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The Mass Culture Experience

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This is the queue outside the Palace of Versailles today, July 30. About one kilometre long, should it be unwrapped from the court of the Palace. I counted 12 coaches outside, too. Versailles is a mass experience. Is this a bad thing? People barging through the Hall of Mirrors, tripping over the ropes that cordon off the Royal Bed of Louis XIV, taking photos by the door through which Marie Antoinette fled with the young Dauphin when the Revolutionary mob were baying at the gates. Read More…

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Solitary bliss in Naples

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I’ve just had one of the most extraordinary and memorable visits to a museum. Ever.This week, we were on holiday in Naples…we had a free morning, and I slipped away to go up to the Museum Capodimonte in the former royal hunting park on a hill above Naples. I had heard it would be good…I had no idea quite how good. Read More…

Want to take your children globetrotting?

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I did. I decided it would be a great idea to take my four children, then aged 4, 6, 9 and 12, and my long-suffering husband on a trip which had only been achieved once before by the then President of France, Charles de Gaulle. This was to visit all the tiny islands and slivers of jungle which France still calls its own. I spoke schoolgirl French; the rest of the family, none at all. Read More…

Back in London

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So, we’re back, and now people say things like “We thought you were to be gone for at least 6 months. Why are you back so early?”, and suddenly the giant epic journey begins to shrink before my eyes, as if I had eaten one of Alice’s little cakes. Read More…

Homeward bound much to delight of some

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With only three more days to go, no-one can talk of anything else. When are we going to be home, and what we are going to do when we get there? I have already done an online shop at Sainsbury’s, timed perfectly to arrive within about two hours of us touching down at Heathrow. Cheerios, Marmite, Anchor ‘spready’ butter, Cheddar cheese, Darjeeling tea have all been ordered. And – with not a little nostalgia – a box of croissants. Interesting what you miss the most. Read More…

The Elephant in the Room

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Well, the provocation behind the French Empire is les rosbifs, of course. Or at least, our langauge. Because English is so dominant it has made the French absolutely positive that it must hang onto its overseas domains, no matter how many billions of euros they costevery year or how useless they are, in economic terms.

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Any more arguments and the turtle gets it

So, how to entertain four children while going around the Francophone world looking at the sights? Read More…

L’Empire Strikes Back

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Its official. The French are jolly happy to have their empire across the world. Alright, it may cost them several billion euros every year, and brings in practically zero in return (bar some fantastic honeymoon locations, and a  rather nice heap of nickel from New Caledonia), but think of the glory of it all. Read More…

Cracks in the Edifice

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Being here in French Polynesia, aka Paradise, takes some beating. There’s the emerald mountains, the boundless ocean, the oodles of tropical fish swimming around, and the perfect sunsets. Read More…

Welcome to Wild Guyane

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This trip is getting stranger and stranger – a bit like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. Take the familiar French DIY chain Mr Bricolage. Totally ordinary, everyday, suburban. The Gallic version of Homebase. It has transformed itself in my view. First, it was on the front of a giant shed selling barbeques and paintbrushes. Then, it was festooned on the sail of a Martiniquais ‘yole’, or crazy sail boat with no steering other than six or so logs onto which the sailors have to perch, dangling several feet above the water. The boat is sponsored by Mr Bricolage, you see. Now we are in Guyane, South America, what do you know but our friend Mr. Bricolage pops up again – this time within the context of a deep Amazonian forest, with giant butterflies, vultures and mosquitos the size of helicopters. Read More…