The Doors of Provence

A pictorial journey through les portes de Provence, accompanied by quotes about doors.

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During the week we spent based in Aix-en-Provence, France, we practically overdosed on adorable. I mean, those people are doing something right. The towns are quaint and filled with markets. You’ll pass through small squares with fountains in the middle.

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And then there are the doors. We couldn’t help but snap photos on every street we strolled along. Many of the doors are surprisingly narrow. Many have intricate stone archways with faces guarding the entrance. Many sported intricately carved panels. Some opened in the middle, like giant shutters. A few had somewhat intimidating knockers. And most were of a deep brown wood, though now and then you’d see one painted a blue as bright as the Provençal sky.

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Here are our favorite doors from Aix and its environs, paired with quotes about this architectural detail that never fails to captivate. Step right in. –Wally

There are so many doors to open. I am impatient to begin.
–Daniel Keyes, “Flowers for Algernon”
Doors are funny things.
Some lead to somewhere exciting and wonderful, while others lead to the mundane and ordinary. Some, because they are gaudy and ornate, usher us into the land of greed and money. But many look unassuming and plain, yet hidden behind their simplicity one can find love; warmth; a cozy fire; a home cooked meal and a beautiful family.
It’s these doors I search for in life and it’s these doors that I shall find.
–Anthony T. Hincks
I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.
–Elizabeth Taylor
Windows open out onto the universe around you, but doors will take you to where your imagination lies.
–Anthony T. Hincks
If you feel you have to open a particular door, open it, otherwise all your life that door will haunt your mind!
–Mehmet Murat İldan
A smile will open more doors than what a frown will.
–Anthony T.Hincks
If God had to build a door, it’s because we erected a wall.
–Craig D. Lounsbrough

Norse Mythology "Thor: Ragnarok" Got Wrong

Learn the truth about Thor, Hela, Ragnarok, Loki, Odin and Valkyries.

There’s a lot going on during Ragnarok, the Norse version of the apocalypse. In fact, practically everyone dies — before the world is engulfed in flames

There’s a lot going on during Ragnarok, the Norse version of the apocalypse. In fact, practically everyone dies — before the world is engulfed in flames

While Thor: Ragnarok was a surprisingly funny intergalactic romp, Marvel’s version doesn’t quite match up to the actual Norse mythology. Here’s a look at some of the big themes from the movie, and how they differ from the legends.

Be warned: Spoilers below.

Hel, the goddess of death, is actually Loki’s daughter, not his sister

Hel, the goddess of death, is actually Loki’s daughter, not his sister

Who was Hela really?

Cate Blanchett’s badass bitch is more commonly called simply Hel (which means “Hidden”) in Norse mythology. And while she is indeed the goddess of death — an extremely powerful one at that — she’s not Thor and Loki’s older sibling. In fact, she’s Loki’s daughter, her mom being the giantess Angrboda, whose name has the pleasant translation of She Who Brings Grief. Hel’s siblings are the monstrous wolf Fenrir and Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent.

Hel’s putrid stink is a sure sign she’s in the vicinity.
Hel is half a beautiful woman, half a rotting, skeletal corpse

Hel is half a beautiful woman, half a rotting, skeletal corpse

The goddess doesn’t have Blanchett’s steely beauty — well, at least half of her doesn’t. Hel is usually depicted as being split down the middle, with one half a young woman, the other half a rotting skeleton, according to Northern Tradition Paganism. Hel’s putrid stink is a sure sign she’s in the vicinity.

Hel rules over a dominion that shares her name (much like Hades in Greek mythology). It’s this word that inspired the Christian version of Hell.

The fire giant Surtur leads the army that battles the Asgardian gods during Ragnarok

The fire giant Surtur leads the army that battles the Asgardian gods during Ragnarok

Who’s Surtur the fire giant?

Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s Loki’s godfather, having helped raise that little troublemaker.

The fire giant is more commonly called Surt (“Black”) due to his charred appearance. Instead of being a cool flaming demon as he’s depicted in Thor: Ragnarok, he’s more humanlike in Norse mythology, with a flowing beard.

He carries a flaming sword and has a destiny to fulfill (everyone in Norse myths seems to be playing out preordained roles): Lead his kin and Hel’s undead minions into battle against the gods of Asgard during Ragnarok, the cyclical destruction of the cosmos. Surt sweeps his sword across the earth, leaving nothing but an inferno. He killed the god Freyr, who in turn offed him. Few survived Ragnarok.

Everyone seems to kill each other during Ragnarok, including Thor and the Midgard Serpent

Everyone seems to kill each other during Ragnarok, including Thor and the Midgard Serpent

What exactly is the Ragnarok prophecy?

The “Doom of the Gods” is an appropriate name for the Norse version of the end of the world.

Like the Christian apocalypse described in the book of Revelation in the Bible, Ragnarok, too, is foretold by a series of omens, starting with a Great Winter (how very Game of Thrones) that lasts for three years, brought on after humans and even the gods have sunk into nihilism.

Then come the three cocks. One red rooster warns the giants that Ragnarok has begun, while a second alerts the dead. The third, which resides in Valhalla, the majestic drinking hall afterlife for heroes, lets the divine partiers know their fun has come to an end.

Even though Odin could foresee that there was no defeating Surt and his army, he and the gods still fought valiantly. During this epic war, the world is utterly destroyed and sinks into the sea. The end.

And yet it’s not the end. A new world rises from the depths of the water, and two mortals will repopulate the Earth.

The giant wolf Fenrir kills Odin, swallowing him whole during Ragnarok

The giant wolf Fenrir kills Odin, swallowing him whole during Ragnarok

How does Odin really die?

Though he was prone to wander, Odin doesn’t go off to Norway to die (after his rest home gets destroyed) and dissolve into gold dust. Instead, he perishes during the battle of Ragnarok.

The naughty Fenrir was kept chained up — until he escaped to wreak havoc during Ragnarok

The naughty Fenrir was kept chained up — until he escaped to wreak havoc during Ragnarok

Fenrir, the massive wolf who’s Loki’s son and Hel’s brother, has been a bit too wild and has been chained up by the gods. He escaped, though, and “ran across the land with his lower jaw on the ground and his upper jaw in the sky, consuming everything in between. Even the sun itself was dragged from its height and into the beast’s stomach,” according Norse Mythology for Smart People. He also swallows Odin whole, ending the life of the Father of the Gods.

You wouldn’t want to fight Thor, especially when he’s armed with his hammer Mjollnir

You wouldn’t want to fight Thor, especially when he’s armed with his hammer Mjollnir

Do Loki and Thor have a troubled relationship?

In a word, hell yes — though they did bond once in a cross-dressing ruse to win back Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir.

Thor and Loki did bond once in a cross-dressing ruse to win back Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir.
Loki convinces the manly Thor to dress up as a woman to pretend to be the goddess Freya (it’s a long story)

Loki convinces the manly Thor to dress up as a woman to pretend to be the goddess Freya (it’s a long story)

Loki is a trickster, so you never know what to expect. He’s likely to cause damage — in fact, at the time of Ragnarok in Norse mythology, he’s been chained inside a mountain as punishment for his involvement in the death of the god Balder, a favorite of the Asgardians. (Loki gave his blind brother Hod a mistletoe dart — the only thing that could harm Balder — and guided his aim so it struck and killed the deity.)

But Loki’s also known to actually help the gods as well. The Marvel universe has captured his mercurial spirit; you never know if he’s on Thor’s side — and you know you should never fully trust him.

During Ragnarok, Loki breaks free of his chains and launches an attack on his Asgardian brethren, sailing on a ship that’s somehow constructed of dead men’s nails. Eww.

In some versions of the myth, it’s Loki and not his daughter Hel who leads the army of the undead.

Thor defeats the massive serpent Jormungand — but perishes from its poison right after

Thor defeats the massive serpent Jormungand — but perishes from its poison right after

Loki’s offspring Jormungand and the god of thunder have an intertwined destiny. The two have always been bitter enemies, and the serpent is a formidable foe: He’s so large that he encircles the Earth, biting his own tail — what’s known as an ouroboros. During the apocalyptic war of Ragnarok, Thor kills the Midgard Serpent — only to die from its poison. There’s a lot of these double deaths going around.

The Valkyries choose who lives and dies in battles

The Valkyries choose who lives and dies in battles

What’s the truth about the Valkyries?

These fierce, beautiful maidens ride in groups of nine upon flying horses and guide fallen heroes to Valhalla for Odin.

Scandinavians in the Middle Ages believed the gorgeous streaks of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, were the Valkyries sweeping across the night sky, according to Credo.


LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NORTHERN LIGHTS: Why You Should Consider Visiting Iceland


A common misconception is that the Valkyrie are warriors — probably because they’re decked out in armor, are often depicted holding spears and like to hang out on battlefields.

“The meaning of their name, ‘choosers of the slain,’ refers not only to their choosing who gains admittance to Valhalla, but also to their choosing who dies in battle and using malicious magic to ensure that their preferences in this regard are brought to fruition,” writes Norse Mythology for Smart People.

The Valkyries were fierce woman who soared over battlefields on flying horses — until they were relegated to waitresses at Valhalla

The Valkyries were fierce woman who soared over battlefields on flying horses — until they were relegated to waitresses at Valhalla

While they started out as dark angels of death swooping over the slaughter of a battlefield, the Valkyries later became associated as Odin’s shield maidens, lovely virgins with golden hair and snow-white skin who serve an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet of mead and meat in the great feasting hall in the sky. Dead heroes remained there until called to fight by Odin’s side during Ragnarok.

Marvel’s version of Ragnarok might be a bit off-base, but it’s still a fun one nevertheless. And as much as I’d love to have seen Loki captaining that ship of yellowed fingernails and toenails, I’m glad that hottie Chris Hemsworth’s Thor survives to star in another movie. –Wally

During Ragnarok, Loki launches an attack on Asgard, sailing on a ship constructed of dead men’s nails. Eww.

British Slang That Confuses Americans

That chav you were snogging is such a wanker. I thought he was a poofTer but he got her up the duff. Learn what this means and other British expressions!

 

I must have a thing for British nannies. I collected two of them as good friends in my first years in Chicago: edgy and artsy Heather and the sassy, glam party girl Jo.

There were definitely some communication issues between me and my new mates — like mixing up snog and shag (there’s quite a difference between kissing someone and having sex with them).

For instance, it took me a while to realize that whenever a Brit said they were pissed, they actually meant drunk and not upset.

And then there’s wally, my name, which turns out to be an insult in Britain. It’s what you call someone’s who’s silly or inept. Heck, maybe it’s accurate after all.

Here are a few of my favorites British slang terms that you might want to add to your vocabulary.


Alright?: What’s up?

Like our expression, you don’t have to actually answer the question. People don’t really care if you’re alright or what is up. Responding, “Alright” right back to them is common, or you can just offer up another greeting.


Bender: Gay guy

The term is offensive, but I’m not sure if it’s as bad as calling someone a fag. I assume it comes from the idea of bending over. Not to be confused with what we call a bender in the States — an extensive alcoholic binge.

 

On the blob: On the rag, having your period

This disgusting term was one of Heather’s favorites. It’s funny that Americans focus on the product (rag meaning tampon or pad, one imagines), while the Brits have evoked a vivid image of the blood and uterine lining that come out during that time of the month.

Bollocks: Testicles; nonsense

I guess it’s like us seeing something ridiculous and yelling out, “Balls!”


Bugger: To butt-fuck

This word gets used in a variety of expressions, from telling someone to “bugger off” (go away) to a person who knows “bugger all” (nothing).

 

Chat up: to flirt

A guy at a bar might see a girl and say he’s going to “chat her up.”

Chav: Britain’s version of white trash

Chavs are label whores, wearing designer sportswear (sometimes just the knockoffs). They’re known for being loud and obnoxious. Chavs can be hot, in a trashy way.

 

Chuffed: Pleased

I don’t know why, but I always thought this meant upset. Turns out it’s the opposite.


Cock up: Mess up

No, this isn’t a term for an erection. You might say you really cocked something up.


Cracking: Excellent

We might not want something that’s cracked, but the Brits think it’s a desirable state.


Daft: Silly, foolish

Guess this gives new meaning to the band Daft Punk.


Up the duff: Pregnant

What’s odd is that a duff is a flour pudding boiled or steamed in a cloth bag. Coincidence?

 

I’m easy: I’m flexible, I’ll do what whatever

In the United States, this would be stating that you’re a slut. In Britain, it means you’re a go-with-the-flow kind of person.

Fag: Cigarette

When someone wants a fag, it’s good to know what they’re asking for.

 

Fagged: Tired

Maybe it’s cuz gays are so dramatic all the time, it’s exhausting. (Though it probably has more to do with the concept of the “fag end,” or the very end of something.)

Fancy dress: Costume

If you get invited to a fancy dress party, they’re really saying to wear a costume. Weird, I know. How is dressing like a sexy nurse being “fancy”?


Fanny: Pussy, vagina

This one really cracks those Brits up. We say fanny for butt (though it’s not very common anymore). But we do talk about fanny packs when we travel — which is like saying you’re going to wear your pussy pack.


Fit: Hot, good-looking

It doesn’t necessarily mean the person is in good shape, but maybe that just goes with the territory.


Get off: Have sex

It sounds crass when you say it that way. But when you get off with someone, you’ve gotten lucky.


Gutted: Disappointed, upset

Just like a flayed fish, I guess.


Jammy: Lucky

This doesn’t mean you’re slathered in strawberry preserves — unless that’s your idea of good luck.

 

Jumper: Sweater

In the U.S., a girl might wear a little dress we call a jumper, but the word has another connotation in England.

 

Kerfuffle: Commotion, fuss

This is a popular expression from one of our favorite sketch comedy shows, Little Britain. The characters always seem to be getting into a right kerfuffle.

Knackered: Extremely tired

Jo always seemed to be “bloody knackered.” I didn’t dub her the Rock ’n’ Roll Nanny for nuthin’.

 

Knob: Penis, jerk, idiot, dork

We call someone who’s a jerk a dick, but knob seems to be a more general insult for anyone you don’t like.

 

Prat: Dumbass, idiot

Don’t feel like one if you don’t know this word. But it’s always nice to know when you’re being insulted.

Pissed: Drunk

When you’re pissed in America, you’re really upset about something. In Britain, you’ve just had too much to drink.


Pissing around, pissing about: Wasting time, acting immature

No, it doesn’t mean urinating in a circle.


Taking the piss (out of someone): Making fun of someone

Oh boy, this one was an odd one to hear. I have no idea why removing someone’s urine would translate to teasing, but every language has its bizarre expressions.

Poof, poofter: Fag, male homosexual

Usually used to describe someone overly effeminate.

 

On the pull: Trying to get laid

Guess you’re trying to lure someone in.


Quid: Pound

We’re talking currency here, folks. It’s the equivalent of how we call a dollar a buck in the U.S.


Read: Major in

I read English in college, so I had to read a lot of English literature. It sounds weird to me that you can read business, medicine, law or the like.


Made redundant: Get laid off

The American expression just doesn’t seem as brutal as the British one. It’s like, Sorry, you’re no longer useful; you’re superfluous. That’s just kicking someone when they’re down.

Shag: Fuck

Don’t confuse this with snog. Brits can shag on a shag carpet.

 

Get shirty: Be annoyed, in a bad mood

I wonder what about being like this particular article of clothing translates to a foul mood.


Slag: Slut, promiscuous person

Slag is a byproduct of the smelting process. Maybe the connotation with people is that they’re castoffs. 

 

Slag someone off: To bitch someone out, criticize

If your significant other is always slagging you off, they’re not worth your time.

Go for a slash, have a slash: To take a piss

Not sure what the connection to slashing is, but this is a colorful phrase Duke and I have adopted.

 

Snog: To kiss

Keep in mind that snogging isn’t shagging. The definitions I found online add an element of cuddling to this verb.

 

Tosser: Idiot

This is literally a guy who masturbates. Not sure why that got equated with a general insult.


Trainers: Tennis shoes, sneakers

The British word probably makes more sense than ours. I mean, how many people actually play tennis or sneak around in their gym shoes?

 

Trolleyed: Wasted, very drunk

We have these trolleys in Chicago that you can rent for the night and get drunk on. Though somehow I don’t think that’s the origin of this word.

 

Twee: Too stinkin’ cute

Listen to She & Him or go to Anthropologie to experience this word in action. I like to mix American slang with British to say something is totes twee.

 

Wanker: Jerk, dick, asshole

Again, like tosser, this is someone who jerks off. And again, why is that an insult? I mean, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, etc., etc. –Wally

Discover the Charms of La Ciotat

A little-known port in the South of France, where you can hike up to Parc du Mugel botanic gardens and see the Eden Théâtre, where the Lumière Brothers screened the first moving picture.

An on-the-fly decision brought us to La Ciotat, France

An on-the-fly decision brought us to La Ciotat, France

The plan was to take a day trip to Aubagne in the South of France. But because of the all-too-common and unpredictable rail strike, we were unable to take the train. So Wally, his parents and I decided we’d try out the bus. We bought tickets and boarded the 72 bus from Aix.

The picturesque port of La Ciotat

The picturesque port of La Ciotat

During the ride, Wally struck up a conversation with an adorable young woman with large expressive eyes and chestnut-colored hair tousled in a loose braid. She asked us in French where we were going, and when she heard that our plan was to hit Aubagne, she instead suggested La Ciotat, saying, “It’s super!” pronouncing the word “soo-pair.”

It was here that Auguste and Louis Lumière screened their movie, ‘Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station,’ which sent some viewers running from their seats in terror.
Many of the buildings of Provence are pastel-colored, with shuttered windows

Many of the buildings of Provence are pastel-colored, with shuttered windows

We decided to follow her advice; after all, she knows the region better than we did. And so we got off the bus early, to explore La Ciotat.

Duke on the beach at La Ciotat

Duke on the beach at La Ciotat

The charming seaside town was the birthplace of cinema and the setting for many of the pioneering Lumière brothers’ first moving pictures. The quaint old port is now filled with luxury yachts and fishing boats bobbing upon the gentle waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Yachts, sailboats and seagulls in a postcard-perfect setting

Yachts, sailboats and seagulls in a postcard-perfect setting

A delightful place to spend an afternoon

A delightful place to spend an afternoon

Fishing boats line the harbor at La Ciotat

Fishing boats line the harbor at La Ciotat

Apparently the town also holds a yearly festival in October to celebrate its miraculous immunity from the Great Plague of 1720. Nearby Marseille did not fare so well and lost about 50% of its population! Historians believe that the ancient fortified stone walls surrounding the hamlet acted as a barrier to the wave of destruction caused by the bubonic plague, helping the townsfolk of La Ciotat to avoid a terrible fate.

Église Notre-Dame de l'Assomption

Église Notre-Dame de l'Assomption

Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption

Once you arrive in La Ciotat, you have a choice of adventures. If you make your way from the port like we did, you’ll pass the town’s largest church, Our Lady of the Assumption, with its single belltower. Built at the start of the 17th century, it has a restrained Romanesque style façade. Pale rose-colored limestone used to construct the church came from the ancient quarries of La Couronne.

Unfortunately, we were unable to see inside, as the doors were locked.

Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption
25 Rue Adolphe Abeille

Eden Théâtre, where the first movie was screened

Eden Théâtre, where the first movie was screened

Eden Théâtre

Built in 1889 and facing the Mediterranean seafront, the landmark Eden Théâtre, with its butter-yellow façade, is the world’s oldest surviving public movie theater in operation.

It was here that Auguste and Louis Lumière screened their black-and-white silent movie, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, which shows a steam train pulling into a station. The scene certainly made quite an impression, sending some viewers running from their seats in terror as the image of an oncoming train hurtled towards them.

Eden Théâtre
25 Boulevard Georges Clémenceau

The gorgeous blue waters of the Mediterranean

The gorgeous blue waters of the Mediterranean

The botanic garden of Parc du Mugel is worth the hike uphill

The botanic garden of Parc du Mugel is worth the hike uphill

Parc du Mugel

Wally and I decided to check out the botanic garden of Parc du Mugel, while Shirley and Dave explored the small cobblestone-lined streets. The park is quite a hike but ended up being a highlight of our trip.

Since we weren’t completely sure where we were going, we stopped in at Au Poivre d’Ane, a bookstore, to ask directions to the park. A white cat named Dickens slept in the front window. The shopkeeper told us to follow the Avenue des Calanques until we reached the iron gates at the end and becomes Avenue du Mugel.

As we walked up the gradual incline of the road, we passed derelict port buildings covered in graffiti. A fine wire mesh, presumably to prevent erosion, covers the lower half of the cliffs like a hairnet keeping errant stones and soil in place.

When we reached the top, we were rewarded with the natural splendor of Parc du Mugel.

Graffiti decorates the walls along the thin slivers of rocky beaches

Graffiti decorates the walls along the thin slivers of rocky beaches

The Park’s History

In 1923, the land was purchased by Marseille coal merchant Louis Fouquet. A man of considerable wealth, Fouquet created a great arboretum, planting plane trees, cork oaks, chestnut trees, bamboos, mimosas and bougainvilleas.

The town eventually bought back the entire property, and in 1982, the nature preserve was opened to the public.

Wally went in the water. It was cold

Wally went in the water. It was cold

Located at the foot of a massive calanque, or seaside cliff, the 270-foot-high Bec de l’Aigle, Eagle’s Beak, shelters the site from the mistral, the powerful, cold dry wind that blows through the Rhône Valley to the Mediterranean coast. The Bec is composed of a conglomerate called poudingue or puddingstone. The “pudding” is made up of a fine-grained sediment composed of silt and limestone, flecked with small round pebbles the color of pomegranate seeds.

Elderly sunbathers with dark, leathery skin are a common sight in the South of France

Elderly sunbathers with dark, leathery skin are a common sight in the South of France

Wally and I followed a steep but shaded trail filled with chestnut trees, Aleppo pines and laurels before reaching the belvedere, a fancy name for a lookout point, to enjoy the panoramic view of the sun-dappled Mediterranean Sea. It was worth the effort.

Fishermen try to catch their dinner on the shores of La Ciotat

Fishermen try to catch their dinner on the shores of La Ciotat

The park has an impluvium irrigation system, which collects rainwater runoff for water-thirsty plants, and calades, retaining walls hidden by the lush greenery that act as ribs along the slope to hold back the earth in certain areas.

These lovingly arranged gardens contain wildflowers, cactuses, roses, aromatic and medicinal plants as well as a citrus fruit orchard.

Parc du Mugel
Calanque du Mugel

A pleasant stroll around the port 

A pleasant stroll around the port 

If you’re in the Aix or Marseille area and want to take an off-the-beaten path, follow our bus acquantaince’s advice and visit La Ciotat. The charming town, with its beautiful landscape and historic theater, deserves a visit for a few hours. –Duke

Windows with laundry hanging outside are another common sight in Provence

Windows with laundry hanging outside are another common sight in Provence

Ghosts, Demons and Genies

The monsters of Supernatural, Season 2, Episodes 19-22 include a jinni and acheri.

Are you part of the 45% of the population who believes in ghosts?

Are you part of the 45% of the population who believes in ghosts?

S2E19: “Folsom Prison Blues”

Monster: Ghost

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: How can you tell if a ghost is around? “The clock stopped, the flickering lights, cold spot — I mean, he did everything but yell, ‘Boo,’” Dean says.

What it does: This ghost causes its victims to have a heart attack. Maybe this isn’t so farfetched. A 2012 YouGov poll found that 45% of respondents believe in ghosts, and about a third think that ghosts can harm or otherwise interact with the living.

How to defeat it: You know the drill: The all-powerful salt can dispel it, but burn her bones to get rid of it for good.

Jinn are mentioned in the Quran — in fact, Allah created them to worship Him

Jinn are mentioned in the Quran — in fact, Allah created them to worship Him

S2E20: “What Is and What Should Never Be”

Monster: Jinni (or as Dean says, “a frickin’ genie”). No one can seem to agree on the spelling: The plural is, alternately, jinn, jinns, djinn or djinns. I guess it’s like Hanukkah/Chanukah.

Where it’s from: the Middle East

Description: “My God, Barbara Eden was hot, wasn’t she?” Typical Dean line. Jinn can change shape at will. This one prefers to appear as a man with a shaved head and tattoos all over his body.

Jinn are supernatural tricksters from Arabian mythology that are below angels and devils in the hierarchy. They’re creatures of air or flame who dwell in inanimate objects. They delight in punishing humans for any harm done. If you know the right procedure, you can force a jinni to do your bidding.

Jinn are actually mentioned in the Quran. As this verse attests, they were created before mankind:

Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud. And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire. (Quran 15:26-27)

What’s a bit surprising is that Allah (as God is known to Muslims) created them to worship Him:

“I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Quran 51:56)
Jinn, or genies as most Americans know them, are powerful creatures who can change their shape and love to trick humans

Jinn, or genies as most Americans know them, are powerful creatures who can change their shape and love to trick humans

There are five types of jinn, according to Alif the Unseen:

  1. Marids: They’re the most powerful jinn, described as “the classic genies of folklore, often portrayed as barrel-chested men with booming voices.” They’re associated with water.

  2. Effrits: These fiery creatures possess spectacular magical powers and are quite cunning. In the Quran, King Solomon gained control over a tribe of effrits, who performed various tasks for him.

  3. Ghouls: Zombie-like, these undead creatures haunt graveyards and prey on human flesh.

  4. Sila: Most often portrayed as female, these talented shapeshifters are known to seduce their victims and are the most intelligent type of jinni.

  5. Vetalas: Vampiric creatures that possess human corpses, they can see the future, gain insight into the past and read thoughts.

What it does: The jinni has created an alternate world, where the Winchester boys’ mom wasn't attacked by a demon. Sam’s a sporty wuss studying law and is engaged to Jessica. And Dean gets to mow the lawn!

You can make a jinni do your bidding — but be warned: He’s not gonna like it!

You can make a jinni do your bidding — but be warned: He’s not gonna like it!

He’s also scored a dream girlfriend, prompting him to ask, “How’d I end up with such a cool chick?” His girlfriend is so freakin’ cool she’s got a wicked sense of humor. She replies, “I’ve just got low standards.”

There are hints that all is not as it should be, namely visions of a grimy girl in a dowdy dress.

If it all seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. The jinni can alter reality, shaping the past, present or future as it sees fit. The catch to this tempting alternate reality is that the Winchesters aren’t hunters, so all the cases they’ve solved never happened, and all those people weren’t saved.

“Why do I have to be some kind of hero?” Dean wants to know. “Why do we have to sacrifice everything?”

This jinni doesn't actually grant you a wish; it only makes you think it has: You're really tied up somewhere as it feeds upon your blood, slowly draining your life away.

How to defeat it: A silver knife dipped in lamb’s blood. Perhaps it has something to do with the most gruesome of God’s plagues during the time of Moses. Yahweh (the name God went by in the Old Testament) wanted to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. So he sent a variety of plagues. But turning water into blood, frogs, lice, wild animals and flies, diseased livestock, boils, horrific hail, locusts and darkness for three days still wasn’t enough for Pharaoh to give up his free labor. So Yahweh decided He’d kill every Egyptian’s first-born son. So the Angel of Death knew which houses to pass over (hence Passover, get it?), the Israelites were told to smear lamb’s blood on the thresholds of their doors:

The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)

If you don’t have a sacrificial lamb handy, we can personally attest to this efficacy of this protective chant.

The acheri casts a shadow of death upon sleeping children so they can suffer a long, painful illness as it did

The acheri casts a shadow of death upon sleeping children so they can suffer a long, painful illness as it did

S2E21: “All Hell Breaks Loose: Part One”

Monster: Acheri

Where it’s from: North America

Description: There’s a demon that disguises itself as a little girl. She’s an acheri, the ghost of a girl who died a horrible, drawn-out death, often from sickness but sometimes the victim of abuse and murder. The monster comes from the folklore of the Chippewa tribe of North America. It returns from the spirit world to live in the hills and mountaintops, flying through the valleys at night to bring a plague of pestilence to sleeping children. No wonder kids get sick so much.

Its daytime guise is that of a frail, gray-skinned girl who’s so pitiful looking you just can’t help but feel sorry for her. But its true form is a hideous monster with a skeletal frame, demonic red eyes and long clawed fingers.

What it does: The acheri suffered a long, painful death, and it wants to inflict that same misery upon others. It doesn’t even need to touch children to pass on its trademark fatal respiratory disease — its shadow merely needs to pass over its victims.

The more lives it claims, the stronger the acheri becomes.

The acheri suffered a long, painful death, and it wants to inflict that same misery upon others.

In this episode, the psychic 23-year-olds all smell sulfur when they awake in the ghost town of Cold Oak, South Dakota, supposedly the most haunted town in the United States. The Yellow-Eyed Demon has gathered the “best and brightest” and wants soldiers in a demon war to bring on the apocalypse. Oops — he really just wants one soldier. A leader. So he’s set up this Hunger Games-like competition. The kids must off each other until only one is left standing.

We meet Lily, a new psychic who kills whoever she touches, including her girlfriend. She tries to leave…and ends up hanging in a noose from the rickety windmill, killed by the acheri.

Ol’ Yellow Eyes says he’s rooting for Sammy. In a high-def dream, he shows Sam the night his mom died. The demon stood over the crib, cut itself and bled into Sam’s mouth. “Better than mother’s milk,” he says. Eww.

How to defeat it: Salt, not surprisingly, is once again the miracle cure. But when a young woman named Ava breaks the protective salt barrier, she lets in the acheri, which tears open a hole in Andy’s chest.

Acheri are also vulnerable to the color red. Amulets, clothing and ribbons of red act as a ward against a visit from this evil demon. Parents would weave red necklaces for their children to wear for protection from the illness the acheri spreads.

Ava, who can control demons, declares herself the “undefeated heavyweight champ” and attempts to kill Sam. But superstrong Jake snaps her neck. She’s undefeated no more. Yet good old’ Sam can't bring himself to kill Jake — and is literally stabbed in the back. And…dies?! Thing is, there are like 18 more seasons, so I’m not too worried.

Being attacked by a demon is no fun at all

Being attacked by a demon is no fun at all

S2E22: “All Hell Breaks Loose: Part Two”

Monster: Demon

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: They’re perversions of nature, though the ones on Supernatural tend towards hot chicks for some reason.

What it does: Demonic omens include cattle deaths and lightning storms.

In this episode, Dean turns out to be a big softie after all; he’s willing to make a huge sacrifice to get Sam back.

Demons can’t resurrect people unless a pact is made. “I know, red tape,” the demon says.

He wants to make a deal with a demon with the trusty crossroads pact we covered here. He exchanges his soul after one more year of life for Sam to come back from the dead. If he tries to welch out of the deal, Sam will turn back to “rotten meat” and drop dead.

You’ve got to be careful, though: How sure are you that the Sam you brought back is 100% the old one? the Yellow-Eyed Demon asks.

Supernatural likes its demons to be hot chicks, but most of the time they’re freaks of nature like these fellows

Supernatural likes its demons to be hot chicks, but most of the time they’re freaks of nature like these fellows

How to defeat it: If you’re not sure if someone’s possessed by a demon, make them do a shot of holy water. That’s what they make Ellen do. (They’re nice enough to follow it up with a shot of whiskey.)

Also consider the trusty Devil’s Trap. This one is supersized, constructed of iron lines (e.g., railways) and frontier churches built by Sam Colt, the guy who made that monster-killing gun. It’s all to protect a Devil’s Gate, “a damn door to Hell.”

Well, the gate opens, but the good news is that Daddy Winchester escapes Hell and battles the demon. Dean shoots it with the Colt, it dies, and their dad glows and disappears in a poof of smoke. It’s hard to imagine he didn’t head up to Heaven.

The bad news? The hunters have unleashed 100 to 200 demons. “The war has just begun.” Gulp. –Wally

A Tour of the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur

Looking for things to do in Aix-en-Provence? Travel through time at this historic church.

The Cathédral Saint Sauveur is one of the highlights of Aix-en-Provence, France

The Cathédral Saint Sauveur is one of the highlights of Aix-en-Provence, France

Cathédrale Saint Sauveur
34 Place des Martyrs-de-la-Résistance
13100 Aix-en-Provence, France

Looking through the Gothic nave into what’s known as the choir

Looking through the Gothic nave into what’s known as the choir

Tucked amongst the pastel-colored 17th century mansions and narrow streets of the charming vielle ville, or old town, of Aix-en-Provence, France lies one of its oldest and most interesting monuments, the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur. (Try pronouncing it something like, “Seh So-Vurr.) Rising majestically, it occupies the site where the ancient forum of Roman Aquae Sextiae once stood.

During the French Revolution, the statues of the kings of France were decapitated.
Good things come to those who wait: Construction of Saint Sauveur began in the 5th century and went on into the 19th century

Good things come to those who wait: Construction of Saint Sauveur began in the 5th century and went on into the 19th century

A Brief History of Saint Sauveur

Located at a point along what was the Via Aurelia, the principal highway from the Iberian Peninsula to Asia Minor during the dominition of the Roman Empire, the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur evolved in fits and starts, beginning in the 5th century. Delays between the laying of its foundation and its completion due to wars, la peste (bubonic plague) and lack of financing bear witness to the amalgam of ecclesiastical architectural styles that make up the religious landmark.

Did Jesus really knock up Mary Magdalene, who gave birth to their kid…in the South of France?!

Did Jesus really knock up Mary Magdalene, who gave birth to their kid…in the South of France?!

Saint Maximinus and Mary Magdalene’s Voyage

According to Christian tradition, Saint Maximinus arrived in Provence from Bethany, a village near Jerusalem, accompanied by Mary Magdalene on a rudderless boat belonging to her brother, Lazarus. It was expected that they would perish at sea — however, the voyage brought them to the southern coast of France, landing in the city of Marseilles, where they achieved success in converting the French people to Christianity. In fact, Maximinus became the first Archbishop of Aix. He built a modest chapel here and dedicated it to Saint Sauveur, Christ the Savior.

There’s a popular theory (written about in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) that says Mary Magdalene was pregnant at the time of her journey — with the baby daddy being none other than Christ himself! The descendants of that child eventually married into the French royal family and started the Merovingian dynasty.

ANOTHER “DA VINCI CODE” CONNECTION: Saint-Sulpice and the Mystery of the Rose Line

Construction of Saint Sauveur began in the 5th century with the baptistery

Construction of Saint Sauveur began in the 5th century with the baptistery

The Baptistery Rotunda

The oldest part of Saint Sauveur is the baptistery, which was built at the beginning of the 5th century and predates the current cathedral by almost 700 years. As the town grew, the cathedral was renovated in the 16th century in the Romanesque style, evidence of the growing economic clout of the Catholic diocese.

This is the area off to the right when you enter the cathedral, and indeed, it has an ancient feel to it.

This area of Saint Sauveur is thought to have been built atop a temple to Apollo

This area of Saint Sauveur is thought to have been built atop a temple to Apollo

Allegedly, French historian Jean Scholastique Pitton uncovered an artifact, the orphaned leg of a statue, while excavating the site. He presumed this to belong to the sun god Apollo, and this became the origin of the Provençal myth that the church was built atop a pagan Roman temple dedicated to Apollo.

The eight sides of the baptismal font represent regeneration — you’ll see octagons all over this part of the church

The eight sides of the baptismal font represent regeneration — you’ll see octagons all over this part of the church

Eight slender columns of granite and green marble with Corinthian capitals surround the octagonal Merovingian baptismal basin. It was fed by the warm waters coming from the Roman baths. Its eight sides are a symbolic number of regeneration.

As the cathedral was enlarged over the centuries, it became a mishmash of three main architectural styles 

As the cathedral was enlarged over the centuries, it became a mishmash of three main architectural styles 

A Tale of Three Naves

The cathedral consists of three naves, compositionally connected to one another but nevertheless clearly distinguishable. The north is in the Baroque style, the south Romanesque, which served as the main nave prior to the construction of the central Gothic nave.

 

Romanesque Nave

At the beginning of the 12th century, the principal nave was constructed next to the baptistery in the Romanesque style and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The front of the nave was demolished during the 15th century and replaced with a new Gothic façade and bell tower.

The cloister, just beyond the baptistery and accessed through the Romanesque nave, was built next to the cathedral between the late 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century. It was reduced in size in the early 18th century to expand the west corridor. At the corners, pillars are decorated with bas-reliefs depicting the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

 

Gothic Nave

About 200 years later, further expansion occurred, and a second massive Gothic nave and apse were added. The wings of the transept were begun in 1285 and completed in 1316. Bay by bay, the Romanesque church was embellished and transformed in the Gothic style. This is the area you’ll see first if you walk straight into the cathedral.

There’s a real organ — and a fake one added for the sake of symmetry

There’s a real organ — and a fake one added for the sake of symmetry

Baroque Nave

Just to the left of the Gothic nave as you enter the church, you’ll come to the small Baroque nave. To either side are green and gold organ cases in the Louis XV style, built by Jean-Esprit Isnard. The instrumental part by De Ducroquet dates from 1855. Both are listed historical monuments. An identical but false organ chest was built on the opposite side — just for the sake of symmetry.

Three saints can be found in the Baroque nave, including Marguerite of Antioch, off to the right, with an unusual-looking dragon

Three saints can be found in the Baroque nave, including Marguerite of Antioch, off to the right, with an unusual-looking dragon

A fascinating stone altarpiece commissioned by the Aygosi family, originally installed in the church of the Carmelites in Aix, can be seen in the Baroque aisle. Carved from stone by Audinet Stephani and installed in 1823, it depicts a variety of saints: Marcel, Anne with the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus and Marguerite of Antioch emerging from the shoulders of a dragon who had swallowed her whole.

Stained glass saints in Saint Sauveur

Stained glass saints in Saint Sauveur

Apse and Artwork

The cathedral underwent extensive renovation in the 19th century. The nave was redecorated with painted and sculpted neo-Gothic elements added between 1857 and 1862.

In the Gothic nave, you’ll find a modern cathedra, a throne for the bishop. We think it looks more like something he’d take a dump on

In the Gothic nave, you’ll find a modern cathedra, a throne for the bishop. We think it looks more like something he’d take a dump on

The choir gallery of the Gothic nave contains the high altar with a pair of carved giltwood angels, a modern sculptural cathedra, or bishop’s throne, which looks a bit like a gray tankless toilet backed by three wavy, glittering bronze panels symbolic of the Holy Trinity. Nineteenth century stained glass windows feature the coats of arms of high-ranking church clergy.

Check to see if the Triptych of the Burning Bush, by Nicolas Froment, will be on display when you visit

Check to see if the Triptych of the Burning Bush, by Nicolas Froment, will be on display when you visit

The cathedral’s most famous work is the Triptych of the Burning Bush by Nicolas Froment. Commissioned by King René for his funerary chapel in the church of Les Grands-Carmes, it is considered one of the most beautiful 15th century paintings in Europe. Painted in 1475 and 1476, it has resided in the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur since the 19th century. Due to its fragility, they only open the case on specific days; sadly, ours was not one of those days.

Look for the Roman prophetesses lining the arch of the main entrance, among other sculptures

Look for the Roman prophetesses lining the arch of the main entrance, among other sculptures

Western Façade

With the completion of the nave, attention was drawn to the western façade, which was demolished and replaced in the Gothic style. Figures representing the Apostles flank the cathedral doors. Above the portal are the figures of 12 sibyls, pagan fortune tellers from antiquity, surrounded by foliage, fruit and flowers.

Holy Savior! They built a church for you!

Holy Savior! They built a church for you!

During the French Revolution, the statues on the façade, believed to depict the kings of France, were decapitated, and the heads were lost. The current ones are replicas.

Careful, Saint Michael! I know you’re busy killing the Devil, but we don’t want you falling off the roof!

Careful, Saint Michael! I know you’re busy killing the Devil, but we don’t want you falling off the roof!

The centerpiece of the façade is a statue of the Archangel Saint Michael vanquishing Satan with a cross, made in 1507 by sculptor Jean Paumier.

 

If you’re in Aix-en-Provence, pull yourself away from the delightful open-air markets to spend an hour or so exploring the choose-your-own-architectural-adventure of the Cathédral Saint Sauveur. It’s a bit like traveling through time, as you make your way from the ancient baptistery to the modern bishop’s throne. –Duke

The Secrets of Saint-Sulpice

Dan Brown got some details wrong in The Da Vinci Code, but this large church is still worth a visit — especially if you’re planning to hit the Luxembourg Gardens.

If you’re in Saint-Germain-des-Près or visiting the Luxembourg Gardens, be sure to stop by Saint-Sulpice Church

If you’re in Saint-Germain-des-Près or visiting the Luxembourg Gardens, be sure to stop by Saint-Sulpice Church

Église Saint-Sulpice
12 Place Saint-Sulpice
75005 Paris, France

It might be the second-biggest church in Paris, but Saint-Sulpice isn’t a major tourist attraction — now that Da Vinci Code fever has died down

It might be the second-biggest church in Paris, but Saint-Sulpice isn’t a major tourist attraction — now that Da Vinci Code fever has died down

  • Saint-Sulpice is the second-largest church in Paris, behind Notre-Dame.
  • It’s located in the 6th arrondissement, in the fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Près district.
  • The Catholic church is dedicated to Saint Sulpicius the Pious, a 7th century bishop of Bourges, who spoke out against the Merovingian kings.
  • Construction of the church ran from 1646 to 1745, dragging out for a century mostly due to inconsistent funding. It’s done in a muted Baroque style.
  • Saint-Sulpice was where the S&M enthusiast the Marquis de Sade and the poet Charles Baudelaire were baptized, and it hosted the wedding of author Victor Hugo.
  • It boasts iconic mismatched towers.
  • The church is home to one of the most magnificent organs in the world.
  • It’s known as the Cathedral of the Rive Gauche, or Left Bank.
  • Saint-Sulpice became even more famous by being featured in a scene in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code involving its gnomon, an astronomical instrument erroneously depicted as the site of the Rose Line.
  • How do you pronounce Saint-Sulpice? Try saying “Seh Sool-Peez.”
The fountain was built by Louis Visconti in the mid-1800s

The fountain was built by Louis Visconti in the mid-1800s

We had spent the morning wandering the Luxembourg Gardens. Our friends Kent and Michael, who live in Paris, suggested we make the short walk to see l’Église Saint-Sulpice. We’re glad we did.

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown calls the gnomon the Paris Meridian, or the Rose Line — but apparently that’s pure fiction.
Wally never misses a chance to photograph depictions of lions

Wally never misses a chance to photograph depictions of lions

Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

A block from the gardens, we entered a small square with a fountain dominating the space. It’s quite an impressive work, with lions lying down but roaring grumpily, just like our cat Caribou. The Fontaine Saint-Sulpice was constructed between 1843 and 1848 by the architect Louis Visconti, who also designed Napoleon’s tomb.

The impressive fountain in front of Saint-Sulpice, with one of its mismatched towers in the background

The impressive fountain in front of Saint-Sulpice, with one of its mismatched towers in the background

Wally, far right, and his friends at the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

Wally, far right, and his friends at the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

At the top, in a rectangular structure built of arches, four assumably famous dudes sit majestically, starting out in each of the cardinal directions. Apparently, they were all created by different sculptors and represent religious figures who were known for having the gift of gab.

st-supliceinterior.JPG

Église Saint-Sulpice

The Church of Saint-Sulpice now stands where a small Romanesque church once catered to the neighborhood, long before the Saint-Germain-des-Près district was home to the existentialists (Sartre and the gang) or the posh hot spot it is today.

Thinking of changing careers? Pray to Saint Sulpicius, to whom the church is dedicated; he’s the patron saint of delayed vocations. (The Martyrdom of Saint Sulpicius, Eugene Delacroix, circa 1847)

Thinking of changing careers? Pray to Saint Sulpicius, to whom the church is dedicated; he’s the patron saint of delayed vocations. (The Martyrdom of Saint Sulpicius, Eugene Delacroix, circa 1847)

Like many large churches, it took a long time to build — about a century — mainly due to touch-and-go funding, with various architects contributing different designs along the way. Construction began in 1646 but stalled from 1678 to 1719. It then resumed, mostly wrapping up by 1745.

A funerary niche at Saint-Sulpice

A funerary niche at Saint-Sulpice

Some of the statues at the church are simply heavenly

Some of the statues at the church are simply heavenly

Nicknamed the Cathedral of the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), Saint-Sulpice is one of the largest churches in Paris, second only to Notre-Dame. Its design is actually quite plain for the typically frilly and ornate Baroque style. You’ll also notice that it’s slightly asymmetrical, as the south tower was never finished. Construction was interrupted by the French Revolution and never completed. Stacks of open colonnades line the exterior, evoking the Roman Colosseum.

Light a candle and say a prayer, even if you’re not religious — it certainly can’t hurt, right?

Light a candle and say a prayer, even if you’re not religious — it certainly can’t hurt, right?

Saint-Sulpice Church is renowned for its massive organ, considered one of the finest (and largest) in the world. It dates back to 1781 and was the highlight of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s career. Because of this impressive instrument, concerts are frequently held in the church.

A down and out man in front of the church

A down and out man in front of the church

A wedding was taking place at the far front of the church. We caught the bride and her father as they headed up there

A wedding was taking place at the far front of the church. We caught the bride and her father as they headed up there

Nowhere near as popular as other churches, like Notre-Dame or Sacré-Cœur, this feels very much like a neighborhood place of worship, and chances are you’ll be able to wander it without many other tourists around. When we visited, there was a small wedding going on at the very front of the church, and we watched the bride and her father weave their way through the space, heading up the aisle.

There aren’t any pews at Saint-Sulpice…

There aren’t any pews at Saint-Sulpice…

…just row after row of small wooden chairs

…just row after row of small wooden chairs

One thing that particularly struck us is the lack of pews — instead, there are rows upon rows of small wooden chairs with woven seats.

 

The Da Vinci Code Connection

There it is.
Embedded in the gray granite floor, a thin polished strip of brass glistened in the stone … a golden line slanting across the church’s floor. The line bore graduated markings, like a ruler. It was a gnomon, Silas had been told, a pagan astronomical device like a sundial. Tourists, scientists, historians, and pagans from around the world came to Saint‑Sulpice to gaze upon this famous line.
The Rose Line.
…. It was an ancient sundial of sorts, a vestige of the pagan temple that had once stood on this very spot. The sun’s rays, shining through the oculus on the south wall, moved farther down the line every day, indicating the passage of time, from solstice to solstice.
–“The Da Vinci Code,” Chapter 22, Dan Brown
Look for the gnomon, which leads to an obelisk against one wall. This line marks the solstices and equinoxes

Look for the gnomon, which leads to an obelisk against one wall. This line marks the solstices and equinoxes

Saint-Sulpice has another claim to fame: It’s featured in Dan Brown’s fun puzzle romp The Da Vinci Code — both the book, quoted above, and the crappy movie version.

The narrow brass strip is used as a clue by Silas, the murderous monk, in his quest for the Holy Grail. One end is found near the middle of the nave on the right, by a stone statue with a Latin inscription. From there, it runs north, leading to an obelisk next to a statue of Saint Peter.

This is the famous gnomon — technically, the projecting piece on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow. In this case, it’s a line that’s used as an astronomical instrument from the 1700s to determine the suspiciously pagan date of Easter each year (the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox — it doesn’t get any more pagan than that!). The sun’s rays enter the church through a missing panel in the south transept’s stained glass window and fall upon the line at various points throughout the year. On the spring and autumn equinoxes the sun hits a bronze table, and on the winter solstice, it illuminates the obelisk.

Brown calls this line the Paris Meridian, or the Rose Line, but apparently that’s pure fiction: Zero longitude of the meridian line is actually in Parc Montsouris, according to Travel France Online.

Because of the influx of Da Vinci Code aficionados (visitations increased 25% after the publication of the novel, apparently), Saint-Sulpice posted the following note in English:

Well, The Da Vinci Code version makes a good story. But even the facts are not without interest, in providing an example of the cooperation of science and religion. It would not be unreasonable to expect the church was built on a pagan temple; this was a regular practice. However, it seems unlikely that the sundial, especially if known to be pagan, would have been preserved or reconstructed in the new church building.

Despite the fact that Brown manipulated the facts a bit to make a more compelling story, Saint-Sulpice is definitely worth a wander, especially when paired with the Luxembourg Gardens. –Wally

La Cigale: Why the Cicada Became the Symbol of Provence

A Jean de la Fontaine fable helped the noisome cicada bug burrow its way into Provençal hearts.

The noisy (and let’s face it, rather ugly) bug the cicada became the chosen motif to represent the French region of Provence

The noisy (and let’s face it, rather ugly) bug the cicada became the chosen motif to represent the French region of Provence

Aix-en-Provence, France has all the trappings of a charming Provençal town, in particular its farmers markets filled with fresh produce, assorted cheeses, lavender sachets and freshly cut sunflowers. What we didn’t expect to find depicted everywhere was cicadas. There were brightly glazed ceramic ones, table linens with their likeness and pastel-colored cicada-shaped soaps. You can imagine our surprise and delight, when Wally and I learned that the people of Provence chose cicadas (which I call “ree-ree bugs” because of the sound they make) as their honorary symbol. We had to discover how this came about.

When summer arrives in Provence, cicadas, or cigales as they are referred to in French, dramatically announce their return, filling the air with their distinctive melody.

According to Provençal folklore, the cicada was sent by God to rouse peasants from their afternoon siestas to prevent them from becoming too lazy.

The plan backfired.

Cicadas have been featured in literature since ancient times. Greek poets were compelled to write odes to them. To them, cicadas symbolized death and rebirth, due to the bugs’ mysterious life cycle. Cicadas spend their nymph stage underground, and classical poets likely observed species that buried themselves for two to five years before emerging from the earth.

Only the male cicada “sings,” prompting the Ancient Greek poet Xenophon to quip: “Blessed are the cicadas, for they have voiceless wives.”

Only the male cicada “sings,” prompting the Ancient Greek poet Xenophon to quip: “Blessed are the cicadas, for they have voiceless wives.”

When the air reaches the right temperature — 77ºF — masses of male cicadas will stridently whine or serenade female cicadas; the females do not sing. For those more poetically inclined, each sings in unison by rapidly vibrating their tymbal, a thin membrane with thickened ribs located on each side of its abdomen. Because the abdomen is mostly hollow, it acts as a resonance chamber that amplifies the sound and broadcasts up to mile away. The din is the loudest of all insect-produced sounds.

In Phaedrus, Plato muses that cicadas were once men who became so enraptured by music, they forgot to eat and drink, and their bodies wasted away

In Phaedrus, Plato muses that cicadas were once men who became so enraptured by music, they forgot to eat and drink, and their bodies wasted away

According to Provençal folklore, the cicada was sent by God to rouse peasants from their afternoon siestas on hot summer days and prevent them from becoming too lazy. The plan backfired: Instead of being disturbed by the cicada, the peasants found the sound of their buzzing relaxing, which in turn lulled them to sleep.

There is a Provençal expression: Il ne fait pas bon de travailler quand la cigale chante, or “It’s not good to work when the cicada is singing.”

Jean de la Fontaine’s story “The Cicada and the Ant” is based on one of Aesop’s famous fables

Jean de la Fontaine’s story “The Cicada and the Ant” is based on one of Aesop’s famous fables

Jean de la Fontaine wrote the fable “La Cigale et la Fourmi” (“The Cicada and the Ant”) in 1668, an interpretation inspired by Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” In the story, the cicada passes the glorious days of summer consumed in song, while the industrious ant forages and stores food for the winter to come.

The ant works industriously all summer long, while the cicada lazes about singing. Guess who’s caught off-guard when winter arrives?

The ant works industriously all summer long, while the cicada lazes about singing. Guess who’s caught off-guard when winter arrives?

In 1854, together with six other local writers, Frédéric Mistral formed the Félibrige, a literary society to preserve the Provençal language and customs of Southern France. He coined the phrase, “Lou soulei mi fa canta,” Provençal for “the sun makes me sing,” usually accompanied by an illustration of a cicada.

A ceramicist from the Aubagne town of Provence, Louis Sicard, was asked by a wealthy tile manufacturer in 1895 to come up with a small keepsake gift symbolizing Provence for the man to give to his business clients. Inspired by the poets of the Félibrige, Sicard designed and created a paperweight with a cicada sitting on an olive branch bearing Mistral's epigram “Lou soulei mi fa canta,” earning himself the nickname “the Father of the Cicadas.”

If you startle a cicada, it might emit a spray of piss, prompting Provençal peasants of the past to thread the insects on a string, hang them up to dry and then boil their bodies into a tisane to cure urinary tract ailments

If you startle a cicada, it might emit a spray of piss, prompting Provençal peasants of the past to thread the insects on a string, hang them up to dry and then boil their bodies into a tisane to cure urinary tract ailments

The people of Provence adopted the noisy critters as their mascot, and the motif made its way into everything from regional fabrics to pottery displayed proudly outside Provençal homes. Like horseshoes or four leaf clovers, they’re regarded as good luck charms, and seem to burrow their way into many a tourist’s suitcase. In fact, we purchased a wrought-iron cicada trivet at the Isle-sur-la-Sorgue market and a bunch of perfumed ceramic cicadas at the Aix tourist center as souvenirs and gifts. –Duke

Where to Eat and Shop in Cassis

Spend a charming day wandering this pretty Provence port — and pick up a bottle of crème de cassis and marc while you’re at it.

Book a tour of the calanques, then spend the afternoon in lovely Cassis

Book a tour of the calanques, then spend the afternoon in lovely Cassis

Built on a hillside, the 17-century medieval town of Cassis, in the South of France, is clustered around a harbor shaped like a crescent (or, one might say croissant). Many of the buildings have beautifully weathered shutters and the town’s warren of charming narrow streets are lined with cafés, restaurants, shops and residences easily accessible by foot, or à pied as the French say.

The lighthouse marks the entrance to the Port of Cassis — one of the best-kept secrets in the South of France

The lighthouse marks the entrance to the Port of Cassis — one of the best-kept secrets in the South of France

C’est la vie, as they say — life follows a different schedule in Provence and even more so in a seaside town.
With such a picturesque port and beautiful weather, you’ll want to dine al fresco

With such a picturesque port and beautiful weather, you’ll want to dine al fresco

Time for Lunch

After our afternoon excursion on the Mediterranean touring the white cliffsides known as calanques, the Shirl, Dave, Wally and I had worked up an appetite and decided to have lunch on the seaside terrace of the Marco Polo Restaurant.

Watch the boats come and go in the harbor as you wander this adorable ville

Watch the boats come and go in the harbor as you wander this adorable ville

What appeared to be a regular diner was enjoying his meal near the entrance to the restaurant. When he finished, he lit a cigar. A waitress drizzled water across his lap and told him to put it out. When he refused, she threatened to pour a full glass over his head — and he finally acquiesced.
Each of us ordered the Marco Polo salad. The mixed greens included shredded chicken, Granny Smith apple slices, Belgian endives, cherry tomatoes, kernels of corn and a light mustard dressing. We all enjoyed them — a nice light break from all the fromage and cured saucissons.

Food, drink and shopping in a pretty Provençal port town

Food, drink and shopping in a pretty Provençal port town

Wally and I also ordered Kir Royales, champagne with the addition of the syrupy blackcurrant apéritif liqueur crème de cassis.

As an interesting aside, the Provençal region is known for rosé and Sauvignon Blanc — not crème de cassis, which is a specialty of the Burgundy region.

 

Le Marco Polo
4, place Mirabeau


This chien has the right idea — Cassis has a laidback vibe

This chien has the right idea — Cassis has a laidback vibe

Time to Shop

Should you decide to wander the streets of Cassis after lunch (and you really should), there are plenty of shops and boutiques to whet your appetite, offering local wares — but you may find many of them closed. Shops close up to three hours for lunch between 12 to 3 p.m.

The streets are narrow, rounded and lined with brightly colored buildings — some of which are striped!

The streets are narrow, rounded and lined with brightly colored buildings — some of which are striped!

One shop in particular that piqued our interest, the Cassis-Provence shop, allegedly resumed business at 2 p.m., but didn’t unlock its doors until 2:45 p.m. (We know cuz we kept checking back, we were so eager to get inside.) C’est la vie, as they say — life follows a different schedule in Provence and even more so in a seaside town.

Climbing flowers and bright colors are at the heart of Cassis’ appeal

Climbing flowers and bright colors are at the heart of Cassis’ appeal

The shop proprietor was wearing a voluminous pink cotton candy cloud of a dress which made her look like doll, earning her Wally’s fitting nickname Madame Poupée.

A Cassis courtyard

A Cassis courtyard

We purchased the following from this well-stocked shop, which featured wines, aperitifs and olive oil:

Wally’s mère became obsessed with this blue door — it represented everything she loves about Provence

Wally’s mère became obsessed with this blue door — it represented everything she loves about Provence

  • Margier extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlaban marc (a digestif Mme Poupée told us is a local specialty and drunk after every meal)
  • Crème de cassis
  • Château de Fontcreuse rosé
  • La Cagole (une bière blanche, or white beer, which Wally and I realized is our favorite type of beer)

Cassis Provence
9, rue Brémond


It’s tough to take a bad picture of the narrow rainbow-hued shops and apartments with boats out front

It’s tough to take a bad picture of the narrow rainbow-hued shops and apartments with boats out front

Cassis remains a friendly, unspoiled spot on the Mediterranean coast, where you can easily spend a relaxing sun-soaked afternoon enjoying the picturesque landscape and tasty food in an enchanting Provençal village. –Duke

What is the Day of the Dead?

Don’t be scared of Día de los Muertos! With sugar skulls and homemade altars, it’s an exuberant celebration to honor those who have died.

Every year Duke and Wally head to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago to see its Day of the Dead exhibit

Every year Duke and Wally head to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago to see its Day of the Dead exhibit

To an outsider, it can seem a bit odd. I remember the first time I saw the representations of skeletons dressed up in outlandish clothes as part of the Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. It seemed as if people were mocking death — and, in a way, that’s exactly what they’re doing. By laughing at death, it takes away some of its power; death becomes something you fear a little bit less.

You might leave out toys for little ones who have died — or booze and cigarettes for adults who indulged during their lives.

What are the origins of the Day of the Dead?

The Aztecs honored their ancestors, particularly at the monthlong festival for Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead, So there’s part of that tradition kept alive by the Aztecs’ descendants. But the holiday is also affiliated with the Catholic holy days, All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2, first brought over by the Spanish conquistadors. (Halloween’s name derives from All Hallow’s Eve, meaning it’s the night before All Hallows’, or All Saints’ Day.)

Día de los Muertos became a way to celebrate with your loved ones — even those who have passed on.

Surprise! Fall is the time of the year when the dead are said to come back to visit this world

Surprise! Fall is the time of the year when the dead are said to come back to visit this world

Is the Day of the Dead a scary time?

Don’t let its potentially frightening name fool you. Unlike Halloween, when people love to play up the spooky (hands reaching out from graves, evil clowns, fake blood, giant spiders, ghosts), the Day of the Dead is actually a joyful holiday.

In many parts of the world, this is the time of year when people honor those who have died, and the veil between the world of the living and the dead is said to be at its thinnest.

What about all those skulls and skeletons?

Skulls and skeletons are everywhere during the Day of the Dead. Artwork and food depict them, including skull-shaped bread (pan de muerto) and sugar skulls that you inscribe with the name of someone who has died. People will do elaborate Day of the Dead makeup to give the illusion that they’re skeletons.

Duke went as a Day of the Dead skeleton recently for Halloween

Duke went as a Day of the Dead skeleton recently for Halloween

Why did these icons become so prolific? It traces back to the pre-Hispanic era, when skulls were kept as trophies and used during rituals, according to HuffPost.

Families make altars for their loved ones who have died, decorating them with photos and offering treats

Families make altars for their loved ones who have died, decorating them with photos and offering treats

The fun bright orange marigolds are common decorations during el Día de los Muertos

The fun bright orange marigolds are common decorations during el Día de los Muertos

How is the Day of the Dead celebrated?

Families will set up altars, or ofrendas, in their homes to honor those who have died. A photo of the dead person, candles, bright orange marigolds and colorful paper banners are popular. Family members put out the favorite food and drinks of the deceased, along with various items that they loved in life (a musical instrument or book, for instance). You might leave out toys for little ones who have died (angelitos) — or booze and cigarettes for adults who indulged during their lives.

This ofrenda at the National Museum of Mexican Art was created by a graphic novelist, Raúl the Third

This ofrenda at the National Museum of Mexican Art was created by a graphic novelist, Raúl the Third

Another stylized altar for the Day of the Dead exhibit in Chicago

Another stylized altar for the Day of the Dead exhibit in Chicago

What’s this about a party in the graveyard?!

That’s right. Mexican families will camp out at their loved ones’ graves and have a huge feast. That probably sounds creepy to a lot of you — but they’re just including those who have passed away to join the party. They’ll sing songs, talk to the dead and introduce them to new family members. It’s also a good time to clean their loved ones’ tombstones.

In some villages, people will leave a trail of marigolds from the deceased’s grave back to their home, so the dead can join them there.

These sugar skulls were crafted by the Mondragón family in Mexico, a specialty they’ve worked on for generations. The name of the deceased is written on the forehead of the skull

These sugar skulls were crafted by the Mondragón family in Mexico, a specialty they’ve worked on for generations. The name of the deceased is written on the forehead of the skull

There are some lovely Day of the Dead practices that could become a part of your family’s Halloween traditions. Duke and I have started collecting sugar skulls, and we’ve always loved the skeleton artwork.

¡Feliz Día de los Muertos! –Wally

Mexican families camp out at their loved ones’ graves and have a huge feast. That probably sounds creepy to a lot of you — but they’re just including those who have passed away to join the party.