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NewsletterOctober 2002


This last August my family and I, spent a week in a Gîte (rural rental house) in the Loire Valley. Château country! The Gîte we stayed in, number 436, was in the town of Crouy-sur-Cosson, ten kilometers from Chambord. During our vacation we visited 8 Châteaux, Chambord, Cheverny, Chenonceau, Blois, Amboise, Fougères-sur-Bière, Villesavin and Beauregard. Along with 3 museums, Clos Lucé (where Leonard da Vinci spent the last few years of his life, just a few kilometers from Amboise.), Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin (a museum of magic just across from Blois) and the Tintin museum (on the grounds of Cheverny).
After seeing all the wealth in the Châteaux, I understand why there was a revolution. The amount of resources it took to build and then maintain a Château like Chambord must have left little in the treasury for other needs. As a guide stated, a Château was built to express the power of the king and not much else. That expression is still felt.
By far the Château I found to be the most beautiful, was Chenonceau. Built over the Cher river, Chenonceau has the best balance between inside decor and outside beauty. There are two main gardens, don't walk on the grass!; that overlook the Cher river and border the woods around Chenonceau. Inside there are the many stately rooms with superb woodwork, along with an art gallery.
For me the best of the smaller Châteaux was Beauregard. Mostly because of its portrait gallery with 327 paintings and hand painted tile floor.

La Rentrée

The end of the vacation month, August, means La Rentrée (back to school or work.). This year there was more talk about La Rentrée 2003, than La Rentrée 2002. The government decided to cut back 3,000 to 4,000 posts in the education sector. Reason: there were 15,000 less students this year then last year. Of course this does not sit well with teachers, students and parents. As the week of the La Rentrée progressed the government did some back tracking, stating that there would be no reduction of teaching positions.

Vendanges 2002

September also brings with it La Vendange, grape harvest. This year I helped out two of my brother's in-laws, Michel and Thierry, with their Vendange. There were twenty of us or so, mostly family and friends. Michel's winery, Domaine de l'Echelette is near Tournus. Thierry has a few hectars, a hectar being 100 meters by 100 meters, just next to Michel's domaine. Thierry is growing grapes as a way to supplement his farm income.
We picked a little less than a hectar, in a morning of work. Let me tell you it was back breaking. Grapes grow very close to the ground and so you either need to stoop down or get on your knees to cut them off the vine. The grapes we harvested will be used for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Normally neither Michel nor Thierry pick their grapes by hand, as it is so much work. This year was different because we picked grapes from vines that were producing for the first time. I was told that when vines are producing for the first time they could be very easily damaged, so they are hand picked.

Road Kill

France leads Europe in the number of people killed on its roads each year, over 8,000 last year. The government is starting to act, on September 17th there was a meeting of all interested parties: government ministers, car manufacturers, and safety organizations. This being France there was a lot of talk, with no decisions. But the government promised to vigorously enforce the law of the road. Speaking from personal experience the vast majority of French drivers exceed the speed limit. Also a reasonable distance of security between cars is not observed. I am often overtaken on the Autoroute (Highway) by cars doing over a 100 mph.


Five Paris firefighters were killed September 14th. All of the firefighters were under thirty years of age, one was on his first call. A pocket of gas exploded in the building where they were fighting the fire. French President Jacques Chirac and other dignitaries, including firefighters from New York, attended the funeral.

Maurice Papon

Convicted, for his role in the deportation of Jews during the Vichy government three years ago, Maurice Papon was set free on September 18th. He was serving a ten year prison sentence for his crimes, but was set free for health reasons, he is 92 years old. Only the eighth person set free under a new law that grants release for humanitarian reasons, if two independent doctors feel that a prisoner's health is at stake by staying in prison.
Needless to say Papon's release has set off a firestorm of debate within France. Jewish groups are up in arms and ACT-UP France is calling for the release of HIV+ prisoners and some within the French judicial system calling for the release of other prisoners in ill health.
In my opinion what Papon's release has done is bring up the scares of the France's collaborationist past. There is a black mark on French history from 1941 to 1944, that has not really ever been dealt with. Papon's symbolizes this and how once again France must look back at its past. Not an easy task.

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