Riviera Reporter
Riviera Reporter

History and Traditions

Articles and stories of historical interest. How certain customs came to be.

Prints of Provence, fabrics on a marketstall

Prints of Provence: “Les Indiennes” colourful fabrics

Margo Lestz | Apr 19, 2018
How could a fabric that originated in India, was copied by Armenians and outlawed in France, become a symbol of Provence? The kaleidoscope of cotton fabrics that punctuate the Provençal markets today just seem to shout “southern France”. They are…
Bread oven in a bakery

Bread and bad luck, a French superstition

Margo Lestz | Mar 02, 2018
The French are a superstitious lot. They have many traditions that predict whether good or bad luck will follow a certain action. One such superstition states that you should never lay bread on the table upside down. It’s widely known that this…
Marie Antoinette with her natural children

Marie Antoinette’s adopted children

Margo Lestz | Jan 22, 2018
“Let them eat cake!” This is the most famous line that Marie Antoinette never said. It was first written about someone else, before Marie Antoinette ever set foot in France, but, for some reason, it became associated with her. She’s often portrayed…
Couple under mistletoe

Mistletoe and a flying donkey

Margo Lestz | Dec 04, 2017
Mistletoe in French is called gui (rhymes with the first part of geese). This ball of vegetation that grows high in the trees has been considered magical since ancient days – because a mysterious plant that grows without soil must be magic. A very…
Pont d'Avignon music

Singing about the Avignon bridge, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”

Margo Lestz | Nov 15, 2017
The Avignon bridge is known around the world today because of the famous children’s song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” (On the bridge of Avignon). In medieval times, it was also a well-known bridge, but not because of this song – and it wasn’t known for…

Why there are Gargoyles on French gothic churches

Margo Lestz | May 09, 2017
On my recent trip through northern France, I was intrigued by all the gargoyles on the gothic churches and wondered why they were there. Then I came across this story which seems like a pretty reasonable explanation. A saint, a convict, and a…
cypress trees

Secret language of cypress trees in Provence

Margo Lestz | Jan 25, 2017
Slender, conical cypress trees are everywhere in Provence: they line roads, outline fields, decorate cemeteries, and adorn houses. These sturdy, practical trees protect crops and homes from the fierce mistral wind that whips through this area, but…
Trio of statues

The Virgin project of Nice: the statue that never came to be

Margo Lestz | Dec 21, 2016
Did you know that the city of Nice almost had a 49 foot (15 metre) tall statue of the Virgin Mary standing atop the Colline du Château? In the 1980s, the idea of the “Virgin on the hill” came to the Abbey Royal of Nice, who may have been inspired by…
DH Lawrence's grave

Tracing the 1,000-mile odyssey of D.H. Lawrence’s phoenix headstone

Robert Bullock | Oct 17, 2016
Soon after D. H.Lawrence’s burial in Vence Cemetery on March 4th, 1930, his widow Frieda commissioned a simple headstone to place on his grave. No words were engraved on the plaster-covered stone slab, not even Lawrence’s name – instead, it…
Married couple by the sea

The French do love their wedding customs

Riviera Reporter | Sep 03, 2016
If you are lucky enough to have been invited to a wedding in France, or are planning to get married here, there are a few wedding traditions you might not have seen before. Every region in France has its own set of wedding customs and modern couples…
DH Lawrence with Frieda

The fate of D.H. Lawrence’s ashes after his burial in Vence

Robert Bullock | Jul 16, 2016
During the afternoon of March 4th, 1930, a small group of people gathered in Vence Cemetery for the funeral of the novelist and poet, D.H. Lawrence, who had died of tuberculosis two days previously at the Villa Robermond (see D.H. Lawrence’s final…
Mme Tussaud, age 85, at desk

Madame Tussaud: Ahead of her time

Margo Lestz | Jun 27, 2016
When you think of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, you probably think of movie stars, political figures, and other famous people. You can mingle among these wax effigies, and even have your photo taken while snuggling up to your favourite celeb. Amid all…
Cat with a wig

Marie Antoinette’s cats and an American rescue attempt

Margo Lestz | May 13, 2016
Did you know that Marie Antoinette almost escaped the guillotine and ended up in Maine, USA? Of course, we all know she didn’t make it – but some say her cats might have. The Maine coon An unusual breed of large, long-haired cat hails from the state…
Charles IX giving muguet

Happy May Day! La Fête du Muguet, a day to give a flower to someone you love

Margo Lestz | May 01, 2016
May 1st is a public holiday in France. It’s called La Fête du Travail, and it’s the equivalent of the US Labor Day. But it’s also another special day, La Fête du Muguet (pronounced something like “mew-gay”), the flower known in English as lily of…
French berets on a poodle and hen

History of the French beret

Margo Lestz | Mar 24, 2016
The French beret, that little pancake of a hat, has become the recognised symbol of all things French – at least among those outside of France. The traditional French beret is just a flat circular hat of felted wool with a little “tail” poking out…
D H Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence’s final journey, from the sun to the stars

Robert Bullock | Mar 14, 2016
At the beginning of 1930, English novelist D. H. Lawrence was living with his German wife, Frieda, at Villa Beau Soleil, a rented house in Bandol. Weighing barely 45 kilos, he had been seriously ill with tuberculosis for several years – a disease…
King holding crown

God Save the Royal Derriere: the origin of the British National Anthem

Margo Lestz | Feb 20, 2016
The British National Anthem, “God Save the Queen” (or King, depending on the gender of the monarch), is played at all royal events, but did you ever wonder about its origins? It seems this song could be yet another link in the intertwined histories…
Onion Johnnies

How berets came to play their part in the French stereotype: Onion Johnnies

Margo Lestz | Dec 22, 2015
Berets and onions In the mid 1900s, if you had asked nearly any British person what a Frenchman looked like, you would have gotten this description: He wears a beret, and he rides a bike with onions hanging on the handlebars. Beret, baguette, and…
Bob Walter Garage Ad

Bob Walter the garage owner: Cupid’s helper in the early 1900s

Margo Lestz | Nov 01, 2015
In Paris in 1902, young Dr. Marcile was head-over-heels in love. The young lady who was the object of his affection loved him too, but her parents wouldn’t consent to their marriage. They were both heartbroken. Then one day, when the doctor was…
Eiffel Tower

How the Eiffel Tower was sold

Margo Lestz | Jun 22, 2015
It was 1925 and Victor Lustig was sitting in his Paris hotel room reading a newspaper article about the Eiffel Tower. That gigantic structure had been built for the 1889 Paris World’s Fair and was meant to be dismantled in 1909. But because of its…
Marianne, 1792

Marianne and the changing face of the French Republic

Margo Lestz | Apr 29, 2015
Marianne’s Story Did you know that France has been led by a woman ever since the French Revolution of 1789? It’s true! My name is Marianne and my image is on official seals and postage stamps, and sculpted busts of me adorn city halls and public…
Tom Kupper

Where is the stained glass window from the old Christ Church Cannes?

Margo Lestz | Apr 09, 2015
Tom Küpper (above) is a stained glass conservator at Britain’s third largest cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral, where he’s in charge of the upkeep of 750 windows, the oldest of which date back to the 13th century. The 51-year-old once owned a stained…
Porteuse de pain

Bread delivery: “Les porteuses de pain” of days gone by

Margo Lestz | Feb 24, 2015
If you like bread, then when you’re in France you probably stop by the boulangerie, or bakery, every day to buy a baguette, croissant, or one of the other tempting treats that you will find inside. But if you were a bourgeois or wealthy family in…
Le Petomane, Fartiste

Le Pétomane, The Mad Farter: Joseph Pujol

Margo Lestz | Jan 30, 2015
I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Moulin Rouge in Paris, the historic cabaret topped by a red windmill, which is famous for its can-can dancers. But do you know who was their highest paid performer at the end of the 19th century? His name was Joseph…
Santa Claus by Thomas Nast

St Nick... Santa Claus... Father Christmas

Margo Lestz | Dec 21, 2014
Even though some of the American/British folkloric characters don’t come to France, you’ll be happy to know that the jolly old man in the red suit does. Of course, he goes by a different name: in France he’s known as Père Noël, or Father Christmas.…
Societe Generale

Albert Spaggiari and the Société Générale robbery

Margo Lestz | Dec 01, 2014
In July 1976, the Société Générale, a bank in Nice, was robbed. It was later dubbed “The Bank Robbery of the Century”, or “Le Casse du Siècle”. This was a special case, not only because of the amount stolen (they made off with 50 million francs, or…

FANY: The women who drove to World War 1

Lynette Beardwood | Nov 19, 2014
When the First World War was declared a hundred years ago on August 4th, 1914, one group of women was ready for the call. The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) came into being in 1907 as an all-women uniformed organisation, formed by a Boer War…
Ephrussi Villa

The Ephrussis: Dog Weddings, Duels, and Stalin?

Margo Lestz | Oct 30, 2014
The elegant pink villa on the promontory of St. Jean Cap Ferrat was built for Charlotte Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. She was born into the European banking family of the Rothchilds and married Maurice Ephrussi, a friend of her parents, who…
Liberation of Marseille

Operation Dragoon, the Liberation of the French Riviera in 1944

PJ Heslin | Sep 15, 2014
The Champagne Campaign. The liberation that took place out your back door, now in hardcover. On June 6th, 2014, the sacrifices of those who participated in D-Day, seventy years ago, were memorialized. On August 15th, however, an equally important…
Destruction of the Bastille

Pierre the Patriot, and how he destroyed the Bastille

Margo Lestz | Jul 22, 2014
As the French Revolution started, one man recognised and grasped his opportunity to do something important. Then he used his creative marketing skills to complete the task. Storming of the Bastille On July 14, 1789, the Parisians were fed up with…
Hélène Vagliano

Hélène Vagliano's story

Maureen Emerson | Jul 13, 2014
Large dark eyes look out, under arched brows, from an oval face. The look is serious, but the subject of the photograph could not have known what life held in store for her. She is Hélène Vagliano and her story should not be forgotten. Hélène’s…
Beach in Nice

The Murphys: American trendsetters on the Riviera

Margo Lestz | Jul 03, 2014
If you visit the French Riviera in July or August, you might have trouble finding an open space on the beach to put your towel. It’s hard to imagine that up until the 1920s there were no summer tourists here, no hotels were open, and there was…
Tooth Fairy

Tooth Fairy vs Little Tooth Mouse

Margo Lestz | May 14, 2014
A few weeks ago, I found out that the Easter Bunny doesn’t come to France. And now, I discover that he’s not the only folkloric childhood character who doesn’t come here. His cousin, the tooth fairy, doesn’t visit France either. The Tooth Fairy of…
Easter Rabbits

American Easter Bunny vs French Easter Bell

Margo Lestz | Apr 19, 2014
As an American living in France, I learned a long time ago that the two cultures have different ideas about many (if not most) things. Still, I was surprised to discover that there was no Easter Bunny in France. But fear not, the French have come up…
April Fools Fish

April Fool or April Fish

Margo Lestz | Mar 28, 2014
In many countries, the first day of April is a day to play harmless jokes on family and friends. This usually consists of telling a farfetched story in such a way that it sounds like it could be true. When the other person falls for our joke, we…
Statue of Liberty

Madame Liberté, from Nice to New York

Margo Lestz | Mar 23, 2014
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognised symbols of the United States. But did you know that Lady Liberty is an immigrant? It’s true, she’s a French woman by birth who has made New York her home. (No wonder she’s so elegant.) There are…
Russian Church

Three Russian Tsarinas leave their mark on Nice: the Russian Orthodox Churches

Margo Lestz | Feb 19, 2014
If you weren’t able to make it to Russia for the Winter Olympics, how about a trip to Nice? I know it’s not quite the same, but it’s warmer and you can see a lovely Russian cathedral. Nice has had a strong Russian community since the mid 1800s when…
Aaron Messiah

Aaron Messiah: the small man who became the great Anglo-Niçois architect

Judit Kiraly | Jan 14, 2014
Aaron Messiah (1858-1940) was the son of a British father and niçoise mother in a textile merchant family. He grew up speaking English, niçois and French, but his education was cut short when the family suffered financial misfortune, which forced…
Fanny Santon

Pétanque and a girl called Fanny that no one wants to kiss

Margo Lestz | Dec 30, 2013
The “santon” figurine of Fanny. Produced by Santons Magali, Aubagne. Recently, when I was at the Christmas santon fairs looking at all of the little figures that make up the Nativity scenes in southern France, there was one that puzzled me. She was…
Torre di Cimella

Colonel William Edwyn Evans of Cimiez

Judit Kiraly | Dec 14, 2013
The British Colonel of the Indian Army with a street in Cimiez named after him. The greatest challenge in the case of war or major disaster is finding and evacuating the injured, since the dead (unfortunately) can wait. Today we take emergency…
Tom's hungry

British cannon fire over Nice

Margo Lestz | Nov 27, 2013
If you have ever been to Nice, you may have been startled by a very loud noon time boom. It occurs every day at precisely 12.00 and is a remnant from the Victorian times when a British wife couldn’t remember to go home for lunch. How a Scottish Lord…
John Jaffe

John and Anna Jaffe: The art lovers from Belfast who gave the Emperor's library to a nation

Judit Kiraly | Sep 17, 2013
Generosity is one of the rare values that withstands the ravages of time, and never fails to impress biographers. It is a pity that there is no published life history about (Joseph) John Jaffe (1843-1934) and his wife Anna Emily Gluge (1845-1942),…
Lady Oliva Sparrow

Lady Olivia Sparrow - The will of iron with a heart of gold

Judit Kiraly | Aug 18, 2013
The recent passing of the Iron Lady, reminded me of another unusual woman of an earlier era also known for her determination, power and decisiveness. The comparison must stop here, as the lady who is subject of this article was also known for her ……
William Allen Sturge

William Allen Sturge - The good medicine of Queen Victoria's doctor

Judit Kiraly | Jun 02, 2013
Some years ago researching a university project, I came across a copy of a Nice-Médicale brochure, published by a 19th-century group of hygiene and public health doctors in Nice, mentioning the arrival of a most unusual couple. Dr William Allen…
Sir James Charles Harris

Vanished art of the Consul

Judit Kiraly | Mar 29, 2013
First in a series of English on the Riviera, a look at James Charles Harris, British Consul, watercolourist and humanitarian. Sir James Charles Harris with wife Geraldine outside their villa in Mont Boron, Nice. (Photo: Didier Gayraud) One of the…
Living with the enemy

Living with the enemy on the Riviera during the war

Patrick Middleton | Mar 16, 2013
On November 8th 1942 British and American Forces landed in North Africa. Just 72 hours later – on Armistice Day – Hitler decided to occupy that part of France which since 1940 had been a so-called “free zone”, administered by the collaborationist…

The history of the postcard

Riviera Reporter | Jul 31, 2012
“Don’t forget to send me a card”. This is something people have been saying to their friends and relatives leaving for a holiday for well over a hundred years. This summer tens of thousands of colourful cards will be sold all along the Coast to…
Notre Dame de Vie, Mougins

Churchill ... and a chapel in Mougins

Patrick Middleton | Jun 03, 2012
Learn more about Britain’s war leader in a historic corner of Mougins. The 13th century Notre Dame de Vie in Mougins is an important part of the heritage of the Alpes-Maritimes and of France. Sir Winston Churchill painted the chapel during one of…
Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc - mystery woman

Riviera Reporter | May 08, 2012
Was she hiding something and what else don’t we know? Your average Dupont doesn’t know much about France’s national heroine ... except that she was “burnt by the English”. This ignorance is understandable since, although thousands of books and…

The Liberation of Fayence - August 1944

Robert Elphick | Jan 08, 2012
By a happy accident of history the village of Fayence was liberated on 15 August 1944 by British paratroopers operating as part of the US and French Allied forces invading the south of France. They were dropped in the wrong place because of a…
Young wartime soldier

Côte d’Azur autumn 1939: a not too phoney war

Riviera Reporter | Oct 27, 2011
The Second World War began just after eleven o’clock in the morning on September 3rd, 1939 when Neville Chamberlain made that famous broadcast – who hasn’t heard the clip a dozen times? – from “the Kebnit Room” at number Ten Downing Street…

What did you do in the war, Papa

Pauline Baker | Oct 27, 2011
Talk to the French, especially of the older generation, about the Second World War and you’re likely to feel in quite a lot of cases that they’re not comfortable with the subject. The reason’s simple: since 1945 perception of the war years has…
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