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The BBC have just screened a documentary on the fire at Notre Dame which had me on the edge of the sofa.

When the raging fire started in the 14th century cathedral on 15 April 2019, there were fears that the priceless structure would be burned to the ground. The pompiers arrived fast and viewers shared their efforts to prevent catastrophic damage to the building’s interior. This documentary analyses how the fire began, featuring footage from film-makers the Naudet brothers and testimony from the firefighters themselves.

The head of the Paris Fire brigade was shown making literally life-or-death decisions; we saw a young pompier only just qualified, on her first call-out climbing the tight spiral staircase in intense heat with 30kg of equipment on her back; the arrival of a shell-shocked President Macron was filmed; and we witnessed the complex saving of relics which included Christ’s crown of thorns.

The pompers wielding high-pressure hoses eventually saved the church from complete destruction and the spontaneous applause of the crowds as they drove back to base was so moving.

‘Storyville: the Night Notre Dame Burned’ is 90 minutes of excellent documentary-making.  Available on BBC i-Player for the next year.  English subtitles for all French interviews.

In search of a French film to watch this week, I happened across ‘Un + Une‘, a Claude Lelouche movie from 2015.  It stars Jean Dujardin (tick) and the action takes place in India (tick, tick), perfect for lockdown escapist viewing.

Jean Dujardin plays a famed film composer who travels to India to create a score for a Bollywood romance. He is pursued by his pianist girl friend from Paris but has become dazzled by the wife of the French ambassador to India, respectively Elsa Zylberstein and Christophe Lambert. It’s a good cast and the action takes them around reliably photogenic bits of India.  Relax with a big pack of Bombay Mix, a glass of Cobra and escape to India with this undemanding and enjoyable French film.

On Netflix. English subtitles, bien sur.

Carrieres de Lumieres, the former quarry now centre for immersive art displays, has announced its theme for 2021, and it’s one that should prove popular with the Aixois… Continue Reading »

Repeat post for new followers

The bells at the cathedral in Aix rang out at 3pm, 11 November 1918, after 1561 days of silence, to mark the end of the fighting.  And by 6pm, the crowds were at the Rotonde to celebrate.

Of the 3000 men mobilised from Aix, 720 were dead, 190 disappeared and 500 left disabled. The story didn’t even end here for those left in the north of France. Despite having been away for four long years, the local regiment was involved in occupation and didn’t arrive back in town until 2nd September 1919.  What a homecoming that must have been.

But when I was writing my book (Aix-en-Provence: The Inside Story) and researching the chapter on the effect of World War 1 on Aix, itIMG_7013 seemed that there was some sort of controversy surrounding the troops from Provence but I couldn’t find details.

Then came ‘La Faute au Midi’, a new book and exhibition, which told it all and it was truly an appalling story.

Here is my post from 2014:

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pumpkinsLots of golden leaves on the ground and autumnal chills make warming dishes very welcome: this recipe makes the most of the colourful pumpkins that are brightening market stalls in Aix.  When I posted this 4 years ago, I used a shiny red potiron but any sort of squash would work. I  just rediscovered the post and remembered how much we liked this first time round.

Serve in deep bowls with crème fraiche and lots of mango chutney.  Serves 4

  1.  Fry a chopped onion in a splash of sunflower oil for 5 mins.
  2. Add 500g peeled and chopped pumpkin, 800g peeled and cubed potatoes, and 1 chopped cooking apple.
  3. Stir in 2 tsp of curry paste, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp ginger + 2 bay leaves.
  4. Add 500ml boiling water with a crumbled stock cube, a handful of raisins and seasoning.
  5. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender.  About 20 minutes.  Keep tasting the adjust seasoning and curry strength.

Serve with rice or chunks of bread, crème fraiche and mango chutney.

Mighty Mushroom Traybake

I love the heaps of different types of mushrooms on the Aix markets; here’s a very easy recipe to make the most of them.  Traybakes are a super-easy way to cook a family meal or casual lunch for friends (when we can do that again….)  I like the fact that it can all be prepared in advance and popped into the oven where the various ingredients mingle together into a delicious tasty dish.

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe which is for 4.  More like 6 I would have thought esp at lunchtime. I didn’t have any cannellini beans in the kitchen so used mixed beans in tomato sauce which turned out well.  The great thing about traybakes is that you can incorporate varied ingredients………..warms the kitchen too.

 

  • 800g potatoes

  • 4 garlic cloves

  • 2 red onions

  • ½ a bunch of fresh rosemary (15g)

  • 1 fresh red chilli (optional)

  • olive oil

  • 500g mixed mushrooms

  • 2 x 400g tins cannellini beans

  • red wine vinegar

  • 4 heaped tbsp soured cream

  1. Preheat the oven to gas 6, 200 ̊C, fan 180¡C. Scrub the potatoes, peel the garlic and onions, then slice everything 0.5cm thick, chucking it in a large, shallow roasting tray (30 x 40cm) as you go. Strip in most of the rosemary leaves, then finely slice and add most of the chilli, if using. Add a pinch of sea salt and black pepper and 1 tbsp oil, toss well, arrange in a fairly even layer and roast for 40 mins. Halfway through cooking, roughly tear and toss in the mushrooms, leaving any smaller ones whole.

  2. Pull the tray out of the oven, drain the beans and stir them in, along with 1 tbsp vinegar. Sprinkle over the remaining rosemary leaves and chilli, then return to the oven for a further 20 mins, or until everything is golden and delicious.

  3. Divide the traybake between plates, with a dollop of soured cream on top. Lovely served with some steamed greens or dressed baby spinach.

One for our occasional series of famous-people’s-houses-for-sale, a dazzling Riviera property which once belonged to the late Sir Sean Connery has come on to the market.  Villa Le Roc Fleuri at Cap de Nice is where he lived in the 70s and 80s – in fact some filming took place there for James Bond movies.  What an achievement for a young man, born into deprivation in inner city Edinburgh where they didn’t have a bathroom to their name.  Take a peek inside: https://www.edinburghlive.co.uk/news/edinburgh-news/gallery/inside-sean-connerys-luxury-french-19218831

Yours for 30 million euros….

With so much closed right now, at least we can open a good book, and what a treat to read ‘A Noel Killing’ set in Aix at Christmas – the festive, crowded, colourful Aix we all remember. It’s the latest in the series of novels set in town by local author M L Longworth. I’ve read them all so far and enjoy the intricate plots set in locations I know so well.

“Christmastime in the south of France is as beautiful as ever, but when a shady local businessman drops dead in the middle of the festivities, Verlaque and Bonnet must solve the case while keeping the holiday spirit alive.

“Antoine Verlaque, examining magistrate for the beautiful town of Aix-en-Provence, doesn’t like Christmas. The decorations appear in the shops far too early, festive tourists swarm the streets, and his beloved Cours Mirabeau is lined with chalets selling what he regards as tacky trinkets. But his wife and partner Marine Bonnet is determined to make this a Christmas they can both enjoy, beginning with the carol sing at the Cathedral Saint Sauveur, a beautiful service in a packed church.

“Just as the holiday cheer is in full swing, a man is poisoned, sending the community into a tailspin. The list of suspects, Verlaque and Bonnet quickly discover, almost fills the church itself, from the visiting vendors at the Christmas fair to the victim’s unhappy wife and his disgruntled business partner. In A Noël Killing, with the help of an ever-watchful young woman named France, the pair must solve the murder while the spirit of the season attempts to warm Verlaque’s stubborn heart.”

Treat yourself – or friends at Christmas.  Order from Book-in-Bar.

Botticelli’s The Judgement of Paris

Just read that the forthcoming exhibition of Italian masters, posted here: https://aixcentric.com/2020/09/28/next-show-at-aixs-hotel-caumont/, due to begin on 17th December is now postponed.

It will take place in 2021, no date given.

The illuminations are going up in town despite the ‘confinement’ which prevents people venturing out more than one kilometre from home for the whole of November.  But what are the plans for the children’s rides and the markets?  This is the current status.

Christmas Market – ‘Suspendu’ – decision end of month

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