Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Packing for comfort

January 3, 2011

We must think of ways to make ourselves as comfortable as possible on flights these days, because the airlines won’t do it for us. And when I say airlines, I don’t mean the attendants. Attendants on our flights last year, including Delta/KLM to Amsterdam, Air France from Paris, and Southwest to or from anywhere (I love Southwest), were all competent, friendly and professional; it isn’t there fault that American didn’t offer even a pretzel on our flight to Chicago – not one, tiny pretzel.

So, on the flights for our garden tours this year (Northeast gardens, May 14-22; northern France and Paris, June 19-30), we must do what we can for ourselves. When I fly, I try to keep food, drink, and entertainment self-contained, because I don’t want to end up climbing on someone’s head just to get to my bag out of the overhead compartment (and I hope you won’t do that to me).

Because my entertainment options are limited and, probably to most, archaic, I’ll just say that I’ve got my (older generation) iPod loaded with an audio book, and an actual paperback book that will fit in my purse. (I confess to asking Leighton to take anything heavier in his carryon).

A bottle of water is essential (bought as soon as I get through security). Yes, they will offer water on the plane, but it’s a small thing to carry … just in case.

Overseas flights still offer food, which I believe is more to keep us occupied than anything else, but even on long flights I take along a chocolate bar or two for us, plus a bag of toasted almonds/dried cranberries. I wish I could pop a few protein bars in my purse, but I am allergic to all nuts except almonds, and I am also allergic to peanuts; so far I haven’t seen a protein bar that wasn’t full of peanut butter or walnuts. Feel free to recommend a brand that suits my needs.

Dear airlines: look out. When Southwest begins flying overseas (I’ve heard this is a possibility), I will be first in line – OK, maybe not the very first, but I will pay for Early Bird check-in and be in the A line for sure) even if I have to pack my own fried chicken and potato salad for nine-hour flight.



Botany is everywhere

December 30, 2010

fior di lisi

The fleur-de-lis is a familiar symbol of all things French, from heraldry to Joan of Arc, so I was surprised to see the symbol in Siena, Italy as the fior di lisi. It’s the coat of arms for Florence, and so also appears in Siena, because Florence is the capital of Tuscany (our guide and friend Antonella is fiercely loyal to Siena, and so likes to downplay that last fact).

The Italian symbol appeared on coins minted in Florence in the 12th century – the same time it appeared on coins in France (thanks to this interesting site for the info: But look carefully at the two symbols and you’ll see that the Italian version shows stamen sticking out of the flower.

And what is that flower? It’s commonly known as a lily, but doesn’t look like any lily I’ve ever seen, unless someone has purposely bent back the petals to make it look like an iris. That is the alternate interpretation – that it’s an iris; now, which makes much more sense, because you can see the falls (petallike structures bending down) and a standard (petallike structure sticking up) so clearly. The fleur-de-lis, known as the golden lily, appears to be Iris pseudoacorus – the yellow flag of marshy ground and water’s edge in Europe.

Except for those stamen in the Italian version. Stamen don’t stick out of an iris; the bees need to land on the fall (which is fuzzy in bearded iris) and crawl in. Maybe the Italians just wanted to set themselves apart from the French, and so they added the floral structure to mark the Florentine fior di lisi. Regardless, it’s always good to see botany getting its due through the many centuries of heraldry and religious symbols.

Next summer, we’ll check out the French version on our tour of Normandy,


Brittany, and Paris, where we may indeed see a few real lilies and irises. Here are the details of the tour.