Algerian Moslem. He was born
and educated in France. He had attempted to join the French army and
when he was not accepted, he went to Pakistan and trained as a
terrorist. He shot two soldiers who were Moslems at a barracks
followed by children and a rabbi at a Jewish school.
'FabFrog' is a British citizen living
in France and he blogs. Here is something he wrote about the Algerian
ALGERIAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
– November 1st 1954 to March 18th 1962. Figures vary, but the war
is reckoned to have cost the lives of 400,000 Algerians and 30,000
French soldiers. The war brought down the Fourth republic, and in
1958, saw the return to power of General De Gaulle – France’s
wartime saviour, back by popular demand to save France one more time.
Yet the war continued even bloodier than before. Massacres, torture,
ethnic cleansing, the use of napalm, the mass exodus of civilian
populations – Algeria bore all the hallmarks of modern wars –
Vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo, even Afghanistan, yet for many years the
French government refused to call it a war, preferring to refer to
the 8 years of conflict as Les Evenemnets or the Events. It was not
until October 1999, in an obscure and minor reform of army pensions
that the French Government and the Senate approved the use of the
term War. It was grotesque, burlesque, even Ubuesque, for years,
Algerian veterans and widows received no pensions or compensation,
because the powers-that-be refused to call the war a war. French
soldiers in Algeria had merely been putting down an insurgency.
a century on, this is the war that is still too sensitive to talk
about. On March 18th, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the
Evian Accords that brought the official conflict to an end, there
were no official ceremonies – no flags, no parades, no speeches. In
some towns and villages a handful of the dwindling number of veterans
laid wreaths in memory of former comrades, but like all recent
history, the French have an uneasy coexistence with their past. In a
country that is still haunted by the ghosts of Vichy what is the
point of celebrating a dirty, complex and confusing colonial conflict
that brought nearly a million refugees to France, provoked a military
putsch and, according to some historians almost brought mainland
France to the very brink of civil war?
the War 150,000, indigenous troops fought for the French, either in
the ranks of the army, or as « supplétifs » - a French Muslim
militia. Not all were willing volunteers, though a few may have
rallied willingly to the French cause, many French Muslim men were
forced to fight by the French, whilst others simply joined as a way
out of poverty. All those French Algerian Muslims who fought against
the FLN became collectively known as Harkis. At the end of the War,
the Harkis were disarmed and demobilised by their former French
masters and very much left to their fate. In the days and weeks
following full independence in July 1962, it is estimated that up to
80,000 Harki men and their families were slaughtered. Some 40,000
Harkis did make it to France, though they were even more unwelcome
than the pied noirs – those Algerians of European descent who fled
the country in their hundreds of thousands at the end of the war.
The percentage of children diagnosed
with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in the US is
more than 10 times that in France. This is because the French
criteria for ADHD are more strict and because French children are
taught from a young age to be self-controlled. But that is not all,
the French are careful about what children eat – very wholesome and
well-balanced without snacks. There may be more reasons.
In the US children with ADHD are
usually medicated with Ritalin or similar psycho stimulant. It is a
biological disorder with biological causes so the appropriate
treatment is medication. In France, ADHD is thought to be a
behavioral problem with causes in the child's environment, and it is
treated with changes to diet, changes in environment, psychotherapy
and family counseling. The French method seems to work for them.
This all sounds very good. However,
keep in mind that some conditions are really biological and when the
French treat them with psychoanalysis it is a scandal, as with
autism. Swings and round-abouts!
May Day in France
In France May 1
is a public holiday.
Most government and commercial buildings are closed including
restaurants. In tourist areas there is more activity. Parades and
demonstrations are common to campaign for workers rights and benefits
but also for general social issue like ending racism.
Besides the Labour Day (la Fete du
Travail) aspect of the holiday there are also older traces of May Day
(la Fete du Muguet). People in France give loved ones flowers
(lily-of-the-valley and/or dog rose).
Families with children in country areas
get up early in the morning and go into the woods to pick the
flowers. Individuals and labour organizations in urban areas sell
bouquets of lily-of-the-valley on the street on May 1. There are
special regulations that allow some people and organizations to sell
these flowers on May 1 without paying tax or complying with retail
This giving of flowers is linked to
King Charles IX of France being given lily-of-the-valley flowers on
May 1, 1561. He liked the gift and decided to present lily of the
valley flowers to the ladies of his court each year on May 1. The
eight-hour working day was officially introduced in France on April
23, 1919, and May 1 became a public holiday.
But King Charles was not the first to
receive or give flowers on May 1. The earliest May Day celebrations
appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the
Roman goddess of flowers, the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the
Germanic countries and the Celtic festival of Beltane. It was
considered the beginning to summer (across from Hallow'een, the
beginning of winter, one of the set of cross-quarter days). After
Christianization, May 1 and the rest of May was a celebration of the
Virgin Mary, again with many flowers. Older pagan activities were
revived in the 18 and 1900s: maypole dancing, Queen of May, May
The photo is a small bunch of
lily-of-the-valley that Merrilee bought on the street while she was
The new President
of France has never held a post in the country's government before –
not been in cabinet. But he has been in politics for 30 years.
Why has he been
It is too early to
say how Hollande will manage. Merkel is saying no to redoing the
financial rules, it takes time to get out of the military operations
that Sarkozy initiated, and his other plans also take time.
- He is quiet, friendly, dullish – the opposite of Sarkozy
who is intense and a dramatic showoff. People are tired of Sarkozy's
manner and think it is crass and un-presidential. He had unusually low
poll numbers for a sitting president. There was wide-spread talk of
'anyone but Sarkozy'. “By the left Sarkozy was despised as the
uncultured friend of the rich; by the far right as the man who broke
his word; by liberals as the president who began to reform then
stopped.” Hollande is described as intelligent, patient, consistent,
likeable, decent, steady.
- After the first round, the far left backed Hollande but
the far right did not back Sarkozy. Le Pen advised her followers to not
vote for Sarkozy. The centrist party also backed Hollande. The problem
with the far right is that Sarkozy moved to the right during the first
round, in an attempt to take votes from Le Pen – the result was that he
annoyed the far right and alienated the center.
- The person who was assumed to be the Socialist Party
candidate was Dominique Strauss-Kahn and he became unelectable with his
rape arrest and other sordid scandals. The party needed a good
candidate quickly. Hollande managed the primary election for his party
well, against the odds, and maintained party unity through the debates.
One of the more dramatic moments of that contest came when fellow
contender Segolene Royal - his estranged partner of nearly three
decades and mother of his four children - publicly endorsed his bid.
This put to rest the acrimony and embarrassment of their split.
- Hollande is an 'ordinary Frenchman'. He eats ordinary
food, campaigns on a scooter etc. He has no airs. He does not appear to
have rich (or crooked) friends. He was praised by Chirac (a former
president, conservative and respected). Chirac was very critical of his
fellow conservative, Sarkozy. Hollande is considered to be a moderate
- He wants to protect the welfare state and balance growth
against austerity. This is counter to the austerity of Sarkozy, Merkel
and Cameron which does not encourage growth and is used as an excuse to
cut back on the welfare state. Sarkozy made a big deal out of the
'Sarkozy-Merkel axis' saving the euro. But lately austerity has become
less popular and growth is the new target. Austerity- yes but not so
much that it produces no or negative growth. Merkel has problems at
home and so did Sarkozy.
- The election turnout was over 80%. Many who would not
ordinarily vote, did. Heavy voting is often an indication that the
young and the poor are coming out in higher numbers. The percentage of
spoiled ballots was also exceptionally high. It appears that many of Le
Pen's followers decided to spoil their ballets rather than not vote at
The new French Prime Minister's name is
a problem, Jean-Marc Ayrault. As Ayrault is pronounced in French it
sounds like a coarse colloquial phrase something like “his dick”
in Arabic. So the foreign ministry has recommended that all the
letters be pronounced (like it was a German or English name). Most
Arabic broadcasters have taken this advice. International crisis
In France a new government is put
together in an odd order. First the President is elected, he than
names a Prime Minister, he than names a cabinet and then last of all
the Parliament is elected.
Below is the cabinet if you are
interested but I suspect for most of you these are just names – so
far they are for me. It summary, the cabinet is small by the
standards of some countries, 34 ministers, exactly half women, almost
all from the PS (Socialist Party), with a scattering of brown faces -
no real surprises.
No surprises (!) except that most
voters expected Martine Aubry to be the Prime Minister, it was just
assumed as the obvious choice. She is not even in the cabinet. On the
surface, until the parlimentary elections are over, Aubry and Ayrault
are on good terms. Aubry says, “Jean-Marc
Ayrault is the majority leader, I led the main party in that
majority. We work hand in hand. The Prime Minister governs France.
His method is clear: he gives the direction, he consults, and then
decides. He has already reconciled France with his forces.” Ayrault
says that he and Aubry work together to “give the president a
majority (in parliament), for the rest, I'm not interested, it does
not impress me.” How long will the cooperation last? Most think it
will last exactly until the day after the election. We will see.
Looking at this list is really, really optional!
Prime Minister – Jean-Marc Ayrault -
Minister of Foreign Affairs – Laurent
Fabius – PS
Minister of National Education –
Vincent Peillon – PS
Minister of Justice – Christiane
Taubira – PRG
Minister of the Economy, Finances and
Foreign Trade – Pierre Moscovici – PS
Minister of Social Affairs and Health –
Marisol Touraine – PS
Minister of Territorial and Housing
Equality – Cecile Duflot – EELV
Minister of the Interior – Manuel
Vails – PS
Minister of Ecology, Sustainable
Development and Energy – Nicole Bricq – PS
Minister of Productive Recovery –
Arnaud Montebourg – PS
Minister of Labour, Employment,
Training and Social Dialogue – Michel Sapin – PS
Minister of Defence – Jean-Yves Le
Drian – PS
Minister of Culture and Communication –
Aurelle Pilippetti – PS
Minister of Higher Education and
Research – Genevieve Fioraso – PS
Minister of Women's Rights – Najat
Vallaud-Beikacem – PS
Minister of Agriculture and
Agribusiness – Stephane Le Foil – PS
Minister of State Reform,
Decentralisation and Public Service – Marylise Lebranchu – PS
Minister of Overseas France –
Victorin Lurel – PS
Minister of Sports, Youth, Popular
Education and Community Life – Valerie Fourneyron – PS
Junior Minister for the Budget –
Jerome Cahuzac – PS
Junior Minister for Educational Success
– George Pau-Langevin – PS
Junior Minister for Relations with
Partliament (under Prime Minister) – Alain Vidalies – PS
Junior Minister without Portfolio
(under Justice) – Delphine Batho – PS
Junior Minister for the City -Francois
Lamy – PS
Junior Minister for European Affairs –
Bernard Cazeneuve – PS
Junior Minister for Seniors and
Dependents – Michele Delaunay – PS
Junior Minister for Crafts, Commerce
and Tourism – Sylvia Pinel – PRG
Junior Minister for Social Economy and
Solidarity – Benoit Hamon – PS
Junior Minister for the Family –
Dominique Bertinotti – PS
Junior Minister for Handicapped Persons
– Marie-Arlette Carlotti – PS
Junior Minister for Development –
Pascal Canfin – EELV
Junior Minister for French Expatriates
and Francophones – Yamina Benguigui – Ind.
Junior Minister for Transport and
Maritime Economy – Frederic Cuvillier – PS
Junior Minister for Small & Medium
Enterprises, Innovation & Digital Economy – Fleur Pellerin –
Junior Minister for Veterans – Kader
Arif - PS
The European Right-wing
Now is time for a
parliamentary election campaign in France. One of the main fights is
about the far-right and what other parties have to do to cut the
far-right seats in parliament.
There has been a
bit of a shock in Europe recently because of the success of the far,
far right. There has also been a rise (smaller though) in the far,
far left and the mainstream political parties are being squeezed.
There appears to be three main reasons for the rise of the right:
recession/depression, anti-immigration/anti-muslim nationalism, and
against united Europe. More and more, ordinary Europeans are seeing
Muslims as extremists who are unwilling to integrate and become
'european'. More and more, Muslims are feeling discriminated against
and they resent the distrust. More and more, the EU bureaucracy is
seen as unrepresentative of ordinary people and undemocratic. More
and more austerity is becoming unpopular and only helping the banks
and not the people.
histories and situations are very different and so the far-right
parties in the various countries have somewhat different emphasis. In
general, they are concerned with unemployment and blame immigrants
for stealing jobs. In many countries there is a growing feeling that
the mainstream parties are guilty of brutal and unfair austerity
policies and have to be 'taught a lesson'. The ordinary citizen is
being punished for the banker's crimes. The Euro debt crisis has been
a boon to the anti-EU parties. The far-right parties are concerned
with the loss of national identities to multiculturalism,
globalization and the pan-Europe ideal. The common tactic is to
undermine the mainstream traditional conservative parties and replace
them. There is fear of extremist Muslims and also dislike of other
changes in their societies for which Muslims are the ironic symbols.
anger at a perceived mismanagement of the economic crisis, and
accompanying high unemployment, low growth and painful cuts, has seen
a string of governments fall: Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Finland,
Romania, Italy, the Netherlands. Belgium has had difficulty forming a
government and the Greeks have to repeat their election because a
government was not possible. Sarkozy lost his presidency in France.
Lebourg said of the debt crisis, "Europe today is a dry prairie
waiting for someone to light a match."
and marches are usually outnumbered by counter demonstrations, and so
the far-right has not won the street. It has also been outvoted in
elections compared to the far-left. But the far-right is growing
faster than the far-left. The middle ground is shrinking.
The shock was
particularly sharp when the Golden Dawn did so well in the Greek
elections. This election has not produced a government but all the
same this is a bald-faced fascist party in a surprising election
success. It has denied the Holocaust. Greece is a special case
because of its economic problems and everyone knows that there is a
limit to what people will stand still for. Some people move right and
some left, away from the status quo.
In France, the
presidential election showed the strength of the National Front after
its revamp by Marine Le Pen. It got 6 million votes and came third.
Her main message was anger about the “Islamization” of France.
"Islamism is the totalitarianism of religions and globalization
is the totalitarianism of trade. The nation is the only structure
capable of vanquishing the evil.” according to Le Pen. Sarkozy aped her
rhetoric in his
attempt to win the presidency but lost anyway.
In Austria, the
Freedom Party which ranges from right to far right, has come in
second in elections and made it into the governing coalition. It has
a neo-Nazi fringe and this led to EU sanctions against Austria when
the party entered the coalition. Its main message is anti-immigrant,
Islamophobic and Euro-skeptic. Heinz-Christian Strache did a revamp
and ditched its anti-Semitic message. replacing it with fears
of Islamist domination and the EU.
The Dutch Freedom
Pary of Geert Wilders is the third largest group in the parliament
and entered into an agreement to support the minority coalition in
exchange for some policies on limiting immigration and banning the
burqa. He brought down the government when he refused to vote for the
austerity package. The party is very anti-Muslim and Euro-skeptic but
strongly pro-Israel rather than anti-Semitic. Wilders is very concerned
with the loss of 'Western' values and he has called Islam not a
religion but "an ideology, a retarded culture, a totalitarian ideology
that restricts individual freedom and liberty". He has published a
number of books including "Marked for Death, Islam's War Against the
West and Me"
In Italy, the
National Alliance Party was in a coalition with Berlusconi. The
wartime Fascist party became the Italian Social Movement which was
not accepted into coalition by any other Italian party. Gianfranco
Fini did a revamp of the party and it became the National Alliance
without its fascist symbols, antisemitism etc. (similar to the Le Pen
and Strache makeovers of the France National Front and Austrian Freedom
Party). Fini has become even
more powerful with the fall of Berlusconi and his fascist past
recently showed itself when he said that Mussolini was one of the
greatest statesmen of the 20th century.
The Movement for a
Better Hungary or Jobbik party is the second-largest opposition party
in the Hungarian parliament. It is interested in fighting “Gypsy
crime”. They had a Hungarian Guard, all in uniforms, patrolling
villages in the countryside to 'protect' residents from Gypsies. The
patrols were banned by the government. Jobbik groups use symbols and
slogans from the 30s and is anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic but
especially anti-Roma. Jobbik has forced Hungary's government to pass
a repressive media law and other restrictive measures which have
worried the EU.
People's Party is Denmark's third largest. It has forced the
government into Europe's strictest immigration laws and a drastic cut
in refugees. It also forced reinstatement of custom checks at its
borders. The EU accused Denmark of violating the spirit of EU rules
on the free movement of goods and people.
Defence League and the British Freedom Party are joining forces and
adopting virulent anti-Islamic policies as its main policy. They
appear to be cooling racial agitation to concentrate on calls for
regulation/closing of mosques/madrassas and for banning burqa/niqab.
They also want to curb immigration and withdraw from the EU. They
promote 'Christian values'. However, the BFP has lost ground in some
outlawed parties that are neo-Nazi but fairly right-wing parties have
some support. The most right-wing is the National Democratic Party
which has some members in two state parliaments. It has taken in the
people who were in outlawed Nazi parties. There is hate crime
regularly (15-20,000 cases per year) committed in the name of
Breivik, who killed 77 people in July with the motivation of ending
multiculturalism, was a member of the Progress Party for seven years
but found the party too mild. It is the largest opposition party and
is much more moderate than other far-right parties but is definitely
In the former Communist east, the far-right thinking in countries
such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania is anti-Semitic,
anti-Roma/Gypsy, very nationalistic. Far-right groups poll around 10%
in elections. Whereas the western European parties have successfully
shed their image as anti-Semitic, the eastern parties have a very old
fashioned Nazi feel.
The Bituriges-Cubi was a Celtic tribe
living in what is now thought of as Berry with a capital at Avaricum,
now Bourges. It was one of the main tribes in Gaul, the strongest of
them around 600BC. By 500BC there was a split with the
Bituriges-Vivisci living in and around Bordeaux (but not related to
the people of Aquitaine). The name Bituriges means 'kings of the
world'. They even attacked Rome.
“I am Zosimus, Pharaoh of Egypt and
the most powerful man in the world. But ruling such a vast dominion
requires much work, good thing I don't have to do all that myself.
The court have some interesting ideas, one is allying with Rome, to
protect it from being completely crushed by the Bituriges. Well while
the Romans now seem receptive to the idea, they refuse and the
Bituriges promptly declare war on them. Syracuse quickly supports
Rome, and I decide to attack the Bituriges.
Apulia was liberated, and after that
the Romans accepted to enter an alliance. The rest of the war mostly
involved fighting in Etruria, the army was led by one relative,
Neferibre, who seem good at that whole military stuff but not much
else, and later near Bononia at which point the Bituriges ceded
The Bituriges were powerful until
Julius Caesar captured Gaul around 50 BC, although they had lost some
stature by then. He was particular hard on them, completely
destroying their capital and its entire population. He also erased
its borders by including their land in the province of Aquitaine.
What is known about the Bituriges? Not
much is known from them but more from their enemies.
There are some trace of the oral
culture. “The ancient Celts sang of
many heroes, but of none more
so than Cunolugus of the Bituriges. His birth was shrouded in death
and the druids foretold of a short but glorious life. He grew to
become the greatest warrior among the Celtic tribes, loving only
battle and wanting to obtain eternal glory. Yet he was also plagued
by the memory of his dead father...until he met Glasta, and finally
found peace and happiness. But Medua, queen of the Aedui, whose lust
for power knew no bounds, threatens all that Cunolugus holds dear.
The Song of Cunolugus is written as if it were an epic of the ancient
Gauls, and draws influences from other Celtic epic tales and
mythology. The author's intention in writing the book was to create
an epic hero for the Gauls on the same par as the Irish Cuchulainn.
There are no myths or epics that have come down to us from the Gauls
because they were an oral culture, and this book attempts to give
their lost myths and legends a voice.”
Caesar said they had iron mines on
their territory and were skilled miners and iron workers. The Roman's
thought their wine was good quality.
The Romans thought of Gaul's Celts as
divided into three classes: aristocratic knights, druids and slaves,
maybe an oversimplification.
The aristocrats were raiders and
fighters, controlling an area (people living and working in it and
trade passing through it) from a hill fort. We were either born to
this status or gained in through combinations of marriage,
leadership/bravery in war, generosity with feasts and gifts,
acquiring/building a hill fort. The aristocrats had many people as
their clients, into the thousands. The hierarchy of these aristocrats
was fluid rather than fixed and there were often many factions within
a tribe. They rarely allowed one person to get too much power and
even when they united under a single leader it was always a temporary
arrangement. Trying to keep a 'dictatorship' for longer than agreed
(often 6 months) was very dangerous for the dictators life.
The Druids were also a kind of
aristocracy but not a warrior one – but a very proud one. They were
the keepers of the tribe's oral knowledge. The Romans, especially
Caesar, disliked the Druids and so their descriptions are likely to
be biased. The Bituriges were an important center of Druid power.
Druids controlled religious ritual and sacrifices; they educated the
young aristocratic men and their own education lasted over 20 years,
all in oral form; they administered the law as judges and
arbitrators; they were the diplomats between Celtic tribes; they were
exempt from taxes and military service; they were healers; they had a
distinct religious/philosophic tradition; they presided over any
'political' meetings of the populous. Druids were both men and women.
They are associated with oak groves, mistletoe, rivers/lakes and
believed in reincarnation. After Roman conquest the Druids were in
retreat and the Romans were not kind to the religion of any conquered
people – astrologers, diviners and prophets were potential
subversives in Roman eyes.
The ordinary people, by and large,
lived in villages. Caesar describes aedificia or farmsteads and
hamlets, vici or villages, oppida or fortified strongholds, civitates
or towns and urbs or very large oppida (Bourges/Avericum was an urb).
They had loyality to some aristocrats who protected and taxed them.
And they were served by some Druids to whom they were also loyal and
One of the big differences between the
Gauls and the Mediterranean people was the position of women. “Women
were not looked upon as property for they retained their own money on
marriage. On the death of their husband they took the lot. They were
known to be strong and forthright wives. If divorce ensued, she could
take back all of her wealth. It was only if a husband died
suspiciously that a Celtic woman could be tortured. Women did not
break ties with their own families on marriage and they chose their
own marriage partners.” This may also have been true of other
northern tribes like the Germanic ones.
Most ordinary people were farmers. The
agriculture included: wheat, oats, millet, barley, peas, lentils and
various fruits and vegetables; animal fodder, horses, cattle, goats,
sheep and pigs; the making of ham, leather and cheese, wine;
timbering, charcoal making; hunting for game birds, hares and wild
boar. Some of the people were artisans making fine weapons (swords,
spears, helmets), jewellery, coins, pottery and glass. Some Bituriges
were miners and iron workers. In the territory at
Argentomagus/Argenton sur Creuse, southwest of Bourges there were 242
workshops within a 20 km radius, each next to a mine.
We find out from friends that French
bosses are not nice to work for. The subject came up discussing the
French TeleCom suicides.
The telephone company had a
restructuring that cut 22,000 jobs and changed another 10,000. There
was a complaint by a trade union in late 2009 about 35 suicides by
employees of the company in 2008-09. The labour inspection was
followed by a police investigation. Now the company has been indicted
for bullying and being an obstacle to the functioning of joint
management-union bodies (the works council and the committee on
health and safety).
The original Labour Inspectorate report
pointed out that management harassment especially targeted employees
who had been with the company for many years. They were 'encouraged'
to leave the company. The company “implemented methods of
personnel management that had the effect of weakening the employees
psychologically and bringing their health physically and mentally to
head of the management was forced to resign when the report was
delivered, he and two other managers are named in the current
might think that French trade unions are strong but they are not.
France has one of the lowest union memberships in Europe (only 8% of
employees). The union movement is divided and competitive. However,
they do have strong public support and some laws protecting them.
country has simmering workplace tensions (unionized or not). The
World Economic Forum ranked France at the bottom of 131 nations in
“co-operation in labour-employee relations”. Employees do not get
on with their employers and vice versa.
have met a couple of people who feel they are physically sick due to
the atmosphere at work and we get the impression that this is
Charlemagne and Offa
the Frankish king and later the first Holy Roman Empire who ruled
from Aachen. Offa was the king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia
in what is now the English midlands. Together they made a monetary
arrangement in about 800.
There problem was
a lack of gold – the supply had been cut off with the loss of
Mediterranean ports by the Byzantines. Without a currency it was
difficult to conduct trade in western Europe. They took a plan
developed by Charlemagne's father, dropped the gold standard and took
up a silver one. The new currency was enforced throughout
Charlemagne's empire and most of England adopted Offa's coinage. This
standardisation had the effect of economically harmonising and
unifying the complex array of currencies which had been in use,
simplifying trade and commerce through most of Europe.
(from the Latin libra,
the modern pound), which was based upon a pound of silver - a unit of
both money and weight - which was worth 20 sous (from the Latin
[which was primarily an accounting device and never actually minted],
the modern shilling) or 240 deniers
(from the Latin denarius,
the modern penny). During this period, the livre
and the sou
were counting units; only the denier
was a coin of the realm.
Doesn't this sound
familiar to those of us that used pre-decimal lsd English currency?
After Charlemagne died his empire slowly split into its French,
German and Italian parts and his coinage was degraded. But most of
Europe continued the system using high-quality English coins until
shows Charlemagne's empire. Click to enlarge.
August in France
August is holiday time in France. Not a
time to get anything done. The shop you want to go to may be closed.
The official you need to see may be away. France always has lots of
tourists, but in August the French also holiday. The kids are out of
school, the weather is good, there are things to see and do, the
museums have longer hours and you will not be able to get any work
This is the time of year for markets
and village festivals. The time has spread a bit to include a lot of
July in order to avoid traffic jams and impossibly crowded beaches.
Here are some of the larger events in
Bayonne has a huge festival of all
things Basque. Near Bordeaux there is a famous wine festival and
Monte Carlo has a fireworks festival, the International Pyrotechnics
competition. The Champagne Route is open and participants can taste
the wines in the producers cellars along the route. Eynet has the
Dordogne oyster and white wine festival this year. Alsatian wines and
music are at Colmar. There are many (countless) more wine and/or food
Music festivals are popular too –
Perigord-Noir for church music, Lorient for celtic music and other
arts, Dax for music and bullfights, Saint-Cloud for rock, Paris for
Paris produces a beach along the Seine
and open-air cinema in one of its parks. Saint-Lo has an
international horse show. Corsica celebrates Napoleon. Loches does
medieval. Every art, sport, historical link has its festival
somewhere in France in August.
All across the country are 'brocantes', huge flea markets come antique
And so comes September and everyone
goes back to their normal lives. Years ago we were camped on an
Atlantic beach. It was crowded and busy. One morning we woke up and
there was no one – I mean you could look up and down the beach and
there was not a soul. It was the last day of August. People had gone
in the night to get ready to be back at work and school within a day
or two. I'm glad we were able to bum around France in a couple of
Augusts years ago because now we do not have the time or money to and
anyway I can hardly eat out at all now that I am not eating gluten.
When Harry went to the DIY store for some supplies on the 1st he found
it busier than he had ever seen it. The French do their repairs and
little constructions in August. Even the politicans get a break from
the euro crisis - whatever happens, it can wait till September.
The French Pharmacy is not a drugstore!
The staff is highly trained, and it feels like they all are trained,
not just one or two and the rest just clerks. They do a lot of
discussing symptoms and advising on non-prescription drugs and these
drugs are not in the supermarkets to be picked off the shelves without
the discussion. All drugs are obtained from the pharmacy. All this
discussing means that you cannot count on a 'quick' trip to the
pharmacy. There is no tell how long the people in front of you, or even
you, will be held in conversation.
Besides drugs (prescription or not) they also sell first aid, hygiene,
alternative medicine and the like. This is where you can get things
like crutches, sick beds, wheelchairs, atomizers, blood pressure sets
and all that sort of thing for sale, renting and borrowing.
They are suppose to be able to tell you about whether a mushroom is
edible. They have the books (but it didn't work for us). This is where
you go for antidotes to poisons.
Whenever possible they supply generic drugs rather than brand. And your
reimbursement for drugs by government and insurance is based on the
generic price. If the doctor makes the prescription for the branded
drug, they supply the genetic unless you ask for the branded and pay
Pharmacies are where you take unused drugs. They go to a central store
where they are tested and repackaged.
We have repeat prescriptions and when our doctor is away, the local
pharmacy can 'lent' us our usual and have us give them the prescription
later when the doctor is back. How is that for being friendly?
But there are none of the extra stuff you see in English or Canadian
drugstores: candy, nicknacks etc. These are serious places.
Out of step
France has a number of still existing regional languages: Breton with
200,000 speakers; Occitan 3,000,000; Basque 200,000; Catalan 200,000;
Alsatian 900,000; Corsican 150,000. All are endangered to some extent.
These 5 million people have no or little radio or television in their
language, no teaching of it in their local schools, little sign-posting
in it. No official recognition whatsoever. France refuses to ratify the
European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. The European
Language Equality Network calls France a rogue nation. “France is a
rogue state in terms of how it promotes its languages. It just has not
kept up with European development. It says all these things about the
promotion of human rights and equality elsewhere in the world, but
meanwhile, on its doorstep, languages such as Breton have become
seriously endangered.”, says Davyth Hicks, head of Eurolang.
The French seem to feel that it is against their constitution and that
it would have to be amended if France was to give any sort of helping
hand to regional languages. Some even feel that the change would open a
pandora's box of demands and might cause the actual end of the French
Republic, fragmented into its regions. The French Republic and the
French language are welded together in their minds – harm one and you
harm the other. In the days of the revolution, speaking French was made
the mark of citizenship and of the ideals of liberty, equality and
fraternite. How could you be equal brothers in a free nation if you did
not all speak the same language; French was the language. The regional
languages were in effect outlawed, certainly devalued. Everything went
through Paris in French – the centralized unitary nation. It is
impossible to think of changing the constitution with the Academy, the
Constitutional Council and many other powerful institutions set firmly
against it. It would need a two thirds majority in both houses. It has
been painted as anti-patriotic for too long. On the other hand, the
spirit of a unified Europe is that the regions will be honoured.
If the regional languages prosper, it will be under the radar. That may
happen with some of them.
Where is Alesia?
So, the battle of Alesia was where the
Gauls were finally defeated by Julius Caesar – Vercingetorix's last
stand. This was one of those important events that set the limits of
Roman rule. And where is Alesia? Officially Alesia is near the
village of Alise-Sainte-Reine in northern Burgundy. It has a huge
tourist business. The town was completely destroyed by the Romans
but 'reconstructed' earth works are in the Alesia Park and there is a
large museum; big money has been spent on it. No one there, or in the
Government wants to hear that they are placing the battle in the
The evidence for the battle of Alesia
in Burgundy was never very good. It was picked as the place by
Napoleon III, he identified with Vercingetorix and played on this for
popularity. In the 1860s some coins, weapons and so on were found
there, the local village had a similar name and Napoleon was in a
hurry. Many were suspicious but they did not to change Napoleon's
mind. Many even thought that the artifacts were not actually found
where they were said to have been found.
Caesar wrote a description of Alesia.
It was on a very high hill and could only be taken by siege. There
were two rivers and a plain at the foot of the hill. He gives the
size of the plain. This was not a description of Alise-Sainte-Reine.
An archaeologist, Andre Berthier, searched for many years for a
convincing site. In 1962 he settled on Chaux-des-Crotenay in the Jura
mountains; it looked like Caesar's description. Another
source was the Greek Diodorus of Sicily who wrote that Alesia was a
religious centre for all the Celtic peoples of Europe. So the site
should have ancient traces of an important place (the Burgundy site
has nothing older than Gallo-Roman). Berthier found remains of a
bronze-age fortification, a menhir or stone goddess that would guard
an entrance, many Celtic and pre-Celtic artefacts as well as a Roman
"We believe this is the most
important unexcavated archaeological site in Europe," says
historian and broadcaster Franck Ferrand. “And yet the French state
refuses to authorise excavations here. Why? Because it might
jeopardise the official theory. It is the only case in history of an
excavation being banned for cultural reasons."
The French Quarter
The British go to France to retire in the sunny south; the France go
to London and the SE to get good professional jobs and work. About the
same number go in the two directions but they are different ages with
In London there is a place called le quartier francais du Londres where
many French families live. There is Embassy and Institute, French
schools and shops that cater to the French. London is called the sixth
largest French city with 300 to 400 thousand French citizens. They
(with French expats elsewhere in Europe) have their own representative in the
French National Assembly. So French politicians visit London to
One French employee in London is quoted, "If you want security and nice
holidays you stay in France. If you crave adventure and want to get new
skills, you come here." It is costly to live in London and not the
French good life but rather a seedy London existence is all they can
afford. But many young French arrivals in London say they are fleeing
rigid social codes, hierarchical corporate culture and a sense of
distance from the global swirl of people and ideas. Some are escaping
their families or their social class or their ethnicity. And they are
honing their English.
The witches of Berry
The Berrichonne (the people of Berry)
were a superstitious lot and to this day Bourges and surrounds have a
reputation for witchcraft. The only museum in France dedicated to
witchcraft is in the area, Musée
de la Sorcellerie in the village of
Concressault northeast of Vierzon. Bourges has a Witchcraft Festival
every year. All the modern French speaking witches come to town then.
The local legends and traditions were immortalised in the works of
the popular nineteenth century French novelist, Georges Sand. She was
born and brought up in the Berry and used the area as the setting for
some of her novels. In La Mare au Diable and La Petite Fadette the
local berrichon tradition of magic and witchcraft are very prevalent.
She made the Berry synonymous with witchcraft. The idea of Berry
witches is also used to encourage tourism.
There were some famous trials of
witches here. They were the usual inquisition type trial where many
innocent women were put to death on the basis of hearsay, torture and
But it is believed that there was
actually much old pagan religion in the region. “This region has a
very rich history of witches, dating from 1450 – 1700. These
traditions of 'evil practices', shift-shaping and the foulest forms
of magic were there can be no doubt were being practiced extensively
throughout the countryside in that era.” It is known that the
peasants in Berry believed in brittes. “They have strange creatures
called 'Brittes', or a dangerous pack of wolves that poison the
cattle. 'Brittes' wore wild boar skins or wolves’ skins on their
shoulders, and they haunt the countryside; There is a head “wolf”
who commands the pack and they are said to dance in the light of the
French Holidays in 2013
Tuesday Jan 1 Jour de
l'an (New Year's Day) National Public Holiday
Friday Mar 29 Vendredi
saint (Good Friday) Local Holiday
Sunday Mar 31 Paques
Monday Apr 1 Lundi de
Paques (Easter Monday) National Public Holiday
Wednesday May 1 Fete du
Travail (Labour/May Day) National Public Holiday
Wednesday May 8 Victoire
1945 (VE Day) National Public Holiday
Thursday May 9 Ascension
(Ascension) National Public Holiday
Sunday May 19 Pentecote
(Pentecost/Whit sunday) Observance
Monday May 20 Lundi de
Pentecote (Whit monday) National Public Holiday
Sunday Jul 14 Fete
Nationale (Bastille Day) National Public Holiday
Thursday Aug 15 Assomption
(Assumption) National Public Holiday
Friday Nov 1 Toussaint
(All Saints Day) National Public Holiday
Monday Nov 11 Armistice
1918 (Armistice Day) National Public Holiday
Tuesday Dec 24 Veille
de Noel (Christmas Eve) Observance
Wednesday Dec 25 Noel (Christmas Day) National Public Holiday
Thursday Dec 26 Lendemain de Noel (Boxing Day) Local Holiday
a quarter of the world's Nutella production is sold in France. No one
else eats as much Nutella. French kids eat Nutella the way North
American ones eat peanut butter. But adults are extremely fond of it
too – it is especially nice on crepes.
French government has had a campaign on unhealthy food and obesity.
They are taxing palm oil as part of this program. Unfortunately
Nutella is not just hazelnuts and chocolate but also contains palm
oil 17% and also 55% sugar. It is not a healthy snack even though
many treat it as one. So the Nutella lovers and the healthy food lobby
have been fighting.
Nutella is not popular. The senate passed the larger law but now
there are amendments to exempt Nutella and probably will be until one
of them is passed.
tax is meant to get companies to change their ingredients but the
Nutella maker, Ferrero announced that it had no intention of changing
anything except the price.