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Welcome to Armchair France

 

Armchair Uzs

la Vie Quotidienne

le 15 dcembre 2000
Uzs, France


We're dreaming of a white Christmas...
Nous rvons d'un Nol blanc...

The holiday season is here and the French make no bones about celebrating in a big, traditional way. And what is traditional in France?
     Since France has always been a primarily Catholic country, much of the celebration centers around religion. Advent, part of the Christian church calendar, is honored with an arrangement of greenery centering around four candles, each of which is lit on the progressive Sundays in Advent. The holiday festivities then take off quickly with the feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6, when bakeries are filled with special cakes and des petits Papa Nols (chocolate Santas) in honor of the day.

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Christmas lights around town...

     Here in Uzs, the Christmas decorations have been going up for the past ten days, with street lighting, piped in music (some Christmas, some spirited  -- was that the Macarena in French we just heard? hmm...spirited...) The annual March du Nol brings on two full days of holiday foods, crafts, and spectacles all around town. Many towns in France have special Christmas markets which also include concerts, fireworks and living creches in which the manger scene is recreated by local citizens. 

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Fabulous pastries in every window!

     Christmas Eve and Day are celebrated with a feast or two, of course, with midnight Mass thrown in to separate the meals. Anne Marie, our prof de franais, describes a traditional French Christmas meal as follows. For the first course, shellfish are de rigueur, especially oysters, lobster and langoustines. The traditional main course is turkey, with a variation that might be a chapon (special chicken that has been castrated and is supposed to be the crme de la crme of chickens) or a pintade (guinea fowl). Following the fowl comes the cheese course, with an array of especially fine or rare cheeses for everyone's tasting. Then comes dessert, which is traditionally a bche de Nol, an incredibly rich concoction of a cake that resembles a yule log, thus the name, bche de Nol. But it's not over yet. Following dessert comes coffee with mignardises, those wonderful miniature versions of candies and pastries that are on display in every patisserie shop around France. What a wonderful chance to sample the delicacies of the pastry shop without having to eat an entire tart or box of chocolate. One can always include a glass of port, Armagnac or vin doux at any point after the cheese course. And don't forget the wines and the mineral water on the table! With the help of the Spiro/Morse family, we plan to create our own version of the tradition on the 24th and 25th. Meanwhile, bon appetit!

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Atop Gaud's Pedrera in Barcelona with his never completed Sagrada Familia cathedral in the distance.

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Workers' street demonstration...


Down the road to Spain...
La premire fois en Espagne...

A quick trip to Barcelona is a great weekend getaway or add-on if you're visiting the south of France. It's only four hours from most southern cities, by car or by train, and as we sailed down the autoroute we watched the scenery change from our local garrigue to Mediterranean seaports all along the coastline with the foothills of the Pyrenees tossed in the middle.
     And Barcelona is a great city, teeming with energy and people, all of whom seemed to be out and about starting their Christmas shopping. Tapas bars on every street corner make dinner an unnecessary event, but if you do decide to dine it'll have to be after 9pm, when the Catalonians begin their evening meals.
     But the most exciting find was the work of the early 20th century architect, Gaud, whose fantastical and art nouveau-style designs mark Barcelona's distinction. We also happened on to a street demonstration by the Union of Agricultural Workers, a lively and good-spirited event in spite of the very serious situation faced by these workers because of falling farm prices and rising fuel prices. Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is a very lovely place to go, with good prices, great food, and lots to see and do. For more Barcelona pictures, click here.

 

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