Carrières de Lumières—Only in Provence

Imagine walking into a massive cavern inside a mountain. The walls shoot straight up and the ceiling is high above your head. Here and there are side chambers, and rough-hewn benches are carved into the walls. The whole place looks drab in the dim light—you wonder why your friends keep saying “You can’t miss it!”

Even after having looked at the photos and having viewed the promotional video, the actual experience of the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light) is almost impossible to describe. But once the lights go out and the magic starts, you just know you have to tell your friends, “You can’t miss it!”

Read all about this unique Provencal spot in My French Life. It’s part of my “Only in Provence” series and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

The Surprising History of Jewish Provence

People are often surprised to learn that France has the third-largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel and the United States.

And they are even more surprised to learn that for centuries the center of Jewish life in France wasn’t Paris, it was Provence… thanks to the Pope!

How did this happen?

Jews have long been subject to persecution in France, as in many places.

In the Middle Ages, French Jews were the victims of murders, riots, and outright expulsions. There were few places where they were allowed to live, even fewer jobs they were allowed to hold, and many were forced to wear a yellow star.

Life was intolerable… but hope beckoned in the south.

Learn all about the surprising history of Jewish Provence in My French Life!

Light and Magic in France

What do you do with a giant cavern?

That was the question that vexed the Provençal village of Les Baux-de-Provence. For centuries, giant blocks of white limestone had been extracted from a nearby mountain to build the town and its towering château. But by 1935, competition had forced the limestone quarry to close, leaving behind a massive, ghostly chamber. There it sat for decades, cold and silent, waiting for someone to restore it to glory.

That someone was Albert Plécy, a photographer and filmmaker, who arrived in 1975 with the idea of a “total image.” He installed a few giant projectors that flooded the cavern with color, projecting images that he coordinated with music. For viewers inside the cavern, it was a kind of total immersion that he called the Cathedral d’Images–the Cathedral of Images.

From this modest beginning, the program has slowly become more sophisticated and today it uses hundreds of cutting-edge projectors and complex computer control. Now called the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light), the site is run by Culturespaces, France’s leading private manager of museums and art centers. Carrières de Lumières has become one of Provence’s leading tourist attractions and has led to the creation of “siblings” in Paris, Bordeaux, and South Korea.

Read about these magical siblings in France Today!

10 Great Movies Set in Paris

Paris has long attracted filmmakers and why not? The beauty of Paris makes any movie better! And when you add in glamorous movie stars like Audrey Hepburn and Alain Delon back in the 1960s or Tom Cruise and Audrey Tautou today, what you get is visually stunning. Paris is one of the stars, and so beautiful you can’t look away from it.

An American in Paris? The Da Vinci Code? Mission Impossible? The list of movies set in Paris is long. Let’s take a look at 10 favorites, plus a longer list for you to browse.

Read all about it in France Today!

Introducing French Funnyman Rémi Gaillard

We can all use a few laughs these days, so let me introduce you to French prankster Rémi Gaillard.

Gaillard makes videos that are short, funny, and very popular—they’ve been viewed over 2 billion times. Their style is a bit like the U.S. television program Candid Camera or the U.K.’s Trigger Happy TV.

Gaillard first gained fame in 2002 when he pretended to be a player at the final match of the Coupe de France soccer tournament. Not only did he manage to join the team’s victory lap, he also shook hands with French president Jacques Chirac…who congratulated him on his fine play!

Gaillard loves to do things like commandeer an elevator and create ridiculous scenes inside it—a disco or a living room or a climber scaling Mount Everest. Or he’ll recreate a scene from Star Wars. The unsuspecting person waiting for the elevator is definitely surprised when the doors open!

Gaillard once entered the Mr. Universe bodybuilding championship, flexing his (modest) muscles along with the other contestants. It’s a good thing he could run faster than those hulks once his ruse was discovered.

Read all about it in France Today!

 

Are You a Juilletiste or an Aoûtien?

In France, the prime vacation months are July and August, when school is out and the weather is beautiful. Which raises a question: when should a French person go on vacation?

Traditionally, most people went in August, when factories closed and the country shut down. But as the French economy has evolved and manufacturing has declined, people can now choose which month to go on vacation. And they usually go at the same time every year, which has divided the country into two groups. They even have special names: the juilletistes, who vacation in July (July is juillet in French) and the aoûtiens (for août, or August.)

These two tribes have different characteristics and each views the other with a kind of suspicion, bordering on disdain. Some sociologists claim that the most important social division in France isn’t based on race, gender, religion, or even political affiliation, but by when you take your summer vacation!

I take a look at each tribe in The Good Life France!

Eurovision: Europe’s Greatest Cultural Achievement?

What is Europe’s greatest cultural achievement? Is it the art of Michelangelo? The Magna Carta? French cuisine? For me, there’s no question—it’s the Eurovision Song Contest. For nearly 70 years, singers and bands across the continent have battled for the title of Best Original Song.

What makes Eurovision great? It’s not the music, because most of the songs sound alike. No, it’s the performances, and especially the cheesy ones (some might call them campy.) Who can forget the Bearded Lady? Or the man running inside a giant hamster wheel? Or the bare-chested fellows prancing in their sparkly gold shoulder pads?

Americans are starting to discover Eurovision. The number one movie on Netflix right now is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. It’s silly and fun and captures the spirit of Eurovision perfectly.

Eurovision was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus, but the official videos for the finalists have been posted online. I’ve watched them all and picked out the best for you.

Read all about it at MyFrenchLife!

How to Picnic French-Style

The sun is shining, the weather is warm—let’s go on a picnic! We may not be able to travel to France this year, but we can still add some French style to our pique-nique.

I’ve written a short primer on picnicking à la français. What are the basics that no French picnic can be without? What are the three courses of a classic French picnic? And is it ok to take a nap after you’ve eaten? I explain all!

Read all about it in France Today!

Understanding French Culture

France has a distinctive culture, reflecting its long and proud history as a great nation. And it has its quirks–for example, the French kiss each other when other people might hug or shake hands. Their driving habits are different than those other countries. And arguing is one of the country’s national sports.

Want some insights into French culture? Then check out this article in My French Life!