Swirling 70s Architecture at Villa Benkemoun

Just two miles from the center of Arles sits the Villa Benkemoun, a magnificent estate designed by a disciple of the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Visiting it is like stepping back in time.

The villa was the brainchild of Simone and Pierre Benkemoun, who enlisted their friend Émile Sala to design their dream home. Sala took an unusual approach.

Instead of creating an initial set of architectural drawings, Sala began by asking the family to jot down, day by day, how they lived their lives. Where did they take their meals, how did they entertain, did they spend time indoors or out? Then he used this knowledge to design a home that fit their needs, as well as Pierre’s desire to have a home that was “open and transparent.”

The Benkemouns liked Sala’s initial design but thought it had too many sharp edges. They suggested rounding a corner here, creating a curve there, until the house took the form they wanted. The final design was made up of round and elliptical rooms, “full of sensuality,” that seemed to swirl from one to the other. The result is a triumph of 1970s design, a masterpiece of modern architecture.

Read all about it, and see some beautiful photos, at Perfectly Provence!

 

Roman Provence

Way back around 50 B.C., Julius Caesar conquered Gaul (now France) and the area remained part of the Roman Empire for the next five centuries. Today there are Roman sites all over France, but the best are in and around Provence. In fact, ‘Provence’ comes from the Latin ‘Provincia Romana’, the name of the large Roman province along the Mediterranean coast.

Whether it’s Nîmes with its magnificent temple, Arles with its arena, or Orange with its theater, you can find many reminders of the greatness that was Rome. And let’s not forget the Pont du Gard aqueduct, as tall as an 18-story building!

Follow me as I take you on a tour of Roman Provence in My French Life!

Will French Singers Dominate at Eurovision?

This coming Saturday, May 22, could be a red-letter date for the French language, because that’s when the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest will be announced.

Two of the favorites — France and Switzerland — are both represented by acts singing in French. Another favorite, Malta, has a song with a French title. Is French having a moment?

For those of you not familiar with Eurovision, it’s a continent-wide song contest that goes back to the 1950s. Each country selects an act, which performs an original song, and the winner is chosen via a complicated voting system. Hundreds of millions of viewers tune in to the Eurovision Finals, making it the Olympic Games of music.

Besides normal songs performed by normal singers, Eurovision has a long tradition of kitsch. Who can forget the Bearded Lady? Or the dancing gorilla? Or my favorite, the man running inside a hamster wheel?

Learn more about this year’s Eurovision and see videos of some of the best acts in France Today!

Who are the 10 Greatest French People of All Time?

Picking a list of “greatest French people” is impossible. How do you define greatness? How do you compare a king to a scientist to a philosopher?

This hasn’t stopped people from trying. In 2005, a French television survey asked viewers this question, with dubious results — Charlemagne was ranked behind a soccer player! A study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified the best known French people, but fame is not the same as greatness. And then there are the lists of top French monarchs, French inventors, French writers, etc.

I decided to create my own list, based on who has had the greatest influence on France—usually positive, but sometimes negative. I combined the resources above with an informal survey of French friends, including business people, professors, scientists, and artists.

Check out my Top 10 in France Today!

The Five Republics of France

You may have heard of the “Fifth Republic of France” and wondered what it meant. Hasn’t France been a republic since long ago, back when they stormed the Bastille and all? Well, yes and no.

After King Louis XVI lost his head, a republic was indeed proclaimed – a rather bloody one. It didn’t last long and today is referred to as the First Republic. It was followed by a series of governments – empires, monarchies, and more republics, all the way up to today’s Fifth Republic. There were plenty of crises along the way, a coup or two, and more prime ministers than you can shake a stick at.

There’s never a dull moment when it comes to French politics! Enjoy a fun little history lesson and learn about the five republics of France in The Good Life France.

How to Find a True French Bakery

There are thousands of boulangeries in France, offering a wide range of breads and pastries. By law, their breads have to be made by hand and on site. But the law doesn’t apply to pâtisseries and viennoiseries, all those croissants, pastries, and quiches we love so much. As a result, many boulangeries buy these items frozen, from big industrial suppliers, and bake them on site.

True artisanal breads and pastries taste better, no doubt about it, but how can you find them? Good news: a new label will make it easy. It’s called Boulanger de France.

Find out what makes this new program so special and how you can find the very best boulangeries in Taste of France!

 

The Finest Craftsmen of France

You may have read about something called Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), or perhaps you’ve spotted someone wearing a distinctive red, white, and blue collar. Wonder what it means?

The phrase means “best craftsman of France” and it is a title bestowed on only the best of the best, those who pass a grueling series of tests. Famous title holders include the late chef Paul Bocuse and the chocolatier Jacques Torres.

The MOF was created a century ago as a way to encourage artisans and to preserve and promote traditional crafts. Awards are made in over 200 categories. Some are well known, like baking and pastry making, while others are more obscure, like boiler making and piano tuning. There’s even one for denture makers!

Read all about these elite craftsmen, including the stars of Kings of Pastry–a film about the 3-day pastry competition. It’s all there in France Today!

Discover Socca, the Delicious Specialty of Nice

“The culture of Nice is based on three things: the sea, soccer, and socca.”

In a city famous for dishes like pan bagnat and ratatouille, socca holds a special place in the hearts of the niçois. A thin, deliciously crispy bread made from chickpea flour, socca was first brought to Nice by Italian dockworkers in the late 1700s. Cheap and filling, it became known as “poor people’s food,” a favorite of workers and fishermen.

Eventually, all of Nice discovered the dish, helped by a socca maker named Thérésa. She began with a pushcart near the beach before opening her own restaurant, Madame Thérésa. Today, niçois of all ages love socca’s rich, crispy taste. You’ll find cafés full of these locals, having a chat over a plate of socca and a glass of wine. It is so popular that some call it “the national dish of Nice.”

Socca’s ingredients are simple—chickpea flour, water, oil, and salt. Its distinctive crispiness comes from the wood-fired ovens where it is baked at a roaring 750 degrees. The secret ingredient—you might call it the magic—is the loving care with which Nice’s chefs make it.

Award-winning filmmaker Scott Petersen now shares a bit of that magic with us in his short documentary We Eat Socca Here. Read all about it and watch the fun trailer at Perfectly Provence. Warning: it might make you hungry.

 

The Animal Kingdom of Provence

Let’s say you are strolling through a French village and come across thousands of sheep bleating in the streets. Or maybe you see horses with flowers in their manes. Or perhaps you are startled by French cowboys charging past with a bull in their midst. Where might you be?

You are probably in Provence.

The people of Provence have a deep respect for nature and for the animals that have long been integral to their rural life. And they maintain their traditions, many of which have to do with animals. Enjoying them is one of the most interesting parts of a visit to Provence.

What are these traditions? Let’s look at a few in My French Life!

10 Surprising Anglophones Who Speak French

Parlez-vous français? (“do you speak French?”) For most of us the answer is non, but there are more people who have mastered the language than you might expect.

Some you might already know about, like Jodie Foster and Serena Williams. But how about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II? Or her Prime Minister, Boris Johnson?

Check out this list of surprising French speakers in France Today. And be sure to watch the funny video of a famous actor speaking French…and then being graded by a group of French teachers!