mardi 31 janvier 2006
Warning: If you are vegetarian, and especially if you are vegan, DO NOT move to France. I am not vegetarian, but as I actually like the taste of some items such as tofu and veggie burgers, they are very difficult to find. The closest I have found is Tomato or Onion patties. "Eureka!" I thought. "I actually found some!"
Reads ingredients: 60% meat. Nope, I guess not.
I suppose somewhere in some specialized food store or perhaps up in Paris, it might be possible to find vegetarian foods and restaurants. Down here in Provence, good luck. The Provence guidebook states:
Uniquely vegetarian restaurants are hard to find, as this concept has yet to filter down to the carnivorous South. Most establishments will offer salads, omelets or soup, or dishes from the entrée (side note: Appetizer!) menu. Some can rustle up a concoction of Provençal vegetables if given enough warning.
When invited for a meal at someone's home, you had better anticipate that it will have meat of some kind, fowl, or seafood. Or slithering things. (But I prefer not to think about those and would rather not be told what it is I am eating.) If you are a strict vegetarian, it is best to warn the hostess ahead of time. They will think you are a crazy American though.
If you are vegan, it will be extremely difficult to find meals, as there are many many dishes made with cheeses, milk, cream. And they love love love yogurt here. They have entire food aisles devoted to it. One thing the french find strange about the US is that you can buy yogurt in packs of one. Not so here. The smallest I have seen is a four pack. And yogurt is not just a breakfast thing either. It is often eaten in the evening as a snack or dessert.
lundi 30 janvier 2006

La Vieille Charité is a beautiful old building in the oldest part of the city, behind the Vieux Port. Everything is Vieux or Vieille here (old, masculine and feminine). It was begun in 1671. It was originally built as a workhouse for rural migrants, and housed widows and orphans. In the middle is a chapel with oval dome. There are three levels with arches. Later it was used as a hospice, then uninhabited. In 1951 it was classified as a historic building and restored. It is now used as an art museum as well as scientific and cultural activities such as the audiovisual national institute, high education in social sciences, CNRS research library, and mediterranean archeology museum.

The first time we went there, it was to see an exhibition "The Provencal Light" and was a collection of paintings from the 18th century, all painted here in Provence. When mom and dad were here we went but it is closed on Mondays. We were able to walk around the building though, and it was neat with no one there and silent. Well, lots of cats like to hang out there.

Yesterday, Alain and I took the Metro to the old part of the city, walked past the mini Arc d'Triomphe and some old Roman wall, and went to the Vieille Charité's new exhibition Sketchs by Artists in Italy. Lots of sketchs as preliminary studies for paintings of figures and landscapes. One was by Michelangelo Anselmi, which I got excited about, but now realize is not the REAL Michelangelo that we all know and love. Then we took the Metro again to the other side of town to visit Alain's mother, who is in the hospital with her hip replaced, then came home and had hot chocolate. A nice day.
The permanent collection is of African, American, Australien, Oceanic, etc. native art. We have not seen it yet. There is a cute little cafe and an interesting bookstore, with books all in French bien sûr about art, sociology, archeology, etc. It is wonderfully cheap to go to, 3 euros for adults, 1.50 for students and could be free for seniors, not sure. That is the nice thing about Marseille museums- they are cheap to go into, change their exhibitions regularly, and are not so big so that you can visit them without spending an entire day. So I guess there are some nice parts about living in a city.

samedi 28 janvier 2006
Getting legally married in France is tricky enough for a French citizen, even harder for foreigners. Many couples opt for just a civil ceremony (required by law). Some also have a church ceremony afterwards, never before. If you have a church ceremony, you will need to present your civil marriage certificate before the priest will perform the ceremony. There is also the PACS, Pacte civil de solidarité, which is sort of like a civil union. It was originally intended for homosexual couples, but some heterosexual couples take this route. It offers some of the same benefits of marriage and is more easily broken.
For more information, check out the American Embassy website, Marriage Requirements in France.
Here is a brief summary. First, you will need from the US Embassy a notarized paper stating that you are free to marry in France, either that you were married and were widowed/divorced, or that you have never been married. You will also need a Certificat de Coutume, which basically explains US marriage laws, and that the US citizen is free to marry in France and that the marriage will be recognized in the US. For these statements, you basically show your passport, fill out some forms, and swear on your honor you are telling the truth.

Next, you need your birth certificate. It must be issued within three months of the scheduled wedding, translated into French (officially, you can't do it yourself even though anyone with French 101 could do it). The Embassy/Consulate Section will not do this, but will give you a list of official translators.
Next is the medical exam and blood test. This must be completed as close to 2 months before the wedding as possible. This must be completed before the banns will be published. If you are coming from the US, you can have it done in the US by a doctor recognized by the French Embassy. The certificate must be in French or with an official translation and is only valid for two months. The entire file must be turned in 2 months before the date.
You also need to fill out a list of witness, one or two witnesses per spouse.
*If at least one of your witnesses does not show up on the day of the wedding, you CANNOT get married. So choose carefully, maybe someone that is already in country.
Proof of Domicile- You will need at least two proofs of where you are living to present to the City Hall. Usually French couples get married in the area where the woman is from. You must get married in the area where one of you lives. You cannot both live in Paris and decide to get married in Nice for example. The banns will be published at the city hall where you are living, or both city halls if you live in different cities, or even different arrondisements of the same city.
One of the two partners must reside in France for 40 days prior to the wedding. The banns will be published ten days before the wedding to see if there are any objections, then returned to the city hall where the marriage is taking place. The ceremony is performed by the mayor or their representative, wearing the tricolor sash in a big room in the city hall. It seems to be a rather quick ceremony, with no readings or anything like that. The witnesses sign the papers, Abracadabra you are married.
vendredi 27 janvier 2006
So, once I get up and get going and all that fun stuff, I usually head out the door at around 8:15. I walk to school, dodging small children on the way. Most parents seem to walk their (small) children to school. It is nice to get out, get some fresh air, avoiding the crowded subways. If I take the subway, I've got to get the 8:25 train, otherwise it is packed. So I walk down the Boulevard of the Republic, past the tramway construction. Pass the church Reformes and walk down the Canebiere. It is very nice in the morning because you can see all the way down to the Vieux Port and the sun is just hitting the tops of the buildings, which are all very ornately carved stone. It is quite odd to see a glowing neon McDonalds shoved into a 17th century building, but there you have it.
Get to my school, which opens at 8:45. Class officially starts at 9, but usually a few minutes later than that as people straggle in. Sit until about 11 when we have a ten minute break. Some students leave, some come, some stay. Me, I am there always. Taking the maximum number of hours of French per week. I feel my brain dribbling out my ears at times. At 1, everyone gets kicked out to go eat lunch. If I have afternoon class, I grab a sandwich or bring my own, and wander around on the streets for awhile, looking at shops, exploring new streets. There are some quite fancy shops here, like Louis Vuitton, and Nocibé, which is french for "really expensive slips of nothing". Also typical stores that you would find in the US, like Nike, Body Shop, H&M, etc.
A little before 2, I head back and prepare for another 2 hours. I hate sitting for such a long time. I take the Metro home, play around on the computer and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer in French. Alain comes home usually around 6:30 or later.
(Mom took this picture, suprising us while doing the dishes. VMI alums- notice anything? Also, notice the Rum, Swedish chef mugs, and Nutella on the table. Fabulous)
We eat dinner, do the dishes, watch TV or a movie, and go to bed. Sometimes we go to karate, or go out, but not too much during the week. And as it is dark by 6:30 now, there isn't much to do. Next morning, 7 am repeat with feeling.

Here is picture of the Shamrock Pub nearby Lanhourneau. All the buildings are made out of grey stones.

Alain and his grandmother in front of her house.

Alain on the rocky rocky beach, walking barefoot, ouch!

Small church by the sea

Alain, his mother, her Aunt, and his father, on a bridge near Brest.

Standing stones.

jeudi 26 janvier 2006

The patron saint of the area is Saint Hervé.
Catholic Online states that

Feastday: June 17
Welsh bard who was is a popular patron in Brittany, France. Herve, sometimes called Harvey or Hervues, was the son of the bard Hyvarnion, and was born blind. Raised by his uncles because his mother was a hermitess, he was taken to Brittany. There he built an abbey at Lanhourneau, and he was venerated as a miracle worker and bard. He is invoked against eye trouble, and he is depicted with a wolf. Tales and legends associated Herve with a wolf.

Every year there is a festival June 17th at the spring and people who have eye problems can splash some of the water on their face. Looking at the water, it looks more likely to CAUSE problems than CURE them.

A son was born blind, and in their sorrow, his parents called him Hervé, which means bitterness. When he was two years old, his father died, and the mother, Rivanon, and child were left poor and friendless. In her grief she sang to him and he grew up to love poetry and music. When Hervé was seven, Rivanon gave him into the care of a holy man named Arthian and she became a hermit. The child wandered about the countryside singing and begging, led by a white dog which he held on a string. To this day the Bretons sing a ballad of the blind child, led by his dog, singing as he shivered in the wind and the rain, with no shoes on his bare feet, his teeth chattering with the cold.

At age 14, with his mother's approval, he sought out an uncle who was a hermit and kept a monastic school in the forest at Plouvien. His uncle welcomed him, and soon Hervé excelled in
knowledge beyond all his other pupils. On his uncle's death, he became abbot. Every morning the children gathered to be taught by their blind master, and every evening they left "like a swarm of bees issuing from a hollow oak." He instructed them in music and poetry, and, above all, in the Christian way of life.
In addition to teaching, Hervé worked the fields near the school. He was venerated for his holiness and his miracles. The most extravagant of which relates that one day a wolf ate the donkey with which he was plowing the fields. The young child who was Hervé's guide cried out in fear, but at Hervé's prayers, the wolf put himself into the donkey's harness and finished the work to be done.

Later he decided to move the community to León. There the bishop wanted to ordain him priest, but Hervé humbly declined. Thus, although he was never a priest, Hervé is said to have participated in the solemn anathematizing of the tyrannical ruler Conomor, c. 550. From León the holy group travelled west. Beside the road to Lesneven is the fountain of Saint Hervé, which he is said to have caused to flow to satisfy the thirst of his companions. Finally, they settled and Hervé built a monastery at Lanhouarneau in Finistère, which earned a great reputation.
From his monastery, where he lived for the rest of his life, Hervé would travel forth periodically to preach or act as exorcist.

He was no longer led by a white dog, but by his little niece, Kristine, who lived near him in a cottage of thatch and wattle built for her by the monks, and who, gay as a fairy, sang to him as she gathered flowers for the altar. When he came to die, he said to her: "Tina, my dear, make my bed ready, but make it not as is wont. Make it on the heard earth, before the altar, at the feet of Jesus. Place a stone for my bolster, and strew my bed with ashes." Weeping, she carried out his wish, and said: "May I follow in due course, as the boat follows the ship." As his monks watched at his deathbed, they were said to have heard the music of the heavenly choirs welcoming him to heaven. So died the blind Breton saint, who had taught in the school in the forest, and who all his life, despite his blindness, had given glory to God. Until the French Revolution, a chapel (now destroyed) near Cleder in Finistère possessed a most unusual relics: the cradle in which Saint Hervé had been rocked (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Gill, White).
In art, Saint Herveus is a blind abbot telling frogs to be quiet or being led by a wolf (Roeder) or his child guide. He is invoked against eye problems (Delaney). Breton mothers threatened their
mischievous children with his wolf (White).

dimanche 22 janvier 2006

At the end of August, Alain and I drove up to Bretagne (Brittany), northwestern area of France, to visit his grandmother for a week. It took about 14 hours of driving along the autoroutes. Most of the autoroutes were toll routes, and not cheap but well maintained with frequent rest areas. The toilets in the rest areas were for some reason Turkish toilets. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to install these awful things rather than regular toilets should be shot. Basically, you squat over the hole as best as you can, (me, I did not want to put my shoes on those dirty platforms). When you flush, you had better be launching yourself out the door at the same time because the entire area is flooded with water.
For example picture (third down), please click

Anyway, back to Bretagne.

His mother is from Bretagne and most of her family still lives up there. This was the first time that I met all of them.
From the guidebook
"A long, jagged coastline is the region's great attraction. Magnificent beaches line its northern shore, swept clean by huge tides and interspersed with well-established seaside resorts, seasoned fishing ports and abundant oyster beds. "
We walked along the coastline several times. The tide is quite large, going out for half a mile or so. The water was too cold to go in. At least for me. But then, I like my oceans pool-like. A lot of people were out with rakes, scraping the sands for oysters. Alain's father said that 30 years ago it was very easy to find oysters, that you didn't have to look very long before finding a lot. I guess something has changed because we saw few people with oysters.

The area has a Celtic heritage, as well standing stone sites. The Breton language/dialect still exists and a lot of the signs have both languages.
The difference in architecture between Provence and Bretagne is amazing. Alain's mother is from Lanhouarneau, and his grandmother still lives there.

The regional specialty is crepes. We had them every day. Sweet ones are great with butter, jelly, whipped cream, chocolate, ice cream, fruit, caramel, etc. The salty ones are usually served with ham, cheese, and egg inside. The most popular drink is cider.
vendredi 20 janvier 2006

Alain and I have managed to get lost in several metro stations of the world. Paris, (where we went in the completely opposite direction, got off, took the train back, then spent about 10 minutes looking for the train in the train for the correct direction) New York, (where we bought a ticket and then couldn't manage to even get through the turnstiles) and Washington D.C. Gotta love those times when you think "Okay, one of us has a PhD, the other their Master's, we should be able to figure this out between the two of us." We haven't tried London yet, I am sure it will be an adventure.
The Marseille Metro system is amazingly simple and straightforwarded, even for those who are Metroly Challenged.
As Peter Mayle states in his book Encore Provence:

My record with underground transit systems is one of almost unbroken failure. I can, and do, get lost in the bowels of London, New York, or Paris as quickly as most people buy a ticket. But the Marseille system, even to someone who has a useless void where his sense of direction ought to be, is delightfully compact and straightforward. Fifteen minutes after leaving the station, we were on the south side of the Vieux Port, walking along the Corniche in the general direction of lunch.

Yes, the Marseille system is quite convenient. There are two lines, one blue, one red, that intersect at two stations and have about 13 stops each. There is only one caveat: the workers need to not be on strike.

Back in October, on National Strike Day, all public services were on strike, as well as some workers from other companies. They were marching in the streets, holding signs and making noise. Okay great. Back to work the next day. Except for the Metro and Bus drivers. They decide to strike. And the strike went on. And on. They were apparently striking over pay, hours, and the fact that the trolley is being built with city money, then the city plans to sell it to a private company to run. Or something like that. One thing that I want my strikes to be is predictable. This one was not. You would go somewhere (such as school or doctor's appointments) thinking that the lines would still be running when you wanted to, oh say, return home. Yeah, have a nice walk. Or you would check the current status online right before leaving the house for the two minute walk to the station to find out when you got there that they are closed.

Luckily, we live about 30 minutes at a fast pace of walking away from my school. But many students live a lot farther out than that and missed a lot of classes. One of the Universities is on the very edge of town, and there was a lot of hitchhiking. As October dragged into November and the strike crept close to December, the merchants downtown were getting mad- less people coming to shop. The strike finally abated with threats that it would start again sometime. Thankfully, it hasn't yet. Though there was the time that I got on the train to go home, it got halfway there, then said everyone off, we have a technical problem. So as the metro line doesn't go straight as the crow flies from home to school, it was a long hike home.

The city is putting in a trolley line, which is quite amusing considering they tore up the old lines a long time ago, feeling that they were a thing of the past. Cars are the way of the future! Wait a minute, there are way too many cars now! Let's put some trolley lines back in, creating a general citywide disturbance for an indefinite amount of time, and make the traffic even worse with less room for cars! Great idea.

I would ride a bike but they terrify me. Plus, I can't figure out how the gear things work and don't want to die, run over by a bus or crazy Marseillais driver.

So basically, walk or take the Metro. Walking is calming right? It should be a nice leisurely stroll, enjoying the fresh air. Well, not when you have to watch every step you take for fear of dog bombs while squeezing between the parked cars and buildings on the sidewalks built for one.

If I had a car, I could drive to school. But the only place to find parking would be back at home. Thankfully the metro and bus system is fairly extensive and cheap. I was able to buy a one year pass for 260 euros I think it was. Yay for pulic transportation!

mardi 17 janvier 2006
Counting in French is quite interesting.
Numbers 1-16 are pretty simple, except I can't tell the difference between 2 (deux) and 12 (doze).
17-19 are dix-sept (ten seven), dix-huit (ten eight), dix-neuf (ten nine)
I used to pronounce 9 like noove, which Alain thought was funny. Apparently, it rhymes with snuff.
20-69 are pretty normal, but after 69 it gets tricky.
70= soixante dix (sixty ten)
71= soixante et onze (sixty eleven)
72= soixante et doze (sixty twelve)
77= soixante dix sept (sixty ten seven)
etc til 80
80= quatre vingt (four twenties)
81=quatre vingt un (four twenties one)
90=quatre vingt dix
97=quatre vingt dix sept (four twenties ten seven)
til 100.
At least in English it is just Seventy Seven, Eighty Seven, etc. Not four twenties, a five, a two plus a seven, minus a four.

The alphabet is pretty regular, all the same letters. Except e is pronouned euh, i is eee, g is jay, and j is gee.
There are the accent marks too
é è ê ë à ç etc.
lundi 16 janvier 2006
One of the most frustrating things that I have not yet been able to master here in France is figuring out when the heck the stores are open. Some are open all day, some close for lunch. Most grocery stores are closed on Sundays. The stores that close for lunch can close between 12 and 1:30, 1 and 2:30, 1 and 3, who knows. Some stores that are open Sunday are not open Monday. Some are open just in the mornings, even Christmas morning. As a person who likes to do errands and shopping during lunch, it drives me bonkers. I walked to the grocery store today, arriving a few minutes before 2. Nope, sorry, closed until 2:30. They stay open fairly late, at least until 7, even 9.
I need to make a Spreadsheet with store names and operating hours for each day of the week for quick reference.
vendredi 13 janvier 2006

Salon is a town nearby Lancon. The guidebook states that it is known for olives and soap. It is dominated by the castellated Château de l'Empéri, which was once home of the archbishops of Arles. Rebuilt in the 13th century, this medieval fortress is today in perfect condition as it has been restored and
maintained with the utmost care and is now a museum, containing a large collection of military items from Louis 14th to WWI.
The french Air Force officer's college, La Patrouille Aérienne de France, is also right outside Salon. (So I went from one Air Force Academy to another. )
In the northern section of the old town is where the French physician and astronomer Michel de Nostredame is buried, otherwise known as Nostradamus. He is the most famous citizen of Salon, and it is where he wrote his book of predictions. His house is in the old district and it is now a museum which details his life and unique personality.
In July there is a four day Gospel music festival with concerts in the château, street performances, and song workshops.
The center of town is a walking-only area with small shops and restaurants. There are also many fountains scattered throughout the town.

Sites to visit:
18th century porte de l'horloge. (clock tower gate)
17th century town hall.
18th century Moussue fountain.
13th century St Michel church.
18th century Collégiale St Laurent.
The house of Nostradamus. Grévin de Provence museum.
L'école des bergers (domaine du Merle) (school of shepherds)
And, for something different... the Coca-Cola Museum
(museum of publicity merchandise).
jeudi 12 janvier 2006

Most people who have been to Europe are amazed by the small size of the cars. Well, if you have ever tried to park or had to fill up a gas tank, you will understand why small cars are preferrable, compared to say a HUMMER.
For good or bad, the french car company Renault came out with a Mégane car in 2000 ?. Now, everyone knows my name. "Oh, comme la voiture?" The french version, obviously, has the accent and extra e (may-gahne), which makes it a feminine name in French. Megan is unfortunately masculine. I have started to pronounce my own name differently, as above, compared to how I used to pronounce it (may-gihn). I would love to buy a Mégane eventually, but perhaps one of the older models. Another adorable car is the Smart car, as shown. Excellent for parking, not so great for hauling anything other than yourself around, and extremely expensive.
Introducing SMART, the car that redefines mobility. ZAP is proud to soon offer one of the most fuel-efficient, gas-powered cars on the planet. This new car has been designed as the car of the future with many "smart" features that address today's crowded urban traffic and rising energy prices. Don't be fooled
by its charming, futuristic look, the SMART will surprise you with its handling, its stylish, roomy interior for 2 passengers, and its innovative design. After taking Europe by storm, ZAP is bringing the Americanized version that is a U.S. Compliant direct import automobile.
Assuming that one day I have a car, I guess I will have to take the plunge and drive here in France. The fact that I can't parallel park for the life of me is a bit of a hinderance. Where in the US do you have to parallel park in spaces that are half a foot bigger than the length of your car on a daily basis?
mercredi 11 janvier 2006

For Christmas this year, we decided to get a fake tree (I don't really like real ones- besides the pine needles everywhere, I don't like that a tree died in order to sit in my apartment for two weeks before being tossed in the trash. But that is just me. I have nothing against other people having real ones. Moving on.)
If you are going to have a fake small tree, it might as well be obviously fake, so we got a half size white plastic one. We bought gold balls, goldy-orange and blue garlands, blue lights, and a blue star on top. Woohoo! Total cost of Christmas decorations- approximately 20 dollars.
I gave Alain the start of our creche, or nativity scene. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus santon figurines. We will add to each year. Mom and Dad gave Alain a stocking from LLBean? Land's End? to match my stocking. Incidentally, they don't do stockings here, at least not to put stuff inside. They sometimes hang them up for decorations. Some people do a tradition of leaving shoes (wooden or regular) by the fireplace. I think huge stockings are definetely preferrable.
Merry (late) Christmas!
Joyeux Noël!
mardi 10 janvier 2006

On Christmas Eve, we ate at Alain's parent's house (see previous entry, le 13 Desserts). At around 11:30, we walked to the village church, where we will be getting married. Alain, his sister Lucie, her husband Nicholas, their daughter Manon, my parents, and I all went. The church was gorgeous inside with the lighting. When we arrived the church was not too full, but eventually it filled up. In previous years, I guess they had a living nativity scene, complete with sheep and the traditional fife and drum players, but not anymore.
I thought it would be a fairly short ceremony, but obviously I know nothing about the Catholic Church. They read the story of the Nativity, first in French (which I can barely understand), then in Provençal (not at all, not even most of the French people understand it). After each passage, we were regaled by a lively rendition from five adolescent accordion players. We also sang some songs, Dad singing the same version in English. :)

Here is the french version of "Angels We Have Heard on High"

Les anges dans nos campagnes ont entonné l'hymne des cieux
et l'echo de nos montagnes redit ce chant mélodieux:

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Ils annoncent la naissance du libérateur d'Israël
et, pleins de reconnaissance, chantent en ce jour solennel:

Cherchons tous l'heureux village qui l'a vu naître sous ses toits;
offrons-lui le tendre hommage et de nos coeurs et de nos voix:

Dans l'humilité profonde ou vous paraissez à nos yeux,
pour vous louer, Dieu du monde, nour redirons ce chant joyeux:

Bergers, quittez vos retraites, unissez-vous à leurs concerts,
et que vos tendres musettes fassent retentir dans les airs:

At midnight the baby was put in the nativity, people took communion, and we left
around 12:30 (to go back and eat the 13 desserts.)

samedi 7 janvier 2006

Today is Epiphany, a tradition celebrated here in France. The term comes from the greek term signifying apparition. It is by varying accounts, the day when Jesus was presented to the three kings or wise men (Melchior, Gaspard, and Balthazar), the date of the baptism of Christ, the day of the first miracle (turning water into wine at the wedding) and the Eastern Orthodox christmas.
The galette differed according to the regions: for example it was made of puff pastry in Paris, but made of brioche and shaped as a crown in Provence. Under Louis XIV, the Church considered this festival as a pagan celebration and as an excuse for indulgence, and it was subsequently banned. To get around this ban, it became la fête du bon voisinage (literally, 'neighbourly relations day'). This culinary tradition even survived the French Revolution when it became the ‘Gâteau de l’Êgalité (the equality cake), as Kings were not very popular in those years!

The galette de rois (or cake of kings) comes from the 14th century and is supposedly cut into as many portions as there are guests, plus one. This extra piece is given to the first poor person that they come across and is called the "part de Bon Dieu" or "part de la Vierge". Inside the cake is hidden a bean (une fève) signifying fertility, or a small object, such as a Santon, see previous entry. The person who has this piece in their portion is the King or Queen of the day and wears a crown - like the cardboard Burger King Crowns. It used to be that the person who found it had to buy a round of drinks, pay for that cake, or pay for the cake next year.

This sometimes resulted in stingy behaviour and to avoid buying a round of drinks, the potential King or Queen very often swallowed the bean! This is why towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, the lucky charm started being made of china.

The youngest person in the room (usually a child) hides under the table and shouts out which guest each slice of cake should be given to. The person who finds the fève in their slice of galette becomes the King or Queen and is given a golden paper crown. The King or Queen then has to choose his Queen or her King, by dropping the lucky charm in their glass.


mercredi 4 janvier 2006

A tradition in Provence is the eating of 13 desserts at Christmas. These symbolize Christ and the 12 Apostles. What the 13 desserts actually are depend on family and region but they are typically:

dried fruit: called les quatre mendiants (the four beggars), by analogy with the habits of the mendicant orders: raisins for the Dominicans, dried figs for the Franciscans, nuts for the Augustines, and almonds for the Carmelites;
the pompe à huile (pastry made with olive oil);
light and dark nougat;
fresh fruit, such as apples, pears, tangerines
dates, calissons (almond paste) from Aix or marzipan.

In December, at our montly Provencal food tasting at my school, we had
a sample of the 13 desserts (above picture).

In Provence, the season actually starts on December 4th, St. Barbe's day. Children wrap wheat or lentil seeds in a damp cloth so that they germinate. The tiny seedlings are transplanted and then placed in a sunny window to grow. The plants portend prosperity for the family during the coming year and are used to decorate the crèche as well as the table for Christmas Eve supper. On Christmas Eve, before leaving for Midnight Mass, the family gathers for the gros souper which celebrates all the things the family is thankful for, yet maintains a religious symbolism. It is composed of seven meatless meals, which represent the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mother. The
table itself is set with 3 white tablecloths and 3 candles, representing the Trinity. The St. Barbe's wheat also decorates the table. Before sitting down to the table, the oldest member and the youngest member of the family walk around the table 3 times carrying a fruitwood log. It is blessed with some of the vin cuit and then placed in the fireplace. After the supper, the Treize Desserts (13 Desserts) are served. This also has a religious meaning, representing all those present at the Last Supper. Before leaving for Midnight mass, the thirteen desserts are set on a clean tablecloth at another table ready for neighbors, beggars or the souls of the ancestors to taste while everyone is at church. The leftover wine is poured on the fire, the log removed, wrapped and put away until next Christmas.
After the mass, the family returns for the "Repas Gras". For this feast, assorted game, a variety of roasts and many different wines from the region are served. On Christmas day, a roast turkey or capon is served and for dessert a bûche de Noël, usually purchased from the local pâtissier is served along with the 13 desserts. After two full days of feasting, a simple bowl of l'aigo bouido - garlic soup - is served for Christmas dinner.

We had Christmas Eve at Alain's parents house. We had a relatively light supper, then walked to the midnight mass (more on that next entry). When we returned we had the 13 desserts, then drove back to Marseille. Christmas Day we went to his Aunt Lydia's house. There we had a huge meal consisting of:
apperitif and hors d'oeuvres
gambas- huge shrimp with homemade mayonaisse
escargot- enough said
sausage and smoked salmon, fish eggs on bread- very salty
homemade ravioli, made by Alain and his cousin Jerome the day before at his grandparent's- a five hour operation
lamb and mushrooms
cheese and fruit
buche de noel (2 types made by Alain's mom)
more 13 desserts

I saw the wheat germs germinating, but no 3 white tableclothes or the parading of the log around the table. All in all, it was a ton of food and we sat at the table for about 6 hours minimum. A good time was had by all.

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