|Burgundy wine region of France|
|Charles the Bold|
|Louis XI King of France|
|US Army WWII driving the Germans out of France|
Click on player below to see a video of our time in Vezelay.
Pat and I visited Burgundy in September 2010. We are not oenologists – the fancy name for students of wine. Indeed, when a waiter asks me to taste a wine before he fills the glass of everyone at the table, I always feel a bit of a fraud when tasting it and then solemnly tell him to proceed.
Nevertheless, we do know the names of the most famous of French wines. When driving through that part of eastern France which contains the region of Burgundy, it was therefore fun to encounter such familiar place names as Chablis, Macon, Beaune and Nuit St George, and so on. The region is also known for the variety of its cheeses and for the making of mustards, as the city of Dijon proves. But, its vineyards are its principal claim to fame. It was the Romans who first figured out that the climate and soil of Burgundy were perfect for the growing of the best grapes. However, after the departure of the Romans, it was the monks who maintained the region’s tradition of wine making. Burgundy is still full of their monasteries and abbeys.
|Village of Vezelay|
|Vezelay’s steep narrow streets|
|Basilica of Mary Magdalene|
|Mary Magdalene reliquary|
|Sculptures damaged by Huguenots|
The basilica later became a target for enemies of the Catholic Church. It was seriously damaged by the Huguenots, as French Protestants were known. The Huguenots are these days regarded as victims and refugees, having been kicked out of France and having subsequently settled all over the world. The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572 resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of unarmed Huguenots attending a wedding in Paris. However damage to this basilica by Huguenots suggests that this massacre may not have been entirely unprovoked.
The years following the French Revolution in 1789 saw further damage to the basilica. The revolution was in many ways anti-catholic, since the mob was very suspicious of the wealth of the Church. Coincidentally, Pat and I expect to be visiting the site of another saint’s day massacre in the next few weeks. We are planning to visit her aunt in Chicago, which was the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. That was a trivial affair compared to 1572, since it involved the death of only seven gangsters. The alleged instigator of that little massacre, Al Capone, was conveniently absent in Florida at the time. If only Charles the Bold had been so prudent!
|Van Gogh’s Sunflowers|
Let me spring another fancy word on you – heliotropism, which means a propensity to follow the sun. A sunflower starts the day looking east and finishes the day looking west. The French, Italian and Spanish words for this flower are far better than the English word “sunflower”, which tells you nothing. The words are “tournesol”, “girasole” and “girasol”, which all literally mean “turn to the sun”. Surely English speakers could have done better – “sunfollowers” perhaps? This behavior by sunflowers may explain the mental problems of poor Van Gogh and his eventual suicide. There he was trying to paint sunflowers and they just wouldn’t stay still. What painter can cope with a twitchy model?
This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on September 18, 2010.