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Saturday, January 10, 2015


Links: A. France Wikipedia
           B. Angouleme Tourisme

I am French.  I'm also a Texan.  It's safe to say that I'm passionate about both bloodlines.
I can't count the number of people who have told me that unless I'm a rare Socialist American, that my mixed heritage is incongruous.  I always tell them not to worry, that I'm doing just fine.  In reality, France is much more conservative than people realize.  I was right in the middle of a series of posts about Al-Qaeda in 2015, and I have abruptly inserted a discussion which is in no way connected to international terrorism.  I apologize.  My actions are the result of circumstance.  I have been watching  live television feeds from for the past twenty-four hours.  Sadly, the screen is usually filled with the same video clips, on a loop, for hours.  It's a pitiful comment on the state of our media that it took CNBC and CNN some time before they edited the video of the French policeman getting executed, but we are a nation of voyeurs.  Today we were treated to a visual buffet of French police: the Gendarmerie, federal agents, police from the local department, military police, and some uniforms that frankly I didn't recognize.  I didn't mind seeing the parade of cops.  Since Thursday, January 7, the terrorists have murdered two unarmed police officers and one unsuspecting traffic cop.  It's a very dangerous job, regardless of the country, and until you've put it a hefty number of years, it rarely pays well.  But when the calls come in, they suit up and go stand in the line of fire to protect innocent people.  French or American, they have my sincere gratitude and my prayers for a happy, long life.

The events of the past two days have brought parts of Paris into the living rooms of the American people.  Many Americans have been to Paris; hell, the Greatest Generation actually liberated it from the Nazis in 1944.  It's an exceptionally unique, fascinating city, which never fails to surprise me.  Personally, I prefer Montmarte and the 18th Arrondissement as my favorite piece of "Paris within Paris".  The 18th Arrondissement is home to the breathtaking Sacre Coeur Church, and also to the famous (or infamous) Moulin Rouge show club ("there's a place in France, where the naked ladies dance.....").  For persons visiting Paris for the first time, I always say that you will have the time that you expect to have.  Paris is FULL of rude, nasty waiters who speak perfect English, but usually won't speak anything but French to Americans.  Well, I have had my share of rude wait staff
 Kontaktmöglichkeiten: über Wikimedia Commons oder über
in Chicago and also Rome.  Approach Paris with the proper attitude, and Paris will show you the time of your life.  Lately, though, I 've been strongly recommending that visitors to France take advantage of the TGV (high-speed train) station in Charles De Gaulle Airport, and head to the southwest of France.

Unless its for historical purposes, I don't spend much time on the beaches of Normandy, and northern France has never carried any particular charm for me.  I love the southeast, with Aix and Provence and Monaco and Nice, but the holiday season has started to last year-round, and I can't help but be annoyed when I see touristy cheap trinkets made in China being sold in front of a 16th-century Chapel in Provence.  Please don't misunderstand; all of France is still lovely.  The hills and forests of the Ardennes, the magnificent mountains of Chamonix, Megeve and Val d'Isere, and the colorful fishing fleets home to Cherbourg and Brest must be visited by all Francophiles.  But if you are looking to spend a relaxing, peaceful, inspired and Gallic month in France, my advice is to head to the Département of Charente.  Yes, Charente is part of my heritage.  Most of my French family continues to live in Charente, which makes me a bit of an expert.  I provided a limited portrait of the town of Angouleme in a previous post, and I will try not to repeat myself too often.  Angouleme sits on top of a hill, like a nipple on a breast.  It is the seat of Charente Province, and a tremendously historic place.  The Romans were not the first to recognize the strategic significance of the hilltop location, but they were the first to build ramparts.  As far as my memory serves me, there are now three separate rings of ramparts, and the
Cathedral that overlooks the entire valley was originally a small Church built in the fifth-century.  The Cathedral was consecrated in the 11th-century and contains a multitude of invaluable stonework.  Angouleme is home to roughly 50,000 souls, and has just the right number of hotels and Bed & Breakfasts.

The Charente River bisects both the Département  of Charente and the city of Angouleme.  For many years it was the lifeline for the inhabitants, as it provided transportation and food to the locals.  Many times Queen Eleanor d'Aquitaine sailed her royal barge down the Charente, as she courted Henry II of England.  The real beauty of
Charente is found outside of Angouleme.  Little villages, each with its own identity and church, seem to be around every corner.  The roads are small but more than adequate, and suited to the forests and glens that mark the Charente countryside.  Castles are so numerous that you begin not to notice them, with the spires and towers reaching above the tree lines.  When I was a child, my family would take trips to the country and go castle-hunting.  Most were not occupied, as it is very expensive to heat and electrify old, large buildings.  I remember my mother taking us to her old swimming hole, under the ancient stone bridge in the tiny charming village of Marsac.  Every little village has a bar (and usually a modest, adjoining restaurant), a bakery, a butcher and a small Tabac (tea room or store).  I remember as a child, imagining that we were going back in time as we would leave the wider roads of Angouleme and enter the spotless, green, sun-filled countryside.  With the cobble-stone streets, and the constant smell of fresh bread, and ancient townspeople dressed in traditional attire, it was as if we had taken a trip backwards.  We never even turned on the car radio; everything we needed for our distraction and enjoyment was outside.  When I start to write about Charente and Angouleme, I invariably run out of space.  Maybe its time to start a new book, but for now, please accept this humble view into a France that you weren't able to see on the television these last two days.  It truly is a place of magic.  Evil never ceases in its efforts to attack peace and beauty, and we must all stay resolute and not forget what is in our hearts.         

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