Christmas markets

Their long history and changing future

The 2019 Christmas market in Birmingham, UK. Shanae Ennis-Melhado/Shutterstock

Aurélie Bröckerhoff, Coventry University and Cristina Galalae, University of Leicester

Wooden huts with twinkling fairy lights, festive hubbub, and the aromas of roasted chestnuts and glühwein – this picture-postcard setting is recreated annually across UK towns and cities in December. This year, however, most Christmas markets have been cancelled, meaning that 2020 will be a year without urban festive cheer.

But even before the pandemic, Christmas markets in the UK were at a crossroads – despite their growing popularity and economic relevance. Rising costs, concerns over authenticity and safety issues looked set to change how we experience these markets.

Our research has examined the rise of Christmas markets to their current status as global cultural commodities. Their adaptability across historical and social contexts, as well as their ability to incorporate different cultural meanings, has enabled Christmas markets to thrive over the centuries. Now, though, Christmas markets will have to continue to adapt – responding not only to the COVID-19 pandemic but also to concerns over cost, safety and authenticity.

Christmas markets past

Christmas markets were first recorded in medieval Germany. They marked the pre-Christmas season, and provided a space in which strict social hierarchies disappeared. Peasants and farmers could purchase boots, housewares and equipment, while high society could pick up handcrafted jewellery, toys, wigs or wood-turned items.

By the 19th century, though, the rise of department stores had made the markets less profitable. They became rowdy fun fairs and fell into disrepute.

Aerial view of stalls in city square
The Nuremberg Christmas market in 2017. marcociannarel/Shutterstock

Throughout the 20th century, consecutive German governments attempted to reinvigorate Christmas markets. Nazi Germany – and later the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) – used the markets’ ability to cater to a variety of tastes and needs to serve the parties’ respective political, social and cultural purposes.

In particular, they were intended to increase patriotism and social cohesion. The return of the Christmas market to Nuremberg in 1933 was marked by a grand opening ceremony, which promoted nationalism and the celebration of German traditions.

The first German-format Christmas markets in the UK were started in Lincoln in 1982, and in Birmingham in 1997. They reflected a wider trend: many European cities saw the success of Christmas markets in Germany, and began hosting their own. Since then, this format has successfully travelled the globe, marking the Christmas season and enhancing community spirit.

Winter economy

Now, Christmas markets make a significant contribution to the UK’s winter economy. They attract visitors from out of town, create temporary jobs and increase sales for local shops and cafés. Over the last 35 years, they have grown in number, size, duration and footfall.

In Manchester, the market has gone from a few stalls to over 180 in recent years. Birmingham alone hosted 5.5 million visitors in 2014. Estimated visitor spend at Christmas markets has doubled between 2015 and 2017, reaching a total amount of £500 million. Markets in the UK have become travel destinations alongside their European counterparts.

Woman choosing bauble from stall
The Bath Christmas market features products by local artisans. 1000 Words/Shutterstock

However, the markets are not without their critics, and a range of factors meant that – even before the pandemic – the markets were set for change. Visitors have criticised their lack of authenticity, complaining over the mass-produced Christmas decorations and gifts, and fairground rides dominating the markets.

Christmas market traders have contested increasingly unaffordable pitch fees. The dynamics between traders inside and outside the market have also generated tensions with city councils. Brexit poses further difficulties to organisers and city councils who are already expecting that exchange rates, import and export regulations and administrative burdens will negatively affect the participation of operators and traders from the European Union.

Safety has also been a concern after the terrorist attack at a Christmas market in Berlin in 2016. Markets such as those in Birmingham and Manchester have increased their emphasis on security, which restricts free visitors’ access and changes markets’ aesthetics and atmosphere.


Read more: Christmas market attack: a blow to the heart of German cultural life


This year, COVID-19 means that German-format Christmas markets will be largely absent from the festive calendar. They relied on international traders and hundreds of temporary workers, explaining their postponement until next year. Some Christmas markets that showcase local artisans and crafts have moved online, such as those normally held in Bath and Oxford.

A few – such as in Cardiff and Aberdeen – will go ahead, following stringent health and safety measures. They will emphasise activities that do not require interaction, such as watching the Christmas lights switch-on, rather than socially shared experiences.

New virtual markets have emerged as platforms for artisan makers, supporting small businesses during COVID-19 restrictions. People might also recreate Christmas-market themed parties at home, or via Zoom, with friends and family. These adaptations will provide some experience of festive cheer. However, they will not be the publicly and socially shared experience that has been part of Christmas markets since their inception.

Although we don’t know what life after the pandemic will hold, it is likely that some of this year’s adaptations – such as online presence, promoting local over international traders and prioritising safety measures – might become permanent features of the Christmas market format. They respond to pre-pandemic concerns as well as COVID-19 restrictions.

We believe that UK city and town centres will be transformed again in years to come. Christmas markets will return, stemmed from people’s desire for a socially shared festive experience. Their survival will result, once again, from the ability to adapt to changing times and circumstances.

Aurélie Bröckerhoff, Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University and Cristina Galalae, Lecturer in Marketing, University of Leicester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Charles Dickens and the birth of the classic English Christmas dinner

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Hand colored etching by John Leech

Joan Fitzpatrick, Loughborough University

Charles Dickens popularised the traditional, English Christmas in 1843 in his novel A Christmas Carol, when Bob Cratchit and his family sit down on Christmas Day to eat a dinner of goose with mashed potatoes and apple sauce accompanied by sage and onion stuffing and followed by Christmas pudding.

It’s a vision that is watched – unseen by the Cratchits – by a fast-repenting Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present who is showing the miser the error of his ways.

Duly chastened by his supernatural experience, the newly festive Scrooge sends over, on Christmas morning, a turkey that is “twice the size of Tiny Tim” – and will certainly feed more people than the goose. This set the seal for the popular English Christmas meal. But what did people eat at Christmas time before goose and turkey?

A time of gifts

In the anonymous late 14th-century poem Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain is served “many delicacies” on Christmas Day in the castle of Sir Bertilak, but no meat in the meal he eats on Christmas Eve, which was a time for fasting.

During the medieval period it was traditional in wealthier households for a boar’s head to take pride of place at the centre of the festive table – a tradition alluded to when Sir Bertilak presents Gawain with the head and flesh of the boar he has killed. A 15th-century carol, The Boar’s Head, celebrates the dish this:

Chief service in all this land
Wheresoever it may be found,
Served up with mustard.

Of course the poor would have eaten what they could get, including scraps from their master’s table if they had access to them.

Good bread and good drink

For the Elizabethans, no specific food was special during Christmas time. In Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1573), Thomas Tusser recommended: “Good bread and good drink”. Meat was the dominant foodstuff:

Beef, mutton, and pork, and good pies of the best
Pig, veal, goose, and capon, and turkey well dressed.

Potatoes – a product of the New World, like the turkey – were not a regular feature of feasts until the middle of the 17th century. Even then they remained expensive – which is why bread and pies dominate in descriptions of Christmas foodstuffs before Dickens. Vegetables are rare in descriptions of early feasts, and do not feature in the Cratchit Christmas dinner. The Brussels sprout – a member of the cabbage family, specially developed by 16th-century Belgian farmers – may have become a staple of the modern Christmas dinner in part due to fashion and an increasing awareness of nutrition, and the fact that cabbage had a reputation since ancient times of preventing drunkenness.

Robert Herrick’s Ceremonies for Christmas (1648) urges “merry, merry boys” to bring in the Christmas log and to consume strong beer and white bread “while the meat is a-shredding / For the rare mince-pie”. The yule log would have been lit on Christmas Eve; the modern confection of sponge and chocolate is a nod towards this old tradition. On the contrary, mince pies used to be savoury – in Hannah Woolley’s popular cookbook of the time, The Queen-Like Closet (1670), there is a recipe for “good minced pies” containing veal. Puddings too were often savoury, similar to haggis – although it is the sweet plum pudding that would become the traditional Christmas pud.

Twelfth night

Yet for the Elizabethans, and subsequent generations too, Twelfth Night (January 6) rather than Christmas Day was the main focus of revelry during the Christmas season. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (first performed around 1602) Sir Toby Belch evokes the historical figure of the Lord of Misrule. When Sir Toby mocks Malvolio’s puritanism with “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?” he anticipates the banning of such food during the English Commonwealth of 1649 to 1660.

Herrick’s poem Twelfth Night, or King and Queen (1648) describes the Twelfth Night Cake – a spiced fruit cake containing a bean and a pea that represents the king and queen with the recipients of each being crowned king and queen for the night. Herrick’s “bowl full of gentle lamb’s wool” (hot ale, roasted apple pulp, and spices) is used to wassail (toast) the pretend king and queen.

Samuel Pepys makes several references to Twelfth Night Cake in his diary, including an entry for January 6 1668 where he describes “an excellent cake” that cost him nearly 20 shillings – about one day’s salary from his job as Clerk of the Acts at the Navy Board.

Twelfth Night remained the focus of festivities during the Regency period and Jane Austen would have been familiar with the eponymous cake. She also mentions Christmas in her novels but does not specify the Christmas Day meal. In Emma, there is a Christmas Eve dinner at Randalls, the home of the Westons, where saddle of mutton is served, and in Persuasion, a visit to the Musgroves during the Christmas holidays reveals tables “bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies”. Brawn here indicates a dish of meat from the head of a pig set in its own jelly and so harks back to the boar’s head from medieval times.

The closest most of us get to Boar’s Head these days is likely to be a pub whose name commemorates it. So we can largely thank Charles Dickens, who was himself very fond of turkey, for the tradition of the Christmas Dinner turkey – a gift from the newly reformed Scrooge, which now forms the centrepiece of most Christmas tables.The Conversation

Joan Fitzpatrick, Senior Lecturer in English (Specialism: Renaissance Scholar), Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christmas, a time to talk about compassion

By Ian Patrick
Rubicon – Author with Fahrenheit Press
Guest Post

Thanks, Nora, for inviting me to your Christmas Blog.

I appreciate being asked. I feel very fortunate to be in the position I am and would love to use this moment to talk about compassion. At Christmas this is something we should practice more of.

I’m aware of the devastation caused in Mexico and how I felt when I heard about it. My first thoughts were about you. If you, and your family, were ok. When you write you inhabit an insular world where for a period of time your mind is elsewhere, not focussed on the present. It’s a surreal position to be in.

I started writing so that anyone who was suffering may gain a reprieve through my books. I know, when I’m having a bad day, I look forward to the chance to pick a book up and escape. The reality is, for some, there is no escape.

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to lose everything and have nothing. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in a country separated by a wall. I lived in Berlin in the 70’s and witnessed the devastation the wall caused there.

When I was in the police, Christmas was a time of celebration but also violence and loss. Violence from domestic disturbances fuelled by alcohol and drugs. Loss from, Burglary, Robbery and Murder. It’s as if a notion of survival arises and brings out the worst in people at a time when people should come together.

This isn’t a case of bah humbug. I enjoy Christmas with my family. I feel blessed to be in a position to experience this.

As a writer my hope is that anyone who reads Rubicon over the Christmas period is afforded some pleasure. If I have achieved that then the effort has been worth it.

I’ve gone from one life of service to another. I enjoy seeing reviews where my book has had a positive impact on the readers’ experience. In the police you could see the impact your presence was making. Sometimes positive other times not so!

I would like to thank you for your support this year and everyone else who has contributed to making readers aware of Rubicon. To all those who’ve read it, Thank you. To the team at Fahrenheit Press, all those who’ve reviewed it, thank you. To me, writing is a gift and must be used positively to entertain and provoke questions for readers. I’m in a fortunate position to be able to write. I am thankful for that.

Compassion isn’t a passive act it takes practice and effort. The results are amazing though and the benefits to society immeasurable.

Wishing you and all your readers a peaceful and happy Christmas.

*You can follow Ian Patrick on Twitter

🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

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Why We Exchange Gifts: a peep into the gift-horse’s mouth

By Trish Nicholson
Guest Post

Before being sucked under the spells of retail elves and their Christmassy shelves, let’s take a not-too-serious look at the meaning of gifts over the ages.
The proverb ‘never look a gift-horse in the mouth’ is known across Europe in languages from Icelandic to Russian, but for anyone unfamiliar with this advice, it means we should not judge the intrinsic value of a gift.    Experienced horse-dealers amongst you will know that the age and condition of a horse is gauged from its teeth: when you notice that the lavishly gift-wrapped box of chocolates your cousin sent you is nine months beyond its use-by date, you know you’ve been given a useless old nag.
It may be the thought that counts, but what, exactly, were they thinking?
In its purest form, giving is caring with no expectation of reward. It may demand equal commitment in learning to accept graciously. During a hectic working life I dashed off for fleeting visits to a favourite elderly aunt whenever I could. When the time came for me to leave, my aunt would press into my hand a package of squelchy spam sandwiches made with love to protect me from starvation on my 60-minute rail journey home. I could never stomach the sandwiches though I learnt to appreciate the gift with a full heart.
Like storytelling, gift-exchange emerged during the dawn of human history. The gift of an antelope steak given in good faith, accepted with grace, and later reciprocated with a well-knapped spear-head, created whole networks between families, clans and tribes. In time, the exchange of gifts developed into the first trade deals as the relative value of each item was arduously negotiated, but the significance was always more than economic – it created relationships based on trust. Even stories were bartered. Itinerant storytellers have long earned a night’s lodging with a good story, as Odysseus did in Homer’s Odyssey.
Barter remains important in many parts of the world. While living in Papua New Guinea I acquired my treasured collection of clay pots and shells through barter. And travelling in the Amazon, I exchanged my wellington boots for a two-metre poisoned-dart blow-pipe in a Yaguar village (a keep-sake that caused sensational hassles at every airport security check). Both transactions involved forging relationships – telling stories and learning to understand each other.

But in the same way that stories multiplied and diversified across the world, so did the forms and meanings of gift-giving.
A Viking chief was expected to be generous to his followers in dispensing loot from raiding expeditions. By gifts of gold to award valour and encourage loyalty, great leaders became known as ‘Ring Givers’. However, evidence of buried gold hoards suggests that some chiefs preferred to hide their ill-gotten gains underground – the Norse equivalent of an off-shore account. Gifts in exchange for loyalty are still a widespread practice, from the discount offered on your store loyalty card to the appointment of corporate raiders to plum jobs in government administrations.
Perhaps the most dramatic ritual gift-giving is the potlach ceremony, developed to a fine art by the Native American Kwakiutl peoples of the north-west coast. Any social or personal milestone provided an excuse for a potlach, but the biggest feasts for the greatest number of guests, the longest speeches and the most lavish gifts were preserved for the installation of a new successor to the chieftaincy. And everyone in the tribe was expected to dig deep to contribute.
Potlach was all about status. The volume of goods distributed boosted the social standing of the giver, as the value of each gift reflected the status of the recipient, and the more guests to witness the transaction the more powerful the event. To fall short in any of these calculations courted political suicide. It requires no stretch of the imagination to see all of this in world leaders’ rounds of state visits funded by hapless tax-payers, not to mention presidential inaugurations.
Gifts often involve a catch. Even Saint Nicholas’ legendary generosity to children, celebrated in the Netherlands on December 5, was conditional upon each child’s past behaviour recorded in the Big Book. The medieval tradition, where Saint Nicholas’ helpers included frightening characters representing Satan, may have been the stick accompanying the carrots. But modern Zwarte Piet is a clownish trickster throwing tiny gingerbread biscuits into the crowd like confetti. As commercial interests focus on December 25th in line with most of Europe, the devil is forgotten and smart kids claim two Christmases.
Most religions recognised the importance of gift-giving either in shared celebration, as sweeteners to the gods or as a form of wealth distribution. Christians may follow the example of the Three Kings with their Christmas presents, but festive gift-giving features also in the Jewish Hanukkah and Hindu Divali, while giving alms to the needy is a central tenet of both Islamic and Sikh faiths. Although offering a small gift is a daily occurrence for Buddhists, I had not expected to be given an apple by the abbot while visiting a monastery in Bhutan. Luckily, I always take pens and postcards as little presents when travelling and found a spare pen in my pocket to reciprocate.Exchanging gifts appears to be a universal human practice but cultural awareness is advisable. Social occasions for gift-exchange occur throughout the year in China, but in a culture where maintaining ‘face’ ranks highly, what to give, to whom, when, and exactly how much to put into the ‘little red envelope’ poses an etiquette quagmire to the unwary.
My apologies if these reflections disrupt the Christmas gift-list you had already ticked off during the summer sales.
I may be a little biased, but to be on the safe side, I’m giving everyone books this year.

Author Bio:
Trish Nicholson is a social anthropologist, author of narrative non-fiction and a former columnist. Her latest work, A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity, is the only global social-history of storytelling. Trish’s other books include two travelogues: Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals, and Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon. Trish lives in New Zealand. You can follow her on Twitter @TrishaNicholson and read her articles on www.trishnicholsonswordsinthetreehouse.com where there really is a tree house.

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Season’s Greetings

May This Wonderful Time Be Full Of Joy And Peace

HolidaysTraveling

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12 Books of Christmas

Christmas by NVS

By Nora Vasconcelos

Now that the Holiday season is around the corner I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite Christmas stories, and here they are:

1) Fallen Angel, by Don J. Snyder. Christmas time in a cottage called Serenity is the best place to help Terry McQuinn heal old emotional wounds. At the same time, he finds himself in this places that he had almost forgot as time passed by, the same as the relationship with his father. The cold weather and the snow accompany him, unaware that some new visitors to Serenity will change his life forever.

2) Silver Bells, by Luanne Rice. This book tells the story of Christopher Byrne and his son, who find the path back to happiness and family love thanks to a rough time spent in New York city, and the help of Catherine Tierney, who unexpectedly becomes a key element for all of them to finally be able to have a happy Christmas.

3) The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl. Not exactly a Christmas story, but, as part of the story occurs in winter and it places the reader in the time when Charles Dickens toured around the East Cost of the U.S, I always relate this book to the Holidays season.

4) Sherlock Holmes: A Case at Christmas and Other New Adventures, by N.M. Scott. For me good mysteries are always welcome, and who else that Sherlock Holmes himself to flavour a little bit the season. In this collection of stories, Scott retakes the characters created by Conan Doyle to bring many more enjoyable adventures, placing some of them during the holidays.

5) Murder never takes a holiday, by Donald Bain. As part of the series of books based on the TV series Murder She Wrote, this book features two stories. In the first one, A little Yuletide Murder, Bain takes the main character, Jessica Fletcher, to her hometown, Cabot Cove, where the mystery writers hopes to spend a joyful Christmas. However, as always it happens to Mrs. Fletcher, a murder comes on her way to prevent her to sit down and relax. The second story, Manhattans and Murder, places Mrs. Fletcher in New York city, where she’s determined to solve another mystery that’s has happened right in the middle of her book tour.

6) ‘Tis the Season, by Ann M. Martin. This children’s story touches the heart of everyone who reads it as it tells the story of little Flora and Ruby, who had recently lost their parents and are trying hard to fit themselves in a town where Christmas is all around.

7) and 8) Mrs. Miracle and Call me Mrs. Miracle, by Debbie Macomber, are two books in which Mrs. Merkle, often called Mrs. Miracle, goes around different places finding ingenious ways to solve those little problems that people around her face, exactly those little problems that seem impossible to be solved and that once they are solve, bring love, happiness and a very merry happy Christmas to everyone.

9) Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. Imagine all what can go wrong during this time. Add then the idea of skipping the holiday. The result: A complete disaster. One that Luther and Nora Krank won’t be able to solve unless they accept some help from whom they less expect it.

10) Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penlzer, owner of the Mysterious bookshop in New York City. This book compiles mystery short stories placed during Christmas time, written specially for the Bookshop by famous authors such as Anne Perry, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, Ed McBain and Donald E. Westlake.

11) A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Of course this good old classic can be never missed during the celebrations. I’ve read and re read this story over and over, and I never get enough of it. I never get tired of going through its pages while I allow myself to get lost in the story as if I were a silent witness of what’s happening to Mr. Scrooge during that ghostly night destined to save his soul.

12) A Rumpole Christmas, by John Mortimer. If Christmas time is not really your thing, you can always take revenge of it by reading the adventures and misfortunes of Horace Rumpole, a moody character, who experiences all kind of situations during the Holiday Season while trying to make the least of this joyful time.

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The little town that Christmas saved

By Nora Vasconcelos

Tlal1

About two hours and a half from Mexico city, it lays a magical town called Tlalpujahua. Its history goes back all the way before the Spaniards came to this country. When they arrived, they turned this little place into a very rich mining city, even though, native people kept their agricultural activities, adding later handcrafts making and forged iron.

Life went like this for a long time, until one day, in the past century, an accident with mining waste destroyed most of the town. Mining stop being a good business and the town people had to dig out what wast left of their houses and streets.

It was then when a local businessman opened a Christmas Spheres factory there, and taught people the art of blowing crystal and decorating it, in order to produce the most delicated and original ornaments.

Ever since, Tlalpujahua has being identified for its beautiful spheres which are produced all the year long by 100 workshops that proudly deliver to the domestic and international markets some 70 million of these unique handmade Christmas adornments.

Walking around the streets of this wonderful colonial city is like wandering around an enchanting place where time runs at a different pace, where happines fills the air, and where a feast of colours and shapes bring a big smile to all visitors.

santa

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French food, language, and culture… all in one book.

By Nora Vasconcelos

book cover

Traveling around France is usually a dream full of images of lively cities, bakeries getting warm bread out of the oven, a café located in the heart of Paris, and a table served with assorted cheeses and a glass of wine.

But frequently, it’s also a dream of comunicating in French with all people and being able to order in that language all those delicious dishes at a restaurant, as well as being able to go to the supermarket to buy all the necessary products required to prepare a typical meal.

Thanks to The Farm to Table French Phrasebook, by Victoria Mas, this dream can come true for anyone who wants to know better the French cuisine, its country and its culture.

“I wanted to write a book in which readers could not only learn about french cuisine, but apprehend it from a cultural context. Understanding what the french eat is inseparable from how they eat. Learning about food habits is one of the best ways to learn about the food itself. Moreover, I thought it was necessary for readers to be able to master useful phrases and words in french so that they don’t feel lost when traveling abroad or decide to try a french cooking book.”, says Victoria.

Victoria Mas

– How did you decide which French expressions, foods and drinks would be included in this book?

I researched what were the most significant dishes and drinks in France in order to give a broad overview of french cuisine. However, I didn’t want to simply name a general list of food- I wanted readers to really approach the subject from a french point of view, and discover which food are typical on a day-to-day basis. I therefore talk extensively about bread, cheese and wine for instance, because indeed the french consume them almost everyday.

Regarding expressions, I looked for the most helpful phrases one might need either to express themselves or understand what is being said – whether it is at a restaurant, a bakery or the farmer’s market.

– Given that the Holiday season is around the corner, which would you say are the most popular French expressions, dishes and traditions around Christmas time and New Year’s?

Readers will find a whole section in the book dedicated to holidays, notably Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For Christmas Eve, the French enjoy a traditional turkey, along with a unique frozen dessert named la bûche (yule log).

As for New Year’s Eve, oysters by the dozens with a glass of champagne are typically consumed.

And here we can see some of the most common expressions of the holiday season:

French ExpressionsOK

It’s worth mantioning that France has more than 300 types of cheese, and produces some 6,024 million of bottles of wine a year.

French Wine Regions
French Wine Regions

The Farm to Table French Phrasebook, recently published by Ulysses Press, also contains a guide to the French Kitchen and several recipes of some of the most popular dishes originated in France.

So that, when this journey on paper ends, the readers will have enjoyed a culinary insight into “what, how and why the French eat”, and perhaps, as Veronica says in her book, they may have become “a little bit French” themselves.”

Bon appétit!

*Images courtesy of Ulysses Press

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