The Mystery of the Camargue

January 20, 2015 @ 1:01 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Flaming sunset over the Camargue – © ATOUT FRANCE/Fabrice Milochau

Mystifying.  Fascinating.  Camargue stretches like a triangle from its apex at Arles to Aigues-Mortes and Fos-sur-mer on the Mediterranean and traced along those borders by the Grand and Petit Rhône Rivers.  The land is buffeted by the fierce Mistral winds, that even defined the cabanes or huts that were built to protect against the harsh environment.

The natural treasures are many, a cauldron of natural lagoons and manmade canals, a sweep of grassy plains dotted with black bulls and small white horses, a mix of farmhouse mas, sheep houses and pump stations, all working together – or at odds – through the years to keep the land and the people going.

Nature tries to stand her ground against tourists, and the Grand Parc enfolds the flamingos and animals and the  flora and fauna of the land.  The saltiers tend to salt flats, harvesting the fleur de sel; and the rice farmers protect their increasingly smaller fields.  Along the Petite Camargue, the unique mix of alluvial mud and sand nurtures the flavorful rose wine of the region.

Wild white Camarguais horses – © ATOUT FRANCE/Pascal Gréboval

The Camargue becomes a blur of tourists in the summer, campers parked in the countryside and along the Mediterranean.  Bed and Breakfasts offer cowboy-like experiences complete with guardien-guided horseback tours past garrigue shrubs and along reed-lined canals.  They return to the farmhouse in the evening for hearty Provençal meals of grilled beef, Coquilles Saint Jacques, rotisserie duck and earthy cheeses.

Open air markets, bull fights, quaint chapel towers, fortified towns and lovely seaside harbors deliver every conceivable holiday experience.  Perhaps, the crowning event is the pilgrimage and celebration of the saint’s day for Mary Jacobe in May, when the gypsies gather in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to venerate their patron saint.

The Camargue weaves quite a tapestry of scent and taste, sight and sound, custom and color.  One of our lasting memories was the sight of a gendarme on horseback out in the middle of a flat, golden field.  He seemed at once alone and a part of the land through which he rode.

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Friendly, Fascinating Antibes

January 19, 2015 @ 8:28 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Old Antibes, and the Mercantour peaks in the distance – © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Angot

“I have never seen such a surprising thing as Antibes in front of the French Alps when the sun is falling.” – Guy de Maupassant, French Poet

My Parisian friend and I indulged in a whimsical  day of wandering around the country lanes of Provence on a chilly March day.  At one point during the journey, our paved road turned into a dirt track in the middle of a vineyard.  Yes, we looked at our map, though that was useless, and I said, “We’ll know where we’ve been, when we get where we’re going.”  C’est la vie, it’s a bit of fun to be lost anywhere in France.

At the end of the day, we checked into a quaint little hotel in Antibes and took to the streets of old town in search of a restaurant.  The same devil-may-care approach guided our evening.  Though it was off season in early March, several petite café’s were warmly lit and inviting.  How shall we choose?  We turned to see a couple walking behind us and decided that if they chose the café we just passed, we would do the same.

And oh sweet fate – it was the perfect choice for an entertaining evening.  We sat at a cozy little table next to a beautiful stone wall.  The other couple was just ahead of us, and to our right was a group of 6 or 7, engaged in lively conversation over dinner.  We learned they all were members of the family that owned the café and were very interested to discover an American in their midst.  It is as if we instantly were part of their family.  When their karaoke entertainment began, they called for the American to sing – Allez, allez Sahn-di!!  And so we sang and danced through the night with our new friends.

Cap d’Antibes and Old Antibes radiate charm among the many jewels along the Mediterranean; where maritime pines line streets that descend to the sea, and a charming lighthouse and 5th-century chapel –  Nôtre Dame des Amoureux – overlook the cape and the Baie de la Garoupe.

Several beaches serve sun worshippers and visitors who enjoy the scenic bayside along Le Chemin de Tirepoil.  That particular trail passes below the Villa Eilenroc at the tip of the peninsula.  Designed by the man who created the Opera Garnier in Paris, the grand villa and gardens are now owned by the city and open to the public to offer a captivating visit with beautiful murals, historic displays and sumptuous furnishings.

Eilen Roc Villa & Gardens

End your visit with a quiet moment in the rose garden and, perhaps, imagine the view through Greta Garbo’s eyes (she was one of many famous people to rent the villa).

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Thomas Jefferson’s Love of France

January 18, 2015 @ 1:01 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

The lively market in Aix-en-Provence


Though I will never reside in the White House, I do have something in common with the historic American President Thomas Jefferson – a deep appreciation for France.  When Jefferson was Minister to France, he left Paris for an extensive trip to the South.

Over three months in 1787, he travelled in his own horse-drawn carriage and carefully examined the Canal of Languedoc that stretches from Toulouse to Agde on the Mediterranean Sea.  He travelled 25 to 30 miles per day, either walking along the shaded banks or sitting in his carriage aboard the boat that was towed along the canal.

Canal du Languedoc

In Bordeaux, he compared wines and noted the planting and pruning of the vines.  Later, he commented on his own contributions to America,  mentioning the olive plants he had sent from Marseilles to South Carolina and Georgia.   An accomplished farmer, Jefferson felt “…the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture…”

He chose to model the Virginia state capitol after the Roman temple, Maison Carrée in Nîmes and visited the ancient Pont du Gard aqueduct that dates to 19 B.C.  For the whole Jefferson story, with pleasure we recommend Thomas Jefferson’s Journey to the South of France by Roy & Alma Moore.  An excellent profile of another dominant American with strong ties to France.


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Benjamin Franklin – Diplomat in Paris

January 17, 2015 @ 8:26 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Frankllin’s home in Passy, where he conducted lightning experiments

How I wish it had been in my lifetime that my grandparents resided in Paris!  For over seven years, while my grandfather developed new markets for Hobart Manufacturing throughout Europe; they lived in a lovely apartment just a block removed from the Eiffel Tower.  But it was another American who spent the same amount of time in Paris, who produced quite different results.

In 1776 Benjamin Franklin set out to win the support of the French Court.  Nearly 70 years old at the time, Franklin had just signed the Declaration of Independence and sought the favor of France on behalf of American patriots; who were desperate for money, supplies and military support in their fight to win independence from Great Britain.

Mr. Franklin arrived at l’Hôtel de Valentinois, the beautiful estate of Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont’s at Passy along the Seine.  Just down the street from Balzac’s home on rue Raynouard; he resided at the home of the wealthy merchant, where terraced gardens linked to the Seine and offered a view of Paris in the distance.

From 1776 to 1783, Franklin applied his diplomatic genius to obtain loans, purchase war materials and coordinate shipping of the supplies.  According to Ellen Cohn, editor of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, “French support was due entirely to Franklin …. The French adored him.”

As Minister Plenipotentiary, Franklin engaged the French as a trusted professional diplomat.  His was a time-consuming venture, finding supplies and uniforms for the American army and locating convoys to ship them to America.  Congress lacked sufficient money and constantly prodded Franklin to find more funds.  With Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands already at war; Franklin felt deepening frustration over requesting loans of nations and individuals, who would be wiser to invest in their own governments, rather than in a recently-established state “across the pond”.

According to Claude-Anne Lopez, another scholar who worked on Franklin’s papers, “Franklin was active in almost every aspect of French culture …. Among his inventions was the Foreign Service – he was the pioneer. He got along with everybody…. This was his approach: ‘Make them like you. Make them your ally. We need their ships, we need their troops.’”

Historic marker at rue Raynouard and rue Singer in Paris

As a result of Franklin’s dogged persistence and affable approach, America received many of the muskets and canons that contributed to the Americans’ victory over British forces in Saratoga in October, 1777.  Some four years later, the Continental Congress again had to rely on French funding and military strength to back General Washington and his troops in Yorktown.

Ultimately the British surrendered and Monsieur Franklin threaded through complex British politics to negotiate the Treaty of Paris early in 1783.  Sadly, within a few years, France endured bankruptcy, in part caused by their support of America.  Despite the onset of the French Revolution in 1789, Franklin’s death in 1790 cast a pall over France, inspiring the National Assembly to go into a three-day mourning period for this “simple citizen from another land.”

A simple citizen?  Hardly.  Few of us could look back on our lives with the accomplishments and ceaseless interest in all things in life that inventor, diplomat and publisher Benjamin Franklin represented. And, as important, he personally initiated a friendship between France and America that will not easily be set aside amidst contemporary global disagreements.  Merci, Monsieur Franklin.

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