A Weekend in Provence
Today is Labor Day in France! AKA “Fête du Travail,” or AKA “La Fête du Muguet” (Lily of the Valley Day), the day that traditionally marks demonstrations and trade union protests, where trade unions and various political parties take to the streets of Paris and other major cities in France.
The 1st of May has significant cultural and historical associations in Europe. In Celtic tradition, it marks the day of the Gaelic May Day festival of Beltane, signifying the transition from the dark to the light season. In ancient Germanic tradition, it follows Walpurgis night, symbolizing the end of winter and is sometimes celebrated by planting the May tree or lighting large fires. May Day is also the opposite springtime counterpart of the autumnal Halloween, occurring exactly six months earlier.
The origin of May Day as Labor Day dates back to 1886 in the United States when American workers demanded an eight-hour workday. In France, workers demonstrated on May Day in 1890, demanding an eight-hour workday, eight hours of sleep, and eight hours of leisure. The French government officially signed the “eight-hour day” law in 1919, and following the protests of May 1936, significant social measures were adopted, including the 40-hour week, paid holidays, and recognition of trade union rights. May Day was later renamed Fête du Travail and became a paid public holiday in 1947.
Lily of the Valley is one of its most prominent symbols. You’ll find purveyors of the flowers everywhere you go in France on May 1st. The Lily of the Valley is a woodland plant found in mild temperate regions of France characterized by its two leaves and bell-shaped white flowers that emit a sweet fragrance. There are several myths surrounding the origin of the Lily of the Valley. According to one myth, the flower came from Eve’s tears when she was banished from the Garden of Eden. Another myth suggests that the flower originated from the tears of Jesus’ mother, Mary, during the Crucifixion. Yet another myth claims that the Greek god Apollo created it to protect the feet of his nine muses. The tradition of giving Lilies of the Valley as a sign of good luck dates back to May 1st, 1561. On that day, the King of France and his mother were gifted a sprig of Lily of the Valley by a knight, Louis de Girard. The King then made it a symbol of spring and offered it to all the ladies of the court.
TEF WASN’T SO TOUGH
For those of you who have followed the saga and anxiety I’ve had over passing the Test d’Evaluation de Français (TEF) for my citizenship application, the results are in. Even though they warned us that we wouldn’t have them for another four to six weeks, by Monday following the Friday exam, the good news came in that I had passed! I had guessed I would score at least 75% correctly, but in reality, the score came in at 87.5%. Hallelujah! Now I can relax!
MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME COMES TO THE CITY
Journalist Nicola Clark decided she liked my philosophy that “if you only follow the rules, you’ll lose” so much, that she featured it in a three-page article published today in the May-June 2023 issue of My French Country Home magazine.
The headline is a bit out of context, but it comes from this part of the article:
Q: “You’ve been an entrepreneur in the USA and in France. What would you say is the biggest difference?”
A: “I think it comes down to very different philosophies behind the two legal systems. Americans follow English Law, which is based on what is forbidden, while the French have the Napoleonic Code, which is based on what is allowed. In the USA, they spell out what is forbidden — which means everything else is possible. For a business owner, that’s very liberating. In France, the law only specifies what is allowed — so if something’s not written down in the rules, it’s not allowed!
At the same time, I’ve learned that if you only follow the rules here, you’ll lose.”
So, what does that mean really? The key word is “here.” “Here” means France. I think of the French rules as a straitjacket. Then, I imagine the person in the straightjacket* being asked to perform somersaults! That’s what it’s like living within the confines of the Napoleonic code because the rules are as tied up in knots as are the long sleeves of the jacket. In other words, if you’re not willing to take certain risks, such as shortening the sleeves to let your arms free, then you’ll never be able to flip your body over and escape the Kafkaesque situation in which you will find yourself. It’s not a question of honesty, or doing the honorable thing…it’s about understanding that there is THE LAW, and then there is THE REALITY…and one must determine which of the two to which you want to subscribe within a given situation.
A simple example is crossing the street. The light for pedestrians is red, but there’s not a car or bike or scooter in sight and you’re running late for your appointment. Would you a) wait at the light which is following the rule, or b) would you look both ways and proceed to walk across the street? If you’re French, then you definitely proceed across the street! Meanwhile, you have hurt no one, including yourself by breaking this tiny rule, and you managed to get to your appointment on time.
*A straitjacket is a specialized piece of clothing resembling a jacket, featuring extended sleeves that go beyond the wearer’s fingertips. It is employed to confine individuals who present a risk of danger to either themselves or others.
My French Country Home is a top-quality bi-monthly magazine with insider articles and stunning editorials, celebrating French daily life’s beauty, authenticity, and richness. Their journey began in 2010, with Sharon Santoni’s blog sharing her life in Normandy. Since then, they’ve grown into a multi-faceted brand. If you love France, then you will want to subscribe!
Nicola Clark is a former New York Times correspondent, an award-winning writer and editor with expertise in business, economics, politics, European affairs and corporate news…based in Paris.
MENOPAUSE BARBIE TALKS ABOUT THE UNMENTIONABLE
Last Wednesday, Dunhill Financial sponsored the Expat Women’s Workshop webinar with Menopause Barbie Taylor, M.D. with me in the conversation acting as moderator. Barbie is a gynecologist who has adopted the name “Menopause Barbie” and taken the professional and fashionable reputation of Barbie to a whole new level! Her actual business name is “Menopause Taylor,” and she’s an expert at helping you tailor your menopause management your way.
In her trademark fun, down-to-earth style, she guided us through the ins and outs of managing this very important period of all women’s lives—a condition that has been grossly overlooked by the medical profession and by women themselves. Dr. Taylor empowers us to confidently manage our menopause our way, now and for the rest of our lives.
I am a personal patient of Barbie’s and can attest to the enlightenment that was long overdue! Don’t hesitate to get on her track.
A HOCKNEYESQUE WEEKEND IN PROVENCE
Saturday, I hopped on the train to Aix-en-Provence where I met up with my old friend, Barb Westfield, for a power-packed weekend in Provence. She had every moment well planned. I love letting someone else be in charge!
Our first stop was the David Hockney exhibition at the Musée Granet, on until just May 28th, so this was our chance! In partnership with the Tate Gallery in London, this retrospective traces his impressive career from the mid-1950s to the present, with the works primarily from the Tate collection, but also from private collections.
I met David Hockney once when I was living in Los Angeles. We had attended an AIDS fundraising party given in the early 1990s at the home of Director John Schlesinger, with many illustrious guests gathered around the pool that happened to have inspired many of Hockney’s paintings.
Like an idiot, I blubbered all over him, extolling my admiration for his work. He simply cowered and then scurried off as quickly as he could! I couldn’t blame him for escaping me! Ha! There were so many famous and important people at this event, that it is forever burned on my brain; the meeting with him among them.
If you like Hockney’s work, then this is a must-see! There were lots of works I’d never seen before and others I’d seen many times, in which I never fail to fall in love…again and again. This is an artist whose color palette suits my taste to a tee—I just wanted to live inside every one of his canvases. Perhaps you will, too!
EXTRA SPECIAL AIX-EN-PROVENCE
Aix-en-Provence is one of France’s most beautiful cities. Walking among its elegant streets is one of life’s simplest and most delightful pleasures. Its architecture is distinctive yet steeped in Provençal style—a truce between man and nature in its streets, squares and fountains that seem to transcend time. The “pays d’Aix” boasts of a rich sampling of architecture dating back to its pre-Roman foundation.
Along our meandering path, we passed by the Hôtel de Gallifet, an 18th-century mansion located in the Mazarin district of Aix, housing a contemporary art center open to the public. It was once home to a noble family from the Dauphiné who was very influential in the local landscape. In the mid 19th-century, the Hôtel de Gallifet was the residence of a Jewish family of Crémieux. During the Second World War, the building was occupied by German officers. The members of the Crémieux family who lived in the Hôtel de Gallifet at the time were forced to flee, but were saved from deportation, along with some other Jewish families from Aix-en-Provence.
One cannot help but be impressed by the monumental sculpture in red resin at the entrance entitled “In Happiness,” by the artist Diadji Diop, which welcomes the public and is perfectly suited to the Hôtel de Gallifet.
Aix is undergoing some gentrification, as France is very concerned with its “Patrimoine” (heritage). The Place d’Albertas is a square in the city center where Jean Agar, an advisor to the Parliament of Aix, owned a house in the 16th-century that was bought by a family from Marseille, the Paulhe family, who then sold it to the d’Albertas family, one of the largest families in Aix in the 18th century. Originally from Alba, Italy, they had settled in the Apt region as long ago as the middle of the 14th-century.
Jean-Baptiste d’Albertas had an elegant little square built in front of his father’s mansion designed in the Parisian fashion of royal squares and in 1862, a fountain was erected in the center of the square. Since a decree of July 21, 2000, the facades and roofs of the buildings bordering the Place d’Albertas, as well as the fountain and the ground of the square and of the Rue Esperiat were classified as historical monuments.
Now, it’s getting a makeover. This project, which will last nine months, comes 22 years after the square was classified as a historical monument. The objective is to create a continuous extension between the square and Espariat Street, using cobblestones on the entire surface, including the current roadway. The existing cobblestones in the square will be preserved and restored and will preserve the shades and nuances of the whole structure. To facilitate the movement of people with reduced mobility, the sidewalk along the Hotel Espariat will be paved with stone slabs.
Aix is one of my top five cities in which to live in France. It is beautiful, young, vibrant, well tended and seriously elegant and classy. It has fast three-hour and easy access to Paris via the TGV, direct connection to the Marseille international airport, and equally as easy to get to Nice. It’s a great place to live without a car. Its only downside is that it can get very hot in the summer. WeatherSpark.com says that in the summer months, the daily high temperatures increase by 6°F, from 76°F to 82°F, rarely falling below 67°F or exceeding 93°F. However, recent years have reached some higher peaks, thanks to global warming. Be sure to air-condition your home, or leave during the hottest periods, and you could be very happy there indeed!
LES MILLES—A THOUSAND EMOTIONS
Barb surprised me Sunday morning with a special tour of Camp des Milles, a former tile and brick factory which became a French internment camp to detain “undesirable aliens.” It was later used as a transit camp for Jews to be deported to extermination camps, mainly Auschwitz. The last internment and deportation camp still intact in France, this former factory saw 10,000 prisoners of 38 nationalities pass through between 1939 and 1942.
She couldn’t wait to show it to me after having watched the new Netflix series, “Transatlantic,” partly filmed in Marseille at the Camp des Milles. The story goes that 32-year-old Varian Fry, an American from Marseilles, helped many Jews and intellectuals to flee Nazi Europe including famous intellectuals such as André Breton, the theoretician of surrealism, the painters Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst, and the gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim. Fry, nicknamed the “American Schindler,” is a story of courage and dedication. The Camp des Milles was an important part of the story’s setting.
Now, it’s a lesson of history to be learned. It houses a large history museum devoted to eliminating racism, anti-Semitism and fanaticism of every kind by keeping alive the memory and history of the Holocaust and the genocide crimes as well as those committed against Armenians, Gypsies and Tutsis, and the resistance to these crimes. While it was not an uplifting experience, especially under gray skies and pouring rain, it was an emotional one and an important one. I watched Transatlantic, but now I must rewatch it now that I know so much more about the history Marseille played in helping so many victims of the Third Reich escape to freedom.
Note: the U.S. government turned away thousands of Jewish refugees, fearing that they were Nazi spies. The state department and FDR claimed that Jewish immigrants could threaten national security. America will never be absolved from this “crime.”
TREK TO TUBA
That was just the first part of our Sunday. The second part was another adventure, all along the coastal road of Marseille to the town of the Tuba Club and Restaurant. They call it a “cabanons” (cabanes) and restaurant, positioned on the edge of the cliffs in Les Goudes, a little fishermen’s village at the end of Marseille. The village is made up of huts, restaurants, fortifications and close to dream spots like Callelongue or Cap Croisette.
You just keep driving along the coastal road until you you can’t go on anymore to reach this small village. Tuba Club is a restaurant with a few hotel rooms that has become a go-to for well-heeled travelers since it opened in the summer of 2020.
Barb dropped us off at the top of a stone staircase and said, “Go down, turn right, and keep going. You’ll see it. That’s it.”
You go down the stairs and straight ahead of you looks like death, should you fall. You can’t go to the left because there is nothing by rock. You go to the right and it’s treacherous. There is a spot in the path that is literally about two feet wide and nothing to prevent you from landing on the rock and the sea below. Then you come upon an opening and an entrance to the restaurant.
My first thought was shock and amazement. It was incredulous to me that this was the restaurant’s only entry, with no rail, no warning, no lights, no nothing preventing the possible disaster of someone or something falling into oblivion. How could they possibly take the liability? I imagined myself as one of them losing my balance and falling to certain death. Fortunately, none of us fell and we had an amazing meal worth the effort!
In spite of the treachery to arrive there, the restaurant was filled with diners, including a young couple with two babies who managed the path without harm. I can see where the French would love the challenge, while Americans would be calling their lawyers! Either way, it was a meal worth remembering. Try it if you dare.
ARLES YOU READY?
Today is not only May Day, it’s also Arles Day and the annual Fête des Gardians. Every year on May 1st, the Gardians celebrate Saint George, the patron saint of horsemen in the Provençal city of Arles. Our hopes are to see an awful lot of beautiful white horses. I leave this story for another time…
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian with Barb Westfield
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