A favorite luncheon place in the centre of the small French city of Saintes is Procopio, a pizzeria. This is not just globalization at work, or anotherexample of French cuisine losing out to fast food.
In the first century A.D. Saintes was the first capital of the Romanprovince of Aquitania, the region between the Loire River to the North andthe Pyrenee mountains to the South-West, so let’s say the city is making aculinary return to its historical roots.
The English are going through an active phase of French mania postThatcher/Blair. According to an ICM (France) opinion poll of October 9, as manyas 37 per cent want to leave their cold, expensive island for warmer, lessexpensive France with its 35 hour work week, lengthy paid vacations, andefficient, accessible public services.
From the 12th century to the 15th century Saintes was at the centre of theinterminable conflicts between England and France. The lazy river Charentesthat divides the city in two was at one point the boundary between the landsof France and those of England.
Today, French estate agents are battling over English clients.
France did not become France until 507 AD when in the first battle ofPoitiers, Clovis, King of the Franks defeated the Visigoths. This was thefirst incursion of the Franks from North of the Loire, into Aquitaine in theSouth.
Aquitaine is the historical home of the Plantagenets. Eleanor of Aquitaine first married the King of France, then divorced him six years later tomarry, in 1152, the Duke of Normandy who became the King of England in 1154.
Her dowry, Aquitaine, was at issue in the 100 Years War (1328-1483) betweenEngland and France. Her son Richard the Lionhearted became a greatly lovedKing of England with statues raised to him throughout the land, yet he neverlearned to speak English, and only resided in his Kingdom for a total of sixmonths, though he reigned for 10 years, preferring life in France South ofthe Loire.
Queen Eleanor much preferred Aquitaine to Paris and the Isle of France, andto London as well. Her court in Poitiers was noted for its devotion to musicand poetry, and her lands for their abundant agricultural riches, includinggorgeous flowering fruit trees.
Plenty of Northern Europeans seem to agree with Eleanor. The Swedes and theDutch are competing with the English in Aquitaine for the best buys in stonefarmhouses, or holiday flats by the sea.
Aquitaine was also the land of many French Canadians who shipped out to NewFrance from La Rochelle, taking with them, no doubt, memories of centuriesof English-French hostilities past, and unaware of those to come.
The movement of Europeans from place to place across old national boundariesis worth watching. The 100,000 British permanent residents of France, andthe 500,000 who spend more than six weeks a year here, have their counterparts inthe young French expatriates learning English while working in Dublin orLondon.
Nonetheless, French national identity, so strong, and buttressed bylanguage, culture, institutions and politics, is not about to disappearinto a new European citizenship.
It took about 1,500 years for France to emerge from the Roman empire.Becoming European may not be much faster, but for some individuals, it isnow well underway.