Change is constant; if you think we’re in turbulent times now, then you haven’t paid attention to what’s gone down before. One day you say “thee” and “ye” and the next it’s “you”–for singular and plural alike! How would anybody communicate amid such confusion!

It has just come to my attention that for 14 years between 1792 and 1805, France changed its calendar from the gregorian calendar to the republican calendar, aka the French revolutionary calendar. Here are the months: vendémiaire, brumaire, frimaire, nivôse, pluviôse, ventôse, germinal, floréal, prairial, messidor, thermidor and fructidor. Napoléon Bonaparte was proclaimed emperor on the 28th of floréal of year XII.

From just a couple of weeks ago, in brumaire, at Place Carnot, the heart of Carcassonne.

Vendémiaire was the first month of the year, starting with the autumn equinox around Sept. 22, and referring to the vendange, or wine harvest–so appropriate to kick off a French calendar that way! When I first moved here, the weekly gym class in the village (as much social hour as workout, which was fine, too) didn’t start until after the vendange, a practice that continued well after the uprooting of vast expanses of vineyards in a European Union effort to reduce the “glut” of wine and shore up prices. Within just a few years, only one member of the gym class was still actually harvesting grapes. But we stuck to our own version of vendémiaire anyway.

A machine à vendanger–very big, very loud, with scary teeth.

Upheaval seems to be a theme at the moment, judging from some recent podcasts. I listen to them while I’m doing exceedingly unpleasant tasks that I undertake only because to ignore them would be even worse than the experience of doing them (exercise and housework). I like current events/news, culture, history and economics, and it’s amazing how those topics can overlap.

My running route: century-old platanes, which are babies compared with the stone wall.

“The Allusionist” (about words) presented the the introduction of zero, which completely blew people’s minds when Leonardo Bonacci, aka Fibonacci, introduced the Hindu-Arabic concept to Europe in 1202. I now peg all history according to that of Carcassonne, which in 1202 was a rocking town, full of Catholics and Cathars living peacefully side by side, a good seven years before the last crusade was launched to eliminate the Cathars. More on that later.

0? or is it 8? Either way, you can still tie up your horse here.

Zero was invented in India and came to Europe via the Arabs, who gave us algebra and calculus. That much I knew, but I didn’t realize it was so recent! Well, the Mayans had a zero, but the Europeans didn’t find out about that until much later, and we know that nothing existed until a European found it (example: the Western Hemisphere). And in “The Year 1000” (see below), I learned that Europeans considered the abacus to be black magic at first.

Interesting sculpture in the riverbed. The river has gotten much higher lately, after some big rains.

I also enjoy “The History of English” not only for learning the origins of some common sayings but there’s a ton of overlap with French. Bilingual bonus! I got onto some older episodes, about a time when some people made plurals–in English–by adding -ru or -en instead of -s. Most people were illiterate, so think how slowly the changes would have spread–you hear something said a new way and you think, “what a nut case.” Then you hear it again and you think “huh! I guess that’s cool now.” But in between, there was no way to, say, google it or look it up in a book to see whether what you heard was a mistake or something to adopt. In fact, remember when you used “google” as a verb for the first time? TikTok and Instagram and YouTube are accelerating these language changes further, as with something “be like,” a structure I cannot imagine uttering, any more than saying “the interwebs.” Fuddy-duddy? Absolutely. And I judge people who mistake its/it’s or your/you’re.

The medieval times saw new technologies, too, especially around textiles, and new jobs for those who operated the new machines. There was a time when clothing was so laborious to make, people had only a single set of clothes. Then it became easier and cheaper, with new materials made with new machines, until today Europeans (bad but there are worse offenders) toss out 11 kilos (24 pounds) of clothing per person each year, the EU says.

This brings us to another podcast, “Planet Money,” on the Luddites–who were mad about new, labor-saving (or job-killing, depending on your point of view) machinery in the textile industry and who would break into factories to smash it.

And so here we are, wringing hands about people announcing their pronouns and about having to shift to new technology like renewable energy and electric vehicles. I listened to a French newscast, “C’est Dans l’Air,” on angst about iel (sounds kind of like yell or ee-yell), which is a combination of il (he) and elle (she), intended for situations where the one’s gender either isn’t binary or shouldn’t be relevant to the conversation. Even the New York Times had an article about it, which noted that it was a big deal mostly among older people while the younger generation thinks it’s logical/about time. The more you learn about history, the more it’s clear that change is going to happen and lots of people aren’t going to like it.

The shutters and door could use some change in the form of fresh paint, but isn’t that little sprig cute?

What are you reading? I’ve had a bad run in the literary department. Two recent books on my nightstand are acclaimed, but I don’t like either one. “Un Aller Simple,” by Didier van Cauwelaert, won the Prix Goncourt, but I find it abominable. The premise is a young delinquent who is adopted as an infant by Roma in Marseille after a car theft goes bad and kills his French parents. Because he was orphaned as a pre-verbal baby, nobody knows his real name. So they call him after the car model, Ami 6, which over time gets mistaken for Aziz, so he is assumed to be Arab. As a young adult, he gets swept up in a crackdown on illegal immigrants and shipped off to Morocco. So far, it’s dreadful, but maybe it’s just that clichés about gangs and the hood have gotten stale since the book came out in 1994. Which doesn’t seem long ago at all, and yet, how many attitudes have changed since then!

Great door in Toulouse.

Another book is “Tender Is the Night,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, master of the unlikeable central character. I loved “The Great Gatsby” and read it more than once, even though Gatsby and Daisy and Tom and even Nick are spoiled and selfish. I even listened to it, read by the staff of aforementioned “Planet Money” as their way of celebrating this ode to capitalism when its copyright ran out and it entered the public domain (they do a fantastic job, too!). And I loved the movie. Why was “Tender” such a chore? You know when you pick up a book published in 1934, the way you knew when you walked into a bar pre-smoking bans, that it’s going to have a certain stench. Fitzgerald uses a subplot with the murder of an innocent Black man as nothing more than a plot device to cause a mentally fragile white character to relapse (although she had an episode shortly before the murder without any clear trigger, so why the gratuitously racist catalyst?), and then we’re off to flashbacks about how the central couple met. The murder itself remains a loose thread, too unimportant to tie up. Even the European setting backfires because the characters are also expats behaving badly, not just to each other but toward entire cultures. ARGH.

Planters with grape vines as a terrace divider.

But the worst book, by far, was “Labyrinth,” by Kate Mosse, a sometimes-resident of Carcassonne, where this monstrosity is set. If you like clichés, a predictable plot, silly magical-religious powers, and easily identifiable good guys and bad guys (the villain is a well-toned, well-dressed, icy blonde with a penchant for younger men; the heroine is kind of a mess, too trusting yet strong-willed), then this is for you. If I had to compare this book to a food, it would be Cheetohs–artificial flavor, no nutritional (or in the book’s case, intellectual) value, terrible color (for the book that color would be a putrid purple for the prose). I don’t think it went through an editor–we’re told three times in two pages that the villain has “sculptural shoulders.” Many murders happen (why? to raise the stakes of how evil the bad guys are?) but nobody seems to be investigating the body count. It time-travels between the present and the moment of the Albigensian Crusade in 1209, and tiens, tiens, the contemporary names align with their medieval counterparts! Get it? So Pelletier and Tanner are paired up, for example. How clever!

Rue du Verdun…most of the buildings look like this, with the exception of a couple of Art Deco structures–hardly modern, certainly not glass.

I also was annoyed by the geographic errors. If you’re going to name real-life streets, at least do it right. Rue du Verdun runs east-west, not north-south, and there isn’t a single modern glass building on it.

I had been meaning to read “Labyrinth” for years because it’s set in my adopted hometown, but just never got around to it. Now I regret it–I can’t get those hours of my life back (luckily, despite being depressingly long, it’s a fast read because it isn’t slowed down by substance). It was a hit, too–it came out at the same time as “The Da Vinci Code,” and is very similar, but not nearly as well-written. (Ouch.) It even was turned into a miniseries. Mosse has written a bunch of other books, including turning “Labyrinth” into a trilogy. My head hurts just thinking of it. They were bestsellers. So are Cheetohs.

Just around the corner from the previous photo.

As a cleanser, I read “The Year 1000,” by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. Really interesting. It’s been on my shelf for a long time–it came out in 1999–and the Y2K references haven’t aged well. But the historical stuff is downright fascinating. Right now, I’m deep in some well-written office politics in the guise of international intrigue: “Our Kind of Traitor,” by John Le Carré. He leans hard into the trope of the incredibly beautiful woman who is with a brilliant but unattractive man, but he’s such a great wordsmith that it’s worth it anyway. It was only when he died about a year ago, that I realized I’d never read any of his work. I’ve enjoyed a couple of his books now.

The ceiling in the movie theater, le Colisée.
And there’s a balcony!

On the watching front, I saw “The French Dispatch,” which was a lot of fun. It’s full of Easter eggs–probably worth a second viewing to catch more. I was nervous about going to the theater, but the audience numbered under a dozen, and all respected the mask mandate. I also went to “Carmen” for a really great live performance.

Dressed for “Carmen.”

Sorry for the long absence. I’ll try to come back soon with some French Christmas cheer and some French street style. Share with us what you’re reading, watching, cooking…recommendations are always welcome!

Cheese soufflé, so good. Recipe here.

40 thoughts on “The Merry Month of Frimaire

  1. A recipe for cheese soufflé? All is forgiven . 🙂
    I read “Labyrinth” years ago. It is every bit as bad as you say, maybe more. Rue du Verdun does indeed go east-west, or west-east; it takes perhaps 20 minutes to walk across town that way. I have, over time, written a number of critical book reviews, and this one would have tested my limits.
    Happy holidays of whatever sort you and your readers are planning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would have been even more scathing, but I packed the book away in anticipation of new bookshelves being installed, so I didn’t have access to my margin notes. It’s going to the bin, though.

      Like

  2. Good to read you back in action.
    Recently finished The Dressmaker of Khair Khana for book club next week. And filling the interim with Half the Sky (leaves me very angry). Both books reinforcing the issue of women as a sub-culture. I try to help via donations to specific charities that address the situations.
    Also reading more about our wastefulness in the way of fashion. The British magazine (more like a book) Selvedge has been a real inspiration, leading me to other books on the subject. I’ve adopted the mantras of- reuse, recycle, repair, remake. The women of other world countries have become very creative in using our cast-off clothing. I find it inspiring. My mother (of nine) made use of everything that came her way and taught us to do the same by her example. Hoping my 4 daughters and 8 granddaughters do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Over the years, as my knowledge of the “how to’s” of writing has increased, it becomes more and more difficult for me to pickup a book and read it all the way through without criticizing things like bad character development and grammar. This happens to most of the writers I know. It’s like a curse. Sometimes I wish I could return to the days when Nancy Drew held my interest, and I couldn’t wait to read the next book. xoxox, Brenda

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read plenty of goods ones, just not lately. “The Bitter Orange Tree” was good. “Chanson Douce” (The Perfect Nanny) was astounding–such spare writing that captured so much detail. Also rich character development.
      Grammatical errors are unforgivable, though. What are editors for?!

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    2. Heh. I write and I hang out with other writers. And editors. You have *no* idea how we can take apart a book in terms of style, character development, et cetera and so forth. And it’s all natural.
      It’s why I don’t do book groups. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My sympathies on wasting your time on Labyrinth. I hate books like that — fortunately I’ve never read that one, but I’ve read other ‘Da Vinci Code wannabes’. It reminds too me I hated Chocolat (Joanne Harris) from about page 2 and never understood why it got so much aclaim, although it’s a completely different sort of book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have another one to read, but in French, about secret societies and the grail and so on. Gotta do it–know the author. Da Vinci Code was OK as a movie because you had good actors and of course the location even if the story was hokey. In fact, the trailer I saw for Labyrinth had some fantastic shots of Carcassonne.

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  5. Years ago I started Labyrinth and found it so silly I quit after probably less than 100 pages and tossed in the bin. Likewise Da Vinci Code, an interesting idea written badly. I didn’t finish it either. I’ve gotten very good at throwing books away, I grew up in the era of books being sacred and you didn’t do that. Now I do it with pleasure!
    bonnie near carpentras

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not only don’t throw them away, but don’t dog-ear the pages, don’t write in the margins (I’m always amazed to see books with notes–I love it!), and read to the end even if it’s badly written. I’m loosening up and finished Labyrinth only because I intended to write about it. Viciously.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I turn down the pages now and don’t have to continue if I think its merde! How freeing…. but I do understand the reverence for books among older generations, they were scarce and expensive. My late cousin was a minor book collector (sadly quantity over quality) and wouldn’t even open a paperback fully for fear of breaking the spine …. oh dear …..
        bonnie in mazan

        Liked by 1 person

  6. So many books, so little time. Just finishing ‘Lab Girl’, a memoir of a botanist written by Hope Jahren. Truly eye-opening and entertaining. Before that, Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Evening Chorus, by Helen Humphreys (Canadian writer, amazing read) and the first tome of Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, a revelation which I absolutely loved. Let me know if you need books, I have so many on my shelves, happy to pop a few into the mail if you message me your address. Nice to read you again!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hullo ToF!! Thank you for the glorious pics – just look at that little arcade! So many delightful nooks and crannies in your beloved Carcassonne, I’ll never tire of what you capture for us armchair travellers 🙂

    You certainly took one for the team with “Labyrinth” and your excoriation was the best I’ve read of any woeful read. You made me larff! I’m still dragging my heels on a long-overdue review over at my own lair but, like any painful episode, time’s passing has certainly numbed the sense of indignation at those lost and wasted hours. I’m guilty of having read “Da Vinci Code” to the end at a time of my life when I had to soldier on to the end with any book picked up. The Reading Rules have changed but I still find it hard to toss aside any Improving Book.

    Lots of good reading around here but there’s a bit of a Victorian theme happening with my choices, so you might not be so tempted by my offerings. For inst. “Eminent Victorians” by olde Lytton Strachey, but a saucy recent-ish non-fiction “Victorians Undone” by Katheryn Hughes is chockful of delicious factoids and there’s plenty within to astonish and amuse.

    In fiction, I can recommend another Alice Thomas Ellis, ” The Inn at the Edge of the World” but she’s a writer who definitely polarises. A quick glance at Good Reads shows 1 or 5 stars by readers with not much between. Another 1 or 5 read is “A High Wind in Jamaica” by Richard Hughes. It’d been on my list for ages and I loved it but it suffers the usual criticisms of any old book with inappropriate-for-now language and mores.

    We saw “French Dispatch”, too, and I laughed along merrily at that one. Very enjoyable. I have a soft spot for Wes Anderson’s quirky eye but the older friends we went with were all a bit meh and wanted to know afterwards why I found it funny! Words eluded me, for how do you describe being tickled?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pipistrello, for the reading tips. There are a lot of jokes in “The French Dispatch” that can pass unnoticed (such as the town’s name, Blasé-sur-Ennui or little details from a France I glimpsed on my first trip, in 1985, before it was modernized away). As for 1 or 5s, a friend recently hated “Normal People,” which so many people loved. There’s a certain staring-at-a-car-crash fascination with continuing with a bad book.

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  8. I really enjoyed this post! Right now I’m reading “Growing up Patton” written by General Patton’s grandson Benjamin Patton. I’m a military history buff and am enjoying this behind the scenes look into the family. I took a long break from blogging and am jumping back in – good to read your post!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A bookseller friend in Massachusetts has recently recommended a novel about the Résistance in and around Foix and Ariège. I have no idea if it’s any good, but if anyone reads it, I’d be interested in reaction.

    Carolyn, Brancato, “The Night Belongs to the Maquis.” He says it is “both a story of the French Resistance (the Maquis) and a coming of age story set in the Pyrenees, beginning in 1939. And although it is fiction, it is firmly based on conversations the author had with resistance fighters long after the end of the war.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So lovely to see your post this morning! The photos are beautiful.

    I appreciate your views on the challenges of accepting change. I’m an older purist (also fellow grammar nerd) who struggled to understand why declaring one’s pronouns was a thing, or how a single person can be a “they,” until a younger blogger I admire pointed out that if everyone does it, it’s a way to normalize the idea. Rather like normalizing “Happy Holidays” instead of assuming that everyone you see during the month of December is a practicing Christian, and yet we know how THAT sets people off. (Perhaps they need more practice.)

    I’ve developed a terrible habit of reading the occasional free-for-Prime-members Kindle books, and they have been worth every penny spent. A wonderful recent read however was Hamnet (actual purchase from local brick-and-mortar bookstore), a historical novel about Shakespeare’s life. It’s beautifully written and relevant to these pandemic times.

    I love Wes Anderson films, but my husband is baffled by that sort of humor. I’ll have to trade him The French Dispatch for an afternoon of sci fi and a big bowl of popcorn. This has worked to our advantage for 37 years.

    Happy holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see the utility of e-books, but I really prefer paper. Everything bought either secondhand at used book stores or, if new or needs to be ordered, via one of the two independent bookstores in town. And of course, the public library is great. I’m not giving Amazon one penny. Good NYT story about how awful the empire is: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/03/technology/amazon-bookstore.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=Technology

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      1. I don’t disagree about Amazon, and I’m working to wean myself from its easy addiction. I’m not blind to the vicious cycle—the more business we take from local stores, the less stock they will carry, leading us to “justify” our reliance on online outlets.

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    2. Oh yes, HAMNET was a very powerful, touching but also frighteningly ‘actual’ read. And that power of words… I’m ALWAYS blown away by anything written by Maggie O’Farrell – she is one author I keep every book in my library. Be prepared to have your heart and soul burned by the raw findings on these pages, one has a feeling that Maggie was right there with those characters. Incredible.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m so glad to see a recent post from you. I hope you’ve been well.

    I’ll second the Join Us in France podcast.

    I just discovered Navigating the French, which starts with one French word. Host Emily Monaco and her guest take off from there. I enjoyed La Bise, Noir, and Coquette, but I really loved and learned a lot from Terroir with Fred Pouillon. Emily Monaco raises interesting questions and she calls herself a language nerd. Gotta love that.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Happy December! It is always nice to see a post from you! I started reading this post, then scrolled down to see its length, stopped went to make a chocolat and started again so that I could take the time to enjoy it. You write the most beautiful, well researched posts of anyone I read it is like reading a short story. I actually took notes to look a few things up!
    As for Labyrinth, I read it long ago, I can’t even remember if I liked it. I haven’t read anything good lately, mostly light, “beach reads” for entertainment. I am looking forward to your next post, I love Christmas in France! Have a wonderful week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I write long!
      Nothing wrong with beach reads. Just started “Normal People,” which is very good so far. And just finished “The Paladin,” which was so blatantly set up to be a movie (and it was made into one), a techie John LeCarré. Not a fan.

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  13. I will admit to rather enjoying Labyrinth, but not at all enjoying the sequel Sepulchre, and really enjoying Citadel (the final book in the trilogy) until it was as though the author remembered she had to write some timey-wimey stuff and it went a bit weird. But I will admit that it wasn’t the most literary of books! Easy holiday reading.
    For elegant writing I like Patrick Gale’s books. You might enjoy them. “Notes From an Exhibition” is very good. However, if I like Labyrinth, then maybe my recommendations count for naught!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have heard of “Notes From an Exhibition.” Putting it on the list. Just finished “The Paladin”–not so good, a pale John LeCarré imitation, though much better in writing and logic than Labyrinth–and have started “Normal People” by Sally Rooney, which I really am enjoying, though it makes me very sad.

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      1. Yes, please read Notes From An Exhibition. It’s one of the better books you can grab. i didn’t like everything from Patrick Gale but with this one he made it once more to my ‘must read’ list.

        Like

  14. I cannot OPEN your latest email BLOG POST?
    I shall try again………….
    YES!History does repeat itself!!
    The best book I have read in the last few months is called BREATH by a guy in San Francisco!We are only to breath through OUR NOSES NOT OUR MOUTH!I found it FASCINATING and am still looking for a breathing coach!
    AM way behind with the BLOGS as the ADS take up all the space on my emails………I need to spend time UNSUBSCRIBING!I DO and they still send to me!
    MERRY MERRY……………….Thank you always for the history lessons!
    XXX

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know why it doesn’t open! I just fill in the template–I have no idea how it works.
      Yes, I’ve read that you can put a little piece of medical tape on your mouth to help keep it closed (not tightly!) during the night, to make yourself breathe through your nose. I haven’t tried it yet because I always forget to buy medical tape.

      Like

      1. YES,BUT that might not be good for us beginners………..
        My girlfriend does that!
        There was no where to CLICK to READ THE REST OF THE POST……….XXX

        Like

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