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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

le 6 janvier 2002
Uzès, France

The Feast of Kings
La Fête des Rois

January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, is celebrated with much fanfare in France, the crowning event of the holiday season. The traditional galette des rois, presented en famille, holds a small surprise, baked right into the cake. In past times, the "prize" was a fève, a large, flat bean well loved here in France. The person who discovers the prize in their piece of cake is crowned King, le roi, or Queen, la reine, and gets to wear the paper crown that comes with each cake. In the south, pastry cream filled brioche is crowned with “jewels” of fruits confits (preserved fruits). The traditional fève (bean) has been supplanted by ceramic figurines (cartoon characters and such), but for authenticity, use a dried bean. In addition to the religious representation of the gifts that the Kings brought to the infant Jesus (the story of the Magi), this feast, which continues all through January, also celebrates the new year with the fertile ground (the cake) and the seed within (the prize) which will bring good fortune and good planting for the spring to come. The month of February is called fèvrier in French; perhaps derived from the bean, the fève.


Une Galette des Rois
This recipe is for a traditional French galette des rois

1 cup almond paste
2 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
1 tablespoon flour
2 10-inch circles of store-bought puff pastry
1 trinket
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat the  oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Cream together the almond paste and butter until light. Add 3 of the eggs, one at a time, creaming after each addition. Fold in the flour until it is incorporated.

Place one circle of puff pastry on the cookie sheet. Put all the almond mixture in the center and spread it out, leaving a 1-inch border. Put the trinket into the almond mixture. Beat the remaining egg with the milk and brush the border with it. Place the other pastry circle on top and crimp the edges together. Brush the entire surface with the egg mixture. Using  a knife,  mark a pattern (your choice) in the surface. Bake 30 minutes or until a deep golden brown. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm, with a paper crown on top. Serves 8.

     Reading David McCullough’s recent biography of John Adams, we ran across this charming bit of a letter from Abigail Adams, who at the time was living in Paris with her husband. In a letter to her niece in New England, she describes the French Feast of Kings ritual. Written more than 200 years ago, this excerpt is delightful in style, with an interesting moral at its finish:

January 5, 1785: “You must know that the religion of this country requires [an] abundance of feasting and fasting, and each person has his particular saint, as well as each calling and occupation. Tomorrow is to be celebrated le jour des rois. The day before this feast it is customary to make a large paste pie, into which one bean is put. Each person cuts his slice, and the one  who is so lucky as to obtain the bean is dubbed king or queen. Accordingly, today, when I went in to dinner, I found one upon our table.
     Nabby [their daughter, also named Abigail] began by taking the first slice; but alas! poor girl, no bean and no queen. In the next place, John [their son, John Q] seconded her by taking a larger cut, and bisected his paste with mathematical circumspection; but to him it pertained not. By this time I was ready for my part; but first I declared that I had no cravings for royalty. I accordingly separated my piece with much firmness, nowise disappointed that it fell not to me.
     Your uncle [John Adams himself] who was all this time picking his chicken bone, saw us divert ourselves without saying anything. But presently he seized the remaining half, and to crumbs went the poor paste, cut here and slash there; when behold, the bean! 'And thus,' said he, 'are kingdoms obtained!' But the servant who stood by and saw the havoc, declared solemnly that he could not retain the title, as the laws decreed it to chance, and not to force.”
(from John Adams, by David McCullough, © 2001, Simon and Schuster)

 


New street rules apply to everybody and his dog.

 

 

 

 

Scoop on the poop…
Les rues plus propres?

Ah, the dream of strolling through Paris, gazing up at rooftops, flowered balconies, monuments and spires that pop up every time one turns a corner. Oh la la, the reality of walking those streets, keeping an eye downward, hopping from one side to the other to avoid stepping in the mess left behind by the beloved dogs of Paris.
     Why so much dog mess on the street? Well, the city is home to nearly a quarter of a million dogs. And, unlike New Yorkers or Londoners, Parisians aren’t really forced to pick up after their dogs…at least not until now. Why has Paris never cracked down before? Leave it to politics. Conservatives have ruled in Paris for a number of decades, and as one official said: "For a long time it was said in France that a dog owner was a voter. But I think that if we have a little courage, we might find that voters like clean streets." Interesting concept in an election year...
     Bon courage! This year a new law takes effect that requires owners to clean up after their pooches, and most importantly this law will be enforced. The 2,000+ workers assigned to write parking tickets in Paris will also be issuing fines to errant dog owners. Fines begin at about 200 euros and go up to about 500 euros.
     Another change is in the works as well. For the past twenty years, little green vacuum machines, officially called caninettes but almost always referred to as motocrottes (politely translated as "crudmobiles"), have been charged with the majority of the cleanup of the canine leavings…leaving Parisians to go on about their other business. But last year, city officials determined that these caninettes were picking up only about 20% of the droppings. At a cost of $8.4 million a year, this cleanup effort has been deemed unacceptable, so the greenmobiles will become a thing of the past. As of January 2002, Parisians must take charge of their droppings or pay, and les promeneurs can more often cast their eyes skyward. Perhaps the streets will be cleaner? We’ll see…

Simply Sempé
Sempé simplement

If you’re a reader of The New Yorker magazine, you’re probably familiar with the illustrations of the satirical and surreal genius, Sempé…he’s done more than 70 covers for that magazine. His books and collections are instant bestsellers and cult classics in France and across Europe. Why? Because Jean-Jacques Sempé, so admired by New Yorker readers as one of their own, Thurber-esque in his style, is actually a Frenchman, born in Bordeaux, living in Paris, who doesn’t speak but a few words of English despite many years of visiting both the UK and the US. Two new collections of his work, one for the French market, the other for the US market, have just been released. Un Peu de Paris is a book dedicated entirely to the French capital, with the stylish, inimitable humor and point de vue Sempé. In the US, The World According to Sempé showcases his genius for sweeping satirical observation that has won him such a tremendous following in America. Interestingly, there are no captions for his work…the illustrations speak for themselves. In effect, his language is universal…ironic, tender, and well-loved by millions.

 

 

Bonne année et à bientôt!

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