The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                   PAGE THREE
Paris' Parc de Bagatelle  ~ A 'Trifling Folly' continued . . .

The Royal Bet

A pavilion was first built here, at that time a near-wild countryside, in 1720 by an army Marshal named d'Estrées, and it soon became a rendezvous for fleeting flirts among the aristocracy's upper echelons  ~ possibly including King Louis XV  ~ hence one explanation for the name 'bagatelle' (trifle).  It was said that the "marriages here were not celebrated before a priest."

Half a century later, Marie Antoinette took a liking to the site, although is was by then quite run down.  She bet her brother-in-law, the Count of Artois (Louis XVI's younger brother and future post-Revolutionary/post-Napoléon King Charles X) that he couldn't receive her there in a new, elegantly rural-chic mansion within two months.  Annoyed by the Queen's haughty challenge, Artois accepted the bet, adding perhaps as much as a hundred thousand pounds to the stakes.

Nine hundred workers were mobilized, royal building material convoys were requisitioned, and 64 days later, on November 26th, 1777, to be precise, the folie ~ including a rigorously French-style flower garden ~ was complete!  Questioned about the immense cost, Artois is said to have replied (second etymological explanation), "Oh, it was just a bagatelle..."  Emblazoned on the mansion's façade is, indeed, the motto Parva sed Apta:  'Small but fitting.'

To decorate the rest of the rather vast terrain, a highly-reputed Scots gardener, Thomas Blaikie, was hired, hence the gardens à l'anglaise.
Photo credit:  Guillaume Maroussie - Mairie de Paris

Small But Fitting  - the Bagatelle Folie

A Friend of Claude Monet 

Escaping destruction or sale during the Revolution and First Empire, the property was acquired in 1835 by Lord Seymour, Marquis of Hertford.  Among other improvements, he almost doubled the garden surface and built both the orangerie and a Versailles-style Trianon pavilion for his adopted (and perhaps illegitimate) son Richard Wallace.

Wallace later inherited Bagatelle and earned lasting fame by donating the public fontaines Wallace, still so much a part of Paris' 'urban furniture', so that respectable ladies wouldn't be obliged to go into cafés for a drink of water. 

After Wallace's death, and in order to prevent it from being parceled out, the City of Paris acquired the property in 1905 and made it into a public park. Well-named Chief Municipal Gardener Jean-Claude-Nicolas Forestier was apparently behind the acquisition and in any event was entrusted with refurbishing the flower beds. He launched the International Rose Competition, and ~ friendly with painter Claude Monet ~ created the nymphaeum water-lily pond.

Practical information:

To get there by public transport: Metro Pont de Neuilly then bus N°43 or Metro Porte Maillot then bus N°244.

Open daily: 9.30 AM to 5.30 PM in winter, later in spring and autumn: 6.30 PM, and summer: 8 PM

Entry fee: 3 Euros (reduced price: 1.50 Euros).

Special services: Guided visits,  restaurant/tearoom,  handicapped access and wheelchair rent.

[Photo credits: Guillaume Maroussie - Mairie de Paris.]

Arthur Gillette knows the most interesting places in and stories about Paris.  Why not arrange to
 take one of his sixteen strictly personal walks to help you discover 'Paris Through the Ages'?
For more on the strolls, visit our Marketplace  page, and/or contact Arthur directly at


Aveyron ~ A Bridge to French Arcadia 
                                                                               by Thirza Vallois

Thirza Vallois' Aveyron - A Bridge to French ArcadiaLet's start with the stunning cover of this newest book on France by Thirza Vallois.  The modern phenomenon that is the Millau Bridge over the Tarn River Valley is juxtaposed with the 'bridge' nature created ~ this photo provides much insight into the contents of a wonderful historical and social commentary on the département of Aveyron: a comparison, in the best sense of the term, between the old and the new. 

Aveyron was visited after a chance meeting with restaurateurs in Paris, natives of the département, who inspired the author to begin an odyssey to and write about a part of France hitherto unknown to her ~ a part of France she has come to love.  That admiration and absolute devotion on her part to learn as much about the people, geography and history of Aveyron, takes us into this unfamiliar place on the map of France in a way that makes it so very appealing.  Hopefully, as stated by those who live there, this book and other publicity won't create a too-popular tourist destination that might spoil the tranquility, rugged natural beauty and unique culture still found in Aveyron in great abundance.   But don't let that discourage your visit!

This book is not written as a travel guide but a revelation, introducing the reader to a place through its centuries of evolution. From its religious history and turmoil to a small town in Aveyron considered the birthplace of France's Industrial Revolution, this book delves deeply into so much about Aveyron that it brings it to life on the page.  Today, Aveyron may be the most technologically savvy place in France, yet on the surface it could seem backward and out of touch.  Thirza Vallois went far below the surface and exposes, among other facets of Aveyron, its people's aspirations which are much more twenty-first century than you'd expect.  Aveyron is the land of contrasts ~ of protests against globalization and herds of goats walking down a mountain road; of people linked to the Internet and those making Roquefort cheese, as it has been done for eons,  from the milk of the red Lacaune ewes grazing on the plateau of Rouergue.  She has shown the differences between today's Aveyron and yesterday's, while helping us to understand that one has not replaced the other ~ only enhanced it.

Aveyron is only one département of this newsletter has written of before...but when you begin to read this book you know this is about something much larger and more important than one département.  You sense the author's pleasure in meeting each person.  Each individual and family has a great story to tell or leads an exceptional and unique life.   Perhaps the most interesting recurring theme of this book is the author's personal visits with so very many of the Aveyronnais ~ whether they are cheesemakers, wine producers, innkeepers or a man named Jean-Yves Bonnet who has been a horse whisperer (and a man with a true love of nature) long before Robert Redford's film about Monty Roberts.  Jean-Yves Bonnet emulated Victor of Aveyron, a young French lad ~ the Wild Boy of Aveyron ~ who died in Paris in 1828.  We won't give more away about this fascinating tale except to say that this story, along with so many others in this truly interesting book, is so well presented by the author whose intellect and curiosity make every chapter a fascinating read and hard to put down. 

The book has wonderful color photographs by Patrice Geniez to take us further into the festivities, landscapes and daily life of Aveyron.  We're especially fond of one entitled, 'Friends', showing a shepherd and his dog ~ one easliy senses the love and loyalty between them.

Ms Vallois' original intent was not to write about Aveyron but to just experience it.  One thing led to another and a book was born.  We are all very grateful as we have been beautifully introduced to exceptional people ~ people not sitting still but building bridges to the outside from their equally exceptional French homeland.

Aveyron, A Bridge to French Arcadia was published in September 2007
by Iliad Books, London   ISBN 978-0-9525378-4-7
Order  directly from the author at

Don't forget that Thirza Vallois has an in-depth knowledge of Paris and her insight into the hidden gems
and little known stories of the city can be revealed by ordering her three-volume series 'Around and About Paris'
from her web site at  You might also want her well-received 'Romantic Paris'
in which she walks you to all the city's treasured spots and secret corners, and provides you with a choice of 
fabulous places – hotels, restaurants, cafés, shops, museums, night life – that she has carefully
selected to suit couples of all ages, all budgets, and as varied a spectrum as possible.


Château in Pays de la Loire

Have you ever dreamed of owning your own Loire Valley château?  This 16th century registered historic monument near Saumur
has been perfectly maintained and is currently both the owner's residence and a successful chambres d'hôtes
It is now for sale at a great price ~ ready to move into and take strolls around the classical gardens. 
For complete information contact us at

FRENCH  « BREAD »  ~  Gallic Slang About  Money

                                                                                                              by Arthur Gillette 

Intimidated by French argot ("slang")?  FRANCE On Your Own already offered an umbrella intro to the subject in its March 2005 issue, where (among other things) readers could find out that le flouze comes directly from the Arabic flouss, meaning 'money'.  Indeed, possibly nowhere is French slang more prolific than in the area of what (some) Americans call 'bread'.

A few more examples to help bring you up to speed when negotiating with taxi drivers, hoteliers, shopkeepers, etc.:

  • Ronds ('rounds') is a clear reference to coins. The origins of other money-related expressions are a lot less obvious.
  • Fric, for example, can be heard very often, but comes a mite obscurely from the verb fricoter, meaning concretely 'to stew', and figuratively 'to cook up' or, worse, 'to squander'.
  • Then there are fric's equivalents pognon, from empoigner ('grab with the fist'), and oseille meaning 'sorrel', once a rare, and therefore expensive, item. Woody Allen's film Take The Money and Run was translated Prends l'Oseille et Tire-Toi  ~  literally Take The Sorrel and Get Out.
  • In argot 'earn one's living' translates as gagner son bifteck ('beefsteak'), possibly dating from a time when meat wasn't on the table every day. 
  • A thune originally designated a five-Franc coin, but was generalized to mean 'coins' and then 'money'. J’ai pas de thunes translates to 'I'm broke'.  The expression probably originated as a reference to a city once thought of as both exotic and opulent. . . Tunis. 
  • The beggar's entreaty T'as pas cinq balles? (Ya got five balls?) actually stems from another meaning of balles related to English 'bales'. Today, certain of the French are having trouble dissociating balles from Francs. Although no longer valid, the latter are still sometimes used to calculate the value of different sums. So, if someone charges you X balles for a product or service, it's best to ask if the worth is meant in Francs or Euros.
  • Speaking of Francs, they were valid coinage from 1360 until the Euro took over on January 1, 2002, and their name (like 'France' and 'French') stemmed from the 5th century A.D. Frankish league (later kingdom) of Germanic tribes originally located in today's Belgian/Dutch territory. And, somewhat astonishingly, the meaning hasn't evolved all that much. Similar to our English 'frank' (meaning 'sincere' or 'straightforward') the word probably came from the Nordic frekkr meaning 'brave' or 'valiant'. Well, there has been some change: in modern Norwegian, although frank signifies 'independent', frekk has come to mean 'impudent' or 'cheeky'.
  • Returning to 'bales', nowhere is the substitution of money for products more blatant than in the (no-longer-slang) expression  payer en espèces ('pay cash') which actually comes from  payer en épices ~  'pay with spices'.  Talk about spicing one's 'bread'!
Arthur guides strictly personalized strolls to discover Paris Through The Ages
on 16 itineraries, and their prices aren't all that. . .'spicy'! 
For information contact him at

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