A taste, a sampling, a poetic portion on France, food, history

Jo Fredell Higgins
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Imagine, if you can, that stone tools found at Chilhac, France indicate that pre-human ancestors may have been present in France at least 1.6 Million years ago.

Think about that; 1.6 Million years ago!

Think how short our lives are in comparison, even if we are granted 90 or 100 years.

Neanderthals lived in Europe about 400,000 B.C.. The earliest modern humans, homo sapiens, came to Europe 43,000 years ago. The cave paintings of Lascaux and Gargas show prehistoric activity.

Thousands of books have been written about France and her people. For this short essay, we will cover only a modicum of its history. However, that will suffice to give the reader a taste, a sampling, a poetic portion.

So let us begin.

The first written records for the history of France appeared in the Iron Age. Victory in the Hundred Years’ War strengthened French nationalism and increased the power and reach of the French monarchy. However, in the late 18th Century the monarchy and associated institutions were overthrown in the French Revolution.

Power and alliances and battles and defeat, opposition and the Crusades were woven into its history over the centuries. Philip Augustus was to found the famous Sorbonne University and made Paris a city of scholars. Godefroy de Bouillion, a French knight, was leader of the First Crusade and founder of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Benedictine monastery of the Abbey of Cluny was the center of monastic life and revival in the Middle Ages and marked an important step in the cultural rebirth following the Dark Ages.

The great massses of the French people were peasants in the countryside or impoverished workers in the cities. After the French Revolution, they gained new rights and a renewed sense of possibilities. France was slow to industrialize and much of the work remained drudgery without machinery or technology. An emerging French nationalism showed its national pride in the military and in foreign affairs.

Following the French Revolution a series of major changes occurred and France became highly centralized with all decisions made in Paris. France was divided into 80 departments which have endured into the 21st Century. There was now one standardized legal code, administered by judges appointed in Paris, and supported by police under national control. Education was centralized. Universities opened in Paris which to this day have a critical role in training the elite.

The old aristocracy returned and recovered much of the land they owned directly. They lost all their old seigneurial rights to the rest of the farmland and the peasants were no longer under their control.

France remained basically Catholic. The 1872 census counted 36 Million individuals of whom 35.4 Million were listed as Catholic. The return of the Bourbons in 1814 brought back the rich nobles and landowners who supported the Church, seeing it as a bastion of conservatism and monarchism.

Let us not neglect to mention French food and cuisine. It is about the best in the world with fresh and delicate flavors and ingredients that tempt the palate. A French crepe, bought on a brick side street of Paris, is warm and delicious. An outdoor bistro serves such delicious food that one is tempted to spend the entire afternoon watching the strolling people while enjoying food and drink.

Viva la France!

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