Tuesday 28 July 2020

Jottings from the Journals…

…and I've been reading about a visit to a car museum in Mulhouse…

Friday, 21st
...I'm visiting the Schlumpf museum today.  A friend has told me that I will be mesmerised… hmm, we'll see.  As it is a museum dedicated to cars, I'm kind of finding it hard to believe that I will be 'mesmerised'.  So I'm going to take my book with me and if I get bored I will find somewhere along one of the quais beside the river and sit and read and have my lunch…

The Schlumpf museum was the brainchild of two brothers, Hans and Fritz Schlumpf.  The brothers, a banker and a salesman respectively, were the sons of a Swiss industrialist.  Born in Italy, the family settled in Mulhouse in 1908 when the boys were still small children.  The brothers grew up on the family estate - Malmerspach - and as adults they amassed their personal fortunes by making smart investments in the woollen industry.
What began as an enthusiastic interest in cars for Fritz became an obsession for the pair of them.  Fritz was also a keen racing driver and one of his earliest acquisitions was a Bugatti racing car which he had in his possession before the 39/45 war.  With the war at an end, Fritz began to purchase other vehicles, which he kept, purely for his own amusement, in a shed on the estate.  In the decades following the war, Fritz and his brother Hans began buying up any classic cars that they could find.  They made offers of vast sums of money for whole collections that had already been established by others privately.  Their obsession became so ingrained that they let their business interests slide.  In the wake of industrial problems with their workers and an extensive strike in 1977, the brothers found their business interests in dire straits.  It was at this point that the world first became aware of the extent of their joint and secretive obsession with cars.
What you can see today, in a beautifully designed and purpose-built space is a history of the development of the motorcar.  There are also some of the most expensive and exclusive cars ever built.  The collection came under the direct control of a consortium in 1981 and it is that financial collective that ensures that this incredible homage to motor vehicles is now available for everyone to see.

… So, that didn't quite go as I expected.  Despite having carried my book around a vast museum all day, I haven't read a single page of it.  There are cars there that are the stuff of dreams.  Something that was quite disturbing was in the Grand Prix room.  As I sauntered along the rows of cars, checking out the photos of the drivers, I had the shocking realisation that I could recognise just about every one of them.  From Fangio right up to Ayrton Senna and his racing rivals.  I'm not supposed to know any of this, I thought.  But then, I am member of a motor club, so I guess all that knowledge has been acquired by osmosis…  Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

The museum, Cité de l'Automobile, often referred to as the Bugatti Museum because of the number of Bugatti's held there, can be found at 17, rue de la Mertzau, 68100 Mulhouse

Tuesday 21 July 2020

On being different and French cooking...

...hmm, French cooking!  I'm looking forward to this, Sophie, and thanks very much for making time in your busy schedule to be here today...

Every child desperately wants to blend in, but growing up in the UK with a French mother I always felt different from other kids my age.  We spoke a different language at home and the food we ate was different too.  When I left home at eighteen I’d never tasted Toad in the Hole, Yorkshire Pudding, or Bread and Butter Pudding.  (And I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to eat baked beans or tinned tomato soup!)  We ate Mediterranean food: meat, fish and lots of vegetables considered exotic back then such as aubergine, courgettes, artichokes and garlic.  And all cooked with lots of olive oil which, when Mum came to England in the 70s, she could only buy from the chemist.
My friends thought I was strange because I had paté sandwiches in my lunchbox (not meat paste), and at night we sat down as a family for meals – no ‘teas on your knees’ at our house.  Little did they know that when we went to the south of France in summer, meals were even bigger – in every sense.  More courses, more people, and lasting longer, sometimes hours, with lots of chatter and laughter.
My Grandmère did all the cooking and although she was from Northeast France, she preferred the simple strong flavours of Provençal cooking to the rich, creamy dishes of the north.  Her food was a labour of love.  She used to get up early to cook before it was too hot.  My bedroom was next to the kitchen and I remember the comforting sound of her moving about opening the oven door, washing dishes in the sink.  By the time we got up much later there’d be quiches or tarts cooling on the side, a big pot of beef stew on the stove or ratatouille cooling (Grandmère said it always tasted better reheated).
Her food was also love on a plate.  If you didn’t have seconds she was insulted.  If you had thirds, you became the darling.  She used to prepare our favourite dishes for each of us: chocolate cake for my sister, apricot tart for my dad, and for me, steak and chips.
I’ve inherited Grandmère’s love of Provençal cooking.  I love its simplicity, its focus on seasonal local ingredients, its punchy flavours.  It is unpretentious, and its deliciousness relies on the ingredients which, grown in that fierce sunshine, are robust and intense.  The fruit I tasted in Provence were bigger and sweeter than anything you can find in the UK.  Peaches (bought by the roadside) with syrupy juice that dripped from your fingers, melons that filled the kitchen with their sweet perfume, tomatoes as sweet as fruit, and plump apricots and plums from the trees in the garden.
I’ve found it impossible to write about Provence without mentioning these delicious culinary details and food has crept into all my books.  In my latest release, A Forget-Me-Not Summer, I included recipes for all the dishes mentioned so that my readers can try them at home.
It’s ironic that as a child I yearned to blend in and didn’t like to feel different. However, now I know how lucky I am to have these precious memories and I hope I can spread a little sunshine by sharing the recipes from my kitchen.

about the book… It's taken years, but Natasha Brown's life is finally on track. Running a florists in the quaint village of Willowbrook, she's put her short-lived marriage to Luc Duval far behind her.  That is, until he unexpectedly walks through her shop door, three years after their divorce.
Luc reveals that he never told his family about their split, and now his father is desperately ill and demanding to meet Natasha.  Luc needs her to come to France and pretend they're still happily married.  Natasha is horrified, but when Luc makes her an offer she can't refuse, reluctantly packs her bags.
The deal is two weeks on a vineyard with his family, but will Luc and Natasha be able to play the perfect couple after years apart?  And in the glorious Provence sun, will the old spark between them be impossible to ignore?

You can get Sophie's book from Amazon

You can follow Sophie on her Website on Twitter  Facebook  and on Instagram

Tuesday 14 July 2020

I'm reviewing The Volunteer...

... by Jack Fairweather...

It's been a while since I've had a book review on here, so today I'm putting that right with a book that was short-listed for the Costa Book Awards.  I don't normally set any store by awards and badges and it wasn't the decal on the cover that made me buy this book.  It was a recommendation from a friend that caused me to seek it out, and I am so glad that I did.

Jack Fairweather is a journalist and I have come across his articles in my daily paper from time to time.  It was good to know that the subject matter in this book was in very good hands.  Meticulously researched, this is the story of Witold Pilecki. 

Born on May 13th, 1901, Witold became a cavalry officer in the Polish army.  He fought in the Polish-Soviet conflict and subsequently joined the reservists.  He was mobilised again in August 1939 and fought for his country.  In September 1939, The Soviet union invaded Poland and the city of Warsaw fell.  Pilecki went into hiding and began to work in the resistance.  Fairweather's book picks up the story from this point.

Using archive material, witness statements, interviews and some reports written by Pilecki himself, Fairweather has put together a detailed, almost day by day account of Pilecki's life during the 1939/45 war.  The book covers his time in Auschwitz, the privations suffered and at times, is difficult to read.  But the narrative style flows and although completely factual, it feels as though you are reading a novel.

A fascinating slice of history that had to be made known.  It is a story that becomes all the more poignant when you discover what happened to Pilecki once the 1939/45 conflict had ended and the Paris Peace Treaties were signed.

Since creating this post, the cover of the book has been refreshed.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

The Affair of Poisons...

...Friend and author, Cathie Dunn, joins me today to talk about poison!  Thanks for making time in your busy schedule to be here, Cathie, and tell me more...

CD  Many thanks, Angela, and I’m very excited to tell your readers a little more about the (in)famous Affair of the Poisons, which took place in Paris in the 1670s and early 1680s.
Imagine the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, at Versailles.  The blinding splendour of the palace, the beauty of the gardens, the fireworks, theatre plays and music recitals – and the bustle of hundreds of courtiers vying for the King’s attention and pleasure.  It is a time of entertainment and pleasure, of endless wars, but also of intrigue and scheming.
King Louis XIV acceded the throne in May 1643 at the age of four on the death of his father, King Louis XIII.  Young Louis spent his minority years under the regency of his mother, Anne of Austria, assisted by Cardinal Mazarin.  Louis centralized the state, making the monarch the sole ruler, by divine right.
The Affair of the Poison begins when Marie Madeleine d’Aubray, the Marquise the Brinvilliers, is accused of poisoning not only her father, but also her brothers, to gain their estates.  And she got away with it for several years.
Marquise de Brinvilliers
C. Le Brun Public domain
Unfortunately for the scheming Marquise, Godin de Sainte-Croix, her lover and accomplice died in 1672 (of natural causes), leaving an account of their actions in a diary he’d written in case he should die in suspicious circumstances.  Oh, the irony!
Torture by water during her trial in 1675 led to her admission, and she was promptly executed.  The Marquise was beheaded, as she belonged to minor gentry, then her body was burned on a pyre, the ashes thrown into the River Seine.
But was that it? At first, it seemed so. Then things began to happen.
In 1677, Magdelaine de la Grange, a fortune-teller, was arrested on suspicion of murder.  To save her skin, she promptly sent the Marquis de Louvois, a minister close to the king, a message saying she knew of a network of people involved in crimes that included poisoning and murder.  Louvois spoke to Louis, and they decided that Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, the Lieutenant General – the chief of the new police force in Paris – should investigate.  And so, the heads began to roll, like dominoes.
Over the coming months, fortune-tellers, alchemists and soothsayers were arrested and questioned, usually under torture.  The rack and early versions of water-boarding were frequently used to break people’s spirit.  Many were of no great importance, peddling ‘inheritance powders’ or love potions.  Whilst the potions were merely intended to ‘guide’ the victim towards an outcome sought by the buyers, ‘inheritance powders’ were, of course, a term for poisons.  This led to charges of murder.
For de La Reynie, it must have been like opening a Pandora’s Box – revealing a highly-interconnected network of men and women, including priests and midwives, across Paris’ underworld.
Events turned more sinister with the arrest of Catherine Monvoisin, called La Voisin, a midwife accused of procuring poisons and black masses (where babies were said to be sacrificed), in 1679.  Suddenly, the victims were no longer of the lower and middle classes.  La Voisin provided them, following torture, with names the Lieutenant General would rather not have heard: names of ladies and lords of the court!
Madame de Montespan
J-P Franque Public domain
These courtiers were close to King Louis, with easy access to his circle: The Countess de Soissons, the Duchess de Bouillon, her sister, the Duke de Luxembourg, the Viscountess de Polignac – and including the famous Madame de Montespan, the King’s mistress of many years and mother of several of his children.
Françoise, Marquise de Montespan, was the biggest fish in the net, and one that the King could not afford to publicize!  Therein lay his dilemma.  Her apparent involvement in black masses, and her procurement of potions she sprinkled into his food – to retain his favour – must never be revealed to the public.  It is said that Louis destroyed a letter informing him of her misdeeds.
I would have loved to know if they had conversations about this, and what was said.
In February 1680, La Voisin was sentenced to death and burned at the stake.  But her revelations continued to have repercussions across Paris and Versailles.
To keep track of the many cases, de La Reynie established a special court, the Chambre Ardente (Burning Chamber), in 1679, where trials would be held, often behind closed doors to protect members of the nobility.  Over 400 people were implicated in the trade of potions, poisons and worse.  In 1682, the court was abolished again.  Clearly, the King deemed the revelations too close to his person to allow for any rumours to spread.
Many nobles, like the Countess de Soissons, were exiled.  Some were pardoned, though no longer allowed close to the king.  Others were merely warned.
As for all those ordinary people involved in the sordid trade – the fortune-tellers, priests, midwives, alchemists, astrologers, magicians, etc – a worse fate awaited. Some died under torture and many were sentenced to death, usually by burning at the stake or hanging (the men were often more ‘fortunate’ there than the women!).
But for many, Louis had a more long-term plan.  They needed to be shut up forever.  He issued a ‘lettre de cachet’ for many men and women involved.  These letters were signed by the King and one of his ministers, received the royal seal (hence the name), and served as the king’s decision on matters.
Château de Versailles:  D Crochet
In the case of the Affair of the Poisons, many dozens, possibly in the low hundreds, of men and women were issued with such a letter, meaning they’d be incarcerated for life.  Usually in solitary confinement in far-flung fortresses across the kingdom, these people had no way of spreading their knowledge.  It served the king’s purpose.
As for Madame de Montespan, her light continued to wane.  As mother to several of the King’s children, she would continue to remain in his inner circle for several years.  But his affections soon favoured other, younger, ladies…
AW  What a fascinating story!  So, what's next for you as a writer?
CD  My current work-in-progress is set during this era. It tells the tale of a young lady, Fleur, who is seduced by a courtier and left pregnant. When her mother removes her newborn child and tells her the child has died, Fleur runs away, and straight into the underworld of Paris, to discover what happened to her baby.
about the author... Cathie writes historical fiction and romance. She has published four novels and a novella. After many years in Scotland, Cathie now lives in Carcassonne in the south of France.

You can find Cathie's books Here

You can follow Cathie on Facebook  and on Twitter  You can find out more about her books and writing on her Website and her Blog