Posts filed under ‘France’

Book Envy

Every so often I read a book that makes me wish I was the one who wrote it. This usually isn’t because the book is brilliant (although it likely is) and I wish I had written something so perfect. Most often the author has had some interesting adventure that I wish I’d had. Or I imagine that the research must have been just ridiculously fun to do. My most recent case of book envy falls into this latter category.

Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France traces the history of France before it was France: when people outside Paris spoke hundreds of regional dialects and each remote village was a law unto itself. Robb describes how, from the Revolution until World War I, French geographers, ethnographers, scientists, engineers and tourists moved out into the hinterlands to colonize their own country.

In the first chapter, Robb recounts how a young cartographer mapped the area around the village of Les Estables near the Gerbier de Jonc mountain in what I believe is now the Ardèche. Just five pages into the book, I came across this passage:

To isolated villagers, a man in foreign clothes who pointed inexplicable instruments at barren rocks was up to no good. It had been noticed that after the appearance of one of these sorcerers, life became harder. Crops withered; animals went lame or died of disease; sheep were found on hillsides, torn apart by something more savage than a wolf; and, for reasons that remained obscure, taxes increased.

Even a century later, this was still a remote and dangerous part of France….In 1854, Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in France warned tourists and amateur geologists who left the coach at Pradelles and struck out across country in search of ‘wild and singular views’ not to expect a warm welcome….The handbook, perhaps deliberately, said nothing of Les Estables, which lay on the route, nor did it mention the only occasion on which the village earned itself a place in history — a summer’s day in the early 1740s when a young geometer on the Cassini expedition was hacked to death by the natives

How can you not wish you were the person to come across that story in some dusty archive?

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10 November 2007 at 23:14 1 comment

A Fair d’État Encore

Why oh why didn’t I get my act together to go to Paris for the Salon d’Agriculture?

As if I weren’t envious enough before, now Kelly Sans Culotte and her friend Harriet have posted a video chronicling their visit to this year’s Salon.

You can find more photos and video at Kelly’s Salon blog.

9 March 2007 at 23:11 Leave a comment

A Fair D’État

My friend Kelly Sans Culotte is heading off to the Salon d’Agriculture (Agriculture Expo) in Paris this week, and I’m incredibly envious. I once organized an entire trip to Paris so I could attend this event, where farmers from all over France bring their livestock to the big Porte de Versailles convention center on the outskirts of the 15th Arrondissement.

I think it was Yann-Arthus Bertrand‘s photographs of larger-than-life cattle, sheep and pigs with their proud owners that convinced me I needed to attend. Well, that and finding out that the Salon was like a big state fair with wine and cheese contests instead of giant pumpkin and pie-eating contests. After you’ve visited the livestock, you can stroll through the two hangar-sized buildings filled with booths selling representative foods from all the different regions of France and treat yourself to the Salon’s answer to funnel cakes and corn dogs: crepes and foie gras.  blonds_daquitaine.jpg

When I was studying cooking in Paris, I dragged some school chums to the fair to ogle the Blonds — the Blonds D’Aquitaine, that is. This breed of beef cattle comes from the Southwest part of France originally. I could swear that some of the blond cows we saw were larger than most of the Renaults and Smart Cars I saw driving around Paris.

3 March 2007 at 0:25 1 comment


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