Memes, Money, and More in France’s Archives

During the last three weeks, I worked in 8 different archives all over France. Some were massive modern beasts, where the staff were formal, the readings rooms were silent, and the decor was always bizarre.


Departmental Archives in Montpellier

Others were cozy rural reading nooks. Here the staff tended to be warm, they were patient with my poor french, and laughed with me instead of at me.


Departmental Archives in Cahors

While navigating the peculiarities of each archive was often stressful, most days I loved my work.

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In a typical 8 hour work day, I took between 800-1500 photos for Dr. Walshaw’s research on counterfeiting in early modern France and between 4-5 photos of things that made me chuckle. Here I’ll share a few of the latter:

First of all, government paperwork, even in the eighteenth century was super lame, so the French liked to spice it up with fun stamps that were obviously meant to be memes.

goddess meme 2


budget meme 2

keener meme

I couldn’t quite come up with the right text for the next few…but they have so much potential, don’t they?

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If you can meme these stamps, I would love to see it!

When I wasn’t finding meme-orable stamps, I spent my time sifting through stuff that looked a lot like this:

The documents I read were usually loose leaf trial proceedings, but sometimes they were also administrative records or letters bound in massive volumes:
On the best days, the documents looked something like this:
This is exactly what I like to see! Well labeled documents with the crime, “faux-monnayeur” clearly visible! Makes my job so much easier!!

But many days I had to page through stacks like this, just hoping to spot a “fausse monnaie” or a “faux monnayeur.”

While looking for counterfeiters, I often stumbled across other strange things:
Does anyone know what this says? Or even what language it is?

Usually everything is in French, with a little Latin sprinkled in for pompous reasons. But on my last two days of work, I was in Strasbourg, right on the French-German border, so there was plenty of this:

IMG_6907 (1)

Even though I have no idea what this says, somehow one word made me hungry…

One of my favourite French-German finds was this counterfeiting report:


Apparently the King of Prussia was making counterfeit francs! :O How dare he!

For the most part, the counterfeiters I read about were not kings, but were more likely to be travelling vagabonds, casual labourers fallen on hard times, or particularly clever crafters. Usually they pulled off their trickery in dimly lit taverns or hectic market places and were caught by local shopkeepers who then drag the culprit to the nearest police officer. The police who operated in rural areas not only arrested criminals, but also held the trials and delivered the sentences (for some crimes) on the spot! Certainly wouldn’t want to catch one of those fellows on a bad day. These mounted police officer courts were called the marréchaussée and as is fitting for a wild-west style justice brigade, they kept their documents in burlap bags. On the rare occasion the documents will still be in them when I get them, 300 years later!
Sometimes I find even stranger things like….
dried animal hide??

But my best find was an actual counterfeited coin. Coins like these were presented as evidence in counterfeiting trials, but usually they aren’t still in the paperwork by the time I get to it. This little guy was a beautiful exception!


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I was also lucky enough to find some counterfeited paper money!

IMG_6904 (1)

In my opinion, these look much easier to fake than a metal coin.

Of couse sometimes I get distracted from my hunt for counterfeiters when I see documents that connect to my own research area, which is girlhood in early modern France.

In this trial, a 14 year old girl and her father successfully took a man to court for rape causing pregnancy. I didn’t take the time to read the details of the trial, but I was fascinated to see that the girl was listed as the injured party alongside her father. In my understanding of early modern law, I thought that rape was usually considered a property crime against the victim’s father or husband. Yay for a basic recognition that girls own their own bodies!

One of my most dramatic adventures in the archives, didn’t really happen in the archive at all. Two of the smaller archives I worked in closed for an hour during lunch, usually I just sat on the lawn and ate my sandwich until they let me back in. But in Bourges, I decided to get brave and go for a little walk. Big mistake. About 20 minutes later, my foot had stumbled into something toxic, and seconds later I was rehearsing in my head how to casually ask the friendly secretary about the region’s deadly/dangerous plant population.
IMG_6834 This bad omen in the sources certainly didn’t help.
But I am happy to report that after a couple days of numbness and amputation related nightmares, I did make a complete recovery. Who knew archival work could be so dangerous?! Well now you do!

Hope you enjoyed the fun finds as much as I did and thanks for coming to work with me!


The Sand Dune and the Sandwich

April 1

Vineyard, hot tub, boarder collie. It all sounded too good to be true. There had to be a catch. So when we pulled up to our Airbnb just outside of Bordeaux, I began a mental checklist. Vineyard: yes. Boarder collie: oooo he’s adorable. Guess I won’t see much of Jakob for the next few days. Hot tub: Wahoo!!!

Our room? Ah yes. Online it was described as a private room and appeared to be a cozy loft. In reality, the cramped farm house (read: converted tool shed) had barely enough room for one bedroom, let alone two. We would be sleeping in the walk way space between the top of the steep attic stairs and the hosts’ bedroom. Two of the “room’s” sides were made up of railings overlooking the kitchen below, one was a flimsy portable divider, and the last was an angled attic wall.
Thankfully, what our new home lacked in comfort was made up by our hosts’ generous hospitality and liberal wine pour.


This wine was actually grown in the fields surrounding the house!

In fact, we were barely in the door before our hosts, Jennifer and Thomas, invited us to join them for dinner. Of course we agreed. We were eager to experience the authentic human interactions that travel sometimes lacks. Unfortunately, they did not specify the hour of that dinner. By 8:00 I was using very little restraint on the bowl of cheezies on the coffee table. Just when I thought I might disappear into the black hole that was once my stomach, Jennifer headed into the kitchen to begin preparing hamburger patties. I asked to help in any way I could. She smiled and insisted that she didn’t need help, clearly not realizing that it was not an offer, it was a plea. I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at adapting to other cultures, but evidently my stomach is not.

By 9:30 we were seated around the dinner table, stacking our burgers with carmelized onions, french cheeses, and thick slices of avocado. All evening our conversation had been a halting mix of French and English, accented with hand gestures and broken up with long stretches of silence while we all tried to think of what we could say and how to say it.

We had already covered the easiest topic: What do you want to do while in Bordeaux?

I had sheepishly replied, “nous voudrions voir le dune du Pyla.” I thought they might laugh. Is seeing a sand dune really an acceptable tourist goal for a 24 year old?
To the contrary, they nodded enthusiastically, going on to explain that the dune was big, beautiful, and interesting….Whether or not it really was is hard to tell, really those were just the words we could all understand.

“We are hoping to go on Saturday.” Jakob explained, “when Meghan has a day off of work.”
They frowned and shook their heads, “no the weather not good Saturday. Go tomorrow.”

Really we had no choice, I worked Thursday and Friday in the Bordeaux archives, so we were going Saturday, come hell or high water.

We checked the forecast daily, hoping the clouds might notice our persistence and delay their April shower’s mandate by just one day. To the contrary, the forecast managed to get worse. By Saturday morning, there were warnings of thunderstorms, unpredictable high water, strong winds, and quickly changing conditions. Sounded like a perfect west coast beach day to us, so we slipped on our raincoats and adventure pants (only the highest fashion in waterproof zip offs), packed a picnic, and headed to the beach.

We saw the dune before reaching the parking lot. It towered over the jungle-like-forest, the white sand contrasting dramatically with the deep green of the trees and the brilliant blue of the sky. The hulking 3km long 100m high dune looked entirely out of place. It was as if a piece of the Sahara had lost it’s way and decided that life on the Atlantic was too pleasant to pass up. A set of stairs appeared equally out of place, tracing the curve of the dune, ending near the crest. An elderly couple and a family with children dawdled towards the stairs, while a group of five young guys ambled up the free flowing sand. Reaching the obvious conclusion that stairs are for the weak, we slipped out of our shoes and eagerly began scrambling up the dune freestyle. Our dash slowed to a plod after a few meters, a few more and the stairs looked unbelievably good. By the time I caught my first glimpse of the ocean, my thighs and glutes were begging to be back in the archives.


The dune, which has allegedly swallowed a hotel and the homes of innumerable woodland animals, stretched for as far as we could see towards the south. A few houses to the north clung to their foundations sending up nearly audible pleas for mercy. Jakob, realizing that he was in for more of a hike than a beach, put his shoes back on, while I insisted that barefoot was best. Each of us assumed that the other would eventually regret their decision.

By the time we were almost half way across the dune’s expanse, heading for the highest point, we noticed that the sky was no longer blue. Somewhere out on the Atlantic, sheets of rain were pelting the waves and picking up speed in their land-ward journey.
Still we had no interest in letting impending weather interrupt our picnic plans, so we found a sheltered dip in the sand and hunkered down to munch on sandwiches. Not long after the cheese and meat were in their rightful place, the wind began to pick up. Jakob stood up, offering a full report on the progress of the ominous clouds. The warning was too late. Seconds later a million tiny spear points pelted my bare feet and legs. By the time I realized that it was wind-whipped sand, not a barrage of arrows from an army of mini sand-dwelling fairies, my sandwich was entirely covered in sand. Jakob yelled at me to stand up to avoid the worst of the sandy onslaught and raced off to check the progress of his GoPro footage.


Pre-storm GoPro set-up

In minutes, his footsteps were covered and most of the GoPro was buried. I managed to get my pant legs rolled down and my shoes back on just before the pelting rain began. By now my teeth were almost as sandy as my toes, and I decided it was time to abandon the sandwhich. I felt compelled to bury it. As if it had been the unlucky soldier in this battle and deserved a respectful resting place. Of course it would be uncovered again in mere minutes in these conditions, but it’s the thought that counts. With one last look towards the far end of the dune, we admitted defeat, turned our backs to the storm and began our trek back to the parking lot.

A few hours later we were sitting on a beach not far from the dune, enjoying suggery waffles and watching kite surfers under a once again beautiful blue sky. If it weren’t for the thick layer of sand on my scalp and the grainy layer under my clothes, I would have assumed that the battle of the dune hadn’t really happened at all.


Castles and Cathedrals

Did you ever spend time staring at something as mundane as traffic, just trying to figure out how all the cars could be so small?

If you have, you’re probably a North American who has spent a week or two in Europe, or perhaps you’re Sarah Allan.

Sarah spent the last two weeks exploring southern France with us. Her full-time job may be teaching children in Prince George, but her part-time spring break job was reintroducing us to the wonders of Europe. Sure we were generally the tour guides, but Sarah offered us a fresh set of eyes and a heightened level of enthusiasm.

“This cheese is amazing!”
“Wow, there are so many appartement buildings! Where are all the houses?”
“Ya definitely, why shouldn’t we do a spontaneous day trip to Barcelona?”

Just as Jakob and my feet were beginning to grow travel weary, Sarah’s wide-eyed wonder gave us the spark we needed to continue taking in each new place with a sense of awe and curiosity.

Sarah is going to tell you the story herself in her own guest blog post(!!!), but after a wild 65 hour journey back home during which EVERY ONE of her planes was delayed or cancelled, I am sure she is going to need a bit of time before she is ready to reflect fondly on the past two weeks.

So in the meantime, here are some of my favourite sights and stories from our adventures with Sarah:

March 13

It turns out, Nice was the perfect place for Sarah’s first impression of France! Our Airbnb was nestled in a medieval village not far outside of the city and only a 30 minute walk from the beach.

Any guesses where we went first?


The beach of course!

Sarah was still thawing from her long Prince George winter, so the beach was an obvious first outing. After this I was sure that her jet-lag was going to get the best of her. But as any teacher would, she ignored her body’s exhaustion and pressed on!
Little did she know, the next activity on my to-do list was a steep urban hike.
I’m not sure it was worth it…


The view from the top!

March 14

The next day we ventured out of our little village and into Nice

Now I know why it’s called the azure coast, everything, including the bikes were a shade of blue.

Sarah and Jakob were dead set on renting bikes and cruising the promenade. I was a bit more apprehensive. I liked the idea, but as soon as I saw that the pay station required a local phone call, I started making excuses. “I bet the required damage deposit is pretty big…probably need a French bank account…it’s too far to bike all the way home…it’s probably cheaper to just take the bus back.” Really I was just scared to talk on the phone in French #secondlanguageintrovertproblems. Jakob waved away my worries and commandeered the automated phone payment system solo, Sarah unhooked a bike and adjusted the settings, and I stood there completely useless. Guess they don’t need my fumbling translation skills after all.

Jakob and Sarah’s self sufficiency was certainly an asset over the next two weeks since I had work lined up for about 6 days of Sarah’s week and a half visit.

March 18

After a brutal two day work week, I was ready to go back to travel life. So first thing Saturday morning, we headed south from Aix-en-Provence to…

Jakob and Sarah had already explored Marseille while I was cracking ancient codes in the archives. But they didn’t venture into any of the city’s churches without me, knowing that would be an unforgivable sin.

So our first stop was this spire, perched atop a hill overlooking the ocean:IMG_6484

The view from the top was really the best partIMG_6474 2Because inside was mostly a mess of gaudy gold decor and ….boats??

IMG_6476Yup, boats hanging from the ceiling, boats above the alter, even boats built into the pillars. I spent a few moments looking for a shrine to Saint Boaty Mcboatface. As self-identifying cathedral snobs, Jakob and I turned up our noses and tried to explain to Sarah why this basilica was a tacky disappointment. There was no explaining with words, so we set off in search of experiential evidence.

It wasn’t long before we found Marseille’s Cathedral. I prayed it would be boat free.
IMG_6495And indeed it was. As we stepped into the cool dusty expansive sanctuary our eyes widened, our breath caught, and our pace slowed in reverence. Nothing is more awe-inspiring than wandering between the hefty pillars of a 1000 year old cathedral.
“Now this is a Cathedral,” I whispered to Sarah, “doesn’t it feel different than that basilica, it makes you feel…” I paused, lost for words.
“Small?” offered Sarah.


Bliiinded by the liiiiiight

We also had a little too much fun tracking patterns on the mosaic floor.


Giants should be able to go to church too #equality

That evening we drove to our next destination: Montpellier. Where the real adventure of the day began. I had been having trouble communicating with our Airbnb host. He was in Paris for work and wanted me to call him to get instructions for finding the key. I tried to explain to him via text that my spoken French is not as strong as my reading, and it would be best if he could just text me the instructions #secondlanguageintrovertproblems again. He insisted. So after a fumbling conversation, I determined that the key was in his mailbox, and I was supposed to get the mailbox key from a neighbour(?). He told me to call him when we arrived.

Well that plan quickly deteriorated when we arrived at the apartment and began inspecting the mailbox. It had a flimsy wooden door with a slot big enough to fit most of my hand through. With the help of Sarah’s iphone light, we spotted the keys and our hosts name on the mail. With barely a word exchanged, both Sarah and I turned to the shrubbery behind us and began looking for branches that could fit through the opening. This is how northern girls solve problems.

A new plan was hatched. Sarah offered to keep look out, while I turned a crooked shrub branch into a hook. We paused for a few moments starting up a casual conversation about French mailboxes when an unsuspecting resident meandered by. As soon as the civilian was out of sight, I regained focused, held my breath, tried to forget how hungry I was, and focused all of my energy on retrieving the key.

Seconds later the keys were leveraged up out of the mail slot and into my hands. My mind raced as I began to think of ways to add mailbox heists to my CV, who says I don’t have practical skills.

March 19


Have you ever played this game?

Turns out, Carcassonne is not only the name of one of my favourite games, but also a real place! Aaaand it happened to by only a couple hour drive from Montpellier. On the way, we spotted this monstrosity towering over a tiny village.

So of course we had to check out another church, it was Sunday after all. Weaving our way past a crowd of church goers in the foyer, we peered into the sanctuary wondering if this village was used to nosy Canadians interrupting their baptism festivities. The priest nodded to us and we took that as confirmation that our shorts and flip flops were tolerable. Inside didn’t compare to the grandeur of the Marseille Cathedral, but it was nice to see a more lived-in church space, full of young faces, and at least one newborn.

After hitting the road again, it wasn’t long before we caught our first sights of Carcassonne.


It even sort of looks like the game box cover!

At this point in our trip, we really just do the free stuff. But we decided to splurge and introduce Sarah to the wonders of the audio guided tour.

We certainly didn’t regret it.


Ooo another cathedral!


Ok maybe we have had too much of cathedrals for one weekend

March 20

I imagine when most people go to Barcelona they carefully plan, book accommodation, research must-see sights, scope out a few tapas bars…you know, standard “I’m going to Spain and want to have a good time” stuff. We decided to go to Barcelona about 3 days before we actually went. I was studying googlemaps (as was a common past-time growing-up in my family) when I noticed that Montpellier is not far from the Spanish border. In fact, Barcelona is not far from the French border. BAM! A spontaneous trip to Spain was born.


First we had to check out this crazy creation.

The Sagrada Familia is a modern cathedral that has been under construction for almost 150 years. The original architect, Gaudi, who seems to have built every other building in Barcelona as well, is long dead, but his crazy project has continued.

We opted out of the 18 euro entrance ticket and the 3 hour wait and continued to explore the city.

Until we stumbled across this gem. Can never have too much cathedral time.

After doing our routine reverent walk around, sit still and stare up, and then make fun of the saints with silly expressions on their faces, we noticed a small line gathering in one corner. Upon inspection, we realized it was a line for an elevator to the roof!
Yes please.
This wasn’t your typical cathedral balcony visit, no it was a rickety set of scaffolding perched precariously on the roof tiles. It’s like the reconstruction crew was having their mid morning coffee one day and said,
“Hey Juan, what if we don’t take the scaffolding down?”
“Ya I was thinking the same thing José. Maybe we can throw in an elevator, charge a few bucks.”
“Yup we can start buying the good wine, no more Father Pedros’.”
And like that, Barcelona gained yet another stunning tourist attraction.

We finished off the day with my favourite part of Barcelona, the beach.


Sarah couldn’t get enough of it! If only we had gotten to the sand before the sun had set.

We finished off the day with dinner in an empty restaurant. It’s not that the food sucked. It’s that we aren’t very good at eating like Spanish people. As in not at 6:30.

March 25

After a long week of work, during which Jakob and Sarah had too much fun exploring Montpellier and Toulouse, and I had a more reasonable amount of fun discovering things like this:


My first actually counterfeit coin!! I read about them all day, but they don’t usually keep the actual evidence with the trial papers.

it was time to say goodbye to Sarah.
We spent out last day wandering the streets of old Toulouse.

And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Sarah.

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I know we look happy, but those smiles are forced

We are so thrilled that Sarah decided to join us on our crazy trip…but you’ll have to wait until her blog to find out how she felt about it. Stay tuned!