The Great Wall Of Provence

When most people hear of “the Plague,” they shudder and think of the Black Death that killed so many people back in the Middle Ages. But did you know that in the 1700s an outbreak in Provence took the lives of thousands? And that the King of France teamed up with the Pope to build a great wall to stop it?

The outbreak of the Plague should never have happened, but you know how it is: someone in power was motivated by greed and let an infected ship enter Marseille. From there it spread north until the only solution was to “Build That Wall!”

Part of the wall still exists and you can visit it today. Read all about this fascinating and little-known chapter of Provence history in Perfectly Provence.

The Fabulous New Roman History Museum in Nîmes

For lovers of Roman history, the city of Nîmes in southern France is a must-see. It was once a major metropolis in Roman Gaul and today boasts a plethora of important sites: there’s the beautiful Maison Carré temple that Thomas Jefferson used it as a model for the Virginia state capital building, a large and well-preserved amphitheater, a massive Roman guard tower, and more.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Nîmes and now here’s another: the Museum of Romanity that opened in 2018. This museum exhibits thousands of fascinating artifacts and covers over 2,500 years of life in the city. And it’s great for kids as well as adults.

Val and I visited it a few weeks ago and had a great time. You can read my report on this terrific museum in France Today.

Fjords? In Provence?

An hour east of Marseille is the cute little port town of Cassis, one of the prettiest in France. And in between the two are the rugged calanques, the mini-fjords for which the region is famous. With their steep grey cliffs against the deep blue waters of the Med, they are a sight to behold. And the good news is, they are easy to get to.

From Cassis you can take a boat ride to see a few or many of the calanques, with the rides ranging in length from 45 minutes to a couple of hours. You can even hike to some of the calanques if you wear sturdy shoes. It’s a landscape like no other and not to be missed.

Read all about it at Perfectly Provence!

What to See and Do in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

One of the prettiest spots in Provence is the little town of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. It sits next to the Sorgue River and has lovely restaurants along the riverfront, plus some interesting museums and craft centers. But the most amazing thing is the source of the river.

Rather than a series of little streams that slowly build into a river, the Sorgue arrives fully formed, at the base of a cliff just a few hundred yards from the town. This is the “fontaine” (fountain) that gives the town its name–one  of the largest springs in the world. Waters gather deep underground and then come to the surface in a pool that spills out in a cascade and becomes the river.

Read all about it in The Good Life France!

Book Review: The Arab of the Future

Want to read a terrific book? Want to try your hand at reading in French? Have I got something for you!

The Arab of the Future is one of the most popular books to come out in France in the last few years, the story of a boy growing up between two cultures. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages so you can read it in whatever language you want. But the French is easy, really easy, because The Arab of the Future is a graphic novel.

I’m not usually a fan of graphic novels, preferring “real books,” but sometimes the format is the perfect way to tell a rich and fascinating tale. This is one such tale.

Read my review of The Arab of the Future in MyFrenchLife!


Do the French Drink Too Much Wine?

The French government has decided that French people are drinking too much. And the French people (unsurprisingly) disagree.

France’s Department of Public Health has just launched a new campaign that warns of the dangers of alcohol consumption. It includes a slick commercial and an “alcoholmeter”–you tell how much you drink and it gives you back scary statistics about how you are damaging your health.

The French are not happy about this. I read an article in a leading newspaper and then went through the comments section to find the best ones for you. They are very funny!

Read all about it at Frenchly!

Van Gogh in Paris and Provence

If you are visiting Paris or Provence this year, don’t miss the fabulous sound and light shows at the Carrières de Lumières (Provence) and the new Ateliers des Lumières (Paris). They feature the works of Vincent Van Gogh, projected onto massive interior walls and choreographed with beautiful music. You’ve got to see it to believe it!

The Carrières de Lumières is in Les Baux-de-Provence, near both St-Rémy and Arles, where Van Gogh did much of his most important work. You can combine a visit to the Carrières with a visit to those towns, even seeing the room where Van Gogh lived in the asylum in St-Rémy; it’s a beautiful place and very moving.

Read all about it at The Good Life France!

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!