The History of Jewish Provence

France has the largest Jewish population in Europe and the third largest in the world after Israel and the United States. Half of French Jews live in and around Paris, in neighborhoods like the Marais, Belleville and Le Sentier. The city is home to more than a dozen synagogues, including the magnificent Grand Synagogue.

While Paris is the center of Jewish life in France today, this wasn’t always the case. For centuries, that center was Provence. And the Jews there had a surprising and powerful protector: the Pope.

Read all about the history of Jewish Provence in France Today!

10 Surprising French Inventions

France has a long history of innovation, in fields ranging from science to consumer goods to fashion. You might already know, for example, that the French invented photography, motion pictures, hot air balloons, and the hair dryer. But that’s not all!

How about the Etch a Sketch? Or margarine? Or the bicycle? Yes, they are French inventions all.

Read all about 10 surprising French Inventions in France Today!

Heartwarming Tales from France

Have you ever dreamed of chucking it all, leaving the big city behind, and moving to a charming little village in France? That’s exactly what Janine Marsh and her husband Mark have done, but the path they took was anything but straightforward.

One day some years ago, while on a booze-buying trip from London, they somehow bought an old wreck of a house in France’s Seven Valleys region. It’s a hilarious story, and Janine tells it brilliantly in her book My Good Life in France. Over the years, she and Mark have fixed up the house, adopted a shocking number of animals (including 72 chickens at last count), and settled into their village in “middle-of-nowhere France.”

Janine continued their story in My Four Seasons in France and now she’s back with more heartwarming tales in her latest terrific book, the soon-to-be-published Toujours la France!

If you’d like to know what life is really like in a rural French village, this is the book for you. There’s not a lot of entertainment, unless you count the snail races, but there is a strong sense of community, with neighbors always willing to lend a hand to one other. And there are, of course, endless cups of coffee to share the latest gossip.

The book is full of funny stories, like the dinner party where a neighbor tries to get Janine and Mark to taste his special holiday rum. Another neighbor warns them off. “For heaven’s sake don’t drink it,” she says. “You will miss Christmas if you do and most likely have to go to the doctor.” Mark foolishly takes the tiniest of sips and is rendered mute, his mouth so numb he can’t taste his food.

Janine and Mark are often a source of amusement for the village, as on the bitterly cold day when their water stopped running. They determined that an uninsulated pipe in the roof had frozen, so Mark got up on a ladder and removed a few tiles, while Janine plugged in a hair dryer so he could heat up the frozen section. One villager after another came by to see what was happening, and soon the whole village was abuzz about les anglais “who are blow drying their house.”

The book is packed with fun facts about France, like the reason why people clink their glasses before drinking (it has to do with fear of poisoning back in medieval times.) And that it is considered unlucky to have a dinner with 13 people—if you do, the waiter might put an egg on the table to represent a 14th. And that France invented the online sex chat!

As the book ends, Janine reflects on how she and Mark have become perhaps not natives, but awfully darned close. And how lucky they are to have settled in the part of France “where people have sunshine in their hearts.”

Highly recommended.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

I still remember walking into that cave.  There wasn’t much light and I could barely make out the stalactites, one of them twisting its way all the way down to the floor. As I walked further in, I could see bones scattered about—not human, I hoped. Then I saw bear skulls, arranged in a semi-circle. Spooky!

I kept going, stepping carefully, and suddenly there they were, straight ahead of me: paintings, beautiful paintings. I could see horses and buffalo and rhinos that almost seemed alive. It was mesmerizing.

I was in the Grotte Chauvet 2, a nearly-perfect recreation of a nearby cave. It’s like the famous cave at Lascaux, only the paintings are older–the oldest ever found. How old? Let’s just say Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals were still duking out for control of Europe (spoiler alert: we win.)

A trip to the Grotte is a must-do if you are in the area. Read more about this fascinating place in Frenchly!

 

Asparagus Season in France

With spring comes the sound of birds singing, daffodils in bloom, and trees beginning to leaf. These are all lovely, but for me the real start of spring is when asparagus arrives in our local French market.

In France, fruits and vegetables are mostly seasonal, so winter is not my favorite time of year. Potatoes and parsnips, anyone?  Sure, you might find blueberries in Paris, but only if you frequent the specialty shops. For most people, like where I live in Provence, what you eat is what’s in season.

That’s what makes the arrival of the first asparagus so exciting. It’s finally springtime! Asparagus not only heralds the start of spring, but also the beginning of a long series of new arrivals in the market. Next come strawberries, then a whole flood of goodies – cherries, melons, stone fruits, and on and on.

Read more about asparagus season, including a great recipe, in The Good Life France!

My New Book!

Val and I live part of the year in the charming village of St-Rémy-de-Provence. It’s in a delightful spot at the foot of the Alpilles Mountains, between Avignon and Arles. There are lots of great things to see and do in the area.

I’ve just had a new guidebook published, An Insider’s Guide to St-Rémy-de-Provence and the Surrounding Area. It’s the first guidebook dedicated just to this part of Provence, so I think it fills a need.

If you have friends who will be coming this way, please let them know about my book! It’s available on Amazon.

Emmanuel Macron and the 11 Dwarfs

France will elect its president next month, with a dozen candidates running, and incumbent Emmanuel Macron is the big favorite to win. He has surged in the polls, and his lead is now bigger than anyone since Charles de Gaulle in 1965!

How did this happen and who are his main challengers? For a taste of French politics, I’ve put together a short overview of the race.

Read all about it in Frenchly!

The Star of the Show: Gougères French Cheese Puffs

Want to impress the guests at your next party? Then serve them gougères.

Gougères (pronounced goo-zhair) are French cheese puffs, crispy on the outside and bursting with delicious cheesy flavour. The first time you bite into one, it is a definite “wow” moment.

They are not hard to make and–even better–you can make them ahead of time and just warm them up when your guests arrive.

Read all about this French specialty in France Today!

To the Barricades! The French Academy Battles an English Invasion

The Académie française was founded long ago to regulate French grammar and spelling. It still does that, but often finds itself pulled into arguments over what words should be allowed in French. English words that find their way into common usage are a particular sore point.

Should “computer” be allowed? No, let’s coin the word ordinateur.

How about “software”? Mais non ! We must use logiciel.

“Weekend”? Well, ok, but let’s add a hyphen so it’s not really English.

The latest battle is over French national identity cards. European regulations require that the words “Identity Card” be included, but the French government has gone further, much further. All the terms are shown in French and in English, so there’s “SEXE / Sex,” “LIEU DE NAISSANCE / Place of birth,” and on and on.

Cue the gasps.

The Académie is up in arms (they all have ceremonial swords, after all) and are threatening to sue the government to have all that nasty English removed. This would be a unique case, and a treat for legal scholars.

Will the government back down? Will the Académie? No one knows…but watch out for those swords.

Read all about it in My French Life!