franecdote 1685 : I Won’t Tolerate It

Detail from a 1701 portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud

It’s time for yet another “franecdote” — an interesting fact or story from “THAT year in French history“ where “THAT year” is this year minus the number of Facebook fans je parle américain has every Thursday.

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Today’s franecdote is from July 11, when je parle américain had 328 Facebook fans. So …

The year 2013 — 328 fans = 1685, and the franecdote is …

<drumroll>

The Edict of Fontainebleau Continue reading franecdote 1685 : I Won’t Tolerate It

You Can’t Go Home Again

The title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again has become an expression — better known than the novel itself — to describe nostalgia for a bygone lifestyle after moving on to something else … something “bigger” … something “better.” I first left my little hometown of Bishopville many years ago, first to go to a residential high school not too far away, then to college three hours away, then to grad school six hours away, and then to work in DC seven hours away. I came out of the closet, I went back to law school, I became a “big city lawyer” in DC, I met a Frenchman and married him, and then I pulled up stakes and went off to lead a bohemian life in Paris. Even after all of that, I still wonder how true that expression is —

Can I really not go home again?

Continue reading You Can’t Go Home Again

Circle Unbroken

A few weeks ago, I embarked on what would become one of the most rewarding personal projects I’ve ever undertaken. It was — perhaps surprisingly — something I’d never done before: a translation. Of course, I’ve translated small things from English into French and vice versa, like birthday cards, things Michel and my American family have said to each other, even scenes from American television shows. This time, though, the project involved a book, albeit a short one:

© 2004 Margot Theis Raven (story), © 2004 E.B. Lewis (illustrations)

Back in September, my mother came across this children’s book and decided to give it to my mother-in-law as a gift. Circle Unbroken, by Margot Theis Raven, is a story told by a grandmother to her granddaughter about how she learned to weave the sweetgrass baskets of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. What unfolds on its pages, exquisitely illustrated in watercolor by E.B. Lewis, is not just the story of a basket, but of how that basket holds the history of a people: it’s the story of “old-timey grandfather” and “old-timey grandmother,” who learned to make baskets “across a wide, deep ocean, in faraway Africa” and how their tradition was passed down from generation to generation through slavery and liberation, through sharecropping and war, through economic boom and tourism — through fear and hope. Every “chapter” ends with an inspiring refrain:  “And when his fingers talked just right, his basket held the rain, and he remembered from where he came.” In its poetry and simplicity, Circle Unbroken is a remarkable celebration of the perseverance of an African culture, transplanted, adapted, and preserved against all odds in a foreign land. Continue reading Circle Unbroken

Bottle Shock

The French and wine. What can you say? They go together like a horse and carriage, right? In fact, after the Vatican City (communion wine?) and Luxembourg (which everyone overlooks), France is the country with the highest level of per capita wine consumption at almost 46 liters (12 gallons) a year. (By comparison, the United States’s per capita consumption is less than 10 liters, or 2.5 gallons, a year.) The French also produce more wine than any other country: over 4.6 billion liters (1.2 billion gallons) in 2010!

The wine section of a Paris convenience store. Notice how it's 3 times bigger than the beer section.
The wine section of a Paris convenience store. Notice how it’s 3 times bigger than the beer section.

We all know, too, that the quality of French wine is superb. No country becomes known for its wines without a long history of top-notch products. But we Americans also know how to make some exceptional wines (even if we don’t drink them up at the rate the French do). I sometimes point out that the best pinot noir in the world comes from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. (Don’t get me wrong — I’m no wine connoisseur or anything. It’s just that I’ve read that tidbit somewhere, so I try to sound as authoritative as possible when I repeat it to French people.) And, of course, you’ve all seen the movie Bottle Shock, right? Bottle Shock — “Le Choc  … de Bouteille“? The movie about how a Napa Valley chardonnay beat the pants off the best French wines in a blind tasting by a panel of Parisian judges? Oh, was that censored in France?

Well, the newest addition to the stream of American wines trouncing their French competition is Southern Sunrise BlushContinue reading Bottle Shock

France’s Lost Colony: One of ‘Em, Anyway

Today marks the 450th anniversary of the day that Captain Jean Ribault sailed into the body of water that would later be known as Port Royal Sound in what is now South Carolina. The colony that he founded there became the first French settlement and—with the exception of a very short-lived Spanish outpost possibly near present-day Georgetown, South Carolina—the first European settlement in what is now the United States.

The middle of the 1500s was marked by competition among the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the French to colonize the Americas. The English, the Dutch, and even the Swedish eventually arrived on the scene, but their efforts came at least a generation later. The Spanish dominated the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and western South America. The Portuguese dominated eastern South America—that’s to say, Brazil. That left northern North America for the French. In the early to mid-1500s, though, a lot of it was still very much up for grabs. In fact, the French were showing up all over the place, building forts and giving places French names. For instance, there was:

  • Cap Rouge, on the St. Lawrence River. Cap Rouge was founded by explorer Jacques Cartier in 1541, but the outpost was abandoned after only one year. (The maple syrup was good, but that winter wasn’t anything to write home about, I guess.) Nevertheless, Cap Rouge went down in history as the first French settlement in the Americas. Incidentally, the city of Québec, capital of the province of Québec, was founded in 1608 on the site of the old settlement.
  • France Antarctique, near present-day Rio de Janeiro. This interestingly named colony was France’s first South American one. “Brazil?” you might ask. Yes, the French even colonized Brazil. But, really, who could blame them after having endured that chilly Canadian episode? France Antarctique was founded in 1555 as a refuge for French Protestants fleeing from the wars of religion back in France. Fort Coligny, named for the French admiral who supported the expedition (and was, himself, a Huguenot), was built on the island of Serigipe in Guanabara Bay. The village of Henriville, named for King Henri II of France, was located just onshore. Of course, the settlement was in violation of the Papal Bull of 1493, which had given the area to the Portuguese, and they eventually succeeded in destroying the French settlement in 1567.

Given that history, it should come as no surprise that the French also tried to colonize Spanish Florida, which at that time comprised all of present-day Florida and the coastal regions of present-day Georgia and the Carolinas. While the Spanish had claimed Florida as their own in 1513, they didn’t succeed in building a permanent settlement there until 1565, when they founded Saint Augustine. The French looked at that track record, of course, and thought, “Well, why not? Spanish Florida is big, and the Spanish aren’t doing anything with it!”

Continue reading France’s Lost Colony: One of ‘Em, Anyway

French Carolina

Carolina was an English colony, of course, but did you know that the French actually beat the English in the race to get there? Of course, the Spanish beat them all in 1526. Quelle surprise. Their settlement, San Miguel de Gualdape, was actually the first European settlement in what is now the United States, possibly located near the site of present-day Georgetown, South Carolina. Unfortunately for the Spanish, though, San Miguel was abandoned after only 3 months when famine, disease, and unrest among their Native American neighbors forced the settlers to return to Santo Domingo. The French arrived in 1562, after Admiral Gaspard de Coligny organized an expedition to settle the region. The expedition, led by Norman navigator Jean Ribault, built Charlesfort on present-day Parris Island but, like the Spanish before them, they didn’t stick it out for very long. Ribault, having returned to Europe for supplies, was detained because of the French wars of religion, leaving his fledgling settlement to founder. After only one year, all but one of the 28 remaining settlers set off across the Atlantic in a makeshift vessel. You may have read about their fate: by the time they were rescued by a passing English ship, the unfortunate crew had already resorted to cannibalism to stay alive as they drifted aimlessly on the ocean. Meanwhile, the Spanish sent an expedition from Cuba to destroy Charlesfort, and the French experiment in colonizing the area came to an end. It wasn’t the end of French settlement though …

Continue reading French Carolina

How I spent three days of my Christmas vacation with a 14-foot U-Haul truck

Once again, dear readers, I’ve waited far too long since my last post. Then again, a lot has happened since Christmas Day. I’ll fill you in in installments, though, so that you’re not overwhelmed. Here’s your first one:

How I spent three days of my Christmas vacation with a 14-foot U-Haul truck

You may or may not know that I still own an apartment in Washington, DC, where I lived for 8 years before moving to Paris in 2010. Since I haven’t really worked since 2009, maintaining a mortgage on that piece of prime real estate no longer made any sense and I put it on the market a few months ago. (Incidentally, if you’re looking for a beautiful, 1100-sq.-ft., 1927-build, Beaux-Arts apartment in Adams Morgan, send me a message and I’ll put you in touch with my broker!) What that decision meant was that I needed to move a LOT of furniture and personal effects out of the place, so Michel and I planned a three-day excursion to DC right after Christmas to load up what was left of my stuff and move it back to my parents’ place in South Carolina. That couldn’t possibly be TOO difficult, right?

My Old Place
My Old Place

Continue reading How I spent three days of my Christmas vacation with a 14-foot U-Haul truck

Fried Green Christmas

Palmetto tree lit up for Christmas in Marion Square, Charleston, SC © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

It’s been far too long since my last post, and I apologize for that, dear readers. On December 17, we left Paris for the United States to spend Christmas in South Carolina, a trip I’ve nicknamed a “Fried Green Christmas” in homage to my mother‘s Southern cuisine. Since arriving last Saturday, we’ve decorated the Christmas tree and put up Christmas lights, we’ve visited family and friends in Columbia (spending an hour driving through a Christmas-light installation in a 400-acre park), we’ve spent a jam-packed 24 hours with my parents sightseeing in almost-tropical Charleston, surrounded by Christmas lights in palmetto trees, and we’ve finally finished up our Christmas shopping and gift wrapping.

Today, we’ll be joined by my aunt and uncle for Christmas dinner. There will be 6 of us at the table, but only 4 carnivores. Nevertheless, my mother has cooked a 7-lb. Christmas ham (you know, the one decorated with pineapple rings, maraschino cherries, and cloves), and 3 … yes, count ’em … 3 small chickens! That, along with the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted, means we’re well on our way to packing on a few pounds before those New Year’s resolutions next weekend! Continue reading Fried Green Christmas