I’ve slacked off a little this month: I didn’t write a separate France history review (though I did read one—two in fact) and I didn’t do a separate post for the food, which is a shame (mostly because Lizzy refused to pose with the macaroon I bought just for the occasion). So I’ll just add them to this wrap-up.
Anyway, like Italy, I now crave to go to France. So much history there, so many great people (as well as awful people) walked the streets. Here’s a virtual tour of that world:
I read both France: An Illustrated History by Lisa Neal and France: A History by Marshall B. Davidson. Why did I read two? Who knows. It just felt like the thing to do; I didn’t want to miss any interesting details.
So I’ve learned a few things about France this way:
- France is one of the rare countries that was an actual country for centuries. (Italy and Germany both only became countries at the end of the 1800s, making the United States of America older than both.) That being said, France was largely made of principalities and provinces that contained their own governing system and traditions, even if the king was the head honcho.
- France, or Gaul as it was called during Roman times, roughly made up the area that is France today. So although it’s altered and changed over the centuries depending on the circumstances, it’s mostly been what it is now.
- Wine was a thing in France since the time of the Romans.
- After Rome fell and Gaul foundered, Charlemagne (and his father and grandfather before him) pulled it back together. The following kings were constantly expanding and losing territory.
- Normandy played a surprisingly large role in ancient (and more modern—D-Day—history). For instance, the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, invaded England in 1066 and became king. Then his lands in Normandy became something of a colony, or at least property, of the crown. This caused huge problems later on. The Hundred Years’ War in 1337-1453 was fought partially because France was trying to rest this, along with other pieces of land, from English control. They finally succeeded, thanks in part to Joan of Arc.
- France and England have had a contentious relationship forever. They fought over land, religion (Protestant England vs. Catholic France), succession—there was a lot of intermarrying among the royalty of Europe—and so forth. In fact, the Hundred Years’ War was also fought because King Edward III of England laid claim to the French throne despite King Philippe VI of France claiming it. The two men were first cousins once removed.
- King Henry IV made the “chicken in every pot” statement and other phrases that we take for granted (or at least older people—I haven’t heard many).
- The Renaissance, Classical Age, and Enlightenment spanned the 1500s-1700s (about one for each century). Amazing things happened, amazing artists and writers created, and amazing science was delved into. Basically humans learned to be human again.
- With this increase in knowledge and wisdom, the peasants of feudal France started to want better for themselves (and who could blame them), an attitude culminating in the French Revolution, Reign of Terror, and Napoleon’s reign. In fact, it didn’t really begin to reach fruition until the French republic took root in the late 1800s.
- The French republic changed because of World War II. The Vichy government during the war was awful (my personal opinion), but the people and French Resistance were awesome.
- The years of German occupation marked France indelibly.
Because France has been a shifting country made up of kingdoms that popped into and out of its borders, it has food, unique to certain regions, that’s amazing. And some that is not (I saw this nightmare dish that I can’t even begin to describe).
Cooking: I opted to make coq au vin and soupe à l’oignon (a sort of French onion bread pudding soup). Both were delicious:
Some people aren’t fond of all the sauces in French food…I can’t even fathom that sort of attitude. What makes chicken with onions, mushrooms, and bacon better? Gravy!
Eating Out: After some serious pondering, I decided to go to Eva’s Boulangerie for French food. It turned out to be the perfect choice. Not only does Eva’s offer pastries, but a selection of light breakfast and lunch items as well, so that I could try many types of authentic French food.
Naturally, I had a croissant (this one chocolate) because it’s a croissant, the epitome of French food, and because eating the pastry flake by flake is strangely enjoyable. Then I went with a croque, a piece of toasted homemade bread with béchamel sauce and gruyere cheese. This one was a mushroom croque, so it had shiitake mushrooms and sundried tomatoes on it. The famous croque-madame has an egg on top. Very good. Very French (one of the people with me had been to France so could confirm this).
What France Has Taught Me:
I learned a lot about France this month, and not all of it history; I learned about the culture and traditions. I learned that…
- Class differences were (and are!) a very real thing, thanks to The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Madame Bovary.
- France and Great Britain have a VERY complicated history, seen in An Army at Dawn and my two histories.
- Where the French military failed during World War II, the common people succeeded: A 15-year-old spy (one of many) in For Freedom and a blind girl with guts in All the Light We Cannot See.
In short, the French are dynamic and complicated and amazing. Pretty much a recurring theme as I’ve been exploring the world through literature (and food).