Book Review: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris

by David McCullough

What do the invention of the telegraph and the Louvre museum in Paris have in common?

What happened to the American living in Paris during the German invasion of France in 1870-71?

Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris is an epic story of many generations researched and written by David McCullough. The title refers to the great distance Americans had to travel to get to Europe in the early days before luxury cruise ships. Back in the days of wind and sail the journey was still quite dangerous and could take a long time.

McCullough documents the story of Paris through the eyes of visiting Americans between the years 1830, when such a sea voyage was still a risky venture, until 1900, when visiting France became a little more common.

For the book, McCullough has researched the lives writings and even diaries of a number of famous and lesser-known Americans who made the journey across the Atlantic. Including; Elizabeth Blackwell, James Fenimore Cooper, (who wrote several of his classic American novels in Paris) Mark Twain, (who was more a fan of Germany) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Chappe’s semaphore signal tower, with moving arms that would send messages by sign language to be relayed by other towers just within eye-sight of each other.

These men and women were not just tourists, they were medical students, writers, artists, politicians and architects. Samuel Morse came to Paris as a painter spending day after day in the Louvre learning from the master by emulating their work, but then was struck with an idea for a new “electronic” communications systems after seeing Frances manually operated signal towers. Chappe’s semaphore signal towers line the hills around Paris. The signal towers were used to manually repeat and pass on messages over great distances.

Morse didn’t know a lot about the new field of electricity but he began to wonder if the huge towers could somehow be automated with the new miracle of science.


Franco-Prussian War and the Siege of Paris (1870–71)

One of the most fascinating characters in the book is Elihu B. Washburne, who served as United States Minister to France, during the Siege of Paris. Washburne had been given the position as Minister to France as a reward after his dedicated and strenuous service during the American Civil War. But then the Franco-Prussian War broke out

Elihu B. Washburne

and unlike most of the other ambassadors from other nations, Washburn decided to stay while the city of Paris was put under siege by the Germans.

The book in many ways really captures the soul of the city. Paris had the ability to inspire great work and political thought. At a time when African Americans were still used as slaves, there were black medical students studying in Paris. The arts were appreciated in Paris as on no place on earth. Sculptors, painters, and writers chose the city as a place to work and study. Some of the Americans mingled with the locals others kept to their own kind.

The results of these early pioneer adventurers’ greater journeys has deeply affected American culture, medical, political and artistic today.


The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris is a 2011 non-fiction book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough. It is the story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900.

Book Review: Paris Reborn

(Above) 1852 cartoon showing the inside of the new George Haussmann style apartment building.
Book Review:

“Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City”

Author: Stephane Kirkland

Review by A.T. LeMay

Modern Paris is not as old as one might think. Although Paris is one of the oldest cities in Europe, dating back to the time of Julius Caesar, the city as we now know it was recreated and modernized in the middle of the 19th century.

Between 1848 and 1870 Paris was rebuilt in one of the largest building project ever undertaken before the age of the bulldozer, and modern building techniques. This was when Paris was transformed from a city of dark crowded streets to the “City of Light”.

The 19th century were turbulent times in France. Starting in 1789 with the French revolution France went from being a country ruled by a king, to a republic, to an Empire created by Napoléon, back to a kingdom back to an Empire for one hundred days as Napoléon escaped his captors and led an army to Waterloo. In 1848 France was back to being a Republic once more.

This political turmoil took quite a toll on the city as Paris had been rocked by riots and mass executions and war. The Notre Dame Cathedral had been badly damaged in 1789 when crowds of Parisians attacked the building as a symbol of the church which had protected the corrupt rule of the king.

Napoleon III

In 1848 Napoléon’s nephew was elected president of France. Louis Napoléon (who later became known as Napoléon III) was elected the first president of the new republic. He won the election more because of his uncle’s name than any political leadership experience he had.

Louis Napoléon at once decided to rebuild the city that had been so neglected and devastated by the events of the preceding 50 years Paris was also suffering from the effects of overcrowding and poor waste management (Paris had no effective sewers) and disease was rampant.

Paris was so bad that in 1682 King Louise XIV had moved his court from Paris to Château de Versaille. Napoléon III first order of business was to rebuild Paris. Transforming it into a clean modern city.

Baron George Haussmann

Georges-Eugène Haussmann was a successful no-nonsense bureaucrat with a reputation for getting things done. Haussmann was given the title “Prefect of the Seine” and the job to manage the rebuilding the great city.

Stephane Kirkland gives an account of Haussmann’s tearing down and rebuilding of Paris. Haussmann as Prefect of the Seine, dealt with accountants and architects, artists and hosts of bureaucrats. Haussmann unlike many modern more pragmatic city planners cared deeply about the aesthetics of the new Paris, choosing carefully the architects and artist whose designs and work he used to refit the city.

At the same time, Haussmann could be completely ruthless using the government’s right of ‘emanate domain’ to take possession of and demolish family homes in order to carve out great boulevards through the middle of the city.


Haussmann style apartment building.

In his designs for Paris Haussmann incorporated new ideas, like parks to give the people a place to relax and enjoy themselves. He also championed new concepts like gas lighting.

Paris was the first city to be built with street lights that ran on natural gas. These street lamps when lit up gave Paris it’s new nick-named “The City of Light.” Although taken for granted now, street lights at night were a miracle of technology in the 19th century.

In the 1860s Paris streets were illuminated for the first time by 56,000 gas lamps.

But the political situation in France had not yet been settled. In 1852 Louis Napoléon declared himself Emperor Napoléon III. A war was fought with Prussia. The people of France demanded that their republic be restored once more. And through all this work on the City of Light continued.

“Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City” is an excellent book for anyone who has ever wondered about how the modern city of Paris came into being.


“Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City” By Stephane Kirklanz

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Paris we know today was born, the vision of two extraordinary men: the endlessly ambitious Emperor Napoléon III and his unstoppable accomplice, Baron Haussmann. This is the vivid and engrossing account of the greatest transformation of a major city in modern history.

Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City


Who makes the language rules?

Lexicography” is the art or craft of compiling, writing and editing dictionaries.

Lexicographer” is a person who writes dictionaries and studies the history and meaning of words.

There are few different elements that go into making the rules of a language. I am still not an expert in French by any means. But this is a little essay on where our modern languages come from.

I remember reading about Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) who led a team of nine scholars in creating one of the first English language dictionaries. In 1755 “A Dictionary of the English Language” was published for the first time. In doing so Dr. Johnson actually changed the language.

Before 1755 there were no real standardized spelling rules. Different parts of England had different names for different things. A “bumble bee” in some areas of England was known as a “dumbledore” in other places. Dr. Johnson chose one name for an object and stuck with that one name.

Many of the older names for objects are now considered to be slang terms. E.G. An older term for a “girl” was “bird”. “Bird” is now considered a slang term but it is, in fact an older word that was discarded from the mainstream.

I’ve been studying in French and Italian recently it’s interesting to me that the languages are very similar, as they are both based on Latin, but their choice made at some point in history as to what constituted a word was made. Take a look at the simple statement, “follow me” translated into Italian, French, and Latin.

English = Follow me.

French = Suivez-moi.     (Suivre= follow, moi = me)

Italian = Seguitemi.     (Seguire  = follow,  mi = me)

Latin = Sequi me. =      (sequi = follow,  me = me)

In English (the newest of the four languages) “Follow me” is two words.
In French, it is two words joined with a dash.
In Italian, it is one word.
And most interesting of all, in Latin, the granddaddy of all these languages it’s two words.

At some point in time four sets of Lexicographers working in four different countries, most likely working with quill pens, decided if “Follow me” was one or two words. Hundreds of years later we still live with their decisions.

These are the kinds of choices made by ancient Lexicographers that we are still living with today.

It should be pointed out that Languages change over a period of time. Shakespeare is considered “modern English” yet most people today find Shakespeare’s plays difficult to understand.

So who made the rules for the French Language?

Published more than 60 years before Dr. Johnson’s dictionary Le Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française {The Dictionary of the French Academy} was published in 1694.

It’s interesting to think that the Lexicographers of Le Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française were exploring uncharted territory. For as in English, French which had been written for centuries before the Dictionary, there were no set rules. And the rules and traditions of the language were different in different parts of France.

The Lexicographers compiling the Dictionary of the French Academy said that their mission was to “preserve the status of the French Language as it should be written (and spoken).”

Work on the first dictionary took more than forty years. The second volume of the Dictionary was a little quicker taking only 36 years.

Now this may seem like a lot of time and it can be pointed out that the first English dictionary took only nine years and the English language has more words than the French language, however, it should be noted that the French language was in official use for a lot longer than the English language. The researchers of French had to go through a lot more material than those compiling the English dictionary.

French, was in fact, the official language of the British House of Lords until the beginning of the 20th century.

For many years English was considered to be a sort of street slang language. It was spoken but not written down. The British nobles spoke French, the House of Lords kept their records in French and the Clergy spoke Latin. English was spoken by most of the people without any rules so it was allowed to evolve and become more fluid.

It’s always interesting to me that the French don’t pronounce the final consonant of their words. I’m sure that at some point and time these consonants were pronounced but slowly but surely they were dropped from speech over the years.

This most likely happened after the creation of French dictionaries. So now the population of France had a spelling and an oral tradition that out of sync. This happens in English as well but as English was standardized later the Lexicographers could record a more modern version of the language.

I don’t want to seem bias here. As a native English speaker, I have grown up with the language. I realize that other language learners find English confusing. Spanish has very exact rules and is a very consistent language, from what I understand. I’ve seen comedy routines where a native Spanish Speaker makes fun of the inconsistencies of English.

The inconsistencies of French, in my opinion, may have been caused by the earlier creation of a dictionary. Before 1694, did anyone really know what a dictionary was supposed to be? It may simply be that English being a language of the masses and not the nobility was a lot less formal than French, but it could also be that Dr. Johnson learned from and improved on the idea about how the French language was recorded in Le Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française, when creating his own English dictionary.

In English we say,

  • I go
  • You go
  • He goes
  • They go

(There are only two versions of the root word “go”.)

In French:

  • Je vais = (I go)
  • Tu vas = (informal – you go.)
  • Vous allez = (formal – you go)
  • Il va = (he goes)
  • Ils vont = (they go).

(The French root word “go” = «aller» changes with each usage.)

By creating all the tenses and adopting all the word genders from Latin the early French Lexicographers may have felt that they were making the language more logical, scientific and in the Latin tradition. As French was a language of the Royal court it would have also been important to have a formal word for “you” and as well as an informal version.

Latin was considered the most important of Languages at the time when the French and English dictionaries were created. As members of the church and universities spoke and wrote in Latin. Latin was also the language of the early scientists.

Francis Bacon

English scholar Francis Bacon, (1561 –  1626) who only ever wrote in Latin, saying that it was a much more expressive language than English.

Latin was once considered a B-class language. In the time of Julius Caesar (100 BC to 44 BC) the Roman upper classes spoke to each other in Greek. Greek was considered to be the language of learning. It is interesting that Caesar’s last words were in Greek, however in Shakespeare’s play Caesar’s last words “Et tu, Brute?” are in Latin which was more prestigious than English and more widely understood than Greek in Shakespeare’s day.

Gaius Julius Caesar Born 13 July 100 B.C. – died 15 March 44 B.C.

Caesar’s last words according to Roman historian, who lived at the time of Caesar, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (69 BC – after 122 AD) were;

“καὶ σὺ τέκνον “
(pronounced Kai su, teknon) = {You too, my son/child.}

The Greek Language predates that of Latin by thousands of Years. Homer’s epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” were written about the Trojan war that took place around 1194–1184 BC. As a result of this ten year war the survivors of the Troy fled for their lives and settled in what is now Rome. They lived in small villages for the next few hundreds of years. The early kingdom of Rome was founded around 753 BC.

Greek was the older language and greater language. There were books and plays written in Greek. People from other countries around the world studied Greek. On the other hand, Latin at this time was just the language of the Romans. Who were for the most part unknown to the rest of the world. And they would have been looked down upon as the offspring of Trojan refugees and escaped slaves.

Latin gain importance because of Rome’s military prowess in the time of Julius Caesar. Caesar lived about 700 years after the founding of Rome. Caesar marched with his army around Europe conquering the broze age tribes in what is today, Spain, Britain, France, Germany and Belgium.  The language of Latin was spread all over Europe. Caesar spread the language to Gaul, which is now modern France and the language mixed with the language of the native

Caesar spread the Latin language to Gaul, which is now modern France and the language mixed with the language of the native Parisii people (the people living in and around modern Paris) and Frankish and Norman invaders and eventually formed French.

Zah Zah Gabor

(Jane Avril, (9 June 1868 – 17 January 1943) in a photograph and in a painting as brought to life by Toulouse-Lautrec and in a movie as portrayed by Zah Zah Gabor.)

I’m sad to hear about the passing of Zah Zah Gabor. While I wasn’t a huge fan I did really like her in John Huston’s 1952 original version of “Moulin Rouge”.
The Original “Moulin Rouge” is a very touching movie depicting the life of painter Toulouse-Lautrec. It was one of the favorite films of my late father and I still think about it every time I see the movie.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was born the son of a count, but because of his family’s inbreeding, he never grew very tall. He lived in the golden age of Paris, the “La Belle Époque” {the beautiful era} when the city of lights finally came to life after a century of war and revolution followed by a half century of reconstruction.

Jane Avril dances the can-can in a poster by Toulouse-Lautrec.

Paris became the city of light during Toulouse-Lautrec’s lifetime (because of the installation of gas lighting). It is was to Paris that he traveled from his parents home in Toulouse, in the southwestern French department of Haute-Garonne to make his name and fortune as a painter.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings capture Paris in his day and especially the people that lived and worked in Moulin Rouge.

Writer/Director John Huston was originally a painter and a fan of Toulouse-Lautrec. Huston hired a friend and fellow painter who had worked his way through art school in Paris creating counterfeit Toulouse-Lautrec paintings to play the onscreen hands of the artist as he drew in the movie.

Jane Avril was a friend of Toulouse-Lautrec and she was the subject of a number of his most famous paintings and posters. Like Toulouse-Lautrec Jane Avril came from an upper-class background. She had been born Jeanne Beaudon but escaped to Paris to become a dancer after an abusive childhood.

They seem to be an odd pairing but chances are they were never more than just friends. Toulouse-Lautrec painted Avril in many different aspects of life. On state, at the printers, at the photographers etc. She was one of his favorite subjects.

Little is know about Jane Avril’s personality but she is brought to life by Zah Zah Gabor as only one of the Gabor sisters ever could. Avril died in 1943 just 10 years before the movie “Moulin Rouge” came out.



Moulin Rouge





The Little Prince





Rocket French

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The Little Prince.





A Poodle is a Poodle is a Caniche

What’s more French than a French poodle?

When one thinks about the cliché of Paris one often thinks of the Eiffel Tower and people wearing berets and carrying baguettes and walking poodles.

When one thinks about the cliché of Paris one often thinks of the Eiffel Tower and people wearing berets and carrying baguettes and walking poodles.

That’s why I was surprised to learn the other day that many French people don’t know what a poodle is. I spoke to a French person, who even owned a poodle, and they did not know what a poodle was.

“Poodle” is actually an English word.

In French “the poodle” is «le caniche» (pronounced kan-ish-a).

The caniche gets its names from “canard” (duck).

Duck = canard (kan-ard)

Dog = chien (she-awn) (remember chien, by thinking that a dog bites a the mailman on his shin.)

The Caniche/poodle were originally bred for hunting ducks.

As a duck-dog you can imagine that a caniche would love water. This is where the name “poodle”comes from.

Poodle is the Old English name and it comes from the word meaning “swimmer”. The word poodle comes from the same root word as puddle.

“Puddle” in French is «flaque» pronounced flack.

Prince Rupert and his Poodle.
Prince Rupert and his Poodle.

Famous Poodles of History

During the English Civil War Prince Rupert, who fought on the side of the king had a pet poodle named “Boye”.

* (Prince Rupert of the Rhine 1619 – 1682, was German, He was the nephew of King Charles I of England.)

In this drawing, you can see that Prince Rupert’s poodle looks more like a lion than a dog. The traditional hair cut of a poodle was based on that of a lion.

The traditional haircut of a poodle was intended to look like the mane of a lion.
The traditional haircut of a poodle was intended to look like the mane of a lion.
A drawing of a lion, looking more like a hound, from the Book of Kells. Created around 800 A.D.
A drawing of a lion, looking more like a greyhound, from the “Book of Kells”. Created around 800 A.D.

Lions are mentioned in the bible and the Roman and Greek texts, but I have often wondered if the people of Medieval Europe knew what a lion really looked like. Some of the early pictures from the “Book of Kells”, which was made around the year 800 A.D., the lions look more like greyhounds than big cats.

The Crusades may have changed things as many European soldiers traveled to the Middle East and North Africa and saw lions first hand. The first Crusade started in 1069 A.D.

Lion Rampant
Robert the Bruce’s pet lion on his Lion Rampant

After returning home from the Crusades many of the European kings even kept lions as pets in their own personal menageries.

King Robert the Bruce of Scotland (1274 – 1329) had a pet lion which appears on his Lion Rampant flag.

I guess for the common people, owning a poodle (or a caniche) would have been the next best thing to owning their own personal lion.

We own two cavoodles. A cavoodle is a cross-breed of a Poodle and a King Charles Cavalier – Spaniel. My daughter picked them out because I am somewhat allergic to dogs. The cavoodles are low allergic. I love dogs but our last dog I could not even pet without getting allergic.

Big Ollie and little Thistle having a nap in the sun shine.
Big Ollie and little Thistle having a nap in the sunshine.

It worked and I’m not allergic to Ollie and Thistle our two black cavoodles.

I never saw myself as a person that would own a poodle, but these guys are great dogs. They are amazingly fast, they are also great jumpers and spend a surprising amount of time walking on two legs.

If they want to see over or on top of something they stand on two legs, unsupported and can walk around like this. This isn’t a trick that they have been taught. (I wonder what Charles Darwin would say about this.)

I have been in the park and met other dog owners including purebred poodle owners. A full-size poodle has almost the exact build as a greyhound.

I’m no expert but when you see a full size poodle and a greyhound stand side by side they both have the same rounded chest and slim hips and long legs (see the picture of Ollie the larger of the two cavoodles above). They also have the same pointed upturned nose of a greyhound. And both breeds have long thin tails.  Poodles, in my opinion, are basically greyhounds with afros.

Their personalities seem to change with every hair cut. Where the dogs that I have had in the past have always had hair that didn’t need to be trimmed  poodles (cavoodles) doesn’t shed. Which is good for allergies, however, their hair just keeps growing.

Our cavoodles have had some very interesting experiments in hair styles. We tried the more traditional poodle styles on Ollie. Which made my daughter and me break into laughter when we picked him up at the dog groomer.

Ollie had changed so much! It was as if our happy little puppy was suddenly appearing on a Paris catwalk.

Ollie had the shaved nose which made him look a little stuck up. And he had shaved paws which made him look like he was wearing gloves and a puffy shirt.

Ollie with his Teddy Bear style hair cut.
Ollie with his Teddy Bear style hair cut.

Ollie now gets what is known as the Teddy bear look. The hair on his snout is left a little longer and cut rounder.

We don’t go to the dog groomer anymore as it’s cheaper if I do it myself.



“I, Claudius” & “Claudius the God” Book Review

We are slowly working are way through French history. In the last blog post we looked at Julius Caesar conquest of Gaul. This time we are looking at politics and drama in the house of Caesar and how the Roman Emperors that came after Julius Caesar affected the fate of Europe.

In this review we will be looking at “I, Claudius” (1934) “Claudius the God” (1935) By Robert Graves.

Claudius did not consider himself to be a Frenchmen, largely because France or the French did not really exist until about 500 years after his death, however the man who would one day be Emperor of Rome was born in what would one day be Lyon, France, which in Claudius’s day was called Lugdunum in Gaul.

Original covers
The original covers of “I Claudius” and “Claudius the God”

Claudius the God



Claudius’s father was a general in the Roman army who was at the time of Claudius’s birth, engaged in military activities with the Gauls. The book “I, Claudius” is an excellent introduction into the ancient Roman world. France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Briton were still barbaric lands that the “civilized” Romans were in the process of colonizing. Meanwhile in Rome the first family of the Caesars played a deadly game of not so civilized house politics.

Based on historical sources “I, Claudius” is a partly fictionalized, or should I say dramatized, account of the early history of four Roman Caesars.

After reading I, Claudius I went back and read many of the original source books (in English). These include works on Roman history by Tacitus, Plutarch, and especially Suetonius, who wrote “The Lives of the Twelve Caesars.”

Written from the point of view of Claudius (Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 10 B.C. – 54 A.D.) who for most of his life was believed to be the family fool.

Graves said that he was inspired to write the book after Claudius came to him in a Dream and demanded that he write the true version of his life. Claudius had been dismissed by many historians as a halfwit but as the Caesar Claudius did more for Rome than the two Caesars before him and the one that followed after him combined.

Augustus Caesar
Augustus Caesar

The book starts in the mid-point of Augustus Caesar’s reign*. As Augustus and his wife Livia rebuild Rome from the ravages of past civil wars (Rome had three civil wars, The last one was between Augustus and Mark Anthony and left Augustus in power in Rome)

*Augustus Caesar lived 63 B.C. to 14 A.D. and was Emperor of Rome from 27 BC to 14 A.D.

Augustus is married to Claudius’s grandmother Livia. Livia is a master in the art of politics, manipulation, revenge and murder. It is Livia along with Augustus that transform Rome from a republic to a dictatorship.

Caligula Caesar 12 A.D to 41 A.D.

The book gives great insight into the politics of power in the ancient world through the problematic years of Tiberius and the deadly years of Caligula. Whose name meant “little boots” in Latin.

For as a child Caligula traveled with his father who was the general of the army. Caligula had his own mini-version of the soldier’s uniform including little sandal-boots known as “caliga” that the soldiers wore.

In “I, Claudius” and the sequel “Claudius the God” writer and poet Robert Graves uses the modern place and country names in place of the old Latin names. So that the interested reader can easily find the places on a modern map.

imagesI, Claudius From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Born 10 B.C. Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 (Vintage International)

Robert Graves was an Oxford Don who was able to speak and read both Greek and Latin fluently. Graves was also a veteran of the trenches of World War One and saw Europe at one of its most barbaric stages.


Roman "swordsmen"
Roman “swordsmen”

Graves writes the book as if Claudius were writing in Greek. The Romans spoke Latin, but upper class “educated” Romans wrote and spoke Greek to each other. This device give Graves and excuse to translate and explain such common Latin words as “gladiator” into their real meanings; (Latin for sword is “gladio” a “gladiator” is a “swordsman”).

This device gives Graves a chance to explain some of the hidden meanings of many Latin based words that are still in use today.

This is an excellent book for those who wish to understand the early formation of Europe and the Roman Empire. France (Gaul) was considered to be part of the Roman Empire in Claudius’s day. As were Germany and Spain and eventually Briton. In the second book “Claudius the God”, Claudius leads a military expedition to conquer Briton.

“I, Claudius” is a great historical work, the times and dates are accurate and based on pains taking research. The characters are fresh and vivid and the politics are credited with having many other writers who came after Graves. (Fans of George R.R. Martin may notice certain similarities between “I, Claudius” and the “Game of Thrones”.)

Robert Graves; 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985)
Robert Graves; 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985

Robert Graves was the son of an Irish poet and a German mother. He attended an English school where he was beaten up almost daily because of his parentage. Graves finally joined the boxing team and was given some respite from the constant bullying. He served in World War One achieving the rank of Captain and return to England to live and work at Oxford University. Where he became friends with T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia).

Graves finally moved to the Spanish island of Minorca in the Mediterranean where he spent the rest of his life as a poet and writer.

Written at age 34, Graves autobiography.
Written at age 34, Graves autobiography.

In Spain Graves wrote a biography called “Good-Bye to All That” (1929). Graves suffered from bullies at boarding school and then with the start of the first World War he is shipped off to France where he gives a first hand account of life in the trenches.

Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography

Julius Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul; Book Review


519fas41zwl-_sx322_bo1204203200_“The Conquest of Gaul” (Penguin Classics)
By Julius Caesar
with Jane P. Gardner (Editor, Introduction),
S. A. Handford (Translator)
The Conquest of Gaul (Penguin Classics)




One of the first books ever written (or in this case dictated) about that land we now know as modern France.

Julius Caesar’s “The Conquest of Gaul” was originally named in Latin “Commentarii de Bello Gallico” (Commentaries on the Gallic War).

Gaius Julius Caesar Born 13 July 100 B.C. – died 15 March 44 B.C.
Gaius Julius Caesar Born 13 July 100 B.C. – died 15 March 44 B.C.

The French language as we know know it is classified as a Romance language, that is a Roman Latin based language. Julius Caesar was the Roman that first brought the Latin language to Gaul.

Brennus demands his spoils of the battle, by Paul Jamin, 1893.
Brennus demands his spoils of the battle, by Paul Jamin, 1893.

To set the story up the Romans were terrified of the Gauls.  A number of Gallic tribes of very large and very fierce warriors had attacked and sacked Rome in 390 BC. These tribes were led by a chieftain named Brennus. This is according to the accounts of the Roman historian Livy (Titus Livius who lived 64 B.C. to 17 A.D.)

Livy: The Early History of Rome, Books I-V (Penguin Classics) (Bks. 1-5)

These Gaulish invaders looted Rome and burned parts of the city to the ground. All Roman records before this date were destroyed. In fact in Livy’s own words he points out that the earlier stories of Rome, such as Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she wolf, were more legend than fact.* After the Gaulish invasion 390 BC official records were again kept. All the factual Roman history starts from this date.

* Trivia: I read that She-wolf was a nick name for a prostitute
This can be confirmed on Google Translate – She-wolf = lupa.
(‘lupa’ also translates as = whore, prostitute, she-wolf, harlot.)

After recovering from this almost catastrophic defeat Rome made preparations in case the Gauls ever returned. Money in the form of bars of silver and weapons were set aside should the Gauls ever attack Rome again. A Governor was sent North of the Alps with Roman soldiers to watch for signs of amassing armies marching towards Rome.

There is a story from the time when the Gauls where occupying Rome. The Gauls who were taller than the Romans also seemed fearless. When asked if there was anything that they were afraid of the reply was, “We fear only that the sky would fall on our heads.”

Asterix the Gaul
Asterix the Gaul

It’s hard to know what this meant exactly. Was this some sort of boastful banter? Or was this a real fear of lightning or some forgotten encounter with a meteor shower.

Those of you familiar with the French cartoon “Asterix the Gaul” by René Goscinny (stories) and Albert Uderzo will recall that the fearless Gauls in the comic strip are often afraid of the sky falling on their heads.

Asterix the Gaul: Album 1

In the cartoon series Asterix the Gaul lives in the time of Julius Caesar.

Fighting cocks depicted on an ancient Roman m
Fighting cocks depicted on an ancient Roman mosaic.

The word Gaul or Gallus in Latin translates as = cock, rooster, or Gaul.

The Gauls were often said to have strutted with pride like a rooster. Roosters are fierce animals who will hold there own against larger farm animals including dogs. Most Roman soldiers were farmers and would have known firsthand about the fighting prowess of roosters.

For two centuries the Roman’s fear that the Gauls would return sack Rome a second time.

"Marius the Great Amid the Ruins of Carthage" by John Vanderlyn
“Marius the Great Amid the Ruins of Carthage” by John Vanderlyn

It was Julius Caesar’s uncle, who was the famous Roman military and political leader known as Marius the Great (Gaius Marius 157 BC – January 13, 86 BC) that first realized that the Gauls could be defeated. Marius had helped to re-invent the new Roman army. Marius had plans not only to invade Gaul but to give the Gaulish lands to his soldiers when they retired. Thus forming new Roman colonies, expanding the size of Rome and securing its borders.

The politics in the Republic of Rome at this time were all about the power of family clans. This plan would have made the Marius family the most powerful clan in Rome, with all these new colonies owing Marius’s family their allegiance. Thus the idea of Roman colonies in Gaul was prevented by Sulla (Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix 138 BC – 78 BC) the patriarch of a rival clan.

Civil war broke out and in Rome between Marius and Sulla. Sulla and Marius hated each other for years. They had served together as co-elected leaders of the Roman Republic and had bickered endlessly.

It was Sulla who won the Civil war and the Young Julius Caesar was forced to flee when Sulla marched his Roman legions on Rome. (Marching ones legions on Rome was a violation of one of Rome’s most sacred laws, and a law that Caesar would himself violate one day.)

Later when Sulla died Caesar was able to return to Rome and restart his political and military career.

The real Reason Rome invaded Gaul

Gaulish gold coin dating to the time of Caesar's invasion.
Gaulish gold coin dating to the time of Caesar’s invasion.

Oxford historian Terry Jones points out in his 2002 documentary series “The Surprising History of Rome” that there may have been another reason the Romans suddenly considered Gaul worth invading.

Jones (who was also a former member of Monty Python) points out that Gaul was full of gold. Gaulish coins from this period where made from gold while Roman coins were all minted from cheaper metals.

Caesar’s Book

“The Conquest of Gaul” was written towards the end of Caesar’s life. In fact the last chapter had to be finished by someone else after Caesar was murdered.

The story of the Conquest of Gaul takes place in the years after Caesar came back out of hiding and worked his way up the social and political ladder to where he himself was elected Consul of Rome. After a year in the top job Caesar was offered the Governorship of Gaul in 57 BC. Caesar was around the age of 43.

In 57 BC the Gauls were not yet a conquered people. So Caesars main job was to keep an eye on the natives and make sure that they didn’t amass into an army that could march on Rome.

Caesar had under his command three Roman legions. (A typical legion of this period had 5,120 legionaries). These were some of the best trained and best disciplined soldiers in the world at that time.

Map showing the unknown land of Gaul as compared to the location of Rome. 57 B.C.
Map showing the unknown land of Gaul as compared to the location of Rome. 57 B.C.

This is where the book “The Conquest of Gaul” begins. Caesar has just become the Roman Governor of Gaul. Caesar sees a large number of Gauls, from a tribe known as the Helvetii, immigrating to other lands. Caesar uses this amassing of the Helvetii as a provocation to attack.

Caesar won a quick victory. Caesar, as all generals of his day he was quick to send news of his victory back to Rome. Caesar’s whole life has wanted to be known as a great general.

Pompey the Great
Pompey the Great

In his youth his hero was Alexander the Great. His mentor was his uncle Marius the Great. Because of Caesar’s family being on the losing side of the Civil war military rank had long been denied him and he watched his friend and rival Pompey become known as Pompey the great (Gnaeus Pompeius 106 BC – 48 BC).

Caesar later befriended Pompey the Great and Pompey married his daughter. Pompey was considered to the the greatest general that Roman had ever had. But now suddenly Caesar had won a military victory against Rome’s most feared enemies, the Gauls.

Caesar had tasted military victory he wanted more. Caesar begins to pick fights with the many different tribes throughout central Europe, in what is now France, Belgium, Germany, and even Britain. Some of the friendlier tribes Caesar hired as auxiliaries. Also traveling with Caesar’s army was a group of slaver merchants whom Caesar sold prisoners of war, including women and children, to.

War was a great business, Caesar not only maked money from slaves but the towns that he conquered were looted for gold. Often whole towns were burned to the ground and the population exterminated by Caesar and his men. When the news spread to the other villages in Gaul towns paid Caesar tribute to avoid a battle.

Caesar and the Parisii

Paris, the Island of the city as it would have looked to Julius Caesar.
Paris, the Island of the city as it would have looked to Julius Caesar.

Caesar’s conquest even took him to Paris which in those days (52 B.C.). Paris was known then as “Lutetia Parisiorum”, (Lutetia of the Parisii ) The Parisii being the original tribal name of the people in the area. Now called the ‘Parisians’.

Luteitia in 52 B.C. consisted only of the area in Paris now known as  “Ile de la Cité”, (Island of the City) which is the island in the Seine where Notre Dame is now located.

Caesar made his camp on the left bank overlooking the Ile De la Cité, the area that would later become to be known as the Latin quarter.**

**(The Latin quarter got its name during the Middle Ages from the fact that it was the location of many different universities of higher learning where Latin was spoken).

Caesar’s conquest of Gaul was very simply written and in such pure and elegant Latin. The book still remains in print today more than two thousand years later. It is used both as a text book in Latin language training and as a book of military strategy.

There have been many different translations of Caesars conquest of Gaul into English over the years. The book is a must read for anyone wanting to start at the beginning of the history of France.

“The Conquest of Gaul” is followed by a second book by Caesar. “The Civil War” by Julius Caesar. Originally called  “Commentarii de Bello Civili” (Commentaries on The Civil War).

The Civil War is Caesar’s chronicle of the war between himself and Pompey the Great over the control of Rome.

Caesar was killed before finishing the last chapter of “The Civil War” and the work was completed by one of his friend Aulus Hirtius.
(Aulus Hirtius c. 90 – 43 BC, was a general under Caesar)

In Caesars day paper was expensive so notes were often written on wooden tables covered with bees wax. Shorthand notes were scribbled into the wax with a sharp metal stylus. It was with one of these stylus that Caesar was killed on the 15th of March 44 B.C.

Caesar’s invasion of Gaul was a brutal event. Costing the lives of thousands of people and causing thousands of others to be sold into slavery. But it was a brutal world. Before and after Caesar there where many warlords that acted even more brutally as Caesar. Caesar was just one of the very few to make a record of his conquests and war crimes.

Caesar’s conquests brought the Latin language into central Europe. The Romance languages; French Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian only really came into existence in their modern Latin based form because of the Roman conquests of over 2000 year ago.

Adventures in Franglais – the State of Oregon

La syllabe perdue.
{The lost syllable.}

My home state of Oregon was in the news earlier this year when a group of militia from bordering state Nevada crossed the border. A number of mèmes began to appear on the internet comparing a pentagon, hexagon, octagon to Oregon. There is even an add online for a T-shirt with the Pentagon, hexagon Oregon joke. But somehow I don’t think many people in Oregon will have bought the T-shirt.

Statue of a man with an umbrella in Portland.
Statue of a man with an umbrella in Portland.

It’s not that we Oregonians can’t laugh at ourselves. It’s just that the joke doesn’t make sense in Oregon.

The problem with this joke is that it only really works on the East Coast where Oregon is pronounced with three syllables “or-re-gone”. On the west coast “Oregon” is pronounced with two syllables “ore-gun” or “ore-gin” (with a hard ‘g’). Hexagon just doesn’t rhyme with ore-gin.

The extra syllable used to confuse me. I’d watch the news or a talk show from New York and hear about a place called “Or-re-gone” which seemed strangely failure and yet I couldn’t quite place it. It sounded like some kind of Italian spice or something. But then I’d realize it was Oregon with an extra syllable.

The hidden message in the title spells out CAT.
The hidden message in the title spells out CAT.

One of my favorites movies is to “To Catch a Thief” in which Carry Grant, a retired cat-burglar John Robie In the movie John Robie pretends to be from Portland Oregon. I still remember the commercial advertising when “To Catch a Thief” was going to play on a Portland TV station as the movie of the week. The commercial was a montage of Grant, who was from Manchester England and had a very charming blend of English and American accent, had a very unique pronunciation of Portland, Oregon that was all his own.

No one is quite sure where the name Oregon comes from. It’s not a Native American name. It is believed to be Anglicized French.

With respect to the Native peoples that had been living in the Pacific North West, Oregon it seems was first made known to the rest of the world by explores that traveled by ship to the Pacific Ocean.

Many of the early explorers were Spanish and British.  Spanish explorer sighted what would later be named Oregon in 1543. In 1579, Sir Frances Drake sheltered in Oregon’s Nehalem Bay (85 miles {137 Km} west of where Portland would one day be located). In 1778 Captain James Cook also explored the Oregon Coast.

The French exploration of Oregon is harder to track. There is evidence of a French Canadians leaving behind French place names; Malheur River and Malheur Lake (Malheur is French for Misfortune).

In my teens I canoed down the Deschutes river. A river full of falls and rapids. I didn’t realize it then but Deschutes is French for “falls”.

Chances are the French Canadian explorers would have entered the state from the North or from the coast by ship. If you have ever been to the Oregon coast you will find it very very windy.

Windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge by Alex Kerney
Windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge by Alex Kerney

The Columbia River gorge up near Portland is considered to be one of the best wind surfing spots in the world because of the consistently high wind that blow in from the ocean.



Maverick - TV Series 1957–1962
Maverick – TV Series 1957–1962

“Wild as the wind in Oregon, blowin’ up a canyon, Easier to tame. Maverick is the name.”

Lyrics to the TV show Maverick
by Paul Francis Webster
(from New York)


The Maverick lyrics also confused me as a child as Oregon isn’t really known for its canyons. But I guess the Columbia River gorge could be a shallow canyon. But for a real canyon one needs to go east to Idaho’s Snake River canyon.

Most of the population of Oregon lives in the protective Willamette Valley formed by the Coastal and Cascade mountain ranges. We get a lot of rain but the mountains protect us from the winds that hammer the coast almost constantly.

Oregon doesn’t really have hurricanes. However it would be understandable that the early French explores who tried to sail up the Columbia River the wind seemed like a hurricane.

The French word for hurricane is «ouragan» pronounced ‘ore-a-gon ’.

And there it is the extra syllable!

It is believed by many that Oregon gets it’s name from the French word «ouragan».

Perhaps our friends on the East Coast aren’t mispronouncing the state’s name, they are just using an earlier pronunciation. For generations the extra syllable has been past orally from one generation to the next never changing.

Where as in Oregon, where people have to say the states name almost every day, to save time shortcuts have been taken and the middle syllable has been dropped like the final ”t” in Monet.

French Pirates

Probably the most famous French Pirate is Jean Lafitte ( c. 1780 – c. 1823). But there are a few others that you might recognize. Star Trek fans might recognize the name Captain Picard.

Pierre le Picard (1624–1679?) was a French pirate. He had worked with the famous Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan at one time before becoming the captain of his own pirate ship.

Pirates crews were quite often of mixed nationalities all speaking different languages. Pirate slag was developed to help crews understand a captain’s orders.

Before the creation of radios ship to ship communication was done with flags. This is why the command ship in a fleet was called the flag ship. Orders could be spelled out using a flag alphabet. However there were some flags that had special meaning, such as the red battle flag.

The red battle flag was the signal to attack. This was true for armies on land as well as at sea. Santa Anna’s army flew the red battle flag when they attacked the Alamo.

“By late afternoon Béxar was occupied by about 1,500 Mexican soldiers. When the Mexican troops raised a blood-red flag signifying no quarter, Travis responded with a blast from the Alamo’s largest cannon.”

From “The Battles and men of the Republic of Texas”
by Arthur Wyllie

It is believed the French pirates had a special name for the red battle flag calling it the «jolie rouge» or the “pretty red”. This was a very catchy name as and it soon was adopted even by the English speaking pirates who Anglicized jolie rouge to the name we know today; the “Jolly Roger”.