Posts Tagged ‘france’

Best of the Blog: 2009

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

We’re celebrating our first year of the Smithsonian Journeys blog! We love traveling, but we love sharing our stories even more. Take a look at some of our favorites from 2009.

From all of us here at Smithsonian Journeys, we wish you a Happy New Year!

Self portrait: Petra  Photo by Richard Kurin

Self portrait: Petra Photo by Richard Kurin

Richard Kurin, Under Secretary of Art, History, and Culture here at the Smithsonian, blogged his entries from our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey around the World tour. Read his testimony that cultural diversity is alive and well in what seems like an increasingly globalized world.

A boy in Bhutan

A boy in Bhutan

Amy Kotkin, Director of Smithsonian Journeys, has been around the world several times over. But traveling from the National Mall to Bhutan had a few surprises. People in Bhutan speak… English?

The tomb of Ramses II on the West Bank

The tomb of Ramses II on the West Bank

Senior Program Manager Jean Glock will never tire of traveling to Egypt, home of some of the greatest archaeological finds the world has ever known. Here’s why.

Mont -St-Michel sits dramatically off the coast of Normandy

Mont -St-Michel sits dramatically off the coast of Normandy

Explore Mont-St-Michel with Sadie McVicker, Education Manager, who beautifully illustrates walking through the gates of the abbey as strolling back in time.

Future Racer   Photo by Alyssa Bobst

Future Racer Photo by Alyssa Bobst

If you adore animals, you’ll love Alyssa Bobst’s personal experience with the dogs and mushers from the Iditarod in Alaska. As our Program Support Coordinator, she’s amazing juggling multiple projects. With 16 dogs on each team and 67 teams competing, she found her calling assisting mushers with their dogs as a volunteer right before the competition.

Our commitment to World Heritage sites is serious business, but traveling to them is so much fun. Here are some of our favorite sites from around the world.

Which World Heritage site will you visit in 2010?

Q & A on France, with Dr. Kim Munholland

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Study Leader Kim Munholland is Professor Emeritus from the University of Minnesota. A specialist on modern France, Dr. Munholland has published several books on French history, with an emphasis upon French-American relations in the twentieth century. Munholland is Study Leader on our France Through the Ages tour. Here,  Journeys Program Manager Sadie McVicker sits down with him for some insight on his long career in historic preservation. Click here for more information on Dr. Munholland and traveling with him.

The fortified walls of medieval Carcassonne, France.
The fortified walls of medieval Carcassonne, France.

Sadie McVicker: You have extensively researched and written on the subject of French-American relations in the twentieth century. Which aspect or historical turning point of French-American relations do you find most fascinating and why?

Kim Munholland: There are several moments in French-American relations that have caught my attention. Recently I have been working on the past two hundred years of this relationship, beginning with the French assistance during the American War for Independence, producing a “Lafayette syndrome” in which Americans often define a special relationship that has existed since Lafayette fought beside George Washington—and came to regard our first president as a father figure. Yet this positive image has often been challenged when American and French interests have diverged or been marked by tension. On the positive side, there is an American fascination with French culture from the country’s intellectual life to its enjoyment of everyday pleasures. This is seen in the lives of American exiles, who have sought a second home in France, particularly Paris. At the same time there have been official, more political differences between the two countries that too often behave as “hostile allies.” In this latter area there are several moments that can be seen as turning points over more than two centuries, but the most important was the relationship that developed after the French defeat of 1940 and wartime relations, particularly differences between Charles de Gaulle and Franklin Roosevelt. This conflict was a central concern of my book, Rock of Contention: Free French and Americans at War in New Caledonia, 1940-1945. These wartime differences established a pattern that has marked French-American disagreements and misunderstandings since then.

SM: Another of your areas of expertise is how the wine industry was impacted by the Vichy regime. Can you please give a brief overview of how much the Vichy regime did effect the evolution of the French wine industry?

KM: Vichy’s policy of collaboration with Germany during WWII created serious problems for the French wine industry when the Germans insisted that a large amount of the great French wines, particularly Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy, be reserved for the German market, including the German armed forces. The French realized that they would have to sell their wines to the Germans, but to protect their most valuable wines French winemakers began hiding some of their best vintages so that they would have a supply to rebuild their trade after the war. German taste for French wines also meant that the great wine cellars, such as at the Tour d’Argent in Paris, were in danger of depletion. Demands of high-ranking German officials (Hitler was a teetotaler) such as Herman Goering, could have had disastrous consequences for these great cellars. Again, a process of hiding occurred in self-defense. Another impact was that German demands for copper for their war industries meant that French vintners lacked copper sulfate, which was used to protect the vines from mildew and other diseases. This meant a drop in wine production, making it even more difficult to meet German demands. Finally, to increase agricultural production, Vichy issued regulations requiring larger vineyards to tear up ten percent of their land planted in grapes in order to increase supplies of vegetables and fruits. Since the war, French wine industry has recovered, and we will be traveling through some of the great, if less well-known, wine regions from Languedoc to the Loire valley.

SM: The France through the Ages itinerary is comprised of one beautiful and historically significant site after another; which site visits are you most looking forward to visiting with Smithsonian travelers and why?

KM:  There are many wonderful places to see on this trip, beginning in Carcassonne, but the one that I am looking forward to with great anticipation is Rocamadour. The site is absolutely sensational and made a lasting impression the first time that I visited it many years ago as a graduate student in French history. At that time we could visit the caves at Lascaux, to be closed shortly thereafter. Thus, it will be a visit filled with nostalgia for me. It also will enable me to rediscover an earlier interest in Medieval France since Rocamadour was a pilgrimage site. Equally interesting is the town of Albi. The Cathedral of Saint Cecile is one of the most interesting in all of France, very hard to categorize and should surprise everyone who has not seen it before. Albi has lent its name to one of the most bloody episodes of the Middle Ages, the Albigensian Crusade against the heretical Cathar sect that had its roots in the region and was supported by the powerful counts of Toulouse.

SM: For a city so renowned for its scientific and engineering industries (aerospace and high tech), Toulouse has a rich literary and artistic history as well, personified by Antoine St. Exupéry and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. What led Toulouse to excel in these areas?

KM: The emergence of Toulouse as a center for the aeronautic and high tech industries has its origins in France’s impressive economic recovery after World War II. Successive French governments were determined to modernize France, particularly in the area of aircraft production. Key to this program was government support and encouragement to the aeronautical engineer and entrepreneur, Marcel Dassault, whose company began to produce some of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. This program successfully sought to reverse an image of France as the technological inferior of Germany, often cited as a cause for the country’s military defeat in 1940. The climate of Toulouse is well suited, perhaps similar to Los Angeles, to the development and testing of aircraft prototypes. The result was a spectacular growth of French aircraft development and production, leading to the location of the main assembly point for the Airbus. An advanced electronics sector developed alongside the aerospace industry of Toulouse. But it has not been all technology and modernity that gives Toulouse its claim to fame. Toulouse has long had a strong cultural tradition dating back to the time of the troubadours and the days of Raymond of Toulouse, who encouraged the arts in his capital city. In addition to its literary and artistic richness, Toulouse is home to a major symphony orchestra.

SM: You spent several years living in various areas of France. What aspects of la vie en France do you miss the most?

KM: There are many things to appreciate about France, its monuments, cathedrals, the beauty of Paris itself, the variety of its regions and countryside, but the one thing that I most miss is the grace of everyday life: the pleasures of mealtimes and conversation, exploring the bookstores and galleries of Paris and just the sounds and smells of Paris, transformed when one leaves Paris for the relative peace of Sunday in the countryside, moments of leisure and pleasure caught in the paintings of the impressionists. We will no doubt experience such enjoyment when we take meals during our travels through the spectacular French countryside. What better place to indulge and savor the sensory pleasures of the French countryside, though, than at Giverny, Claude Monet’s garden that was his home, studio, and site for the creation of his great masterpiece, Les Nymphéas (now restored in the Orangeries in Paris) during the last years of his life). Monet not only created a world of color in his garden and on his canvasses, but his home at Giverny with its kitchen, dining room and living space provides a strong sense of what middle-class leisure was like with many meals among friends at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. One can understand from a visit to this site how this way of life attracted an American colony of expatriate artists and writers to France, and it is this sense that, like many other Americans, I always feel when I come to France. Our visit to Giverny will provide this marvelous impression of a graceful and civilized way of life to be found in France.

SM:  An especially poignant day of this program will be spent visiting the D-Day landing beaches, the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach in Colleville, and Ste-Mere-Eglise, where the 82nd Airborne Division successfully parachuted on June 5, 1944. As an expert on Occupied France, please describe your first impressions when you visited these sites.

KM: Although I have visited the Normandy beaches, the cemetery and memorial to the Allied landings many times, each time I am as awe-struck as I was on the first visit several years ago. The site itself is dramatic, located above a now tranquil Omaha beach that was so bloody on June 6, 1944. There are many American cemeteries and memorials in France, dating back to the first world war, but this one captures in a deeply moving way the sacrifices of so many American soldiers who came to France to fight a just cause but never returned home. Recent improvements to the site in which one approaches the cemetery from the cliff above the beach gives added drama to the experience. In addition, we will have an opportunity to compare the invasion of 1944 with that of 1066 when we visit the Bayeux tapestry that narrates the Norman invasion of England in one of the great works of medieval art and another glory of French culture. Separated by nearly nine centuries, the museum at Omaha beach and the preserved tapestry both recount tales of bravery, sacrifice and determination. Miraculously, the Bayeux Cathedral was spared by the Allied bombings in preparation for the D-Day landings. Bayeux was not only the departure point for William the Conquerer in 1066, but it was the town that received General de Gaulle on his return to French soil, only one week after D-Day in 1944, to assert his authority and begin the process of restoring a democratic France after four years of occupation.

What part of France would you most like to visit? Share below.

Click here to join Dr. Munholland in France.

Click here for all travel to France.

Photo: A French Château for the Romantic

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
The romantic Chenonceau is one of the best known and most visited Loire chateaux. Photo: MLDF/Daniel Philips

The romantic Chenonceau is one of the best known and most visited Loire chateaux. Photo: MDLF/Daniel Philippe

Built on the river Cher, where the unique beauty of its architecture reflects in the water, the Château de Chenonceau is one of France’s most romantic chateaux. Surrounded by a formal garden and park, the château is remarkable for its architecture and history as well as the fine quality of its interior collections. Built on the site of an old mill on the Cher River in the Loire Valley, the first generation castle was first mentioned in writing in the 11th century. Known as the château de femmes for the strong female impression made by its many woman inhabitants, the château is a mixture of late Gothic and Renaissance style.

View this lovely and romantic castle for yourself on our journeys to France.

What’s your favorite romantic or striking castle?

Video: Carcassonne and Edith Piaf

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Carcassonne is a medieval town with the longest city walls in Europe. Sitting atop a hill overlooking vast green plains stretching to the Pyrénées, it boasts battlements and ramparts dating to the 1st-century Romans. The fortress at Carcassone was restored in 1853 by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Here, listen to Edith Piaf, France’s best known chanteuse, sing “L’himme a L’amour” as you enjoy the sights and scenes of Carcassonne.

Want to experience this ancient city for yourself? Click here to learn more about reserving your place on our France Through the Ages tour, where you’ll visit Carcassonne, the caves at Lascaux, and Mont St.-Michel, among other famous French places.

Click here to learn more about tours to France.

A Proustian Moment at Mont-St-Michel

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Sadie McVicker is International Program Manager at Smithsonian Journeys, where she oversees tours to a variety of international destinations. She earned her Master’s Degree in International Relations from L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, while living and working in France for six years. She has worked for several diplomatic missions, including the Embassy of Japan in Paris, as well as those of Singapore and Morocco here in D.C. Click here for more on Sadie.

Cathedral at Mont-St-Michel. Photo: Courtesy of FlickR user Tc7

Cathedral at Mont St-Michel. Photo: Courtesy of Flickr user Tc7

Few writers have more poignantly addressed the power of memory than Marcel Proust, in his A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time). In it, he described the sensation of a sudden overpowering memory of his childhood that he experienced unexpectedly while tasting a madeleine cookie: “The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it…[yet] as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me… immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents.”

With that one morsel of madeleine, Proust unlocked and recounted an incredibly vivid and moving series of memories. I had a very similar experience while visiting the magnificent Mont St-Michel with my mom when I was living in France. We took a train from Paris to Rennes, and then completed the journey to Mont-St-Michel by car, across coastal farmland in full mustard-flower and through little villages. We arrived at the parking area, near the end of the causeway, and below the now-imposing island and majestic structure reaching heavenward. The tidal flats were fully exposed. There were expansive puddlesin the parking lot and warning signs about the fate of vehicles left there during high tide. The tides of the region are famously and dangerously erratic. Indeed, they change so rapidly that Victor Hugo brought them to life by describing them as moving “a la vitesse d’un cheval au gallop” (as swiftly as a galloping horse). We walked a footpath to the gate of the island complex, stopping to examine stranded tidal pools.

Once inside the gate, we were instantly transported back in time several hundred years! We began the winding walk up, up, up, along the Rue Grande, in a magnificent ascendance, from the gate and entry courtyard to the grand stairs and abbey entrance. In that stone cathedral at the top of the world, it felt as though we were immersed in the great age of cathedral building. We attended Mass at high noon in the great abbey church, in its final form a Gothic cathedral, at the top of Mont-St-Michel. Then we dove further and further back in time and into the history and prehistory of Western civilization as we explored the crypts and chapels underneath.

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