title bar
                             home   news   views   family   info  
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   Berry dovecotes   Fighting Monsanto  Algerian War     Not medicating children    MayDay in France     Francois Hollande   Ayrault    The European right wing   The Bituriges-Cubi   Labour relations     Charlemagne and Offa     August in France     La Pharmacie     Out of step with Europe    Where is Alesia?     The French Quarter      The Witches of Berry   French Holidays in 2013    Nutella    

Berry Buildings

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 common.
There are several relatively common forms of construction in the area.

Main Farms 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.

The barns 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.

The houses 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.

The 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 1870.

Saint Ursinus and 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.

Child rearing
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 anything.
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.

Berry Dovecotes dovecote
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 estate.
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.

Fighting Monsanto
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 farmer suicides.

Algerian War
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 current events.
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 War.
THE 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.
Half 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?
During 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.

Not medicating children
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
liliesIn 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 regulations.
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 baskets etc.
The photo is a small bunch of lily-of-the-valley that Merrilee bought on the street while she was in Bourges.

Francois Hollande
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 elected?
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 leftie.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 all.
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.

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 avoided.
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 - PS
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 – PS
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 nationalism 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.
The national 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.
Across Europe, 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."
Far-right rallies 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.
The Danish 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.
Great Britain
The English 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 local elections.
Germany has 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 far-right ideas.
Anders Behring 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 anti-immigration.
Eastern Europe
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 gaul
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 Apulia.”
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 provided support.
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.

Labour relations
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 danger.” The head of the management was forced to resign when the report was delivered, he and two other managers are named in the current indictment.
One 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.
The 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.
We 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 widespread.

Charlemagne and Offa
franksCharlemagne was 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.
The livre carolinienne (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 solidus [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 about 1100.
The illustration 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 done anyway.
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 August:
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 festivals.
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 jazz.
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 fairs.
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.

La Pharmacie
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 the difference.
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 with Europe
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 wrong place.
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 siege camp.
"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 different reasons. 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 campaign. 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 general panic.
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 moon.”

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 (Easter) Observance
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

Apparently 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.
The 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.
Taxing 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.

The 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.