Sunday, January 31, 2010

Announcing: The Time Traveler Tours Website

It's happening, folks! The Time Traveler Tours are going live. They now have their very own website and blog.

So today is moving day: I'm packing up FrancoFiles Fun Facts and moving over to I'll continue posting in both places for a little while, until I get the new site sorted, but will eventually move over there full time.

Drop in and visit me at, where you can...
  • Continue to get your Fun Facts fix,
  • Post your questions to the TTT Forum,
  • Chat me up in the TTT Discussion space, and
  • Follow the latest TTT products and their development.
Looking forward to seeing you there! Click here to get there now. And pass our new address on to all your friends.

With thanks for your continued support,

Monday, January 18, 2010

Arago Medalions

François Arago was a French mathematician, physicist, astronomer, and ardent republican who grew up during the French Revolution. In 1806, at the age of 20, he set out to measure the arc of the Earth’s meridian, or north-south axis, through France. Another goal of his expedition was to determine, by natural law, the exact length of a meter.

Arago succeeded in these as well as a lifetime of scientific endeavors, after an eventful return to Paris: While measuring the meridian on the Spanish border, he was suspected of spying for Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. He managed a heroic escape in a Catalan fishing boat that took him to Algiers in Northern Africa. There, he was captured by Corsairs and held for three months. Upon gaining his freedom, he set sail for Marseilles, but a tempestuous northerly wind blew him back to Africa. He finally made it to Marseilles on 21 June 1809, but was forced to endure a lengthy quarantine before embarking for Paris.

Arago’s adventure and achievements are remembered in a 1994 public art installation by Dutch artist, Jan Dibbets. With Hommage à Arago, Dibbets set 135 bronze medallions bearing Arago’s name along the Paris meridian for a distance of 9.2 kms (5.7 miles).

You can still find many of them in Paris today.

Make a day (or a few) hunting for Arago Medallions. Just follow the North-South meridian in the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 9th, 14th and 18th arrondisements.

From Time Traveler Paris Tours: Beware Madame La Guillotine! Coming Soon!

Portrait of Francois Arago, engraving by Alexandre Vincent Sixdenier (1795-1846) from a painting by Henry Scheffer (1798-1862), c. 1846. Source: The Warner Library (1917) and the Edgar Fahs Smith collection, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Arago Medallion located near the Louvre pyramid, 2005, by Poulpy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Galettes du Roi - King Cakes - for Epiphany

Every year, on and around 6 January, all over France, people are munching les galettes du roi (king cakes), wonderful round flaky pastries stuffed with frangipane, a creamy almond paste. School kids are sampling them in French classes; families are sharing them for dessert; friends are getting together to eat them with champagne; and everyone is hoping that he or she will become king or queen for the day.

You see, every French galette comes with a tiny ceramic figurine baked right inside. This trinket - called a fève, meaning, bean, due to the fact that once upon a time it was a bean – represents the seed that grows from deep within fertile ground, symbolized by the cake, that will bring about a bountiful harvest in the year to come as well as good fortune for all, especially the person who happens to chomp down on it. Whoever finds the fève in their slice of galette is declared king (or queen) for the day and gets to wear the gold paper crown that comes with the purchase of every French galette du roi.

It would appear, with its links to nature and the harvest and the earth’s seasonal rotations, that this special day in the French calendar is pagan in origin. But today, it marks the Christian celebration of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night: the day, long ago, when three wise men found their way by the light of a very bright star to the makeshift bed of a particular child in a manger in a barn in Bethlehem.

We spent January 6th at the home of the family-of-boys-dogs-cats-and-Mom with another family of mutual friends. Between the 11 of us, we consumed two large galettes and produced both a king and a queen. Following popular tradition, the youngest child crawled under the table and from there announced, one by one, who would get each slice of galette. He received the last slice. Then, we all ate, slowly, savoring the delectable combination of buttery pastry and hot almond paste available in French boulangeries only one time each year. Eventually, royalty was proclaimed among one of the three mothers present as well as the eldest teenage boy. And toasts to a healthy and prosperous year followed.

If you happen to be in France during the feast of Epiphany, do grab yourself a galette du roi. They come in all sizes – even a single portion. And they are really very, very good!


Artisanal galette, Gorrk, 3 Janvier 2008, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Brioche of the Magi with candied fruit, typical galette of southeast France, David Monniaux, 2005, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.