blog-header
Click here to subscribe

History, Culture, Traditions and the Arts

The Unusual and Not-So-Secret Brotherhoods of France

She wears a leprechaun green hat, her velvet cape wrapped around her body in the cold. Around her neck hangs an olive green ribbon, holding up a bronze medallion. The operative word is olive. Meet Madame Laget, one of the few women in the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Olive Tree, a not-so-secret organization…

Read More

What the Heck is a European Capital of Culture?

And what does that have to do with a bunch of cows migrating across downtown Marseille? Plenty. Because the transhumance  – the migration of herds between pastures – was staged during Marseille’s tenure as European Capital of Culture for 2013. Yes, culture, one of those terms so broad it could strangle you. It can mean the arts… painting, theater, dance, poetry,…

Read More

My Accidental Dinner Date with Royalty

I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I thrust one out to shake his, but that didn’t feel quite right. I hung my arms by my side and that felt worse. Finally I compromised. I clasped my hands together in front of me, waiting for a sign from each of the white-clad Arabs…

Read More

How We Celebrate Bastille Day in France

Bastille Day is July 14 – but you’ll find the French celebrating several days beforehand. Like this. The Fête Nationale, as it’s called here, or le 14 juillet, is the perfect excuse for a long weekend, often combined with the summer holidays. The weekend before it is usually labelled ‘black’, a dangerous driving day during which everyone…

Read More

The Countless Legends of Girona

Once upon a time, in the days of the Egyptian god Osiris, there lived somewhere to the south a giant monster with three heads, called Gerió. Seeking to enlarge his empire he headed north where he built a castle and founded a city that would one day bear his name: Geriona, today’s Girona. Or not. Perhaps Girona…

Read More

Catalonia’s Castellers: A Peek Behind the Scenes

Imagine an agile six-year-old clambering up the face of a five-story building, waving from the top, then slithering back down. Leaves your throat dry, doesn’t it? Yet several times a week, that’s exactly what happens when the Castellers de la Vila de Gràcia rehearse their castells, or human towers. “It’s not as dangerous as it looks,” said Helena…

Read More

A Cut Above: The Ongoing Tradition of FGM

It is a sunny day, hot even in December as Christmas nears in a rural village in Kenya, up somewhere near the borders of Uganda and what is now South Sudan. There is a festive spirit and the young girls are gathered and song and dance reverberate across the hills of West Pokot, bracing for…

Read More

The Cuban Embargo: Memories of the Mouse that Roared

It was 1999 when I arrived on a two-month assignment to cover Cuba and my first thought as I left the airport was: “This country is a survivor.” Already into its fifth or sixth metamorphosis since the revolution overthrew a corrupt dictator, Cuba had become friends with the Soviet Union, survived the Eastern Bloc’s demise, crawled through the lean…

Read More

Guérande Fleur de Sel: The Salt Harvester

Marie-Thérèse Aumont picks out a black speck from the snowy mountain of fresh salt. “It’s alien, it shouldn’t be here,” she says crossly. “This entire mound might be contaminated.” That would be bad news indeed, given the amount of work it takes to harvest a pile of salt here in the Guérande peninsula (pronounced gay-rawnd) in northwestern France’s Loire-Atlantique…

Read More