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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

le 14 février  2003

Happy Valentine’s Day
Bonne Fête des Amoureux
It’s that time of year...Valentine's Day with roses, champagne and chocolates is a relatively new marketing phenomenon in France. Imagine our surprise when we found out that the relics of Saint Valentine reside right here in our own region of France, at the collégiale in Roquemaure. Sound like a scam? How on earth did Italian Saint Valentine end up in this little French town on the Rhône river?
     The phylloxera epidemic of the 1860s caused widespread destruction of vineyards across France. Roquemaure, one of the most important wine ports on the Rhône, was deeply affected both economically and spiritually by this scourge. The town’s richest citizen decided to raise the townfolks’ spirits, so he went to Rome and purchased the relics of Saint Valentine, bringing them back with great ceremony. The remains now reside here, and are brought out each year to celebrate the saint’s day. On the weekend nearest February 14, the town of Roquemaure celebrates la Festo di Pouton (in Provençal), la Fête des Amoureux (in French), St. Valentine’s Day, whatever you wish to call it. The townspeople dress up in 19th century garb, make merry, and reconstruct the 1868 arrival of the relics of Saint Valentine there.  
  
So off we went this chilly morning of February 14 to inspect the festivities. The town was quiet, but there were signs of preparation underway. We tried to enter the collégiale to see Saint Valentine's chalice, but the church was locked tight as a drum...wouldn't be open until this weekend for the grand festivities. Dommage. But we managed to make hay with a lovely lunch then a stop at the local cave cooperative, aptly named the Cellier de Saint Valentin, where we filled our cubies with some delicious Lirac, both red and white. Et voilà! Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

CellierStValentin.jpg (181732 bytes)
Bon Lirac, bon vin  at the Cellier St. Valentin!

 




The village of Roquemaure parades out
the relics of Saint Valentine every year.

StValandJoe.jpg (95441 bytes)

Otherwise the remains are locked up in the
local church...huis clos!

 



Cool, clear water…
Ah, l’eau, l'eau!
You sit down in a restaurant, make your choices, and then the waiter asks: “De l’eau minérale? Gazeuse ou plat? En bouteille? En carafe?” The waters start swirling. Too many choices! Should you buy the bottled stuff or just take your water from the faucet? If you choose bottled, should it be sparkling or still?
     Europeans have been drinking water from springs for centuries. The Romans promoted the curative qualities of spring waters, and as they crossed Gaul, they discovered many of the same sources and springs that are still in use today, including Vichy and St. Yorré near Allier in central France. The choices among brands and composition is almost mind-boggling, nearly as mind-boggling as choosing a wine or a loaf of bread (subjects which we’ll try to tackle in another edition).

     Drinking water in France is deemed quite safe these days, having to pass more than 60 different tests, but there are questions about whether pesticides are detected by these tests. We decided to do just a little bit of research to find out how to distinguish these eaux minérales.
     First, still vs. sparkling:  the choice is a matter of taste rather than benefit. Neither is better or worse for you. The more north in Europe one goes, the more sparkling water is preferred. As an example, sparkling water usage averages 27% (vs. still), but Germans prefer it at a rate of 97%, the French at 13%, and the US at 16%.
     Second, curative or not? In France, true mineral water from underground springs (vs. spring water, eau de source) is much more highly regulated and may be promoted as beneficial to health. In the EU those rules are much the same although a bit less strict (so far). In the US no bottled water can be promoted as curative or beneficial in any way.
     Third, what to look for in content? French bottled waters are much higher in mineral content than those in the US, at least according to our quick survey of labels. Click here if you'd like to take a look at what we found. If you want even more, the website www.mineralwaters.org has an extensive comparative listing of hundreds of brands of waters. General consensus is that calcium, magnesium and potassium are more desirable; sulfates, nitrates and silica are less desirable...but all depends on your own health situation. Other than that, you’re on your own.
     Fourth, who drinks what? Italians lead Europeans in per capita bottled water consumption at 155 liters per year, about 45/55% still vs. sparkling, followed by the Belgians at 123 liters per year. French consumption is in the middle range at 112 liters per person per year. US figures are harder to come by, but the Beverage Marketing Group maintains that Americans have nearly tripled their consumption of still bottled water in the past ten years…a great marketing story in itself!
     Conclusions? Bottled vs. tap, check your local water supply. The French tend to choose water in a carafe, unless at a grand restaurant, but drink bottled water at home. Our preferences? As above, but when buying bottled, we prefer Badoit for sparkling, Volvic for still water, tapwater (eau de robinet) in a pinch!

 

Water1.jpg (194180 bytes)


Which brands have the most of what
 among the bottled waters of France?

By content: Sparkling Still
Calcium Badoit Hepa
Magnesium Badoit Hepa
Sodium St Yorré Casino
Potassium St Yorré Casino
Bicarbs St Yorré Hepa
Chlorides St Yorré Casino
Nitrates Perrier Volvic
Sulfates Vichy Contrex
Fluoride St Yorré Casino

Check out more in our quick mini-survey. 

For complete information, visit
www.mineralwaters.org

 



Six Nations Rugby 2003:
Allez les Bleus!

Sat, Feb 15 at England
Sun, Feb 23 Scotland
Sat, Mar 8 at Ireland
Sun, Mar 23 Italy
Sat, Mar 29 Wales

All’s fair that ends well
Tout va bien qui finit bien

On Saturday afternoon, February 15, France plays England at Twickenham in the first match of this year's Six Nations Rugby Tournament. It's a shame: The tournament is effectively over after this game, because whoever wins it will win the tourney. So the bookies say. We say:  Allez, France! We’ll have a report on the match toute de suite.
     Meanwhile down in Federal 3, the fifth level out of eleven French rugby levels, our hometown team, Uzès, is in truly terrible shape this year. The Dukes lost many of their best players for one reason or another and they’ve won only two of 14 games so far. They’re thus in last place, heading for demotion to a lower league. On Sunday February 9th we saw them win their second game, at home against a very weak opponent. Here's how real French home cooking works:  After dominating the whole game (but having missed a bunch of easy penalty kicks), Uzès had a slim lead and was threatening with about five minutes to go. But a lazy lateral pass was intercepted by an opponent who streaked 100 meters for a try, putting the visitors in the lead by one point. Again there are about five minutes to go…there is no scoreboard clock at the Uzès field, the ref keeps the time…FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER (!) Uzès scored on a dropkick and the ref signaled the kick as good and the game as over at the same time. Oh the fury of the visitors! We were rolling around laughing, as were most of the Uzès supporters. Apparently the league's plan is to not allow Uzès to be demoted no matter how bad they are…all’s fair in rugby, love and war.

 


Vintage posters
L'affiche à l'ancienne
We’ve always been drawn to those vivid, vintage French posters, awash in color, style and images of another era.  In the mid 1800s posters (les affiches) became an important medium as mass printing and increased urban population density spurred advertising to new heights. As early as the late 1800s, posters had already moved into the collectables realm in France, with the poster’s first international exposition in Paris in 1884. The Belle Epoque was its most glorious era, featuring the creative richness of art nouveau style as well as the works of Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, Vuillard and Jules Chéret, considered the father of affichage. Between the world wars the poster evolved into a more synthetic rather than artistic medium, but the product still pleases the eye as evidenced in its continued collectability. Today some posters are auctioned for up to five digits (that would be euros as well as dollars!).



Art nouveau from Jules Chéret, père de l'affichage




Vintage travel posters are vivid, vife,
including this one by Roger Broders

     Once you start looking more closely at vintage posters from any era, you realize that their creators were artists in their own right. Chéret, Mucha, Villemot, Broders, Duval, Cassandre:  most of the names aren’t familiar, but their works certainly are. Whether they’re promoting the glories of theatre, opera, hotels, tourism, railroads, tobacco, food, drink…these works are charming reminders of a bygone era.
     You can collect originals at varying rates from dealers or auction, or you can buy reproductions at reasonable prices, as you prefer. What a lovely way to color a room and add a sense of another time and place.
    Why not take a minute to visit our poster gallery for a further look at some vintage pieces…it’ll lift your spirits and brighten your day. 

Armchair Poster Gallery

More soon...keep in touch!

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