le 15 décembre 2000
dreaming of a white Christmas...
Nous rêvons d'un Noël 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 Noëls (chocolate Santas) in honor of the day.
Christmas lights around town...
Here in Uzès, 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 Marché du Noël 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.
Fabulous pastries in
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
français, 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 crème de la crème 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 bûche de Noël, an incredibly rich
concoction of a cake that resembles a yule log, thus the name, bûche de
Noël. 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
Meanwhile, bon appetit!
Gaudí's Pedrera in Barcelona with his never completed Sagrada Familia cathedral in the distance.
Down the road to Spain...
La première 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, Gaudí, 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