Thursday, January 15, 2009

Soldes out

According to mental health experts, January is the most depressing month of the year. In France this is because of les Soldes (the Sales) – at least, that’s my theory.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the word solde was a slang word used by cloth merchants to designate off-cuts that were sold at – um – cut price. The word comes from the Italian, saldo and means ‘balance’ as in bank balance.

Well, thanks to the festivities, my bank balance has shrivelled like a burst balloon while my cheques are bouncier than ever. So what bright spark decided that this was the perfect time of year to induce shopping frenzy in the pecuniary challenged?

Simon Mannoury, that’s who. In 1830, he opened Paris’s first department store, Le Petit Saint-Thomas, in rue du Bac. He had plenty of great ideas: he was the first to mark prices on his goods, he invented mail-order and he even brought a donkey into the shop for the children to ride on. Fortunately, that idea was shelved pretty quickly.

Photo Eau de Paris

Monsieur Mannoury also introduced the concept of Soldes. In order to liquidate stock at the end of the season, he sold everything off at reduced prices. Of course, this was very popular but I do wonder if he had any notion of what he’d started…

In France, les Soldes are regulated by law and must begin and end on dates specified by the government: for example, the current sales period began on 7th January and will end on 10th February. Winter and summer Soldes last for five weeks each and shopkeepers are allowed to choose two other weeks during the year, as long as they are not too close to the main sales period.

But all that doesn’t really matter to me. By the time I’ve saved up enough money to go to the sales, all that’ll be left will be a couple of acrylic tank-tops in a colour that doesn’t go with anything, a few dozen tan panty-hose and a job-lot of mysterious kitchen utensils that I never knew I needed.

Although you never know. And they are very cheap…

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Name that king!

Louis the Lazy

On this day in 898, Charles III, known as Charles the Simple, was crowned King of the Franks. I was relieved to discover that at that time, ‘simple’ meant ‘honest’ rather than 'stupid' but it got me thinking about the other nicknames the French gave to their kings.

Whereas the English named their monarchs ‘the unready’ or ‘the glorious’ or ‘the peaceable’, they didn’t often resort to personal insults, like the French (unless you count William the Conqueror who was also known as William the Bastard – but I have a feeling that wasn’t meant to be an insult and anyway, he was French).

I mean, fancy calling your king Charles the Fat, Charles the Bald or Charles the Mad! Not to mention Louis the Stammerer, Louis the Lazy, Louis the Quarreller, Louis the Universal Spider and - my favourite – John the Posthumous (perhaps he was just very quiet).

Still - what can you expect from a people who call the heir to the throne a dolphin?