The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                          PAGE THREE
THE BOOKSHELF:           Intoxicating Paris - Uncorking the Parisian Within
and   Intoxicating Southern France - Uncorking the Magic in the French Riviera, Provence, Languedoc, Dordogne and Bordeaux
                                                                                                                                                                                                          ~ two books by P J Adams

Intoxcating France and Paris - 2 books by PJ AdamsIf you are looking for two perfect cultural guides to Paris and Southern France, look no further.  PJ Adams, a licensed family therapist, best-selling author, and a former publishing executive living in Southern California has written them both.  Intoxicating Paris is the first of two books that gives great insight into French life from her perspective.  The author gets 'personal', as she duly notes, delving into femininity of Parisian women, virility of Parisian men, the passion of both, verve (especially how to dress and how not to dress), the secrets of  parenting those well-behaved French children, fraternity (she points out the differences and the similarities between the French and Americans), style, creativity and much more.  Each assessment is relegated to its own chapter in the book, which turns out to be a lovely way to focus on each topic ~ certainly a pleasure for this reader.

I can see taking this book along on that long flight from California to Paris, and not putting it down until it is finished.  P J Adams is a fluid writer with a sense of humor that definitely comes naturally.  In her chapter entitled Panache, for example, she answers the question all non-French women traveling to Paris have had:  what to wear so you look like you fit in ~ at least somewhat!  From earrings and scarves to the right shoes and jeans, she has sensible tips; she also suggests taking along a little black dress, a white blouse, a long rope of pearls and even a beret!  Not everyone will take her advice, but reading her reasons behind these choices is great fun. 

The chapter entitled Vigor especially hit home.  The author missed a step in a museum and broke her right leg and sprained her left ankle.  (This writer missed a step at home and broke her ankle, had surgery, and was on a plane to France in 7 weeks.)  The recounting of her experience with the French healthcare system reinforced all we've heard over the years:  the world's best.  She was treated by everyone, even strangers who rushed to her side when she fell, as someone special.  Despite her embarrassment and struggling to explain where it hurt in French, the final good news was her bill ~ for the emergency room, hours of hospital time, xrays, bandages and a cast up to her thigh ~ the equivalent of $187 with another $60 for crutches and medication.

This is really a delightful little (229 pages) book written with a great deal of love for Paris and the French.  We recommend it!

Intoxicating Southern France is P J Adams' second of this series and one we will take with us on our upcoming visit to south central and southwest France.  Although we've been there many times before, she brings so many of the attractions and villages alive with pages of interesting history, a sufficient amount of information about shopping (there's a lot of opportunity to shop everywhere in France), and insight into the people and lifestyles found in the south.  There are her quirky little tidbits such as
tips on opening a wine bottle without an opener. . . all you need is a man's shoe and a tree!

This book represents ten years of travel through France's southern provinces and her encounters with interesting people along the way.  And, P J Adams will appeal to those who also struggle with speaking French.  Not only is there ample exploration of the Côte d'Azur from Monaco to the border of Provence, but the author provides long looks into Bordeaux wine country and a little peek into a cooking class after a lovely time at the local outdoor market with the lady who would teach the class.  They shopped for and prepared nine dishes ~ "and Madame Lucie did it all in her teeny French kitchen wearing high heels and a dress!"

Some interesting pages are devoted to the French ease with weight control:  how they approach food, how they consume their meals and, of course, how this all makes a difference.  In agreement with something I have long believed after losing weight in France although consuming great quantities of food, P J Adams thinks that may have to do with eating better quality food.  I couldn't agree more!  There is a lot to be said for the French lifestyle, not only related to food but to walking more, savoring leisure time, and generally slowing the pace of life ~ like those two-hour lunches!

Despite the abundance of historic details provided about each region of southern France, the author writes this book like a sweet memoir of her travels.  Intoxicating Southern France is easy reading, filled with invaluable information, and definitely fun. 
                                                                                                                                                            -  Editor
Intoxicating Paris and Intoxicating Southern France are published by PJ Adams Books, San Clemente, CA.,
Copyright 2013 and 2015 by PJ Adams.  ISBN 0989516202 and ISBN 0989516229 and also available in eBooks.


Order Intoxicating Paris and/or Intoxicating Southern France by clicking on the Amazon banner.

FEATURING:  Abbeys and Monasteries of France
              ~ Coming out of the Dark Ages


The 'Dark Ages' is a term given by the Italian scholar, Petrarch, to the period in Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire ~
a time of 'light' in terms of culture and economy ~ and the beginning of the Italian Renaissance in the 14th century.
 Depending upon the source, it was thought to be either from the 6th to 13th centuries or the 5th to the 10th centuries,
 with most scholars today having abandoned the term because of its negative connotation.
The founding of monasteries and the lives of the monks who inhabited them proved to be a light in that darkness. 

Christian monasticism was established by Saint Anthony of Egypt (251-356) who withdrew to the desert perhaps inspired by John the Baptist who had done the same.  Monasticism had the purpose of leading an ascetic life and pursuing God in solitary prayer.  This was the choice made by many early Christian hermits. Soon communities of monks were formed (cenobitic, meaning living in a community), and, again, it was in the year 346 in Egypt when Saint Pachomius established the first cenobitic Christian monastery.  Monks there lived in individual small houses but came together to work, eat and worship in a common space.  It was believed that since so many monks didn't have the skills or ability to survive a eremitical existence ~ like the hermit Saint Anthony ~ the monastery was the perfect solution.  All monks dressed alike and were given the same food to eat.  They were to complete the tasks assigned to them and be obedient for the common good of the monastery.

It was the Italian hermit, Saint Benedict, who was asked by several monks to head their monastery and change the way they lived to a more communal lifestyle.  He spent thirty years between 530 and 560, creating the Rule of Saint Benedict, his guidelines for monks living in a community.  From the 9th century onwards, and with the encouragement of Charlemagne and his son, Louis, the Rule of Benedict became the choice of monasteries throughout Europe.  Each country adapted the Rule to fit its specific culture, and many monasteries flourished as centers of art, architecture, education and the making of manuscripts.  Others focused on evangelizing the people, but all were centers of religion and learning during centuries of the chaos of battling kingdoms.  The efficiency of the Rule of Saint Benedict gave stability to the monasteries, and they became quite productive.

The structure and hierarchy of a monastery

Monasteries were built as a collection of buildings, each with a specific purpose, enclosed by a wall.  The  main buildings surrounded an interior courtyard known as a cloister. A hierarchy was established as each monastery became an independent and self-sufficient community having no need for anything from the outside.  Abbotts governed the monasteries and often had some loyalty to a local lord or an authority in the Catholic church.  Most of the monasteries in France are called abbeys (abbayes), indicating that an abbott or abbess ~ in the case of a convent for nuns ~ lived there.

Monks would enter the monastery first as students and would progress to skilled positions over time.  Their lives evolved from the original intent of being solitary and alone with God, to working in a community to grow and survive.  Monasteries were being built throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, and, unlike the monastery of Saint Pachomius, they now included a large dormitory, a dining room, a kitchen, a chapter house for business transactions, a school, a library, a hospital, a laundry, and, of course, a church.  Outside the walls were the gardens, grain fields and a mill house. 

The monks days were divided into eight activities, all beginning and ending with prayers in the church.  The first church service could begin at two in the morning and the last would be at sunset.  Manual labor in the monastery and outside in the gardens filled most of the day, with several hours devoted to the Bible, prayer and private meditation.

Service . . . and Illumination

Illuminated Manuscript from the French Book of Hours.  Wikipedia
served other purposes as well, such as acting as a refuge for pilgrims; the monks would feed the hungry and care for the sick; they provided a religious education to young men who wanted to enter the priesthood; and they conserved and copied ancient manuscripts.  Up to the 12th century, monasteries produced the majority of manuscripts, many of which were illuminated ~ artistically enhanced with colors and gold.  These were done in the scriptorium, a room in the Medieval monasteries for writing.  These monks were each given extra consideration as their talent was greatly revered in the monastery. This practice continued until the 16th century when commercial scriptoria were established in large European cities, so less and less of this work was done by the monks.  Thousands of illuminated manuscripts survive from the Middle Ages.  In fact, they are among the most common items to survive from that period in history, and they are very valuable and treasured.

Medicine was produced in the pharmacies of monasteries, and the monks studied medicaments, primarily through the use of herbal remedies.  However, both antiseptics and anesthetics for surgery were discovered in the 13th century, so Medieval medicine did make advances.  Some of the manuscripts copied by the monks were by medical writers of the time, and the monasteries had infirmaries for treating not only themselves but travelers who would come to them.  Archeologists discovered ten years ago that Medieval pharmacists and doctors were able to cure scurvy by having patients eat watercress for its vitamin C.  Archeologists also discovered hemlock in the drains of monastery hospitals so they knew it was used as a pain killer.

Monasteries in France

In 572, an Irish monk, St Columbanus, traveled to France with twelve companions as missionaries.  From the sixth century, the Irish monastic scholars were known throughout Europe for their knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. They not only brought literacy to the people they encountered, but they proceeded to build monasteries throughout the country before some of them, including Columbanus, moved on to Italy.  The intellectual pursuits of monks in the monasteries included grammar, oratory, logic, mathematics, music and astronomy. To Christian monks, the arts were a way to praise God.  The Gregorian chant is still an important facet of their musical life, and can be heard at the Abbey Saint-Pierre in Solesmes in the Pays de la Loire.

The Parisian Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, founded by Clovis' son Childebert (511-558) was an important intellectual center until the 18th century when it was disbanded in the French Revolution.  Much of its wealth came from the 11th century when it was a thriving scriptorium.  An explosion demolished its Abbey and cloisters, and a fire in 1794 destroyed its library.  The
Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés remains today at 3 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris' 6th arrondissement. Guided tours are often scheduled as are classical music concerts.

            Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.  WikipediaAbbey Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Wikipedia

The Abbey Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Agriculture, especially the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine for the Mass, was practiced in monasteries.  Most renowned was the monk, Dom Pérignon (1638-1715) who was the cellar master at the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers in today's Marne département of France's Champagne-Ardenne region.  His discovery was the méthode champenoise, and he is credited with improving wine-making techniques to improve quality, manipulating the wine presses to make clear white wine from black grapes, and for introducing corks (to replace wood) in wine bottles. He also improved the bottles themselves by making them of heavier glass to stop their tendency to explode.  Monasteries also developed beer and liqueurs, and have become known for their cooking specialties.

Monasteries grew in popularity in the Middle Ages, and wealthy families would establish monasteries on their estates, usually appointing an abbott who was a relative of the family.  Because the monastery operated for the financial benefit of the owners, it became part of Medieval society's power structure.  As monasteries accumulated wealth, the Benedictine monks built abbeys throughout France indicating their influential power which lasted until the middle of the 12th century.

Who are the monks?

Cluny Abbey.  Photo Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.Benedictines

The first order of monks were the Benedictines, followers of Saint Benedict, and many of their abbeys are found in France today, although only a small percentage are still working monasteries.  Perhaps the most famous is Abbaye Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul de Cluny, more commonly known as Cluny Abbey, built between 1088 to 1130 in Burgundy's Saône-et-Loire département.  Founded in 910, most of it was purposely demolished in 1793 leaving only a bell tower and part of the transept in tact.  (Religious houses in France were suppressed during the French Revolution beginning in 1791.  They returned in the 19th century under the Bourbon Restoration.) What remains is less than ten percent of the floor area of Cluny III, the largest church in Christendom until St Peter's Basilica in Rome was built five centuries later.


Benedictines follow the Rule of Saint Benedict and are known as the black monks  because of the color of their habits ~ a Roman Catholic religious order of monastic communities, each ~ whether a monastery, abbey or priory ~ autonomous.  The monks do not take a vow of silence, but a period of time each day is devoted to hours of strict silence.  The Cistercians are known as the white monks, because of their light-colored habits.

Bonchamps by David d'Angers.  Wikipedia

The Benedictine Abbey of St-Florent-le-Vieil was originally established in the 6th century on the banks of the River Loire. It was a strong and wealthy abbey until attacked by Normans several times between 850-853. The abbey was left to decay over the centuries until 1637 when monks restored it. It was damaged again during the French Revolution 1790-1793.   It is famous for Pierre-Jean David's sculpture of Bonchamps on his tomb in the church.  This artist was a student in the studio of Jacques-Louis David, and distinguished himself from the master by taking the name David d'Angers.

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