calls for thirteen desserts
Les treize desserts de Provence
Thirteen desserts are a
Christmas ritual in
Provence, a tradition that bears further examination. How can anyone, even the
French, eat 13 desserts at one sitting? Here’s a little inside info.
Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, family and friends gather at home for
gros souper, a light meal of shellfish, fish and vegetables (and of
course delicious wine), followed by
treize desserts, the thirteen desserts. Why thirteen? As in most
cases with food in France, rituals are filled with symbols; in this case, the thirteen represents Christ and his
How does one properly serve this traditional fare? Most
important is that the 13 must all be served at once, and everyone must
taste all of them. But don’t panic, these aren’t elaborate cream and
sugar laden works of art; rather they are the everyday delights that are
awarded nobility status for this special season.
Fruits, nuts, calissons,
all part of the Christmas dessert tradition.
There are specific guidelines for the
composition of the array. There must be a selection of dried fruits and
nuts, representing the robe colors of mendicant religious orders: raisins
for the Dominicans; dried figs for the Franciscans; walnuts for the
Augustines; and almonds for the Carmelites. Fresh fruits are also
served: winter pears, apples, plums, quince, clementines or mandarin
oranges, even a few grapes from this year’s harvest. Both light and
dark nougats grace the dessert table, along with candied fruits and the
calissons of Aix, that
almond/honey/melon candy that is special to Provence. The folks of Marseille always include a
à l’huile, a
fougasse bread of olive oil flavored with anise and orange-flower
water, that must be broken, never cut or sliced, to avoid financial ruin
in the coming year. Fruit tarts and special breads round out the
Thirteen desserts, thirteen different tastes,
all in one sitting. After this, it’s time to shut things down for the
night so that St. Nicolas can continue the work he’s been doing since
his feast day, December 6 (and which he’ll continue to do until
January 6, the Feast of Kings). An extensive menu of desserts for an
extended Noel celebration.
Vive le dessert…vive la
Dictation for the masses
Those of us subjected to years of French language study remember with
fear and loathing the dreaded Friday morning dictation that was the bane
of our existence in French class. “Prenez
une feuille de papier, un stylo…alors, la dictée!”
But in France, la Grande Dictée is more than just a rigor of
education, it has become a major media event, a mix of Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire, the annual Spelling Bee and the Academy Awards. For the
past twenty years, thousands of francophones have participated in this
international language competition to see who will be awarded la Trophée
on national television and radio each March.
2004, Americans have a chance to join in the fun. Following a daylong
competition on January 16, 2004, five lucky winners (the best of the bunch)
will be sent to compete in the March finals in Paris. Bernard Pivot, the Trophée’s correctness maven,
the dictator of la Grande Dictée, and
a media star in his own right, will be at the City University of NY
studios to read la Dictée to local contestants willing to undergo the
luck to all!
You can find info on the
New York dictation event
at the French Embassy’s
If you'd like to take a practice dictée, visit les Trophées de la
Langue Française website.
More flooding in the south
Encore les inondations
Another round of serious floods hit the south of
France in early December, wiping out roads and cutting off water supplies to
hundreds of thousands of area residents and businesses. From Marseille to
Lyon, from Arles to Nimes, the Rhone
valley rushed over its banks and over homes, fields and routes.
flooded A54 between Nimes and Arles December '03
year’s flooding of the
and its feeders caused the shutdown of the A54, the autoroute that
runs from Nîmes through Arles
toward Marseille; it may not be open to traffic for weeks to come as
they attempt to drain and then rebuild. Travelers should check on route
conditions if driving on southern autoroutes this
from locals in Uzès is that the situation wasn’t as bad as the
September 2002 flood in which dozens lost their lives, millions of euros
of property damage was reported, and that year’s wine harvest was
essentially ruined. Nonetheless, this year's floods and mudslides caused
more than two dozen communities in the
Gard, primarily in the Rhone
valley, to be declared national disaster areas.
Thinking about the destruction to the A54, we’re reminded that last year’s
terrible flooding of the Gardon river caused water to rise
dramatically through the 2000-year-old Pont du Gard without any damage
to its structure. That engineering marvel held up mightily in the
rushing water. Even the 16th century Pont St. Nicholas
upstream didn’t fare as well, having to be closed for repairs for more
than seven months after the flooding. Modern vs. medieval vs. ancient:
much to be said here
for the older the better, yes?
If you’d like to see photos of this
year’s floods, go to the MidiLibre’s Les
Inondations en Images special.
Water rises under the Pont du Gard in September '02
The older, the better for holding up to disasters?
Before and after, September '02 for the Pont-St-Nicolas
More café music from
musique des cafés parisiens
Legends of French chanson join exquisite new voices for an
enchanting musical sojourn to the cafes of
has released French Café, a collection of classic and modern French
music that will transport the listener to the romantic streets of
. The album features some of the greatest names in the history of French
music as well as new artists who are inspired by classic chanson, gypsy
jazz and musette.
great new CD includes performances by renowned French '60s icons like Serge
Gainsbourg, Georges Brassens, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin and Barbara,
and contemporary musicians who have been adding new energy, such as
Paris Combo, Enzo Enzo, and Baguette Quartette. Sounds
like a great mix of old and new!
Joyeux Noel et Bonne Année!
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