Tag Archives: France

Baccalaureate Audacity


Um, so we have a story for — about a student who took the French baccalaureate, and um … when it comes to the philosophy exam, it’s always like … it’ll be some like weird question sometimes. And apparently one year, the question was “what is audacity?” And, we have four hours to complete this test. So, some kids are writing like eight pages long, and some kids were writing like basically nothing. And other people, like there are other things you can choose to do if you’re taking the philosophy exam, it doesn’t have to be like one question, so people were doing other things. But, you can’t leave the exam until about an hour or two into it. So, this kid wrote one thing on his paper. It was literally a line long. And then… uh, kind of looks at his desk. And everyone’s kind of looking around wondering what’s happening. And uh, ‘cause we can’t mind our own business. But, um… So what happens is, once the hour — the first hour– is up, he goes and he turns that in and leaves. And, when everyone gets their results, you know we have a tendency of telling each other our results. So, what happens is, he gets his results, and his friends — obviously everyone’s asking what they got. They ask him and he said he got a perfect score, so 20 out of 20 in our case. And they said “what? We saw you. You only put one sentence. What did you say? And to the answer… to the question “what is audacity?” his answer is “this is audacity.” And just turned that in.


This piece of folklore came up when a couple of college freshmen were sitting around a dorm room discussing senior year exams and the college application process. When the informant began to tell this story, I rushed and got my camera to record it. The informant said that the initial context she heard it, and would typically hear it, was when her and her high school classmates were discussing baccalaureate exams, usually right before they happened.


According to the informant, this legend was told during times of high stress in the baccalaureate process. Since those exams are so important and determine the student’s ability to get into the college they want, there is a lot of anxiety surrounding them. I think that this piece of folklore is spread to relieve some of the stress of the upcoming exams. It implies that you don’t have to do the longest and most elaborate work to be successful. Also, the fact that the main question in the legend is “what is audacity?” might imply that the more important thing when dealing with anxiety over the future is to just be audacious and bold.

French Gardens

“So French-style gardens are very exact in their layout, they’re supposed to ache, like there’s definite vegetation areas, and there’s gravel stuff, and they’re really into doing intricate designs, and you’re supposed to see different things the farther up you are. What you see on high is supposed to be different from what you see, you, know, at straight-ahead level. And the whole theory of it—you know, they have like, multiple level terraces and whatnot, so you’d see, like, a curlicue design if you’re standing inn, like, eagle eye, but if you’re actually staring just straight at it, it looks like different levels of topiaries.

“So the whole theory behind it is that, um, gardens are supposed to be man’s demonstration of his power over nature. So it’s a whole exercise in controlling, you know, what would otherwise be wild nature. And so, it’s about making sure each path is—strictly delineates between, um, say vegetation and gravel, because it demonstrates that man is ultimately at, by God’s design is at the top of the food chain and is therefore able to control any and all elements, and so the more control that you have, and the more intricate the designs, the better demonstration of man’s control over nature.”


The informant said that the purpose of the two different views was to further demonstrate skill: if you can trick the eye into seeing one thing from one place, and another thing from another, it was a good demonstration of power. She found that this belief is “in line with French thinking,” which often favors the art of precision and links that with divinity.

She learned about the gardens from one of her teacher’s in France in 2012, (and she found more evidence of the belief when she researched it on the internet). She discovered it started with Italian gardens and tree carving. The informant learned that it is a sort of big game to see how much you can do with plants in a controlled environment, and it was a way for royalty to demonstrate their power (the head gardener for such people was actually a very respected position).

This belief is compelling because it is so widely accepted it doesn’t exist on the margins of French culture, but in its center. The informant said that magazines and other publications exist solely to teach how to garden in the French style. It seems that the original purpose of the gardens (to demonstrate man’s power over nature) has fallen away in a way that it is not obsolete, but it is no longer truly important. The ideology has been totally absorbed by the culture.

Why the Roussillon rocks are red

Informant: “This Lord and Lady  lived in the castle in Roussillon, which is like this canyon area in France, right? There was this pageboy that came to hang out at the castle and stuff. The Lord was away a lot and didn’t like to spend time at home. So the pageboy and the Lady spent time together and like, fell in love and started to have an affair. The servants started to notice and a jealous maid reported the incident to the Lord. One day, the pageboy sang a song of his love for the Lady, and hearing the truth, the Lord was so mad he decided to take revenge. He took the pageboy hunting, and when the pageboy wasn’t looking, he stabbed him in the back and cut out his heart. Then he went back to the castle with the heart and had his cook prepare it with a spicy sauce. The Lady thought the dish was delicious, until her husband informed her that she had just eaten the heart of her lover. She said, “You have given me such a good meal, that I never want to taste anything else again”. Then she  fled out of the castle to the edge of the cliff, and jumped off the cliff. Her blood spilled over the land and turned it red, and that is why the Roussillon rocks are red.”

My informant first heard this story from a tour guide when he was visiting Roussillon.

Analysis: According to my research, this is the story of Raymond d’Avignon and Lady Sermonde. It is interesting because while this is story is called a legend, it has the quality of a myth because it tells a story of how the earth came to be, and why the rocks are red.

The Roussillon cliffs are a unique shade of rust-red, therefore it makes sense that someone came up with a story to explain why they were the color they are. This is due to the “ochre” color in the clay of the sand, which is a rose-pigment that is often used in the coloring of textiles.

This story does not appear to be very well known, and is only present in tour-guide websites across the Internet. The story has an almost Shakesperean quality to it. The love, lust and tragedy might be due to the fact that France is known for being the romance capital of the world.