A Sad Day

As I’m sure you know, the great cathedral of Notre Dame suffered a terrible fire on Monday night. Many words have been written about the tragedy and I think some of the most beautiful were in Le Monde. Please find my translation below.

France Touched To The Heart

Like a majestic stone ship enclosed by the two arms of the Seine, Notre Dame has always maintained a singular dialogue with the history of mankind and the eternity of the gods. The terrible, voracious, long-lasting flames that ravaged the Cathedral of Paris did not put an end to this dialogue. But they will add to it the staggering pain of the catastrophe, the tragedy of the Parisians, the mourning of a France touched to the heart, and the immense wave of sadness that has traveled the planet.

The emotion of all was mixed with the sobs stifled by many. For Christians, first of all, the Church of Our Lady has been for more than eight centuries – or fifteen centuries including its former Merovingian form – one of the high places of a faith that has shaped Europe through the ages. Unlike many other houses of worship, if it had not always withstood the ravages of time, the cathedral had escaped the flames that had destroyed so many others. Its medieval roof, this mysterious “forest”, is today in ashes.

Notre Dame, enthroned in the heart of the island where the city was born, with its long and high nave, two massive towers and the spire which collapsed in flames yesterday, was for Parisians the eternal silhouette of the city, almost its magnetic pole. And for all lovers of art and civilization, the cathedral was a sumptuous Gothic jewel, a miracle of architecture, and a priceless museum that will take years, even decades, to repair and restore.

Geography, history, and literature have made Notre Dame the epicenter of the country. On its forecourt is the “zero point” from which is calculated the distance to every town in France. Its nave has hosted some of the richest chapters of the national novel. Kings were crowned in Reims and buried in Saint-Denis, but for centuries the monarchy came to kneel at Notre Dame, to celebrate marriages and military victories. A decade after the Revolution, which did not spare it completely, Napoleon had himself crowned emperor in 1804.

The French republic has often made it the place of its triumphs and sorrows. It was the great bell of Notre Dame which first sounded the victory of 1918. It was in this cathedral, under rifle fire from the desperadoes of the Collaboration, that General de Gaulle came to celebrate the liberation of the capital in 1944. There again, all the great people of the planet gathered to salute, during solemn Masses, the death of three French presidents: de Gaulle, Pompidou and Mitterrand.

“On the face of this old queen of our cathedrals, beside a wrinkle, we always find a scar,” wrote Victor Hugo, chronicler of Notre Dame. The scar, this time, will be indelible. “We will rebuild this cathedral,” Emmanuel Macron assured us on the evening of the disaster. But this commitment will not be able to erase the terrible images of the immense fire that spared Notre Dame only its skeleton of stone, nor will it erase the memory of a poignant evening of mourning, both for France and across the globe.

Book Review of I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do)

I love memoirs by people who have moved to a new country. Some are funny (A Year in Provence), some are personal and moving (Under the Tuscan Sun), and my favorites are both.

One of the best I’ve read in a long time is Mark Greenside’s I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do). It combines hilarious stories of his adventures in France with lovely observations about how life in a new country has changed him.

A few months ago I reviewed Mark’s book titled (not quite) Mastering the Art of French Living, which I loved. I loved this second book just as much. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel memoirs with a lot of humor and a lot of heart, especially those set in France.

You can read my review in My French Life!

New Rules for Sex in France

Sex permeates French society, including the language. All nouns have genders—either masculine or feminine—though it’s sometimes unclear why a word is one or the other. Chemise (shirt) is feminine, for example, while chemisier (blouse) is masculine. Go figure.

And just when you think you’ve figured out the gender rules, somebody goes and changes them. That somebody is the Académie française, the arbiter of all things having to do with the French language. And the new rules they just announced are such a big change that some consider them “true barbarism.”

Only in France!

Read all about it at Frenchly!

Did Mary Magdalene live in Provence?

A crippled ship bobs helplessly on a storm-tossed sea and those on board face certain death…but then a miracle occurs. Guided by the hand of God, the ship arrives safely on the shores Provence. Out steps Mary Magdalene, ready to spread The Word throughout France.

Mary Magdalene landing in France…wasn’t that in The Da Vinci Code? Well, not quite. It’s from the legend of Mary Magdalene in Provence, a rich vein of tradition that author Dan Brown almost certainly tapped for his bestseller. Monuments to Mary and her shipmates abound in Provence and her legend stretches back nearly 2,000 years.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

You Couldn’t Make This Up

One day our Provence friends Xavier and Marie-France decided that Val and I should join them at an avant-garde theatrical performance. They said it would improve our “cultural appreciation.” The show was being put on by a private group, the kind that rarely opens its doors to foreigners like us, so we were thrilled to be invited. But I have to say, it was about the strangest piece of theater I’ve ever seen!

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence.

What Do the French Think of the Gilets Jaunes These Days?

Since November, thousands of people known as gilets jaunes (yellow vests) have blocked roads and marched through cities to demonstrate against the French government. What began as a protest against a gas tax quickly metastasized into a general protest against rising inequality, lack of economic opportunity, the elitism of the French ruling class, and more.

After months of sometimes-violent protests, what do the French people think of the gilets jaunes these days? The answer might surprise you. Read all about it at Frenchly!

The Transhumance of St-Rémy

In the old days in Provence, flocks of sheep were marched hundreds of miles, to cool mountain pastures, where they would graze during the hot summer months. They passed through village after village in what was called the transhumance, and all the villagers would come out to watch the spectacle.

In the 1960s and 70s, the transhumance faded away as shepherds began to transport their flocks by truck, but then towns like St-Rémy-de-Provence revived the tradition with annual festivals. Held every year on Whit Monday, the modern transhumance features thousands of sheep circling the town, along with shepherds, sheepdogs and the occasional goat. It is like a river of sheet flowing past, a sight not to be forgotten!

Read all about this link to the Provençal past in The Good Life France.

The Interrogation

In the old days in the US, doctors were kind of like gods–Me Important Doctor, you lowly patient, that sort of thing. You certainly didn’t ask questions or share what you learned on the Internet. It’s still like that in France. So imagine visiting a French doctor and being interrogated…in French. It happened to me, with a surprising result.

You can read all about it at Perfectly Provence.