Liberty Enlightening the World

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

 

Liberty Enlightening the World

The Statue of Liberty has become a symbol of freedom, democracy, and of America itself. But the statue wasn’t built here. It wasn’t even an American idea. The people of France sent it as a gift, and a symbol of friendship between the nations. 

The Gift

In the year 1865, the American Civil War was coming to an end, and the country was united once again. Across the Atlantic, French historian Édouard de Laboulange wanted to celebrate the expansion of freedom in America. His idea was to send a massive statue as a gift, and an enduring symbol of the Friendship between the two nations. 

The Statue

Construction of the Statue’s Hand

Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, a contemporary sculptor, created the statue. He used a technique known as repousse to create the ‘skin’ (exterior) of the statue. This technique involved hammering out massive sheets of copper by hand to create the desired shape. He named his creation ‘Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World’ although most of us today call it simply the Statue of Liberty. 

 

 

NY Harbor

The skeletal support of the Statue fell to Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, famed architect of the Eiffel Tower. He constructed this skeleton to move independently from the statue’s skin, which would be essential in windy New York harbor. 

Eiffel and Bartholdi completed the statue in 1885, then disassembled it for the journey across the Atlantic. In nearly 200 different crates, it boarded the French frigate Isere.

The Pedestal

The Pedestal on Fort Wood

While the statue was being constructed in France, the pedestal was built in New York. Many helped to raise funds for this gigantic projects through contests, benefits, exhibitions, and other events.

Laborers built the Pedestal in the courtyard of Fort Wood. This fortress, built during the War of 1812, is on what would come to be known as Liberty Island.

In June, the Isere arrived and workers labored for four months to reassemble the statue. This iconic monument has stood tall on Liberty Island ever since. 

 

French All Around Us

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – High School Intern

The Book

The Book

Last March, a collection of stories about the French language and Francophone culture in the U.S. was published. This book, titled French All Around Us, has contributions from nearly two dozen Francophone authors. Many of these contributors are well-connected with both the FAC and the Francophone culture at large in New Hampshire. A list of authors, and their short biographies, can be found here. 

According to the book’s description, this anthology details a variety of perspectives on Francophone culture in the United States. The stories hail from second-generation French-Canadian immigrants to new immigrants into the United States. Each person offers a unique perspective on the anthology’s themes. The book details, through its several pieces, the experience of French speakers in the United States and how they feel Francophone culture has contributed to American identity. 

Phillipe Etienne

Since its publication, the book has already received critical success. Several figures have praised the book, including Phillipe Etienne, the Ambassador of France to the United States. Etienne said the book reflected “the reality of French and Francophone cultures in the United States.” Maine House of Representative Speaker Ryan Fecteau also commended the book. He says it serves as “a testament to the resilience of those who have preserved the language and traditions.”

The Event

The Franco-American Connection

On Wednesday, September 28th, the FAC will be hosting eight contributors on this book at the Dana Center at Saint Anselm. The event is free to the public and will last from 7 pm to 9 pm. While attending this event, the authors will explain their pieces and the work as a whole. The panel seeks to connect with regional Francophones and share experiences and stories with them.

Interested in this event? Check out this page on the FAC website and stay tuned for more contact!

Merci Train

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern


On February 3rd, 1949, a 40-boxcar train sailed into New York Harbor. Why would a train travel by boat? Well, this train had come across the Atlantic from France. It was a thank-you gift from the people of France.

The Original Gift

American Friendship Train

New York Harbor, 1949

A couple of years earlier, America had sent over 700 train cars to France in an effort to provide relief from World War II. Individuals who simply wanted to help out sent the majority of these items, not large organizations. This ‘American Friendship Train’ sent nearly $40 million in relief. 

 

Origins of the Merci Train

Soldiers Load into an Hommes 40-Chevaux 8 Boxcar

Andre Picard, a veteran of the war and a rail worker, originally had the idea of sending a thank-you gift to the US. He envisioned sending a boxcar loaded with gifts. His idea was very popular, and gained a great deal of support. Soon, a national organization had taken over the project. They would still send boxcars of gifts, but instead of one car, they wanted to send one to each of the then-49 states, plus a car to be shared between the DC area and the Territory of Hawaii. And it would be called the Merci Train.

The Train

Symbol of the Merci Train

The cars were just about antiques by the time they arrived in the States. This type of car was called hommes 40-chevaux 8. It was the same kind of car used to transport soldiers during WW1. Though very cramped, it could hold 40 men (40 hommes) or 8 horses (8 chevaux). 
Symbols of each French province decorated every car, along with a plaque holding the symbol of the Merci Train. This symbol featured poppies, reminiscent of Flanders Fields, among other flowers and a train engine. 

 

Pennsylvania Receives Their Car

 

Many of the Merci Train’s cars are still around. The states that received them still cherish them. New Hampshire’s car lives in Manchester to this day. On September 25th at 1pm, there will be a memorial event on Reed Street in honor of the car. 

Olive Oil in Southern France

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

Marseille — A Melting Pot

Marseille

Over two and a half thousand years ago, the Greeks established Marseille, the oldest city in France. Since then, dozens of cultures and ethnicities have called Marseille their home from the Ottomans to fleeing Italians post-WWII. Marseille is also conveniently located near the Mediterranean. It has grown into one of the largest port cities, dealing with the trade of commodities such as wine for centuries. These factors have created a “melting pot,” where cultures come together and blend to create something magical. For Marseille, the cuisine is where this mingling is most evident. From pizza to couscous, everything in Marseille seems to have a foreign flare to the French classics. One of the more notable integreations, however, has been the olive tree. 

Introduction of Olive Trees

Olive Trees

When they founded the city of Marseille, the Greeks brought olive trees with them. They had hoped to spread the plant across the Mediterranean climates of Southern France and Eastern Spain. Both the Greeks, and later the Romans, found olive oil to be an essential component of everyday life. Homer, a famed Greek poet known for works like The Odyssey, described olive oil as “liquid gold.” Quickly, olive oil began to catch on throughout Southern France. Acres upon acres of farmland were dedicated to olive trees and the production of olives. Tradition claims that a family’s third generation would reep the benefits of an olive tree. Thus, young men would plant trees on their farms and hope that their grandsons could harvest the trees. That harvest would typically produce copious amounts of oil and wealth. 

Place aux Huiles

Olive oil is typically thought of a sauce for garnishing, but a portion of most harvests were actually used in the production of soaps. The street Place aux Huiles in Marseille used to serve as a canal for unloading olive oil for soap-makers. Due to a 1688 decree by Louis XIV, the only way soap can be labeled Savon de Marseille is if it is produced in the area using olive oil. To this day, Place aux Huiles is an epicenter of French soap production.

The taste of olive oil in southern France was different as well. According to Olive Oil Times, Pronvençal oils (oils from the region of southern France) have a temperate character, meaning that (to olive oil connoisseurs) there is a fruitier and rustic taste. The growth of the olives is impacted by the wet, cool winters and blazing summers. This makes Provençal oils decidedly unique in the world.

The Freeze

Grapes

In the 1800s, nearly 26 million olive orchards could be found across France. This number had been reduced to just 3 million by the 1970. One of the biggest impacts on olive production in France was a destructive freeze in Provence during the winter of 1956. When the freeze wiped out millions of olive orchards, farmers chose to replant grapes instead. Since the olive oil industry became more widespread and prosperous, smaller farmers couldn’t keep up with large orchards. Alternatively, grapes provided them with the ability to produce wine. Thus, switching to grape vineyards made their families more financially sound. To this day, olive oil production in France has not returned to its former capacity.

Resurgence & Modern Production

Around the 1990s, a slight resurgence in French olive oil production occurred. The discovery of the French paradox was a significant motivator of the resurgence of production. The paradox describes how the French eat high-fat diets and drink copious amounts of alcohol while staying healthy and fit. Olive oil could actually help balance good and bad cholesterol and contribute to the healthy lifestyles of the French people. As such, olive oil production in France spiked once more, though nowhere near its former peak. Instead of emphasizing quantity of oil production, France has recently shifted its focus to quality. Now, the country produces some of the most exquisite olive oil in the world. 

French Olive Oils

Today, France produces about 5,000 tons of olive oil. Of all that oil, nearly 90% is extra virgin (oil produced without chemical treatment and with very low acidity levels). All of this oil production accounts for about 1% of world consumption, which is at an all-time high. The AOC (Appellation d’Origine Conrollée) designates the standards and regions of growing for olives throughout France, confining a vast majority of its production to the very regions where it began: Southern France.

Pumpkin Racing

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

Pumpkin Canoes

In the fall, if you were to visit the Béancour river in Québec, you might see a bunch of carved out pumpkin canoes race downriver. Don’t worry, this isn’t  a warped fairy tale; this happens every year.  These pumpkin canoes are all part of the Gentilly Pumpkin Regatta. 

Gentilly Pumpkin Regatta

Paddling Pumpkins

The Gentilly Pumpkin Regatta takes place in the Gentilly section of the Bécancour river every year; however much of the competition takes place on farms around the region. The 1,000 meter race downriver in pumpkin canoes is only a small part of the competition. 

Pumpkin Seeds

Contestants receive pumpkin seeds in April, and must grow their own gargantuan gourds. The goal is to grow the biggest pumpkin by weight. After judges weigh each pumpkin, their growers hollow them out into giant floating boats.

This competition is called a potirothon. The word itself is a mix of marathon (a 26.2 mile running race) and potiron (French for pumpkin). A word mix such as this is called a portmanteau.

All Kinds of Veggie Competitions

Canoe pumpkin races, although they may sound ridiculous, exist beyond the event in Gentilly. The Windsor Pumpkin Regatta is a huge competition in Nova Scotia, which takes place on Lake Pesaquid every fall. 

Giant Pumpkins

The biggest-ever pumpkin canoe weighed in at 919 pounds. That’s as much as a small cow! It paddled 15.09 miles, according to Guinness World Records.

Additionally, pumpkins aren’t the only thing people compete to grow into ridiculous sizes. People from all over compete to grow giant vegetables, and few of them end up as canoes. Check out this article by the Guardian about the growers of these huge veggies. 

 

 

The Enlightenment: An Influential Era

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

The Enlightenment

What is the Enlightenment?

Modern Scientific Method

Modern Scientific Method

The Enlightenment began around the mid-1600s in Western Europe. It grew into a larger movement that lasted through the 1800s. The movement was born out of growing ideas of skepticism over traditionally-held beliefs. Thinkers of the Enlightenment chose to propose new social, political, economic, and scientific ideas to the public. In fact, as the philosophers of this era began to produce work, they developed the “scientific method” to ensure that their works and theories had met rigorous standards of proof. The ideas of the era were mostly bred from logic and reasoning as opposed to traditional religion and customs.

 

The Scientific Revolution

Sir Issac Newton

Most of the world today remembers the Enlightenment for its vast array of scientific discoveries and advances. People like Galileo Galilei and Sir Issac Newton contributed to an ever-growing understanding of the world around us. Galileo is often credited with significantly advancing our knowledge of astronomy. He worked to prove that the world was not centered around the Earth but in fact was heliocentric (centered around the Sun). In the modern world, we can still see flaws in Galileo’s thoughts, but his proposal of these logical ideas was in direct opposition to the traditional way of thinking.

 

Galileo

Sir Issac Newton was perhaps one of the most influential figures of this era. He devised  the foundational theories of gravity and also went on to further the world’s knowledge of calculus, a branch of mathematics that is fundamental to modern science. Many other people also proposed ideas in various scientific fields including Francis Bacon, René Descartes, and William Herschel. What all of these people had in common was that they sought to explain the natural world around them with logic and reasoning as opposed to folktales, religion, or word-of-mouth stories.

French Philosophy

Another well-known branch of the Enlightenment is the area of philosophy, specifically on matters of government, power, and the Church. Across Europe, philosophers like John Locke were forming new ideas about how a government should rule over society. One of the most notable creations was the “Social Contract,” which argued that the citizens of a nation held natural rights. These rights that could not be violated by any government at any time. 

Voltaire

In France, Jean Jacques Rousseau became a leading figure in popularizing this theory of government. Also in France, philosophers like Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Diderot began to form collections of their own works. Among this group, Voltaire stands out as one of the only philosophers who was willing to openly criticize the Catholic church and its role in government. Voltaire self-identified as a diest, meaning that he believed in a higher being, but was unattached to any religious institution. Through dozens of essays and letters, Voltaire developed many critical ideas of the Enlightenment era. These include freedom of speech and a separation between the church and state as well as the freedom to practice whatever religion you wanted.

Montesquieu also held some additional ideas about the functioning of government, most notably championing the division of government into several branches. Particularly, a legislative and an executive branch. Many of the ideas of the Enlightenment-era philosophers would prove to be fundamental in the “Age of Revolutions” that would occur towards the end of the 18th century.

Revolutionary Ideas

As more and more philosophers began to advocate for changes in how the government was structured, some key events began to spring up. The first sign of revolution occurred across the Atlantic, in the British colonies. The ideas of European philosophers, particularly French figures like Voltaire and Montesquieu, helped form the identity of the United States as it began its fight for independence. There are clear links between language in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights and to key philosophers of the Enlightenment. The First Amendment, which protects the freedom of speech and religion, summarizes many of Voltaire’s strongest points. The United States was not where the revolution ended, however. 

By the beginning of the 1780s, France was undergoing its own revolution. The people began rejecting the oppressive control of the monarchy and substituting it for the ideas of government formed during the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment had taken direct aim at many of the top French institutions. This provided the sparks for the long and violent revolution. Another revolution that can attribute its roots to the Enlightenment is the Haitian Revolution. This was the first successful slave revolution in history. In Haiti, enslaved Africans and Caribbean-natives believed that the Enlightenment ideas should also apply to them as well. Overall, the Enlightenment itself had immense ramifications across the world. It created a new philosophy of thought and established several modern-day governments. 

Toussaint Louverture: leader of the Haitian Revolution

World of French: New Orleans

 

Exploring New Orleans (featuring Jazzy & Kaleb)

NOLA

NOLA

Perhaps the most well-known region of Francophone culture and identity within the United States is New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA). Many consider the city as an epicenter of French culture and language, stemming from their history as a colony of France. Now, New Orleans serves as the home of vibrant festivals such as Mardi Gras which highlight the city’s cultural heritage. This week, myself and my friend and blog co-author Jasmine Grace will be visiting this lively city for the annual Association of Teacher of French (AATF) Conference. Here, we will be doing a presentation about our experiences learning French. Here are some of the most exciting Francophone pit stops we are planning to make! If you would like to follow along on our journey, check out facnh_official on Instagram.

The French Quarter

French Quarter, NOLA

The French Quarter, also called the “Carré Vieux,” is perhaps the most defining feature of New Orleans. Around the world, this half-square mile of land is among the most easily identifiable. The quarter lies along the banks of the Mississippi River. In 1718, the area was selected for its access to the river and other local water sources while remaining relatively high in comparison to the surrounding swamplands.

Ursuline Convent

Because of this location, however, hurricanes and other natural disasters have constantly wreaked havoc on the neighborhood. In addition to this, the old colonial buildings were mostly made of wood, which caused them to decay in the damp surroundings. Only one historical French building remains, the 1750 Ursuline Convent. The famous “lacy” appearance of the

Carré Vieux

French Quarter came about from Victorian-era building and the financial benefits of cast iron. As time went on, the French Quarter retained its old-timey feel but newer, more modern suburbs began to pop up around it, creating the large New Orleans metropolis that we know today.

 

 

The Jazz Museum

Jazz Museum

Jazz was born within the boundaries of New Orleans. Over time, it has become a defining feature of their history and diverse culture. Music, and jazz in particular, brought together people around the city from across lines of race and heritage. Many of the most prominent artists in jazz were African-Americans and it marked one of the first major cultural movements to include African-American citizens. Louis Armostrong, one of the most notable trumpeters of the jazz era, was from New Orleans! Archives detailing the journey of jazz, past and present,  fill this multilingual museum. Today brass marching bands line the streets of New Orleans and fill the air with jazz.

Louis Armstrong

AATF Conference

French teachers host the AATF conference annually in cities around the world. It gives teachers and students of French the ability to connect with each other and share experiences, tactics, or just facilitate discussions about the classroom. Jasmine and I will be presenting about our own experiences with the language of French beyond classroom. We are ecstatic to have this opportunity to share our own thoughts on how to expand a student’s access to French outside the classroom! 

Make sure you check out @facnh_official on Instagram all week to follow us along on our journey!

More Francophone Legends and Monsters

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

As promised, this is the second addition of this monsters and legends mini-series, featuring Al-Ruhban of eastern Algeria, and a werewolf creature said to live in Québec and Louisiana. 

Al-Ruhban

Al-Ruhban

The jinn, or djinn, are invisible to humans and dwell in inanimate objects. A sorcerer with enough power can exploit them magically, and punish humans for wrongs.

Legends claim Al-Ruhban is the product of a jinn-human marriage. He lived with the jinn in his youth, but when he grew old enough to look after himself, he moved to live among the humans. Unlike the jinn, who usually take animal forms to visit the human world, Al-Ruhban is part human, and is able to blend in. 

He is a peaceful member of our world, but they say there are sorcerers that wish to take advantage of him. If his true identity is discovered, he runs away to begin a new life in a different part of the human world.

Loup-Garou and the Rougarou

le Loup-Garou

Stories of a loup-garou have been around since medieval France. Legends claim a person turned into one of these hideous beasts for being an unfaithful Catholic. When bad things happened, people blamed these werewolves. People who were unpopular, or just a bit different, could be accused of being a loup-garou. Trials were held, much the same style as the infamous witch trials of medieval Europe. In almost every case, people found the accused loup-garou guilty.

When French settlers arrived in the Americas, they brought with them these tales. In Québec, people still called the beast the loup-garou. He was believed to curse those who were unfaithful to turn into a beast in the night. Most often, this beast was a dog or a wolf, but it could take the form of any animal, such as an ox, pig, cat, or owl.

le Rougarou

In Louisiana, these tales became the legend of the Rougarou. He lives in the swamps, and he hunts Catholics who don’t adhere to the rules of Lent. But this werewolf beast isn’t quite like the werewolves of pop culture. He prefers to destroy property, or pass off his curse to another rather than hunt his victims outright. 

the Louisiana Bayous

Legends claim the best way to protect yourself from a Rougarou is to place 13 small objects around the door of your house. When a person becomes a Rougarou, they forget how to count past the number 12. Upon entering your house, the Rougarou will try to count the objects. They will never be able to reach 13. They will keep trying to count the objects until the sun rises and they run back to the swamp.

 

And there you have it, another couple of legends from the Francophone world. There are so many more stories out there. Keep on the lookout for future editions of this mini-series with more tales!

Legends and Monsters Across the World

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

 

Behold, two monsters from across the francophone world. These legends hail from Québec and France, respectively. One is a village-eating turtle, and the other is a cursed cannibalistic monster. 

The Tarasque

Legend has it that in the Rhône river in Provence, France, there once lived a turtle. This was no ordinary turtle. The people called it the Tarasque. Its body was like that of a dragon, and it had 6 legs. It breathed fire from its lion-like face. If that weren’t formidable enough, it also had an impenetrable shell and a whip-like tail. It terrorized the towns and villages, feasting on human flesh.

Until one day, a girl named Martha washed up on the shores in the South of France. Martha and those traveling with her were came from the Holy Land, and Martha was on a mission to preach Christianity. Martha explained her faith to the villagers, and they suggested if she could perform a miracle, they’d convert. Someone mentioned the Tarasque, that terrible turtle that kept eating their livestock and neighbors. So Martha tamed it, as good a miracle as any could hope for. The townspeople were amazed when she walked right up to it and wrapped her scarf around its neck, and led it through town. It didn’t breathe fire at all, or even try to eat anyone. Sadly for the Tarasque, it died shortly after its domestication because it wasn’t able to continue its usual diet of wayward travelers and unlucky fishermen. As for Martha, she became Saint Martha. 

Saint Martha and the Tarasque

The Wendigo

The legend of the wendigo belongs to the native peoples of modern day Québec, New England and the Great Lakes Region. A human became a wendigo when greed or harsh conditions weakened their spirit. Some say the wendigo possessed new victims in their dreams, others say just being too near to a wendigo was enough to become one. A wendigo is cannibalistic; they prey on the weak and lonely. And a Wendigo is always hungry. Some stories claim the wendigo gets proportionally fatter the more it eats. Others say the wendigo is always so thin, you can see its skeleton under its ashy, mummy-like skin. The wendigo is sometimes portrayed with horns, antlers, or animal ears. Its eyes are either sunken and dark, or glow like dying coals. A Wendigo usually have superhuman abilities, and can move with the speed of the wind, and wade through deep snow, or even water, without sinking. Some say the Wendigo is mortal, a beast that can be killed. But others claim it must have its heart melted over an open fire in order to be truly eliminated. 

Places where the Wendigo lives.

 

 

And there are so many other stories out there. But alas, one article only has room for so many beasts. Keep a look out for the next edition to this mini-series, which will feature the Loup-Garou, also from Québec, and Al-Ruhban of Algeria.  

 

Architecture: L’Arc de Triomphe

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

 

L’Arc de Triomphe is one of the most recognizable monuments in Paris. Originally inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte I at the height of his power, it has since stood as a monument to the past and present glory of France. And for 16 days last year, it stood for something different entirely. 

Beginning

Arch of Titus

After Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, he commissioned the Arch to celebrate his miliraty’s accomplishments. Jean-François Thérèse Chalgrin designed it in the neoclassical style, and inspired by the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.  It would be built in the Place de l’Étoile,  a circle plaza with 12 large avenues radiating outwards to form an étoile (a star). Although the location of the Arch remains the same, the location is now called Place Charles de Gaulle.

Construction

Emperor Napoleon

Work began in 1806, on Napoleon’s birthday, August 15. By 1810, when Napoleon married Archduchess Marie-Louisean, only the foundation was complete. So for their wedding, a full-scale wood and painted canvas model was built on the site. This gave the archetest a chance to see how his creation would look in the Parisian setting, and he tweaked his original design just slightly. Just a year later, construction slowed, then stopped completely after the Bourbon Restoration of 1814. The arch sat unfinished for nearly a decade. King Louis XVIII, however, ordered work to resume following a successful invasion of Spain. The Arch was officially completed in 1836, under King Louis-Philippe.  

 

 

Wrapped

Aside from periodic cleaning and maintenance, the Arch has remained unchanged for centuries. Until 2021, when an artist realized a vision after decades of dreaming. For 16 days, the Arch became an artist’s exhibition.

L’Arc de Triomphe

Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude first had the idea to wrap the Arch in the 60s, while both lived in Paris. They created thought-provoking pieces in other parts of the world, but this project didn’t come to be until 2021, 11 years after Jeanne-Claude’s death. Christo didn’t live to see the project complete, and his devoted nephew completed the work.

The pandemic delayed construction, and breeding habits of falcons found to be nesting on the monument shifted the construction from summer to fall. But after 3 months of labor by 1,200 workers, almost two miles of red cord, and thousands of square feet of silver-blue fabric, the project was complete. Mixed reviews greeted the finished work. Some thought it disgraced the monument, others didn’t understand and wondered if the ‘real’ art was under the wrapping. But some appreciated the perspectives this piece offers.

The wrapping on the arc can be interpreted as an analysis of the timeline of beauty. The Arc underneath had stood for centuries, its beauty remaining unchanged through the years. But the wrapping moved with every breeze, and the exhibition ended after only 16 days. If one were to look deeper into the meaning and inspiration of the piece, one might also analyze the meaning of the Arc itself. Napoleon built it as a tribute to the military glory of France, but what glory is there truly in war? If there was any glory, it didn’t last. Napoleon’s might faltered, and soon collapsed in on itself, giving way to a new order in France. Christo loved beauty, but he also loved deeper meaning in art.

 

The Arc has held a special place in France since it was first built, and has stood for a variety of things since it’s construction. It holds a special place in the center of Paris, at the center of the main roads that connect all of France.

 

Exploring Biliteracy in Everyday Life

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

Introduction

When someone thinks about being biliterate, they often have a narrow focus of what possibilities this opens them up to. When I first started to explore the opportunities presented by being biliterate, I was focused on travel opportunities, teaching the language, and other bare-bones ideas about the benefits of multilingualism. This perception, however, is incredibly flawed and ignores the major benefits of understanding two (or perhaps more) languages. One day last fall, my perception was permanently altered by a seemingly mundane event.

 

The Clark Art Institute

Last fall, a group of students in my high school’s French Program visited the Clark Art Institute in northern Massachusetts. At the Institute, they have a full art museum where they give guided tours and foster interest in higher education in the field of art. The museum possesses some unique pieces of art, ranging from around the world and spanning several centuries of history. At the Clark Art Institute, they have a team of docents, who act as tour guides through the museum, that speak a variety of languages. Our docent, Sylvia, was fluent in French and provided a bulk of our tour in French. During the tour, I became enthralled by the idea of using French in this way; it was such a unique way to use the French language in one’s everyday life, far beyond what I had ever imagined as possible. 

 

The Interview & Revelations

After our tour, I reached out to Sylvia about an interview, which she agreed to participate in. This interview provided me with even more insight into how Sylvia used language in her everyday life. I began asking her about her experience with language as a docent. She expressed how being bilingual had helped her connect to the people that she was giving tours to. Not only could she provide information about the art, but she could provide vocabulary about art in French. This idea of using language to connect with the people around you resonated with me; it was this major revelation that actively changed my perception. I began to understand, almost immediately, that language was more than just traveling or teaching: it could foster personal connections. 

 

Sylvia didn’t start learning language to become a docent, and that’s not the only place she has used it, either. Somewhere that she was most proud of using the language in her life was with her kids. As she raised her kids they traveled back and forth between France and the United States, exposing them to the language and culture of both. Because of this, French has long been ingrained in the life of Sylvia’s children, providing them with that cultural connection that she fell in love with. Once more, this brought new ideas of biliteracy and bilingualism to my mind. It seemed so fundamental to one’s life to learn a new language, to become invested in connecting with others via language and experience. 

 

Closing Thoughts

Sylvia opened my mind to a more complete understanding of how bilingualism, and biliteracy, is useful in life. It is my goal to pass this message on to others. When I consider the way that French has changed Sylvia’s life, I find a powerful story that moves me to continue my own study of language, something that I hope to pass on to the people around me now and in the future. 

 

Poisson d’Avril – A fishy tradition

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

In the United States, we celebrate the first of April as April Fool’s. It is fondly celebrated as a day of pranks and jokes among friends. In France, as well as Belgium and Quebec, the first day of April is Poisson d’Avril, or ‘Fish of April.’ On this holiday, children and adults alike celebrate by “coller un poisson dans le dos de quelqu’un.” This means literally “to stick a fish in someone’s back,” and is usually done by taping a fish to someone’s back without that person realizing, at least not right away. 

When that person does find the fish minutes, or maybe hours, later, the person who put it there shouts “Poisson d’Avril! 

Why a fish? There are several theories, but no one is certain exactly what the origins of this fun holiday are. A popular theory is that this holiday began just following a switch of calendars in France. Some claim it has to do with the fishing seasons, and still others speculate that this is a very ancient holiday, with roots going back to celebrations long ago. 

A New date for New Year’s

In the 16th century, King Charles IX wanted to unify the calendar system of France, and put the Gregorian calendar to use throughout the kingdom. Now New Year’s is on January first. 

But before this, different regions of France celebrated New Year’s on different dates. Many observed New Year’s on March 25th, and followed it with a week of celebration, ending on April 1st.  

News traveled slowly back then, and some continued to welcome the New Year in March. Others protested the change in calendars, and refused to celebrate in January. Regardless of their reasons, those who didn’t observe the change were ridiculed by those who had switched over. People considered those who celebrated New Years in March to be fools, and ridiculed them and played pranks. Perhaps the fish came into play when people gave these fools fake fish to mock the end of Lent, a fasting period where fish is the only meat allowed to be eaten. 

The Season for Fishing and Ancient Holidays

Beaucoup de Poissons!

Fishing season in France ends in March, as the fish breed in April. During this period, it was impossible to get fish. Some wonder if the first Poisson d’Avril was when someone sent another, more naive someone to the market for fish, knowing that they would be impossible to find. 

This holiday could also be a descendant of other celebrations, such as the Roman celebration of Hilaria, part of a celebration of Attis, a conflicted figure in Roman mythology. 

Or perhaps the fish element of Poisson d’Avril comes from the fish as an early symbol of Christianity. 

Forgotten Postcards

One of the more obscure elements of this holiday are the postcards. These have fallen out of fashion today, but in the late 19th century and early 20th century, people would send postcards to their friends and relatives for Poisson d’Avril.

These cards were comical, cute, and featured fish, of course! Some also included clever little insults, meant to amuse the recipient. 

Poisson d’Avril Postcards

Regardless of where it came from, this holiday is a lot of fun to celebrate. One can find versions of this holiday all around the world. In France, Belgium and Quebec, it is known as Poisson d’Avril, and in anglophone places it’s called April fools. Although there, the holiday lacks any relation to fish. 

French Cuisine, An Evolving Gastronomy

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

French cuisine has long been synonymous with high-class, fine dining. It has served as the foundation of international cuisine. Throughout history, however, this culture of food has been consistently transformed in France, ranging from traditional Moorish foods to modern “Haute Cuisine.” The trajectory of French cuisine is an amazingly complex tale, and it has had radiating effects on international food.

 

Moorish Cuisine

In the beginning, French cuisine was largely a reflection of Moorish food traditions due to the proximity of the two cultures. Food was served “en confusion,” meaning that the entire meal was served at once, a contrast to modern cuisine, where each course is served separately. In the medieval times, meat was a massive component of French food. The French enjoyed lots of fish, poultry, beef and pork during this era.

In the most high-class dining, presentation was crucial. Sometimes, game such as peacocks and swans were cooked, sewn back into their pelts, and then their legs and feet were gilded (gold-painted). The French used edible colorants to create visual displays as well. The more effort that went into the visual display, the more sophisticated the meal was considered. The wealthy held banquets of fine cuisine to show their prominence in society. Soon after, however, the French food culture began to change.

 

European Influences

Louis XIV

As other European cuisines began to rise in prominence during the 15th and 16th centuries, they influenced French culture. Italy, in particular, provided a heavy influence to French cuisine. When the two royal families joined through marriage, things such as pasta, garlic, and truffles found a place in French cuisine. Particularly under King Louis XIV, French cuisine began to further embody high-class, sophisticated taste. Louis XIV began a trend towards the increased use of fresh fruits and vegetables alongside some of the more delicate elements of his dishes. Most notably, however, French cuisine in this era created the modern eating experience. 

The French founded the progression of courses in your meal: you begin with soups and starters, continue to roasts and meats, and then end with sweets. Additionally, the idea of a maître d’hôtel, who guides you through your restaurant experience, arose during this period of French history. As you can see, the French defined much of your current restaurant experience including the idea of sit-down restaurant experiences. But how has modern French cuisine shifted?

Maitre d’Hotel

Escoffier & Grande Cuisine

In the last two centuries, haute cuisine has changed to accommodate a changing taste in food. George Auguste Escoffier, a chef and restaurant owner, has been a major player in this change. He fathered the concept of “grand cuisine,” which focuses on combining or deconstructing products within a dish to create a more balanced and harmonic taste. Escoffier also focused on cleaner, more simplistic styling and presentation. French cuisine has, however, changed with the times in recent centuries.

For many years, French cuisine relied on meat and cream-based elements. As the vegan movement has risen globally, French cuisine has come to adapt. Keeping its foundational elements, the French plates have come to include more fresh produce, vegan-friendly options, and, overall, healthier and lighter options. Throughout the years, French cuisine has adapted itself to fit current trends. The future of international cuisine may very well rest on the back of how France transforms its culinary culture.

Modernized Cuisine

King Cake

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

 

King cake, or three king’s cake, is a festive treat originally enjoyed by Europeans, most notably in France and Spain. Since then, New Orleans, Louisiana has become famous for their version of it. The area has left its mark on this dessert through the addition of a hidden surprise and by making the world’s largest king cake.

History of the Cake

Galette de Rois

In France around the 12th century, people began eating a round, decorated cake to celebrate a religious holiday. It was eaten from Epiphany (January 6th) through Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. People knew it as king cake and ate it in celebration of the three kings who visited baby Jesus.

This king cake was different from king cake in today’s Louisiana. It would have been a decorated ring of dough eaten at home in the company of family.

King Cake in New Orleans

Rosca de Reyes

From Old World Europe, king cake came to the Americas. Places in Latin America still enjoy a similar treat, which they know as rosca de reyes. But king cake really took root in New Orleans, and the city has become famous for it.

France today still enjoys galette des rois, which plays a role in a similar celebration.

Record-Breaking Cake

Louisiana Superdome

In September 2010, Haydels’ Bakery in New Orleans made the two biggest king cakes the world has ever seen. The largest of the two weighed 1,874.68 kilograms (over 4,000 pounds). Set up on hundreds of tables, each of the cakes completely encircled the Louisiana Superdome. They took three and a half days to prepare and nine hours to set up on site.

A Hidden Surprise

King cakes are known for having a surprise within them: a little plastic baby, intended to represent the baby Jesus. This tradition has origins that go back to Europe. Originally, whoever baked the cake would hide a bean, pea, or coin in the cake. Whoever discovered it in their slice would have good fortune for the coming year.

Folks in Louisiana added to the tradition, serving king cake at lavish balls. Whoever found the treasure in their slice would become King or Queen of the ball and would be responsible for hosting the party the following year.

Mardi Gras King Cake!

king cake with baby Jesus

Baby Jesus is found!

By the 1940s, most people were getting their king cakes from bakeries, not their own kitchens. The transition from little hidden treasures to plastic babies took place around this time, due to a chance encounter between a traveling salesman and a baker. The salesman had an abundance of miniature porcelain dolls and suggested to the baker that he use them for the hidden surprises in his king cake. This idea intrigued the baker, and after receiving permission from the health department, he began baking the dolls into his cakes. This transition was popular, and once the baker had run out of porcelain dolls, he found plastic ones that he began using instead.

Today, bakers usually leave these plastic babies out of the cake for baking, and the host hides them before serving. They come in a variety of realistic or festive colors and have become an essential part of the king cake tradition.

World of French: Djibouti

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

 

Djibouti, a small Francophone nation about the size of New Jersey on the horn of Africa, is an intriguing case study of cultural exchange. From traditional African culture to colonial French culture, and eventually a unique modern culture, an array of influences through history have developed Djibouti.

Pre-Colonial History

Djibouti was first inhabited by nomadic tribes, including the Afars of Eastern Ethiopia and the Issas of Somalia. They used the land extensively for livestock raising and trading. Historical poems and songs from the region have been used to uncover this period of Djibouti’s history.

Being located directly on the Horn of Africa, Djibouti has also served as a battleground between religious tensions between Central African Islamic cultures and Northern African Christians. This conflict has defined Djibouti’s religious history. Today, Djibouti is mostly Muslim, with over 90% of citizens practicing the Muslim faith. 

The Aral Empire exerted control over the region from the 12th century until the 17th century. However, beyond that, Djibouti has limited historical records of the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Given its position adjacent to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, most historians have reached consensus that Djibouti served as a port area for trading, especially of livestock. Although port cities in nearby territories were larger and more prominent, Djibouti still had two main port cities on the coast. Tadjoura, a port city in Djibouti, is the busiest port city in the boundaries of Djibouti. Caravans traded livestock and slaves by caravan from the port region to the interior lands of Africa. 

 

French Colonization

Expeditions into the coasts of Africa in the 1830s and 1840s by French explorers gave way to complete colonization in 1855. Aboubaker Ibraheim Chehem ceded to Frenchman Henry Lambert a small section of coast. Lambert’s assassination paused further integration of the French into that strip of land. In 1862, the French gained full territorial control of Djibouti. However, Djibouti never really played a vital role in their colonization and the French largely ignored it. In the 1880s, the French would finally take advantage of Djibouti’s port cities as coal refueling stations for their troops sent to fight against uprisings in Madagascar and French Indochina. 

To secure French-controlled Djibouti, the commanders in the region signed a series of treaties with local sultans. A treaty signed in 1885 secured the French’s presence in the region and gave way to the development of Djibouti City on the coast of the nation. On June 12, 1977 Djibouti was officially declared independent, blossoming from French Somaliland to the Republic of Djibouti.

 

Economy & Demographics

As its own nation, Djibouti has capitalized on the competitive advantage of its geographic location. Serving as an entry point into the interior of Africa, the Horn of Africa is an important economic location. Djibouti has used this advantage to establish a strong and growing economy in the region. It’s growth rate has been near 6% for the past few years, pointing towards a booming economy in the future. Ports, logistics, and services associated with those industries remain dominant in the economy. 

Coupled with the economy, Djibouti is continuing to grow population-wise. This creates a young, energetic population that is more able to support the elderly. Many accept this theory of development that a younger population serves a nation better than an aging population. Given that Djibouti shows no signs of a slowing demographic trend, it is likely that the economic activity of the nation will continue to flourish for generations. 

 

Culture

The dominant traditional foods of Djibouti are heavy in dairy and meat, stemming from their traditional connection to livestock herding. Often, the foods consumed come from local herds in the rural sections of the nation. Most traditional dishes also feature grains. Perhaps most interesting in the realm of food culture is qat.

Qat is a small, narcotic leaf that is recreationally consumed by most or many men (as many as nine in ten) in the nation. Women traditionally participate less often, with roughly three in four women consuming the product. Qat is often had with lunch, when the nation basically shuts down due to the extreme heat. Almost all workplaces come to a halt around midday, when the heat is at its worst, before resuming later in the day. Even the government halts work during these hours of the day. 

Another popular use for qat is for religious services because it is believed to enhance concentration and mute the appetite. This can make long religious services easier for people to concentrate on, increasing the sense of religious devotion. 

Gender Roles

Like most nations, there is a slight patriarchal bias in Djibouti society, especially in higher-level organizations. Islamic social and religious law also prohibits some actions for women. In Djibouti, women can act as farmers, traders, civil servants, and low-level government officials. Women are dominant in informal sectors of the nation. Men also serve as farmers and traders, but in much lower proportions; they are also able to serve as high-level government officials. Men are traditionally dominant in the formal sectors including public life, business, and politics. Due to a necessity for men to work longer hours in the public sphere, women have become the traditional head-of-house in many Djibouti families, increasing their roles in domestic affairs. 

A gem to discover!

For many of us, the Republic of Djibouti is a mystery. However, with salt lakes, hot springs, beaches, marine life, giant volcanoes, mountains reaching 2028 meters (6653ft 6.5in) in height, and a history that spans centuries, it calls to be experienced.  Be it in a four-wheel drive, on the back of a camel, on a sand yacht or a boat, discover this little known gem!

Djibouti Flag

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