Notre Dame du Haut – a designer church

notredameduhaut

<Photo of designer church Notre Dame du Haut, in France'>

What you’re looking at is a chapel designed by Franco-Swiss designer Le Corbusier. Standing on a hill in Ronchamp, Notre Dame du Haut was finished in 1954, replacing a chapel that had been destroyed during the Second World War. The site has been religious for a very long time: the building before the destroyed chapel was a fourth-century chapel.

<Photo of interior windows at Notre Dame du Haut, in France'>The grounds have some old graves in one tiny corner of the land, and some old foundations of what was perhaps the old chapel are visible not far from the current chapel. The bells are on the outside, dangling from a metallic support further away on the same hill. The grounds are quiet and relaxing.

A large pyramid stands on the other side of the chapel — a memorial to those who lost their lives during the war, and it doubles as a high view point of the chapel. From the top of the pyramid, part of the roof (pictured on the right in the photo above) looks like the bottom of an ark.

The roof is slightly raised to allow a line of light inside the chapel. The many small windows provide a light that is far more spectacular in real life than any photo, and there are nooks within the chapel where natural light has been used in imaginative and impressive ways.

<Photo of stained glass at Notre Dame du Haut, in France'>I mistakenly went to this chapel with a designer friend. He was happy to finally see the church he had studied at design school. He was less happy when I picked on those windows. As glorious as the design is on both the exterior and the interior, there was something that let those windows down.

First of all, the primary colours reminded me of an old Studio Line advertisement.

I’m sorry! I know I’ve just offended a large population of the world by not agreeing that everything about this church is amazing. I just couldn’t help but hear that Studio Line jingle in my head when looking at these windows!

Interestingly, these windows are not stained glass: they’re hand-painted enamel. The world is also supposed to be in awe of these techniques, and I’m probably that one idiot who just doesn’t get it. I think they look like windows with cellophane on them, like you see in kindergartens. The hand-painted flowers and blobs were probably very difficult to get just right, but they just added to that kids’ painting feeling for me. Again, I’m sorry, designers (and I know one designer who might not be speaking to me after reading this!) and anyone else who is offended by my lack of appreciation.

Apart from those points, the windows are indeed impressive. They are of different thicknesses (like the close-up pictured), sizes and positioning so that the light reflects into the church in different ways. Unlike most religious monuments, the chapel and its grounds invoked in me a genuine tranquility. I hope that makes amends to all designers out there. After all, churches are supposed to be predominantly spiritual, aren’t they? Chapel win.

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Champagne bottle cap collection is a thing

<Champagne bottle cap swap advertisement in La clusaz>
This sign translates to ‘Swap meet for Champagne bottle caps’.

Yes, that’s apparently a thing.

Really? Champagne caps?

Forget stamp collecting or coin swapping; here in France, it’s all about the booze.

I’ve seen the caps at vide greniers and wondered if anyone ever buys them. Apparently, there is an interest! Who knew?

It’s apparently popular enough to warrant an advertisement on the welcome board at the entrance of La Clusaz. Yes, on the 5th of October, you too can swap all those champagne lids you’ve collected with fellow enthusiasts. I’ll see you there (no, I won’t).

 

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French ads, dubbed in French

Le Franco Phoney

French TV excels at dubbing over original-language movies in French. Why bother with subtitles when you can talk over world-class actors? But it’s not just the world-class actors who are dubbed. Take this McDonald’s advertisement. It advertises Toy Story DVDs. There is no dubbing yet, but hang in there while I explain. Here’s the ad if you want to see it, otherwise, skip over it (those receiving this in their inbox will need to click through to see the video):

The driver starts ordering her food when a kid pops his head out of the back window and starts ordering what he wants. I don’t have kids, but if I did and my kid interrupted me with his Maccas order, I’m pretty sure I’d subsequently cancel his order and eat mine in front of him to teach him a lesson.

But enough of my poor parenting skills. If the interrupting kid isn’t bad enough, McDonald’s rehashed this ad recently, but it’s no longer advertising Toy Story DVDs.

They’ve employed the same kid to dub himself.

The entire script has changed, and now the kid moves his lips with different words coming out. You can enjoy it here (or click through if you’re reading this via email):

I asked some French friends what they think and the general consensus was “bof” (a verbal shrug). Dubbing is so common in France that cheap rehashes by companies as big as McDonald’s doesn’t raise an eyebrow.

Let’s get back to that interrupting kid. It seems I’m not the only one who doesn’t like him. In the comments section of the last YouTube video, someone has commented: “Quel impoli ce gamin ! je lui mettrais 3 claques ! on ne coupe pas la parole au grand !! et cette serveuse !! de quoi je me mêle ! non mais quelle gourde ! c’est quoi se resto qui vient foutre la merde dans l’éducation de nos enfants !!!

Basically, the first part translates to: “How rude is this kid! I’d give him three slaps! We do not interrupt adults!!”, followed by insulting the waitress and then a lot of swearing.

That’s a top rant, and one I’m on board with after my own rant in English. What about you?

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Shopping bargains?

frenchsupermarketstickers

<Photo of spring strawberries in August in France'>Do you collect stamps at supermarkets? The ones that give you a discount to some big brand name as long as you’ve spent hundreds at the supermarket offering the great deal?

I remember my mum collecting stamps for a new set of posh crockery. We shifted our old seventies brown plates and bowls to the back of the cupboard and moved into the eighties with beige, patterned crockery. It took her months to save those stamps so that she could buy the full set, and I’m pretty sure she had to spend thousands of Australian dollars at that supermarket.

Things aren’t that different here in France. There’s always some sticker on offer at most supermarkets. Pictured is the current offer for Pyrex at Carrefour. The receipt shows how many stickers the check-out chick is due to dole out to each customer. You can see that I was supposed to receive 26. How many did I get?

210.

I was given 210 stickers. That’s more than the Pyrex sticker book can even hold!

This happens every time I nod for the stickers on offer, so it makes me wonder if these deals are really fooling anyone into believing they’re getting a bargain. On one hand, I don’t have to spend all my money at Carrefour to benefit from their special offers. On the other hand, if I were to buy any of these Pyrex dishes, I’d be spending additional money at Carrefour anyway, so do they really care if the stickers are thrown en masse to all their customers?

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Ricard jugs and vide greniers

frenchricardjug

<Photo of Ricard jugs at a vide grenier in Le Grand Bornand, France'>

Let’s start with a few statements.

1. Ricard is a popular drink in France.
2. Vide grenier sales (car boot sales or trash and treasures) are popular in France.
3. At least 10% of all stands at a vide grenier must be selling Ricard jugs.

<Photo of glass Ricard jugs also on offer at the Le Grand Bornand vide grenier, France'>I’m pretty sure #3 is the law in France.

Go to any vide grenier in France and I guarantee you will find a good variety of Ricard paraphernalia, ranging from heavy pottery jugs through to gaudy plastic ashtrays.

Ricard is an aniseed-based alcohol that’s popular in France, and it seems that every French household has nicked a jug from their local bar at some point, then realised that it looks like a nicked jug from a bar and decided to get rid of it at a vide grenier. The trouble is that everyone has the same idea.

<Photo of glass Ricard jugs also on offer at the Le Grand Bornand vide grenier, France'>Here’s the perfect example. At the end of  July, Chinaillon —a village up the road from Le Grand Bornand town centre — hosts a large vide grenier. It’s an interesting one, with original cow artwork up for offer and almost anything else you can imagine. I came away with old vinyl records, but that’s another story for another day.

Today’s story is all about Ricard ware.

These jugs, carafes and ashtrays were almost certainly freebies, yet people are trying to sell them — and for much more than the expected 50 cents. Do they ever sell? Judging by the amount I’ve seen at various vide greniers, no, they don’t.

The Ricard jug is, in fact, a gauge. Yes. They’re a form of currency exchange. Rather than show interest in the product you actually want, simply ask the  owner how much for their Ricard jug. Based on the price, you’ll get an idea of whether their prices are ridiculously high or just the standard over-inflated prices that people demand at vide greniers. Once you’ve established which stand holders are offering the best prices, you can go in for the kill on the items you want. Remember to haggle, haggle, haggle.

And when you’ve bargained your price, I dare you to ask them to bung in a Ricard jug for free.

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Confusing weather for plants

strawberries

<Photo of spring strawberries in August in France'>After more than a month of rainy weather here in the French Alps, we’re having a second spring! The sun has timidly arrived, and the plants are confused.

Pictured are some strawberries in my strawberry patch. The plants normally flower in May and October only. It’s now August and I’m picking strawberries every day. My bulbs for tulips and daffodils are resprouting and the geraniums on my balcony are almost dead from being drenched day and night.

My garden isn’t alone. People are already out collecting mushrooms two months earlier than usual. This is the oddest summer ever.

Although I normally try to talk about the quirky side of French culture, this crazy weather has shown me that one aspect of the French culture is far more similar to the English culture than I ever imagined.

Handy weather phrases in French

One of the only good things about having so much rain is learning some of the more interesting weather-related phrases in French. Here are some of my favourites:

FR: Il pleut comme vache qui pisse.
EN: It’s raining like a cow weeing.

FR: Il pleut des cordes.
EN: It’s raining ropes.

FR: Il fait un temps de chien/cochon.
EN: It’s dogs’ weather/It’s pigs’ weather).

FR: Il pleut il mouille c’est la fête à la grenouille
EN: It rains, it’s wet: it’s party time for frogs
(That last one is from a children’s song, but adults quote it sometimes)

The French are talking about the weather. When I greet a colleague, the weather seems to crop up in our initial small talk every time. People on the street gruffly sigh and shake their heads at each other in mutual sadness about more rain hitting their umbrellas. The weather is even making headlines, with tourism down all over France. Basically, this feels like England. Nobody can get past the weather!

While England has been basking in sunny, warm summer days, I wonder if English people are still talking about the weather. Perhaps they’re talking instead about all the fun things they’re doing in the sun. Perhaps that’s the key: if you can’t do anything because of bad weather, you may as well talk about the weather, right? If nothing else, I’ve learnt some fantastic weather-related phrases in French. Party time for frogs, anyone?

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The French love affair with English words

Did you know that France is the world’s most popular country for tourism? Despite their reputed gruffness, the French population must be doing something right, right? France is a proud nation of people who (sometimes illogically) support regional food and wine, get a little arty farty at times, and make me feel like a complete frump in comparison to their natural chic.

<Photo of French food, 'bun's'>Their approach to language is no different. Who doesn’t love the sound of a French voice whooshing effortlessly through sentences? The rest of the world loves it and the French know it. They’re keen to preserve their language, as I’ve mentioned before with the Talkie Walkie (seriously) and the Academie français. Regardless, there’s a growing love of mixing English words into sentences. I’ve heard French friends joke, putting various English words in sentences about their days on the snow like the popular French skiers and boarders do, like ‘Je ride switch avec les skis plus fat’ (“I ride switch with fat skis”).

Even the media has let the anglais creep in. Take the TV show about teenagers, S.O.D.A (that’s ‘ados‘ — French for adolescents backwards).  The show’s main teenage character, Kev Adams, loves throwing English words and phrases into his conversation.

<Photo of French food, 'Penne Ball's'>Love it or hate it, English has worked its way into French culture. Well, franglais, at least. In their attempt to be cool and down with the kids, McCain came up with a fast snack for hungry kids, called ‘Bun’s’. That’s right, they’ve used a possessive apostrophe to make it look even more English, even though it’s completely wrong. The picture on the packaging doesn’t sell the product to me, but on the off chance they’re tasty, you could say that they’re nice buns. McCain have managed to name a product with a word that not only makes no sense in any language but is also a double entendre. Well done, McCain. Nice buns.

Panzani went one step better. They’ve matched McCain on the pointless apostrophe usage, and upped the anatomy from bum to crown jewels. Yes, now you can eat balls (or ‘ball’s’). Can any native English speaker eat these and not think really wrong thoughts? Days (or ‘Day’s’?) like this, I’m glad I’m a vegetarian.

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Ten reasons to visit Prapic

Photo of Prapic village and the huge mountains all around

Photo of sheep in PrapicHidden near Gap is the tiny, aging village of Prapic. Once a thriving town on a main Roman route before Christ, the village has survived centuries despite rockslides and avalanches from the peaks all around. So massive are those peaks that the village sees no sunlight from mid-December to mid-January.

Alas, the population is aging, which is no surprise given it’s stuck at the very end of a valley with no other way out. Lucien Patry wrote a book about Prapic, and reading about its shrinking population was disheartening. Thankfully, there’s nothing sad about visiting the village, and there are lots of reasons to visit.

1. Truly breathtaking views
Even the sheep have an amazing view! Every direction provides postcard-worthy scenery, whether it’s a tumbling waterfall, distant snow or the fields of wild flowers.

2. Go hiking in summer
The area is well marked for hikers, with easy both walks on stony, wide roads and mountain adventures for serious hikers. I managed the easy, hour-long flat walk (I’ll blame the altitude for being out of breath).

3. Explore the village
Out of peak season, the village is pretty much empty. I went in May and I think one of the two restaurants was open in the morning, but had closed by lunchtime — when our large group was starving after our wild walk (okay, the easy, flat walk). We managed to explore the outside of the restaurant, looking for signs of life. There were none. It did allow us to check out the local craftmanship of the buildings without feeling obliged to hurry along. There’s some innovative uses of local materials.

Photo of horses by the Drac Noir4. Sample the water
The Drac Noir river is home to freshwater fish — and horses. Why bother providing a water tank when the horses can drink the freshest, coolest water around. Taste the water for yourself, or dip a toe in and try not to scream as it freezes off.

5. Test the no-flies theory
Folklore says that Prapic is so close to the end of the earth that even the flies don’t go there. Is it true? If only!

6. Watch marmots from the car
Marmots are those mythical creatures that I wrote about soon after starting this blog. This valley is so empty, they play right by the side of the road. Simply stop your car on the way to or out from Prapic, where the rocks line both sides of the road, and wait for the action to start. Marmot-lover heaven.

Photo of a local poet's grave in Prapic7. Visit a poet’s grave
A local Prapic boy became a teacher, and after the war, he refused to go to Paris for further training. His (forced) very early retirement signalled his career as a shepherd who spent his days writing poetry. He loved the area so much that he was buried under this massive rock, pictured (the dark square in the bottom right corner is the entrance).

8. Feel lost
Feel adventurous but really not ready to climb Everest? Prapic is so devoid of people that you can easily imagine you’re much further from civilisation than you actually are. Simply walk off one of those walking tracks and plop yourself down in a field. Watch out for any marmots.

9. Enjoy carless streets
The village has a large parking and camping area a few minutes’ walk away, so only the handful of locals drive through the few streets of the town. I saw a tractor and no cars the day I visited. This makes a great place for energetic kids and dogs who have no road sense. One less thing to worry about on an outing.

Photo of a local poet's grave in Prapic10. Uncover the mystery church
Leaving town, we stopped to watch some marmots playing on the road, and I noticed this ruin of a church. The cross and some columns are the only things recognisable amongst the roads and growth. I regret not reading Mr Patry’s book in more detail, as it no doubt provided the history to the ruined church. Did it succumb to a natural disaster such as flooding? Was it flattened during a war? Did the locals just decide to build a new one up the road? If you know the answer, please leave a comment.

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Discovering the gems of France

Photo of the Musique En Stock festival in Cluses

The river running through Cluses town centre
French sushi options
French Indian English translation about food quality

Despite living in France for years, I’m amazed at how much there is left to discover right on my doorstep. The perfect example is the Musiques En Stock festival in Cluses. I only found out about the festival when a friend mentioned he was looking forward to seeing Australian band John Butler Trio.

Cluses is a town about forty minutes from La Clusaz. It’s not a tiny place, but it’s far smaller than Annecy. That makes a freebie, ecologically-minded festival even more surprising — especially one that draws acts such as Midlake, The Veils and Nada Surf. With the view of the rugged mountains near Mont Blanc and a mineral-rich river flowing nearby, the festival offered easy access by train, bus and car pooling/parking, two stages; festival memorabilia, food stands, other stalls, and a kids’ entertainment area almost as big as the rest of the festival.

As a music lover, I should have already known about this festival. How have I missed it? France is full of surprising events and landmarks that are simply overlooked I guess.

Although the food was limited to about 10 stands, it was great to see sushi and Indian food amongst the more traditional French options. Both have been adapted to French tastes, with the sushi stand offering banana and Nutella maki and Spéculos (a French cinnamon biscuit) maki for dessert.

Meanwhile, the Indian stand offered entirely vegetarian food! It’s hard to find a restaurant around these parts that offers decent spicy food, and this one was not apologetic about the lack of spices. Quite the opposite: the stand advertised “best qwality” (sic) food with “no piquant” (spices) that would leave a “good feeling inside”. I can confirm that both the food and the music festival left me with a good feeling inside (and spices were available separately). Bring on next year!

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Surely this is like selling fridges to Eskimos

Blue cheese in France

Photo of blue cheese in FranceFrench cheese is loved throughout the world for its high quality and taste. It seems the stinkier the better, and the farms around here in La Clusaz are testament to just how stinky cheese caves can be. When my friends and family ask me to bring cheese to them, Roquefort blue cheese is up there with the most requested varieties. On top of that, no French cheese platter would be complete without a wedge of Roquefort.

You can imagine my surprise when, last week, I spotted these British blue cheeses in a French supermarket. Sacré cœur! There’s been an influx of cheddar varieties, but I never expected to see a blue cheese other than Roquefort on French supermarket shelves. It turns out that the Claxstone Smooth Blue is a pretty popular cheese too, winning the Supreme Champion award at last year’s Nantwich international cheese awards.

But will the French buy it?

My first thoughts were that they wouldn’t, because it would be like Brits buying a Cheddar-like cheese made in France. Surely this is like selling fridges to Eskimos! Then I remembered just how hungry the French are for cheese. If anyone can judge the quality of a cheese, it’s your average French person. While I’m still struggling to figure out which way I’m meant to cut that first piece of cheese on the platter and whether it’s one that should have the crust removed, my French friends have usually sampled all the cheeses and are onto round two. If it’s not already clear, I’m as sophisticated as a Mini Babybel when it comes to cheese. What do I know?

Do you think the French will embrace it?

 

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France Vegatarian - website for vegetarians and vegans in France

Website for vegetarians and vegans in France