dimanche 30 avril 2006

In France, it is tradition to offer Muguet, or Lily of the Valley, on the first of May. I had seen a lot of these pots of flowers in the markets, but didn't know the significance until yesterday when Alain's mom gave us a small pot of flowers and explained that it is tradition and that it is supposed to bring happiness.

from http://library.thinkquest.org/C007974/1_1lil.htm
Lily of the valley, May lily, Convallaria majalis
This is one of the most beautiful flowers that appear in wet forests in Europe, Asia, and North America from April till June.Every part of the plant is poisonous because it contains about 20 poisonous glycosides such as convalatoxin, convalarin, and convalamarin, as well as saponins. They cause poisoning characterized by strong headache, nausea and vomiting, slow pulse and excessive urination. The victims are often domesticated animals because the may lily is a widely distributed cultivated plant.

From Wikipedia
The flower is also known as Our Lady's tears since, according to legend, the tears Mary shed at the cross turned to Lilies of the Valley. According to another legend, Lilies of the Valley also sprang from the blood of St. Leonard during his battle with the dragon. Other names include May Lily, May Bells, Lily Constancy, Ladder-to-Heaven, Male Lily and Muguet.

From http://www.placier-muguet.com/uk/histoire.htm
It was not used as a garden plant until the sixteenth century.
Lily-of-the-valley has been associated with French May Day celebrations and regarded as bringing good luck since the renaissance.
But its use specifically as the May Day flower was confirmed at the beginning of the 20th century by two events.
On May Day 1895, Mayol, the cabaret singer, was greeted by his girlfriend Jenny Cook with some lily-of-the-valley and that evening he wore lily-of-the-valley in his buttonhole instead of the more usual Camellia.
At the turn of the century, the great fashion houses gave sprigs of lily-of-the-valley to their customers and apprentices on May Day.
By 1976, lily-of-the-valley was completely associated with May Day and every year tens of millions of sprigs of both wild and cultivated lily-of-the-valley are sold on this day.
The gathering of wild lily-of-the-valley depends on the weather and varies considerably from one year to another.

Alain's parents said that it used to be just kids, poor people, and elderly would gather Muguet and sell them on the streets before May Day, but now this has been almost completely replaced by cultivated Muguet.

Another blog on May Day and muguet.
samedi 29 avril 2006

Here is a pop quiz for all (any?) loyal readers. What are these for? You can find these on a lot of older buildings here in Marseille. I didn't know until one of my French teachers told us. The first person to leave a comment that is correct, gets, well, nothing.
vendredi 28 avril 2006

every night guests turn out their lights
but no one will be resting tonight
in michie tavern

people say the party ended centuries ago
just cause they were never asked to go
people paid to stay in michie tavern
long before the floors creaked
not knowing that they
would never leave

every night guests turn out their lights
but no one will be sleeping tonight
in michie tavern

every night
the guests meet in the ballroom
i've seen those lights
from the highway

a french boy and an american
are dancing too close tonight
everyone's watching
and everyone's whispering
they hate it so much that they'll do it
every night

every day the tourists eat
at the slave house next door
complain of how they've
had a hard day in their cars
and the waitresses
the white waitresses complain
about the every day

but a french boy and an american
are dancing real close tonight
everyone's watching
and everyone's whispering
they hate it so much that they'll do it
every night

guests turn out their lights
but no one will be resting tonight
in michie tavern

-"Michie Tavern" by Julie Loyd

I love this song, I guess for obvious reasons. Julie Loyd is a Charlottesville native. I first heard her playing at Soulful Sundown and immediately bought all three of her CDs.


I asked her about this song, and she said she was reading about ghost stories of Charlottesville, and came across this one about Michie Tavern. She said that supposedly a young French cavalier came over and danced the first waltz with the governer's daughter, which was very shocking at the time because their bodies were TOUCHING! And that ghosts still haunt Michie Tavern and have balls in the upper room.

lundi 17 avril 2006
Yesterday Alain and I went to his aunt's house to celebrate Easter. His parents, grandparents, sister, her husband, and their daughter were there as well.
There was a chocolate Easter Duck on the table for Manon, so I asked if in France they have Easter Duck that brings the eggs. He said no. Easter Bunny? No. Easter Frog? Nope. I couldn't guess, so he explained that it is the bells. Bells? I just can't picture bells hip hopping down the bunny trail to deliver Easter candy. A Rabbit or Duck at least makes some sense.
Lucie explained to me that she told Manon that the bells were so happy that Jesus was resurrected that the bells rang so much and chocolate came flying out.

from http://www.easterbunnys.net/frencheaster.htm
Easter in France
In France, Shrove Tuesday is referred to as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.
In France, church bells ring joyfully during the year. But the bells stop ringing on the Thursday before Good Friday. They are silent for a few days while people remember the death of Jesus. On Easter Sunday morning, the bells ring out, telling people that Jesus is alive again. When people hear the bells, they kiss and hug one another.
Many children wake up on Easter Sunday and find eggs scattered about their rooms. They look in the nests they have placed in their yards or gardens and find Easter eggs in them. The eggs are said to have been bought from Rome where the bell ringing had gone to see the Pope and when the bells returned they bought with them the eggs.
In some parts of France, children look for four white horses pulling a chariot full of eggs.
In France the children throw eggs up in the air. The first one to drop it loses.
An old French custom was a contest of rolling raw eggs down a gentle slope--the surviving egg was the victory egg and symbolized the stone being rolled away from the tomb.
In France an egg game played is that in which the eggs were thrown up in the air and caught. The boy who dropped his egg had to pay a forfeit.
In France the children are told that it is the church bells that have been to Rome to fetch them their eggs.

Cloche volant or Flying Bells are another important part of the French Easter tradition. French Catholics have a tradition that on Good Friday all the church bells in France miraculously fly to the Vatican in Rome. They carry with them all the misery and grief of those who mourn Jesus' crucifixion on that day. These flying French bells then return on Easter morning in time for the celebration of Jesus' resurrection. They of course bring with them lots of chocolate and eggs which are left in yards for the children to collect in their baskets when they wake up in the morning. In keeping with the tradition, French church bells do not ring from Good Friday to Easter morning.

I personally did not notice the bells not ringing.
Anyway, Alain and Nicolas very obviously hid some chocolate eggs, bunny, and a book in the yard and Manon walked around and found them, with a lot of prompting of "oh! What is this I see in the bush?" It was very cute. She then later stole all the chocolate on the table and put them in her basket.
Chocolate seemed to be the theme of the day. We each had a small Lindt chocolate bunny at our plate, his parents brought a large Jeff de Bruges egg (very good chocolate store that has had lines out in the street to get into the store for the past week) that when split open has other small Easter Ducks, Bells, and Eggs inside.
I did not see any egg coloring kits, I guess it is not as popular here.

So we sat down for lunch/dinner.
Here is what we had.
Small appetizers- chips, chocolate
Started off with Salmon with tapenade
followed by a small prune wrapped in bacon
caviar (well, Alain tells me it is some sort of other type of fish eggs) and tapenade on bread
salad of coeur de palmier, lettuce, tomato, and egg
rice and kebobs of some meat cooked in a curry and a sauce
Cake 1: cream and fruit cake with chocolate
Cake 2: clafouti aux fraise (a sort of baked pudding)
chocolate course
chocolate cake/brownie-ish dessert

You most likely are thinking- what did they drink?
Started off with water until they realized, Oh we forget the wine! So then we had a red Bordeaux followed by a type of bubbly Champagne drink.

Luckily, I was prepared for this and knew what to expect. Take as little as possible of each course until you are sure the end is in site. Of course, it is always possible that a surprise dish will be slipped in there somewhere, such as the brownies catching me unaware. I was actually expecting another main dish.
I got home and had a stomache ache from so much chocolate. Yes, ME!!!!
Today is a holiday.
jeudi 6 avril 2006
There is a way to buy property in France called Vente en Viager. Basically, elderly people decide to sell their house to someone, receiving a down payment right away, and then a certain fixed rent or payment each month until they die. Then the house is all yours, whether they lived one month after the first payment or 10+ years. Here is a true story, taken from http://faithnet.faithsite.com/content.asp?CID=57261
about a french woman who sold her house this way.

Jeanne Louise Calment was born in Arles, France, in 1875. She once met Vincent
Van Gogh. Those facts would probably not be of much interest to anyone were it
not for one other fact. Jeanne died on February 21, 1997. She was 122 years old.
Jeanne outlived a husband, a child, and her only grandson, who died in 1963. She
rode a bike at the age of 100. A notary public named Andre-Francois Raffray once
bought her apartment, paying $500 a month for a promise that he would move into
the apartment upon her death. All told, he paid twice the apartment's market
value before he died in December 1995."In life, one sometimes makes bad deals,"
Jeanne reflected.Jeanne was, in fact, a very quotable woman. Her most immortal
line was, "I've only got one wrinkle and I'm sitting on it." (You can say things
like that when you're the oldest person in the world...)

I am sure it is all carefully calculated with respect to the value of the property, life expectancy, etc. Additionally, if it is a husband and wife living in the house, you have to wait until they both die.

Another article from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/main.jhtml?xml=/property/2005/12/03/pviager03.xml states

Trust the French to come up with something complicated (and slightly ghoulish) to get their hands on someone else's property. Buying en viager - a legal and time-honoured, but not very common, means of acquisition - involves making a monthly payment to the seller, until he or she dies. It is also known as a "life lease", and certainly it often gives the seller a new lease of life.Although generally considered rather distasteful, the viager, like any other financial transaction, offers advantages for both sides. Take, for example, the people who retire to the South of France only to find that the cost of living there is beyond their means. If they don't have family or other heirs, they can sell their property on the viager basis, collecting a lump sum and a monthly income to add butter and jam to the daily baguette. Looked at from this side of the equation, the viager sounds a little less heartless, although the buyer isn't necessarily a good Samaritan. In this unusual futures market, his side of the transaction is closer to speculation than anything else.

I don't necessarily agree that it is greedy or ghoulish, though it would be strange to visit a prospective house to buy and be secretly sizing up the health and future prospects of the owners, hoping that someday soon they will die or else need to be put in a home.

Besides, it takes advantage of two basic facts of life: 1) everyone needs a place to live and 2) everyone is going to die someday.

Alain's father informed me that "When French don't want to die, they don't die." So I guess the way to ensure that you will live a good long time is to sell your house in Viager!

There is a move called Le Viager based on this theme.

X-Mas 1930 : a 59 year-old man called Martinet goes to Doctor Galipeau for a complete check-up. The doc is sure that his patient will die in some months maybe a year, so he proposes to the old man and his own brother to begin a annuity contract : every year, the Galipeau's will give to the old-timer a sum of money (based on aluminum rates), and when Martinet will die, his house of Provence (in a small unknown town called St-Tropez) will be theirs... But after nine years, the whole family began to think that enough is enough, and they tried to end the existence of Martinet...Simple but excellent plot : Michel Serrault ( only 44 at this time) gets 25 years older...and more, and he is absolutely perfect as the good naive old man, the family Galipeau is perfectly despicable, mainly the doctor, a great Michel Galabru.

I haven't seen it yet, but I guess the family starts to try to knock off the old man, and every year they become fewer and fewer while the viager lives on.

On http://money.msn.fr/immobilier/immobilier/annonces/viager/default.asp

you can search for properties in Viager. It is rather bizarre as often the listings state the age of the person(s) living there. The initial price goes up with the age as well. If you could find a place non-occupied, that would be ideal because then you could at least not be paying rent for two places. Alas, those are rare to find.

mardi 4 avril 2006
Last Thursday at school we had our montly outing. First we had a Provençal Apperitif- olives and Pastis (side note: Don't like pastis- it is the anis-y licorichey cloudy drink, typical of this area). Then we walked to the Park of the 26th Century (after the founding of Marseille).

My promenade is along the Vieux Port (Old Port) - of the bustling southern French city. France's second largest metropolis may be called Marseilles now, but it has been known to Greeks as Massalia since its founding 2,600 years ago by Greeks from the Ionian Coast of Asia Minor, near the presentday town of Izmir.
Marseilles fascinates me. The French constantly honour its early Greek origins when they refer to their city as "la ville Phoceenne". Whenever I pass through, I try to visit the Municipal Museum of History located in the basement of the large shopping mall near the Bourse, which is also on the periphery of the Old Port where wayfaring Phoceans first landed. There, proudly displayed in a variety of imaginative displays and an extensive sculpture garden, lies the proof behind the mythical foundation of Marseilles.
It is said that the first Greeks to arrive decided to explore the area because it reminded them of their homeland. Then, an extraordinary chance encounter led to
their decision to stay. It seems that sometime about 600BC a small fleet of powerful Phocean ships, commanded by Photis, landed on the lee shore of a small hill because it was secluded and protected from the fierce winds that sweep across the Mediterranean Sea from Africa. Once ashore, they met a local tribe, the Segobriges, led by a chief called Nann. The natives were preparing a feast to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Nann's daughter Gyptis. The Greeks were invited to join the festivities. Gyptis appeared only at the end of the feast and, as was the custom, she carried a full goblet that was destined to be drunk only by her preferred choice for husband. To the surprise of all, she stopped in front of Photis and offered it to him. Nann took this totally unexpected gesture as a sign from the gods, accepted his daughter's choice of Photis and then, as a wedding present, gave the couple the land around the gulf where the Greeks had landed.
Greeks were attracted to this area 2,600 years ago because it reminded them of their homeland. Massalia, during the troubled times experienced by its mother-city, became wealthy and prospered. In its turn, it sent out colonists founding presentday Antibes and Nice to the east and Agde to the west. One of Greek Marseilles' most noted sons is Pytheas who is reputed to be the first Mediterranean to have voyaged to Greenland. Even though its population rarely exceeded 60,000 inhabitants, Massalia maintained its stature and independence well into Roman times. The ages-old Phocean ability to befriend foreigners came to its aid in its relations with Rome until it ran foul of internal Roman political intrigues. Massalia resisted but was conquered by Julius Caesar in 49BC. The city was sacked, and its Greek population largely eliminated.

Massalia became Massilia and, like its mother city, fell into a centuries-long trough. But the legend of its Greek foundation remained.

The park was quite nice. At the entrance to the parc there is a large area with a Fountain de l'Espérance and the first and last names of many many Marseillais who wrote in to be included. I looked and there were actually some with my last name! Long lost family I'll bet. It is 10 hectacres in size, and was inaugurated in June 2001. They planted 6500 shrubs and 1500 trees, of which 26 are sequoias (one for each century).
There are four thematic gardens that supposedly have something to do with the founding of Marseille- Asiatic, Oriental, African, and Provençal. Still not sure about those first three. For some unknown reason there were a lot of chickens wandering around. We had our picnic by the Lac.
dimanche 2 avril 2006

Resembling the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Gate of Aix marks the entrance of Marseille. It was modeled on the ancient Arc d'Orange, erected by Penchaud in 1823, finished in 1825 to commemorate the victories of the French Revolution and the First Empire, and as a tribute to "the glory of the Republic, the Consulate, and the Empire". Eight military statues used to dominate the monument, but have now been destroyed. With its inscriptions and bas-reliefs, and sculpture by David d'Angers and Ramey, the arch marks the old entrance to the city. This place is particularly important for the city : it was the only way to connect Marseille with Aix-en-Provence and Paris, with a prestigious north-south perspective.
The inscription on the front reads: "to the thankful Republic". It is close to the train station Gare St. Charles, and the Vieux Port. Below: some random old wall right near the Arc. I would provide more info, but couldn't find any plaques.

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