Last year I discovered some information about a famous French dancer called Josephine Baker which amazed me. For a start off, she wasn’t French, but that was the least of it.
Everywhere we cycle, there are interesting bits of trivia that have nothing to do with cycling, chateaux or vineyards. Mussolini, for example, was a British spy during the First World War, but what is his link with Umbria? Trivia junkies, read on…
Chateau des Milandes in the Dordogne was home to Josephine, best known for her performances in the Folies Bergères. But she was also the only woman who shared the platform with Martin Luther King Jr. when he gave his ‘I have A Dream’ speech in 1963. She was a spy for the Allies in WWII, an Officer in the Free French Army, and became the first American woman to be awarded the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest honour.
The inventor of the steam engine, Thomas Newcomen, was a Dartmouth boy. So amidst the sailing boats and up-market boutiques of modern-day Dartmouth sits the oldest working steam engine in the world, dating from the end of the 18th century.
Bergerac’s most famous son is, of course, Cyrano de Bergerac, the swashbuckling hero of Edmond Rostand’s play of the same name. In the centre of Bergerac is a statue of Cyrano – but he wasn’t from Bergerac! In Rostland’s play he was from Gascony, but the real life person he was based on, Hector Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, was born and raised in Paris. And he did have a big nose, that bit is true.
In October 1922 Mussolini’s Fascist party set up their Headquarters in the Hotel Brufani Palace in Perugia to plan their successful ‘March on Rome’. Mussolini was a British spy during WW1, paid £100 per week. That’s a spectacular change of sides!
Gustav Eiffel was born in Dijon in 1832. As well as the Eiffel Tower he designed the armature for the Statue of Liberty. Where would Paris and New York be without this vital contribution from humble Dijon?
Whenever we cycle through a town in Tuscany, chances are we’ll see a branch of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena – you may even use one of their cash macines. So what? Well, this is the oldest bank in the world. Founded in 1472, it’s more than a century older than any other bank in the world.
The legendary Seer Nostradamus was born in St Rémy de Provence. Every time a major catastrophe occurs, someone finds the prediction in Nostradamus’ ‘Prophecies’. Critics point to the obscure and vague nature of his prophecies. In fact, he wrote in poetic form, using French, Greek, Roman and Provencal, to hide the precise meaning of his prophecies to avoid persecution by influential religious groups.
8. Loire Valley
The French writer Charles Perrault stayed at Chateau Ussé in the 17th Century, and was inspired to write the fairy story ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Perrault has been credited with founding the fairy tale genre, and also wrote Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Puss In Boots.