France -- a rich history lesson. . .
November / December 2001
A Visit to Verdun
America has links to France pre-dating the Revolutionary War in the late 18th century -- both nations attaining their independence within a few years of one another -- and both in July! Even if you don't have one drop of French blood in you, you may still discover you have a tie to France. Perhaps your ancestors fought in the American Revolution and were supported in battle by the courageous French who came to our aid. Or, you may be living in Louisiana with close ties to the French community -- a community in existence because their forebears were forced to leave Maritime Canada. Perhaps you had a grandfather or father in World War I or II who fought on French soil. Whatever your connection, and there are certainly other possibilities, we know that Americans who visit France are always impressed by that nation's long and well-documented history and are especially moved when they visit the battlefields and cemeteries so meticulously preserved following both great wars. In this regard, we would like to take you on a brief visit to Verdun, a place we found exceptional in its sadness and the extent of the loss it represents.
The city of Verdun dates back to the third century B.C., and it was an important Gallic stronghold -- it's name means "powerful fortress". The Romans enlarged the town, situated along the River Meuse, and it prospered. Verdun changed hands many times over the centuries until it became a part of the Basse Lorraine duchy in the 10th century and an important cultural center from the year 1000. The city was part of the Germanic Empire until 1552. Architecture buffs will appreciate Verdun for its remnants from medieval times: the Porte Châtel (12th century), its oldest gate and all that is remaining from the medieval ring of fortifications, and the Porte Chausée (1380), the key element of the rampart, considered a remarkable specimen of medieval military architecture and today a classified historical monument.
But what Verdun brings to mind to most of us are the horrific battles of World War I. We know someone who's father spent four years in the trenches near Verdun and suffered from the effects of mustard gas. It wasn't completely real to us, however, until we visited the memorial museum and the cemetery.
This photo is of the Ossuaire and cemetery at Douaumont near Verdun, a place reached along a country road quite peaceful now, but punctuated by trenches dug on either side. The trenches are sign posted, and we vividly remember the one named "British Communications Trench", curving away from the road through the woods. This cemetery is the final resting place of over 130,000 unidentified soldiers of several nationalities, primarily French and German, following 51 months of war. The overwhelming silence and sense of loss is hard to put into words. The Ossuaire, its main element meant to be a reproduction of a shell, was built by funds raised by the Bishop of Verdun, Monseigneur Ginisty, who collected the money needed by going on lecture tours in France and around the world and by subscription. If you are able to visit the Ossuaire, you will appreciate the Cloister which is 137 meters in length containing alcoves housing the remains of more soldiers. A flame of remembrance burns at one end of the Cloister on days when services are held.
Be sure to visit the Memorial at Fleury -- this is a history lesson in itself. It is here you will see the weapons, munitions and uniforms of World War I, as well as see and hear the story of the battles in the region. Most striking is a sculpture by Alphonse Prévost at the Memorial entitled, "The Mud", depicting one soldier trying to rescue another who was chest deep in mud and sinking rapidly.
One of many villages that were destroyed and never rebuilt following the war, was "Fleury-devant-Douaumont". A quotation from the official tourist guide reads, "The ground was so affected by the arms, scrap and human remains that all traces of habitation and vegetation disappeared...the village is now covered by woodland."
Château des Monthairons
We have been guests at this wonderful château, and our memories of the days spent there remain vivid and pleasant. It was at Monthairons that we met a fellow American who had spent an 11-hour day touring the battlefields in the region with his energetic French guide. His exhausted being, jacket slung over his shoulder and footsteps dragging, passed by us as we sat having early evening cocktails on the patio of the château. We nodded our greeting and he responded -- the discovery that we were all American and that he was on his own, prompted us to ask him to join us for dinner. After an hour or so, he emerged from his room to share not only dinner with us but his fascinating recollections of his day touring Verdun and surrounds. His guide provided him with special insight which he generously passed along to us. The evening was extremely enjoyable, and we must give some of the credit to Château des Monthairons.
Hostellerie du Château des Monthairons is a rather large property, but the personal touch is not lost. The staff is charming and bright -- speaking several languages well and offering all manner of assistance. The restaurant is superb! We cannot imagine that we could have found better meals had we left the château to venture into towns nearby. We opted for the demi-pension plan, which included breakfast and dinner in our room rate. One evening meal consisted of aperitifs, a cold terrine of fish, a warm little slice of duck on a bed of lettuce, our main course of sandre, a cheese course, followed by dessert and a tray of sweets. The wine list is excellent and service is prompt and very courteous. The chef at Monthairons won an award as best young chef of 1996, and we have no doubt in our minds why!
Château des Monthairons sits on a grassy hill above the River Meuse. Flower gardens border the entryway, and steps lead up to a comfortable patio where guests can sit and enjoy conversation, refreshments or just the view down to the river. A stroll down to the water's edge to sit on lawn chairs or to walk along the river bank is very relaxing. Boats are available for those wishing to explore the gentle waters of the Meuse, while the entire panorama of the château, the grounds and river is a photographer's dream come true.
Visit Château des Monthairons on our web site for more about this exceptional property.
"heart of France", is a lively place and worth a visit. This statue of Joan on horseback
and holding a sword was designed by Denis Foyatier in 1855 and sits on a
Renaissance-style pedestal by Vital-Dubray, which depicts scenes from Joan's life.
In the 13th century Cathédrale de Sainte Croix, there is a marble statue of Cardinal Touchet
-- the man who fought so long to have her canonized -- kneeling at Joan's altar.
There is a fine Musée des Beaux-Arts across from the cathedral and only a few
blocks away the impressive George V bridge crosses the Loire and has the
distinction of having been opened by Madame Pompadour in 1760.
French Quiz 7
following are varieties of one product from different regions of France.
du Paludier - Pays de la Loire
You will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.
Of Monks, Marauders and Teddy Bears
Subscribers to the print newsletter, FRANCE On Your Own, read an interesting article about the Brittany port city of St-Malo in the recent Autumn issue. Arthur Gillette once again provided his unique take on the most interesting aspects of French village history, under the title this time Of Monks, Marauders and Teddy Bears. Unable to give adequate attention in the print newsletter to the color photos accompanying his tale, we are providing them here, perhaps to entice you to visit St-Malo on your next trip to France.
The photo below left
shows storm-lashed St-Malo at high tide. The photo on the right is
of the Tour Solidor which now houses a museum, Musée au Long
Cours, dedicated to the first Frenchmen to round Cape Horn.
[Photo credits: J-Y Auffret, Office de Tourisme, St-Malo, France. To read Arthur Gillette's fascinating tale of monks, marauders and, yes, Teddy bears, you may want to visit the FRANCE On Your Own web site to order the Autumn 2001 issue. If you are interested in joining Arthur on his Paris Through the Ages Strolls you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org by email or visit the web site providing his series of nine pocket map-guides at http://www.media-cartes.fr.]
French Quiz 8
Match the food items 1 - 6 with their English translations a - f .
1. cornichon 2. tuber melanosporum 3. poireau 4. marron 5. cacahuète 6. navet
a. horse chestnut b. turnip c. winter truffle d. peanut e. leek f. gherkin
You will find the correct answer at the end of this newsletter.
Château de Vergières
Our stay at Château de Vergières brings back very pleasant recollections. Our room was luxurious and beautifully decorated, lovely toiletries were provided in our huge en suite bath, breakfast was a challenge as we had to choose from so many wonderful offerings presented on the enormous buffet table, meeting and conversing with other guests is happily remembered, and the kindness of our host and hostess will not be forgotten.
Vergières sits on the Crau plain just east of Arles in Provence. This flat land is ideal for growing rice and wheat, but Monsieur and Madame Pincedé have attained something more -- their property is registered with the World Wildlife Fund as a bird sanctuary. Bird watching binoculars and guide books are available to guests. The lovely eighteenth century château sits on a 350-hectare estate surrounded by meadows offering guests peace and tranquility. Yet, only eleven miles away is the bustling city of Arles and within easy reach are Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Nîmes, Saint Rémy de Provence and the wilds of the Camargue.
The château is elegant, well situated on the estate, and your hosts, Monsieur and Madame Pincedé will be happy to discuss their lovely home with you. These photos do not appear on our web site, so they provide you with an additional perspective of the house as well as a peek at another of the tastefully decorated guest rooms. We are very fond of the city of Arles and this region of Provence, and we are sure you will find a stay at Château de Vergières affords you not only a convenient location for so many of the area sights, but a very relaxing, luxurious and comfortable place to return to at the end of the day.
(Update April 2002: this château does not appear on our web site at this time.)
Holiday Recipe: Chocolate Mint Truffles
We credit the recipe for this rich delight to none other than Jacques Pépin, public television's own French chef. This recipe is taken from his Today's Gourmet cookbook -- it seems quite appropriate for this time of year since the truffles can be boxed or put into tins and given as gifts during the holiday season.
You will need a quarter pound of bittersweet chocolate, 2 tablespoons of milk, 1 egg yolk, 2 teaspoons finely minced mint, and 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder to make 20 small truffles. Simply increase the recipe for larger batches.
Place the chocolate and milk together in a double boiler over hot water or in the microwave set at medium for 30 seconds at a time. Heat until the chocolate has melted. Stir to combine, then add the egg yolk and mint, mixing well. [M. Pépin suggests heating this mixture over a double boiler to 140 degrees and kept at that temperature for 3 to 4 minutes to kill any salmonella bacteria in the egg yolk.] Cool the mixture to room temperature and then cover and refrigerate for at least one hour until firm.
Divide the cold chocolate mixture into 20 small pieces and press each piece into a roundish ball -- uneven so that they look like real truffles! Place the balls on a plate and sprinkle cocoa over them, shaking the plate so that the truffles roll around in the cocoa and become coated. Transfer the truffles to a clean plate and refrigerate until serving time. Bon appétit!
We hope you have
au Château News.
(The answer to Quiz 7 is Cheese and to Quiz 8 is 1-F,2-C,3-E,4-A,5-D,6-B)