Archive for the ‘France—general’ Category

Besides having fun checking out the different languages when we travel overseas, it’s also interesting to find unusual signs—even locally. Sometimes humorous, sometimes provocative, sometimes thought-provoking or just quirky.

Here are a few from different places.

Found in Champaign-Urbana, our home town. At first I thought this was a made-up word, but no. Zymurgy is a new word to me, meaning a branch of applied chemistry dealing with fermentation, as in winemaking, brewing, preparation of yeast etc.


Pigs in California, in Napa area.


Glasgow, Scotland: Door of St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art ( a very interesting museum actually). Great to see how inclusive this is.



A Glasgow café: clever play on the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.


In Hohhot, northern China. We wonder what a humane liquor is. Humane for whom?


In the Orkney Islands, Scotland. Many of the roads are narrow and winding and not always well marked— this takes the cake!



Found in Oviedo, FL—we didn’t actually see a tortoise.


At a café in Prague, Czech Republic. Probably true, I’d say.


Near Reims, in France’s champagne region. How apt that a town is called Bouzy (like boozy).


In South Africa: Worsis boerewors (a special farmer sausage, that is hugely popular). A clever play on “may the force be with you”.


Street sign in Seattle. Is it supposed to be Wy or did they forget the ‘a’ to make Way?


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Some of the painted fragments of the Berlin Wall

Some of the painted fragments of the Berlin Wall

artsignSymbol of a  History Theme

We have just returned from an extended trip around much of Eastern Europe. Besides sampling the foods and wines, and enjoying the usual sightseeing attractions, we followed a common historical thread: all of these places have been affected in one way or another by multiple invasions and wars on their soil.

The Romans were one of the first to occupy these lands, and later the Mongols swept through. Some, like Bosnia-Herzegovina, were occupied for more than 400 years by the Ottomans, which has shaped that region’s modern history, with, for example, the comparatively recent Srebrenica Massacre.

Many places were ruled for a long time by the Hapsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some were touched briefly by France and Napoleon Bonaparte.

One of the painted cars---a good symbol of freedom

One of the painted cars—a good symbol of freedom

Car and wall paintings

Car and wall paintings

More recently, the Balkan region was much affected by the First World War, and a chain of events from that and the Second World War led to the creation of Yugoslavia, with Tito’s version of Communism. The death of Tito and the breakup of Yugoslavia led to some horrendous wars and massacres.

The more northerly countries in the region, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, suffered in World War 2 under the Nazis and then under Communism—eventually leading to revolts and revolutions to gain their independence.

So, it was interesting for us to discover a small outdoor exhibition in Paris, where we started the trip. It was in the plaza outside the front of the Gare de l’Est, and was linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall—a symbol of Communist power in East Germany.

The exhibition was the brainchild of Sylvestre Verger, who put it together with the help of Street Art, an international urban artistic movement. They got together 30 fragments of the Berlin Wall, and this is a new collection that pays homage to artists who painted about, and on, the Berlin Wall before its fall. Three of those artists are Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet, Kiddy Citny and Thierry Noir.


"Chorus 11" (yin yan)

“Chorus 11” (yin yan)

This new collection is called “Art liberté”, celebrating art, the city, the history and liberty. The 30 works are fixed on metal structures that are arranged in two lines in the plaza. Each one has an information board, plus a QR code, and there’s a catalogue plus films of interviews with the artists, available from a caravan-office in the corner. The artists also painted “Trois Trabant”—vehicles that are emblematic of East Germany. It seems to us that being able to paint them however n artist wishes is a very clear symbol of freedom.

All the paintings are very interesting for different reasons. I randomly picked 3 to highlight here.

The first, by Peter Unsicker (1947-) is “Chorus 11”, May 2014 (plaster on concrete). The text says, “X-ray of a yin-yan brain, accumulation of masks, memorial of the absurd.”

"Evasion" in center

“Evasion” in center

"Continental Climate C"

“Continental Climate C”

The next, by Frank Pellegrino is “Evasion”, April 2014 (acrylic on concrete). The text, “all Berlin’s symbols set in aerosol on the penitentiary remains, cuffing the wrist of humanity.

And, finally by Daleast is “Continental Climate C”, April 2014 (acrylic on concrete). The text, “The zeppelin exploded. The liberated birds have taken flight. The city has been sown with new seeds. We are growers of freedom and the harvest is ready.”

We really enjoyed browsing this for a while and it got us pondering on the link between art and freedom—so very true, as in a repressive regime artistic expression is also curbed/limited/repressed.

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Please do walk on the map

Please do walk on the map

In Paris at the Luxembourg Gardens was a fascinating free exhibition, called Fields of Battle—Terres de Paix 14-18, an Anglo-French collaboration (April 4-August 4, 2014).

It was in 2 parts: large photo panels and a huge map mounted onto the ground. The photographer is Michael St Maur Sheil.

Many large photos were posted along the outside garden railings (where they often have picture exhibitions), each with French, English and German explanations. Each panel links past and present, with small black and white photos from WW1 times, or short poems of stories of people. It’s been developed as a gateway to the battlefields and is a different way for people to find out more about WW1. It tries to reveal some of the landscapes of battle and illustrate the stories of some of the people who experienced those battles.

The sub-title of the photographic exhibit is “Forests have a history to share”. The focus was on forests and trees during WW1 and showcases iconic forest battlefield sites, such as Verdun. It’s based, not just on the horrors of war, but on how over time nature has (mostly) healed the battlefields, trenches and other landscapes, creating a link between the modern day and the personal dramas and stories these peaceful landscapes now hide.

All the photos are incredible and thought-provoking, but here are 5 that seemed especially interesting to us, providing information we’d not known before.

barbed wire

First, Corkscrew Picket, Flanders, Belgium. Originally invented in the USA in the late 1880s to keep animals in place, barbed wire became the most common form of obstacle against infantry and was used by all sides in the war. Making this obstacle on the battlefield was dangerous because of the noise of hammering the metal pickets into the ground. In 1915 the Germans invented a metal stake with a corkscrew at the end that could be turned silently to anchor into the ground. Millions were manufactured and farmers still use them today. The tip gave them their name, the “Tir de cochon” or “pig’s tail”.

marshesSecond, Marshes of the River Ancre, Authuille, Somme area. The war-torn landscapes of 1914-18 affected a whole generation of writers, poets, musicians and artists, who left us their haunted memories, including Tolkien. Lieutenant J. R. R. Tolkien was one of thousands of British soldiers crouching in trenches when the battle of the Somme began here on July 1, 1916. The eerie landscape amidst the marshes of the River Ancre was one of the stimuli for his novel “Lord of the Rings”.

Third, Battlefield Burial Site Memorial, Marne. This stark image of a helmet shows how most soldiers’ burials were initially marked on the western front. Later, after the fighting, lone graves, like this one of a French soldier, were moved into national war cemeteries with wooden crosses as grave markers. Later, Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and the USA established war graves commissions to design permanent graveyards, with stone or concrete markers for each soldier, and memorial panels for the missing. Sadly, many hundreds of thousands of soldiers are still unaccounted for. Nearly every lone grave has been transferred to a war cemetery, except this one, now hidden away on private land.


trenchesNext, the Trenches at Beaumont-Hamel, Somme. As part of this war, sides dug in: the trenches that scarred the landscape became one of the ghastly icons of the 20th century.

Lastly, River Izonzo in Slovenia. The now peaceful River Izonzo, called Soca in Slovenia, was the scene of 12 attritional battles between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarian Empire during 1915-18. These campaigns cost both sides over 300,000 lives, literally making the river run like blood. Many people don’t realize that WW1 was not only fought on the Western Front.



My feet are marking multiple battle sites

My feet are marking multiple battle sites

We like photography as a medium and found this a very clever and intellectual way of linking modern photos to a hugely significant event 100 years ago, one that changed the whole world. The modern photos capture the unique beauty of the landscape, in a healing sort of way, as Nature slowly covers up some of the stark scars. It was also neat to learn the origin of some words, like schrapnel and land mines.

The other significant and very informative feature of this exhibition was a giant map mounted onto the ground. Michelin (of map fame since 1889) created a map of the battlefields, memorial sites and countries involved in the conflict. It was in front of the Palais du Luxembourg (now the French Senate). This giant map—16x8m with surrounding information panels— combines geographical, historical and tourism information, which complements the exhibition. People are encouraged to walk on the map, which gives a really visceral understanding of where the conflict was. As we walk between the countries in Europe, it highlights the scale and complexity of the conflict with details of key battlefield locations. What is most amazing is to see and walk on the line depicting the Front Line, the front that didn’t move that much, in France or Belgium. It moved only a very little, for very little gain, great loss of life and terrible loss of resources. In that sense, the map captured how futile WW1 was—in the sense of losing lives and not gaining much actual ground.

The Front Lines---it seems the maximum ground gained was about 30km

The Front Lines—it seems the maximum ground gained was about 30km

Other parts of the world involved in WW1

Other parts of the world involved in WW1

The handrail around the giant map is made from a hundred-year-old beech tree that survived the Battle of Charmes, which took place early in the war. It is a symbol that connects the history of the ravaged forests with events today.



A fun Michelin ad from WW1 times

A fun Michelin ad from WW1 times

On August 4, 2014 this exhibition moved to London and is being exhibited in St James’s Park as Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace 14-18 until November 11th. It’s a free street gallery project to reach audiences who might normally not visit a museum or art gallery and to give them a chance to see the battlefields as they are today. After that, it will tour the UK and internationally until 2018, as a way of bringing the Centenary to hundreds of thousands of people.


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Seen in Chicago, Illinois, and Dijon, France

In Dijon in August we were fascinated by the huge sculpted green metal head in Place Rude (named after Francois Rude, born in Dijon 1784). It’s a central place in the city, surrounded by lovely old buildings, with a fountain and statue of a grape picker in the process of stomping some grapes underfoot in the center, an old carrousel and many cafes and bars.

Outdoor art: green metal head in Place Rude, Dijon

Outdoor art: green metal head in Place Rude, Dijon

So, a few weeks later in Chicago it was interesting to find the head theme there too—in a whimsical fashion.  Every year the city of Chicago does a wonderful job of making the city really pretty  with beds of gorgeous flowering plants in all the parks and down the center of Michigan Avenue, plus colorful flower planters suspended from lamp posts or along the sidewalk. This year, along parts of Michigan Avenue, some of the planters are in the shape of enormous heads, spouting an array of bright flowering “hair”.

Very lovely, according to all the comments we heard.

Many giggles as these kids 'hugged' the statue

Many giggles as these kids ‘hugged’ the statue

This beauty is advertising Mars bar and other chocolate bars

This beauty is advertising Mars bar and other chocolate bars


Another pretty ‘hairstyle’

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Viv’s French Adventures

My namesake street!

My namesake street!

As my readers know, we travel a lot to many varied places.

However, the place we return to the most is France, so I’ve decided to try an experiment and devote a blog to France and French experiences only. Take a look at it and hope you’ll follow along.


(See the link below the photo)


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Follow the Owl

Follow the Owl

Good-Luck Owl

In Dijon, France, there is a self-guided walk called Parcours de la Chouette (Owl Walk or Trail) shown by owl arrows and numbered owl plates in the pavement (sidewalk). There are 22 stops at notable sights in the city. An owl is “l’hibou” in French, but a tufted owl is “la chouette”. These stylized owls are definitely tufted.

We start out at the train station and are curious as to why the city uses an owl symbol. Turns out that the owl is the icon of Dijon. This is based on a small stone owl, sculpted into the wall on the north side of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the 15th century.

The facade of Dijon's Notre Dame Cathedral with the three rows of false gargoyles

The facade of Dijon’s Notre Dame Cathedral with the three rows of false gargoyles








The little owl statue has been stroked so much that we can hardly distinguish its features

The little owl statue has been stroked so much that we can hardly distinguish its features

This amazing cathedral has a façade unlike any I’ve seen before, with three rows of false gargoyles across the front. But this little owl is not one of those. It is around the corner and about 6 feet off the ground.  No-one seems to know why an owl was carved here, but legend says that if one strokes the owl with one’s left hand while wishing, then the wish will come true. People have been doing this for hundreds of years, so now the owl is very smooth and shiny and has lost many of its features. We wait for a quiet moment and do as thousands before us.

I too become a believer for a few moments while stroking the smooth stone. Who knows?


Rod makes a wish

Rod makes a wish




Viv reaches up to make a wish too

Viv reaches up to make a wish too

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Exterior of this bouchon-style restaurant

Le Pile Poêle, A Traditional bouchon-style restaurant

9 Rue St-Dominique, Clermont-Ferrand, France. Tel: 04 73 36 08 88

Open Mon-Sat 12-14:30pm and 19-23:30pm

It’s just off Rue Etats-Unis, where the tram runs, and very close to the Jaude tram stop, so is ideally placed for visitors to the old city and the cathedral and for shoppers.

Rod inside with Frederique and Francois

This is a Lyonnais bouchon-style place, with the traditional color scheme of red and white. We have been twice, each time with our French hosts. In 2008, Frederique and Francois took us there as they felt it’s a typical bouchon, serving traditional food. He had kidneys—a traditional French delicacy—while the rest of us had some kind of pork dish. They were very proud to have such an eatery in their city and to be able to show us.

In 2012, our host Pascal thought it was a good place when we went there with a large conference group, so that was another endorsement by a French person!

Le Pile Poêle serves traditional cuisine with several local Auvergnat specialities and seasonal suggestions.

Plat du Jour €9, Menu Midi €12-15,  A la carte €9-40, Most main dishes are in the €18-20 price range

You can sit outside at a few tables in good weather, but most locals prefer to be inside. There are many tables and banquettes on the ground level and a couple of big rooms in the basement too. We ended up in the basement at a large table last time with our big group. Some of the group had onglet, a beef cut with potatoes. Others had the special salad with canard, foie gras and ham. Quite a few of the group had the andouillette (coarse sausage) with potatoes and said it was okay, not too gamey. Some had the tuna steak, cooked rare.  Pichets of rose and red wine went well with these dishes.

Our conference group, Viv next to Chris (2nd right) and Rod next to me

A bouchon is a type of restaurant that was first found in Lyon, France, that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, such as sausages, duck pâté or roast pork. Compared to other forms of French cooking such as nouvelle cuisine, the dishes are quite fatty and heavily oriented around meat. Typically, the emphasis in a bouchon is not on haute cuisine but, rather, a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner.

The tradition of bouchons came from small inns visited by silk workers passing through Lyon in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. According to the dictionary Le Petit Robert, this name, bouchon, comes from the 16th-century expression for a bunch of twisted straw. A representation of such bundles began to appear on signs to designate the restaurants and, over time, the restaurants also became known as bouchons. The more common use of “bouchons” as a stopper or cork at the mouth of a bottle (and the word for a traffic jam in France) has a different etymology.

There are actually few officially certified traditional bouchons, but a much larger number of places around France now describe themselves using the term. Obviously a catchy phrase!


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