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From 29 February – 4 April 2012 a fabulous selection of French films will be gracing New Zealand screens during the sixth annual Alliance Française French Film Festival.

Proudly sponsored by L’Oréal Paris, the Alliance Française French Film Festival offers a comprehensive national programme over five weeks and nine cities, making it the biggest French cultural event in New Zealand.

This year the Festival’s selection includes some of the finest recent French film releases including the Valérie Donzelli’s ‘chef d’oeuvre’ Declaration of War (opening night film), Yann Samuell’s remake of the classic The War of the Buttons, and Christophe Honoré’s new musical Beloved starring the iconic Catherine Deneuve.

Another film that will be making its New Zealand début is Philippe Guillard’s first feature film Jo’s Boyabout a small township in the south of France and their love for rugby. Guillard, a former rugby player himself, promised people that he’d run around the Arc de Triomphe naked if 500,000 people went to see his ‘little film’ about life amongst the rugby people of France’s south-west who recruit a kiwi named Jonah to help save their village team. Little did he know, his guess turned out to be too modest – by half! It is stories like these that make French cinema such a loveable art form.

After attending the Christchurch media launch of the Festival last week, I was not only impressed by this year’s line-up but also at the Festival’s dedication to promoting French language and culture within our New Zealand society.

Declaration of War will be premiered at the Christchurch opening night on Wednesday 29 February.

Film-making is seen as a way of not only protecting and documenting French culture, but advancing it as well. It is truly a treasured form of culture, which the French hold dear. The French inject their values, history and sense of humour into their films, creating a memorable cinematic experience for all involved. The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival is New Zealand’s way of showcasing this French talent, and celebrating their respect for and achievements in the international film industry.

I urge all of you in New Zealand to go out and buy tickets to this fabulous event with all your friends and family. What a perfect (and cheap) way to be transported to France for an hour and a half!

The Alliance Française French Film Festival will open in Christchurch at Hoyts Northlands on February 29, 5:45pm for the 6:30pm New Zealand premiere of Donzelli’s Declaration of War. $25 ticket price includes drinks, nibbles, L’Oréal Paris goodie bags and the screening. Tickets available at the cinema or on www.hoyts.co.nz

For all other information about the opening nights in other cities and the film selection, please visit the official website www.frenchfilmfestival.co.nz

Beloved - the new musical by Christophe Honore starring Catherine Deneuve and her real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni

South of France + rugby + French cinema = perfection!

Yann Samuell's smash-hit adaptation of Louis Pergaud's 1912 novel, The War of the Buttons

 

Actually the boys decorated the tree, and cut it from the forest!

Another year has gone by. The tree is decorated and the ham is being glazed as we speak!

I’d like to take this opportunity of thanking you for so loyally following my travel blog through 2011.

I have loved the opportunity of sharing once a week with you my stories and experiences of travelling in France. Christmas is such a special time to reflect on everything.

It has been a traumatic year for my family and friends in New Zealand, and they will all be eagerly awaiting 2012. The continual earthquakes in Christchurch have exhausted everyone and we think at this time of all those still suffering and missing family members. As you will have read we have just had more major shakes on 23 December. It is a very testing time, but Kiwis are very strong people, so we will be OK!

I have been fortunate to travel for several months through France and Portugal, while my family continued to be shaken by quakes back in NZ.

I have loved writing stories for you and this year I have been very happy to be regularly receiving around 1000 plus readers a week. My most popular stories have been:

Carcassonne – I was there in the year 1209.

Portugal Photo Paradise

Edith Piaf – The Sparrow and the Rose

Auvers sur Oise – Dining with Vincent Van Gogh

I am spending Christmas with my family in Christchurch (NZ) and will spend time as well on a secluded beach somewhere warm! But I do love thinking of my friends in Paris and elsewhere in France. There it’s cold, the decoration lights are draped over all the shop fronts, the oyster sellers sell from the footpaths their longed-for Christmas treat, the smell of mulled wine emanates from the man selling his “vin chaud” on the corner of our street, and the queues at the chocolate shop extend out on to the footpath.

Our Christmas tree at home.

 

Have a wonderful Christmas wherever you are in the world and I look forward to 2012 to share more stories of this wonderful country France, and who knows you may even want to treat yourself to a trip there in the new year.

Joyeux Noel et je vous souhaite un nouvel an d’exception!

Tous mes meilleurs voeux pour un Joyeux Noel et un 2012 d'exception!

 

Lessons from the Louvre – Part 3

This is the third part of my series on paintings in the Louvre. This is my attempt to cure those suffering from MLS syndrome, and opening your eyes to art highlights other than the Mona Lisa! Over the next month there will be weekly articles on my highlights, which tend not to be the normal selections! I last wrote about the Kim Kardashian of the 1600s, featuring Marie de Medici. If you don’t want to miss out on my next articles on the Louvre please just click on the “Blog Notification” button just to the right.

We all lead very busy lives. There are always deadlines and appointments to make. One of my greatest treats is to be able to visit the Louvre and sit and look at one painting.

The painting I am going to share with you today is “Atala in the Tomb” painted by Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson.

The inspiration of this painting came from the tragic love story of the French author Chateaubriand called “The Two Loves of Two Savages in the Desert”.

This painting tells the story of the Christian maiden Atala, who frees the Indian brave Chactas from his enemies and finds refuge with him in the cave of the religious hermit Father Aubry. Having consecrated herself to God and a life of chastity, Atala takes poison when she fears that she is falling in love with Chactas. After her death, Chactas vows to become a Christian himself.

 

Atala in the Tomb

Words are not really required to describe the scene. We have a heart-breaking image of purity, beauty, despair and sensuality, as Chactas clings to Atala’s legs refusing to lay her in the tomb, which he has already prepared. I think we have all experienced similar grief at some stage of our lives – the pain of having to say goodbye, of having to let go? We see Atala draped lightly in a white sheet with the last of the day’s sun making her radiate light, as if she were still alive, her hands clasped as if in prayer. She had such a struggle between her spiritual values of faith and her sensual values of love, but we look out of the cave to see the cross on the hill, which in a way reminds the viewer of the Christian promise of eternal life. 

If you click on the photo of the painting you will make out some writing etched on the wall of the cave. These words are from the book of Job and they read in French  “I have faded like a flower, I have withered like the grass in the fields”.

So click on the photo to enlarge it, and take a moment looking at the painting, and feel the pain in this story of forbidden love.

To find “Atala in the Tomb” in the Louvre:

The room where this painting is located is my favourite room in the whole Louvre. You just follow signs to French 19th century! Here you also have stunning collections of David, Ingres et al, as well as this painting by Girodet.

Denon wing
1st Floor (ground floor, first floor)
Daru
Room 75

Lessons from the Louvre – Part 2: This is the second part of my series on paintings in the Louvre. This is my attempt to cure those suffering from MLS syndrome, and opening your eyes to art highlights other than the Mona Lisa! Over the next month there will be weekly articles on my highlights, which tend not to be the normal selections! If you don’t want to miss out on my next articles on the Louvre please just click on the “Blog Notification” button just to the right.

You wouldn’t imagine finding Kim Kardashian featuring strongly on the gallery walls of the Louvre.  Or would you? She just dumped her husband of 70 days to the glare of the world press. People have flocked to news sites to read the latest gossip. But you could go to the Louvre and do exactly the same!

Imagine this. Your Dad who is one of the wealthiest men around decides to get you married off. He finds a dapper unmarried man, pays him a fortune to marry his unattractive daughter. She gets married to him by proxy i.e. he didn’t even turn up, but sent his lawyer to sign the documents! He’s a womaniser and regularly has mistresses on the side – sounds like DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn)? She has a child, then quietly arranges his murder, then spends the rest of her life telling everyone how brilliant she is, and terrorising her dead husband’s mistresses and son!! It’d be a good reality TV show!

No I think Kim Kardashian is quite tame compared with what we have here. Nothing can compare with this woman in history who features predominantly in the Louvre! 

Marie de Medici - hardly flattering!

This story is about the second wife of the great French king, Henri IV. She, Marie de Medici came from one of the wealthiest Italian families. Henri IV was divorced to his previous wife while king, and so the Medicis family arranged for this “business” connection for their daughter. Their child, Louis X111 was born in the first year of their marriage. For the next ten years she was the wife of the King of France, but wanted to be Queen in her own right, and eventually in 1610 she was crowned in St Denis Cathedral in Paris. But you can’t imagine the next step. Within ten hours of her coronation her husband was dead from an assassination, with Marie having arranged his death. She was to rule as Queen Regent of France until her son Louis X111 was of age (15yrs). She refused this transfer of rule to her son, until her son expelled her from Paris to the Loire Valley when he was 17 years old. Upon her expulsion  from Paris, she promptly tried unsuccessfully, with the help of another son, to plot the overthrow of Louis X111.

So where does this story fit in to the Louvre.

Eventually her son allowed her back in to Paris in the early 1620s. At this time she began constructing herself a home, which became the Luxembourg Palace (formerly the Medicis Palace), and she wanted to decorate the palace with paintings celebrating her wonderful life!

Marie de Medici commissioned the Flemish painter Paul Rubens to paint two large series of paintings; one to celebrate her life, and one to celebrate that of her dead husband. The latter series was never done! So Paul Rubens ended up painting a series of 24 paintings recounting Marie’s life from her birth, through to her reign – these paintings  were enormous being up to 7 metres by 4 metres in size!

But there were two major problems for Paul Rubens. Firstly Marie de Medicis was a most unfortunately unattractive woman, and as she was the one paying the bills it was very difficult for Rubens to portray her in a correct truthful manner. Secondly it was very difficult for the artist to portray this woman who was particularly uninteresting, and never did anything positive or constructive for France.  

This series of paintings used to be displayed in the Luxembourg Palace but now can been see in the Louvre.  So when you look at this collection of paintings you look at the techniques used by Rubens to try and portray the life of Marie de Medici whilst at the same time always trying not to lie, but also trying to even show her up. There are moments for example where during the wedding scene, at her feet can be seen two dogs that are nonchalantly sitting there licking their private parts, or when viewing her arrival by boat to Marseille, in the front of the scene are three voluptuous nude women who completely take over from the presence of Marie – both clever techniques by the artist at “mocking” his subject matter!  

After her wedding in Italy (husband not present!) she arrived in Marseille. Note how the nude voluptuous ladies take over, and Marie is made to not stand out at all.

Below is the largest and most important paintings of all. The purpose of this painting is to show Marie accepting the governance to rule France following her husband’s murder. But you will see it’s not all about Marie! Rubens cleverly features the spirit of Henri IV being carried respectively to heaven – on his way to divine life. Under him is a snake with an arrow threw it, to remind the viewers not to forget that there is a more sinister side to the story. On the other side of the painting Marie is looking fairly insignificant but has the people “celebrating” her ascendency to power, which must have made her feel really good. But if the painting is to celebrate Marie, why is she such an insignificant part of the painting – Rubens is hard at work here!

 

On the left of this you can see Henri IV ascending to heaven while the people of France celebrate her ascendency to rule France - Paul Rubens really "crawls" to Marie here. We are reminded that Henri has been killed - you can see the snakes with arrows under Henri - just don't forget you arranged his murder!! Copyright Musee du Louvre

These 24 paintings form what is known as the Medicis Cycle and appear in the Louvre in one room exclusively. When you visit here there is no fighting for camera position, as you will be lucky to hardly see  anyone in the room. Sit back and study in detail the life of this reality star of the 17th century, but while looking, understand and observe the humour and struggles of the painter Paul Rubens. I find the series hugely entertaining and impressive, and ask you to make an effort to visit.

To find the Medicis cycle in the Louvre:

Richelieu wing, 2nd Floor,  Room 18

 

The Louvre would be one of the most recognisable brands in the world – there would be few people who would not know what the Louvre was, and where it is? There are nearly nine million people per year who visit, which is 30,000 people per day on average,  going there to look at some of the 30,000 exhibits.

If you ask those nine million people visiting the Louvre what they went to see there, the answer would always be the same. “I’m off to see the Mona Lisa”. Bus tours take their groups to the museum, they walk for 15 minutes along the “Mona Lisa” highway, bypassing other extraordinary works of art, until they arrive at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. It is interesting because even though this painting was painted towards the end of the 15th century it has only become a popular art work since 1913 when an art critic wrote an article on it.

Musee du Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens

Once the tour party arrives at the room where the Mona Lisa is housed, you enter the room jam-packed with thousands of camera wielding tourists, you bump your way across the room until you can finally see something on the wall. There it goes! You can probably get about 20m away from this disappointingly small painting. You hold your camera out and put it on full zoom for your photo of someone’s head in front of you! Got it! Now you’ve got to get back to your bus tour, or the metro to take you to the Eiffel Tower!

That’s the Louvre, and an introduction to an illness I call “MLS – the Mona Lisa syndrome”.

I see examples of MLS throughout the travel world. I’ve met people recently who have travelled via Milan for flight connections, and I have said “Did you get to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper while there?”.  “No, I had no idea where that painting was?”.  I even heard of an art lecturer travelling with a group through Milan recently who advised his group “no you have no need to see “The Last Supper” while here”.  But this group would have all gone to see the Mona Lisa in Paris. Why is this?

People suffering from MLS syndrome do only the expected things; Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Paris, London. It is rare to find people who will break the route and see some of the greatest roman art in Ravenna, the breath-taking artworks of Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, the architectural beauty of abbeys of Fontenay or Fontevraud in France, or the Cathedral of Chartres or even St Denis in Paris. Sorry it’s not on the list of things to do. But the sad thing is, these are treasures. To spend a moment in any of these places, is a special moment, a moment to savour the wonders of this world.

 

A view of the entrance hall and the glass pyramid of hte Louvre above. Photo: Wai Chu Angus

I have visited all these places mentioned above in the last few years while escorting tour groups through Europe, and even if I have seen them before, without exception I have been moved by each visit. I remember each time, the intense emotion I felt when viewing “The Last Supper”, I remember saying that when I viewed the basilica in Ravenna that this was the closest to heaven I have ever been.

Over the last few weeks I have asked people to recommend to a first time visitor to the Louvre what they should see there? You know what they said don’t you? “But is there anything else you long to see in the Louvre if you were to go there tomorrow?”, I asked.

I feel now, that to help in a small way to cure the MLS syndrome, I have a serious job in front of me. Over the next weeks I will be writing a series of articles, each week covering one work of art in the Louvre that I long to see again. After you have read these I hope that you will have a new awareness of the Louvre and its highlights. If you have your own favourite please can you share it with me in the comments section below. If you don’t want to miss out on my articles on the Louvre please just click on the “Sign up for Newsletter” button on the top right of this article, and you will be advised each time a new article is published. I can’t wait for next week!

 

Visiting:

The museum is open every day except Tuesday and the following French holidays: December 25, January 1, and May 1.

 Opening hours

 – Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

 – Wednesday, Friday: from 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.

 – Closed on Tuesday

 Entrances:

The Pyramid is the obvious entry point, but for easier entry try going to the Caroussel du Louvre at 99 rue du Rivoli, where there is an entrance. Metro: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre.

Sunday morning and it’s market day in L’Isle sur la Sorgue, and you will soon see why so many people travel here !

Isle sur la Sorgue is situated 30 minutes to the east of Avignon (Provence), just at the entrance to the Luberon Valley. It is essentially, as its name suggests, an island on the Sorgue River. This village is two towns; one on the market day of Thursday or Sunday, and the other on a non-market day. I love the calmness of the place when it is empty of armies of happy travellers, but also love the craziness of the scrum of people visiting it for the market days.

People flock to the Isle sur la Sorgue market.

Isle sur la Sorgue has developed quite a reputation for its Sunday market especially over the years but has experienced a rapid creeping urban sprawl in the suburbs that are best avoided, but head to the centre of the town and its utterly charming like most other Provence villages.

The Sunday market is what Isle sur la Sorgue has become famous for around the world. The food market operates all morning through until lunch time, whereas the bric à brac and antiques are open all day. As Peter Mayle said about it “the only thing you can’t get in l’Isle sur la Sorgue is a bargain”. I love pottering here, and in each of the last three years I have found and bought some very good art, which I have then had re-framed and cleaned, and could have sold many times over!! See if you can find your own treasure!

If you come here, make a day of it. Start at the market where you will find an unlimited supply of useful and not so useful stuff, and then treat yourself to lunch. For the best post market lunches I warmly recommend you to head to either the Le Jardin du Quai, located near the train platform (set menu), or to Le Vivier (on the road heading out to Carpentras) where you will be treated royally with their Michelin star reputation. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday!!

Even if you are not in the market for food, bric à brac or antiques, the images you see will enchant you!

Most things will fit in your suitcase!!

There's something to cater for anyone's interest.

Retail works at a different pace here!!

Even if you don't buy anything it's fun looking (and taking photos!)

Ca c'est le look?

Why does everything always seem to look so beautiful!!

Access:

If you do not have a car, there are buses that go here from Avignon train station, but if you are staying in places such as St Remy de Provence, then I’d suggest taking a taxi and making a day of it.

Parking is always an issue, but if you get here before ten o’clock you should find a park somewhere!

Rental Accommodation / Villa Rental:

I sit on a bench on Place des Abbesses in Paris. There is a colourful merry-go-round in the centre of this autumn- leaf covered square in the heart of Montmartre, Paris.  A young Parisian is sitting on the steps of the nearby church strumming on his guitar with his cap waiting hopefully on the footpath for some spare change.  “My life is brilliant. My love is pure. I saw an angel.  Of that I’m sure”, he sang from the song of James Blunt.

It made me think. It made me think of all those people in history who have wandered through the streets of Montmartre, and sat on the seat where I sit – Van Gogh, Picasso, Lautrec, Cocteau, Montand.

“I saw your face in a crowded place,  And I don’t know what to do” the young guitarist continued.

I imagine.

I imagine the faces, like Edith Piaf who probably sat on the same steps singing a song. Imagine! But what of this young man singing, could he end up like Edith Piaf. It was near here that Edith Piaf was discovered by Louis Leplée, and where her life took off, and could the same happen to our guitarist friend.

Edith Piaf. Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/yidayida/2412603197/

As another wave of camera wielding tourists exited the metro on their way to Sacre Coeur I thought of Edith Piaf.  She was born in a doorway in utter destitution near here, to her street dwelling parents, on a wintery December night. Her mother abandoned her and she spent her first years being “cared” for by an aunt and grandmother, being brought up in a brothel. She was blind until she was seven. The local prostitutes at the brothel took Edith to pray at a shrine to Saint Thérèse de Lisieux , where her blindness was miraculously cured.

Place Edith Piaf, Metro: Porte de Blagnolet

This was her place. This was where all the artists and singers frequented. From the seedy Rue Pigalle through to the bars and clubs of Belleville, she sang on stages and street corners, ever since she was a young teenager. No guitar in her luggage, just a voice that captured the eye of a night club owner, and eventually the eyes of the world.  With her slight stature of 1.45m she soared over the world stage. She will have sat here on my bench under the plane trees pregnant with her daughter Marcelle. She will have sat here making her decision as a 17 year old mother not to look after her newborn daughter, and instead leave her in the care of friends. It may have been here where she mourned the death of this daughter at the age of two years old.

“And I don’t know what to do, ‘Cause I’ll never be with you” my guitarist friend continued.

“The Little Sparrow” as she became known, went on to be the magnet for French music assisting in the arrival of such household names as Yves Montand and Charles Aznavour. I can see them now sitting in front of the Le Saint Jean Bar on the side of the square dragging on their cigarettes and planning their next performances!

Edith Piaf will have strolled through Place des Abbesses with a string of lovers and husbands. She knew love, but she knew despair, as husbands and lovers either were killed (through accident or worse) or they left her.

“But it’s time to face the truth, I will never be with you” my guitarist friend concluded. The present and the past comfortably hold hands on a cold autumn day.

Edith Piaf's tomb in Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Earlier I had travelled by bus to the Cemetery Père Lachaise in Paris. Visiting cemeteries is not a usual trip for me, but was astounded by my journey. Over 30 minutes I walked through the last two centuries of France, and after walking past Jim Morrison and his fans, then Oscar Wilde and his well lipsticked friends, I arrived at the grave stone of the Little Sparrow, Edith Piaf. Her tomb was as small as her stature, but she remained here with her daughter, and one husband, and every day is kept company by her army of admirers. She captured our imagination having written and performed such classic songs as La Vie en Rose, Non  Je Ne Regrette Rien, Hymne à l’Amour, Les Trois Cloches (The Three Bells) and Milord.

Having been forbidden a Roman Catholic mass because of her unconventional life style, she was transported through the centre of Paris, farewelled by over 40,000 admirers, to the Père Lachaise cemetery where she now lies. Through a short life of heart-ache and despair, she also experienced brief moments of love and success, but through it all “le petit moineau” admitted “non, je ne regrette rien”, “I don’t regret anything at all, Nor the good that was given me, Nor the evil they’re all the same, No I don’t regret anything at all.”

The Sparrow and the Rose.

La Vie en Rose

The sparrow sang.

La Vie en Rose,

And flew into the Valley of Thorns

As the three bells rang.

—–

From a Parisian street

On a cold winter’s night,

In a country ravaged by war,

Wings desperately beating as it took flight,

A young sparrow’s song

Would make the world’s hearts soar.

—–

La Vie en Rose

The sparrow sang

From the depths of an anguished soul.

—–

La Vie en Rose

The little sparrow sang

In a voice so hauntingly sad.

—–

La Vie en Rose

The bleeding sparrow sang

While impaled on the thorns of life.

Edith Piaf – (1915 – 1963)

 

(The poem following my narrative was written and shared by the well-known shoe maker, travel blogger and poet, Jim McIntosh, from http://holesinmysoles.blogspot.com/. Jim is one of the world’s caring sensitive citizens who among other things has a passion for preserving and protecting African wildlife and their communities, and anyone with an interest in these concerns would be encouraged to follow and support his generous and charitable activities.)

Interesting Links:

Video Clip

Slide Show

Possible Visits:

Musée Edith Piaf.
5, rue Crespin du Gast , 75011 Paris Tel/Fax: 01 43 55 52 72. Metro: Ménilmontant Bus: 96. Open: by appointment: 1-6 p.m

This museum is in a private apartment where her belongings remain. You need to ring and make an appointment – then climb the four floors to the apartment!

Place Edith Piaf:  This bustling square contains a statue of Piaf which was inaugurated by the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, on October 11, 2003, to commemorate the 40th
anniversary of her death.  Also includes the Café Bar Edith Piaf! Metro: Porte de Bagnolet (Line 3).

Cemetery Père Lachaise: Metro: Pere Lachaise (Line 3)

Piaf’s Last Address:  67 Blvd Lannes, Metro: Porte Dauphine (Line 2)

Within the next few days no-one can avoid the 1st November.  In France this day is known as La Toussaint (All Saints Day), a day when one celebrates the lives of all the saints. Equally important as 1 November is the 2 November, which is known as the Fete des Morts (Festival of the Dead).

In France the festival of La Toussaint is astounding. It is a public holiday in France on this day, and it is one of the busiest days on the AutoRoute network, as families travel all over France to visit their family graves. It is thought that some 70% of families will travel on this day, or these two days, to visit their family cemeteries.

It is a very noticeable time of the year, and you cannot be unaware of this festival. One of the reasons for this is that at this time all the cemeteries are decorated with chrysanthemums. If you are in the provinces you will notice in the fields areas set aside full of chrysanthemums being grown to be sold for La Toussaint. I remember when I was staying in a charming house  in Venasque, where in the local supermarket of Pernes les Fontaines, all the aisles of the store were full of these flowers. Stalls on the side of the roads obviously advertised the multi-coloured displays of these flowers, and florist shops groaned with this expanse of flowers.

Local villages have competitions organised to try and have the most attractive local cemetery in the district. Villagers will be encouraged in the weeks leading up to the 1 November to assist with cleaning and tidying of their cemetery. “Let’s try and have the best cemetery in the region”, the sign on the town hall noticed board announced. Then in the days leading up to Toussaint the chrysanthemums start arriving to decorate the tombstones. Flowers of every colour arrive, and by 1 November the cemetries are like one giant florist, with every bare space filled by another pot of flowers. I have read that there is up to 100 million Euros spent on chrysanthemums for this day!

Then the families arrive at their local cemeteries, either before or after an impressive lunch together, and they assemble around their family tomb to remember their forebears, through prayer and song. This is the day you communicate with the spirits of the dead, and is a process that has carried out by many races since ancient times.

Flowers everywhere

Although the period of La Toussaint lasts over two days, in France it is only a recognised holiday on the 1 November, so families tend to visit the cemeteries just on this day.

Then in the weeks after this the flowers in the cemeteries deteriorate and are removed, the fields are replaced with winter produce, and the Chrysanthemum disappears until the next Toussaint day arrives!

Throughout Europe this flower the chrysanthemum, is symbolic of death and is only used for funerals or on graves – you don’t see them anywhere else. When I was learning French in Christchurch (NZ), my French teacher who came from Paris recounted me this story. She had fallen in love with a young NZ man, and decided that it was time for her to fly to NZ to meet his family and future fiancé. It was a very exciting and daunting moment for her to arrive after a 30 hour flight to meet her future in laws. After collecting her luggage from the conveyor belt and passing through Customs, she stepped out into the Arrival Hall, and there was her fiancé and his family waiting for her. From behind his back he pulled out a large bouquet of flowers which he presented to her – a large bunch of Chrysanthemums! On seeing these she burst in to tears – but he wasn’t to know of her European customs, and I know he’s never done it again!

It is early morning on 23rd June 1940.

Paris has been occupied for over a week. An armistice was signed in the same railway carriage, at the same spot in the Forest of Compiègne where Foch had imposed terms on the German delegation in 1918.

At Le Bourget the light catches a military transport aircraft landing. Hitler and his entourage (including Albert Speer, Hermann Giesler and Arno Breker, his favourite architects and sculptor respectively) are aboard, having flown from the Führer’s temporary HQ near Sedan.

The party had left at 3am, with the civilians in borrowed uniforms as Hitler would not permit civilians in his party on captured territory.

They drive through the awakening suburbs directly to the Paris Opera House, where they are met by Colonel Hans Spiedel of the Occupation Authority.
According to Speer’s account, Hitler is fascinated by the imposing building and inspects the opulent décor minutely, having studied the building plans.

The interior of hte Opera House Garnier, Paris.

Accompanied by a white-haired usher, the group moves through the deserted but brightly lit building, admiring the sweeping stairway, the foyer and the rest.

At the end of the visit Hitler instructs his adjutant to give the man a ‘pour boire’ (tip) – which is politely but firmly refused.

Twice.

The next items on the itinerary are the Madeleine, Place de la Concorde, and the Arc de Triomphe. At the Palais de Chaillot he poses with Speer and Breker, the Eiffel Tower looming behind them.

Eiffel Tower. Photo: Richard Maddox

This is as close as Hitler gets to the Tower.
French officials have told the Germans that the lift cables have been cut!

The Führer declines to climb the stairs, allowing Parisians to the say that Hitler may have conquered France but he never conquered the Eiffel Tower.

At Les Invalides, Hitler stands contemplating the Napoleon’s Tomb, no doubt his eyes lingering on the names of the famous victories inscribed on the floor around the sarcophagus.

A cursory stop at the Panthéon (the proportions of which impress the Führer – unlike the Place des Vosges, Hôtel de Ville, and the Louvre) before a final stop at the Sacré-Coeur.

Standing with his entourage overlooking Paris he is recognised (and ignored) by those attending Mass.

Hitler stood here overlooking Paris.

By 9 am the tour is over.

But not before Hitler has ordered the destruction of memorials to General Charles Mangin and British nurse Edith Cavell, reminders of Germany’s First World War defeat.

He has already ordered the destruction of the armistice site and that the railway carriage used for the signature be exhibited in Berlin.

Hitler has spent three hours in the French capital.

During his visit Hitler talks of a victory parade in Paris. Discussing it with Spiedel, he decides against it, citing the possibility of harassment by the RAF.

Spiedel would later be involved in ‘Operation Valkyrie’, the plot to kill Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair near Rastenburg in Eastern Prussia.

In early December 1940 Hitler orders that the coffin of Napoleon II, the 21-year old King of Rome, be taken from its burial place in Vienna and returned to France.

Senior Wehrmacht officers accompany the heavy and imposing coffin as it is transported by special train to Paris.

On 14 December 1940, a century after Napoléon’s remains were returned to France from St Helena, ‘L’Aiglon’ joins his father under the dome at Les Invalides.

Les Invalides - where the tomb of Napoleon is located.

For the next quarter of a century the son is in the way. Committees meet to agree where put him. Nothing is decided – until De Gaulle decrees that he is reburied in the lower church, out
of the way, with only a small plaque to mark his final resting place.

It seems no one can bear to look at Hitler’s tainted gift.

(With thanks to one of my readers, Richard Maddox (UK), for his well written and exciting story of Hitler’s visit to Paris.)

The Rugby World Cup mounts to its ultimate crescendo and conclusion. New Zealand to face France in the final match of the Rugby World Cup in Auckland.

I am writing this from Christchurch, where despite this city losing the ability to host their World Cup matches, has still been able to get in to the excitement of the tournament. Many cars display flags and many buildings and homes display All Black flags or various country flags. In Wellington and Auckland the tension has risen to fever pitch with nearly every second car displaying flags supporting their respective teams – predominantly proudly supporting the All Blacks.

In New Zealand, the CEO of NZ Rugby World Cup, Martin Snedden has called for the country to be a stadium of 4 million people.  We can now see this. But what is the situation in France?

In France they have a population of 60 million, where football rules, and rugby is very much considered a minority sport. Do the French know about the Rugby World Cup?

Television Channels

On all the major TV channels their web sites offer minor headlines to the RWC, and this week even there has been more interest in the Champions League Football, and the election of the Socialist Presidential candidate. But most channels on their weather forecasts include a weather forecast for New Zealand (for the finals of the Cup), as well as their local French weather.

France 2 TV station has a minor link through to the RWC in the form of a blog. “Le Blog de Sylvain Marconnet” sums up the feelings of the French people over the RWC. On this blog there have been heated discussions on the merits of the team being in the final through to those who support their coaches sentiment that “(they) are going to be the champions”.

Newspapers

Through all the daily papers there are minor front page links to RWC coverage. Rugby is most popular in the south-west and central France so of course papers in these areas such as in Toulouse, Bordeaux and Clermont-Ferrand have been giving the rugby more detailed coverage. In this paper in the South-West of France you will struggle to find articles on the rugby when compared with this local Auckland newspaper?

It has been interesting to see that in La Provence newspaper, which covers Toulon and Marseille, there was more coverage on the Toulon Rugby results, than for the French team results. The same was the case in the Charente Libre newspaper near Bordeaux which started its sports write-up on the local Cognac rugby club.

In Brittany the Ouest France paper didn’t have any big headlines for the RWC, but because they are not a rugby playing region they had included on their news site an impressive interactive “rugby” page for explaining the rules, field positions, and even rugby kit worn.

It is clear that as this week has progressed towards the final matches that the media coverage has increased much the same as the blood pressure of supporters in NZ has!

In the Street

In New Zealand each city has a “FanZone” where supporters can watch the matches together. In Toulouse these were the crowds (see below) at the French semi-final match in their central square. But they have a dilemma this weekend. On Sunday morning in Toulouse the local marathon is being run from this same central square making it impossible to screen the live rugby coverage from the same place! One of the local politicians has suggested that they watch the match with a two hour delay! Somehow I can’t imagine that being a popular
decision.

20,000 people watched the semi-finals in the centre of Toulouse. Photo: www.ladepeche.fr

In Provence, which is not your traditional rugby area, coverage in the streets has been non-stop, and it is the main topic of discussion at the markets and in the bars. Presently bars and town squares are frantically setting up large screens for the viewers on Sunday morning.

To many viewers it has seemed that the French team have been rather “splintered” as a group, which is a danger for them, but everyone knows of the risks they can front, and I think you will find the All Blacks giving them plenty of respect!   Everyone has known for some time that there was a lot of disagreement between the team and their coach Lèvremont, who has nothing to lose because he is retiring after the World Cup.   But in the back of their minds they have this double view that on one hand they have a group of super talented players, yet on the other hand in their coach’s words “we have a team of spoilt brats”.

“My baker in Pessac sur Dordogne tells me that the All Blacks will win, because the French have played so badly” says Jacquie Franc de Ferrière.

“They all know that the team has had its problems, but as they have got to the final, they all still have confidence and to be honest there are some excellent players in the 15 de France” says Justine Gernez from Mazan. “but I personally think that until now they have not played as a solid team.  But the French are always so unpredictable – that is what they are known for, and for giving everyone heart attacks until the final whistle is blown”.

These mixed feelings are well expressed in this news video from www.stuff.co.nz of a French mother and son agreeing to disagree on the outcome of the final match!

“Maybe we don’t have talent, but we have heart”, says the French captain Thierry Dusautoir.

So all the best to both teams for a great match of rugby on Sunday evening (NZ time) and Sunday morning (French time). Keep your heart pills close by, and get ready to party!

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