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You Say Cigales, We Say Cicadas

May 29, 2013

If you’ve been to Provence, you’ll recall colorful ceramic winged creatures, in all sizes, in every market. Part of the region's folklore, those charming cigales are CICADAS! How creepy can they be if the French decorate their walls and sofas with them?

Time for a bit of rebranding for our bug de summer, n'est-ce pas?

So here are 15 things you didn't know about cicadas from Marseille-Provence:

1) The cicada became the noisy spokesinsect of provençal culture thanks to the poet Frédéric Mistral, who in 1854 created the Félibrige, an association to promote the provençal language and traditions.

uring a cigale or cicada He illustrated his bookplates with a cicada and the legend, "Lou souleu mi fa canta," provençal for "The sun makes me sing".

2) Louis Sicard, a ceramicist based in Aubagne, was asked in 1895 by a wealthy tile manufacturer to make a typical provençal artefact as a gift for its business clients. He created a paperweight, a cicada sitting on an olive branch bearing Mistral's epigram. It was a huge hit and Sicard adapted it for brooches, vases and cups.

3) Today cicadas feature prominently on provencal fabrics-les indiennes,  and jumbo pottery versions hang on the façades of houses to which they allegedly attract luck and happiness.

4) There are about 2,500 species of cicada around the world and 15 or 16 in Provence. Some species can live for up to 17 years; provençal cicadas live for four years, all but a few weeks of which are spent underground in the form of grubs.

5) It's the males who make the noise to attract females to the tree where they are sitting (they are remarkably adept at camouflague). They produce the sound by contracting and relaxing tymbals, ribbed membranes inside their stomachs. The Ancient Greek poet Xenophon praised this quality: "Blessed are the cicadas, for they have voiceless wives".

6) The chirping is done by large numbers of individuals in concert, in order to confuse predators and each species produces a slightly different sound in order to ensure the female of the correct species is attracted.

7) The cicada is the one of the world's loudest insects, recording sounds of up to 120 decibels. The males have to "switch off" their hearing organs while they sing, in order to avoid going deaf. Below 22 degrees Centigrade, the resounding sections of the diaphragm lose their elasticity. For this reason the cicada shuts up during rain or after sunset.

8) According to provençal myth, the cicada was sent by God to disrupt the peasants' endless siestas and stop them from growing too lazy.

9) Once hatched, cicadas live from sucking tree sap. Sometimes they mistake a person's arm or leg for a branch and try to feed by sticking a sharp proboscis into it.

10) Cicadas can emit a jet of urine when disturbed or threatened and in the past provençal people believed they had diuretic properties.

Every summer, peasants would thread their bodies on to a string, hang them up to dry, then boil up them to make an infusion or tisane as a remedy for urinary tract related ailments.

11) The Imperial Chinese were fascinated with cicadas. They used them as a decoration on furniture and clothes, and created the high-ranking post of "Grand Cicadist", whose job was to make sure the emperor had a regular supply to regale him with their songs.

12) The Ancient Greeks were equally keen on the cicada, which they regarded as a symbol of Apollo, the god of music and of the sun.

Cigale or cicada on an ancient Greek coinPeople wore gold cicadas as ornaments in their hair and Athens featured them on some of its coins (example pictured).

13) Apart from Xenophon, writers who celebrated the cicada include Homer, in the Illiad and Plato, in Phaedrus, which relates that cicadas were once men who became so enthralled with music that they forgot to eat and drink and their bodies wasted away.

The slave and storyteller Aesop created one of the best-known fables of all, The Cicada and the Ant, later reinterpreted by the 17th century French writer Jean de la Fontaine. The Roman poet Virgil was less enamoured. In both the Georgics and the Bucolics, he railed against the "rowdy" cicada.

14) A ballet has been written about the cicada: La Cigale by the French composer Jules Massenet. It is rarely, if ever, revived and is not part of the standard ballet repertory.

15) You'll see plenty of restaurants called La Cigale in Provence. But - though they are a delicacy in North American and Asia - you won't see cicadas on the menus. Do not confuse with cigales de mer, which are like very small lobsters. Though hard to come by these days, they're a sought-after ingredient of bouillabaisse.

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Dumbarton Oaks Park Open House May 4

May 2, 2013

Beatrix Farrand, the first woman American landscape architect, has been seen about town promoting the preservation of  Dumbarton Oaks Park. The Park is the major portion of her masterwork, Dumbarton Oaks Estate.

Beatrix Farrand, Villa Firenze, April 2013 (Photo by: dopark.org) Beatrix Farrand, Villa Firenze, April 2013

This Saturday, May 4th, meet Beatrix Farrand from 10:00 to 2:00 pm at Dumbarton Oaks Park during an all-day Open House hosted by Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.

One of  Washington's most historic and bucolic urban parks, Dumbarton Oaks, designed by Beatrix Farrand and once enjoyed by local gentry, foreign dignitaries, and poets, is now part of Rock Creek Park, one of 401 National Parks Service properties across the country. Over the years the park has inspired many luminaries from across this country and around the world. Igor Stravinsky wrote his Concerto for Dumbarton Oaks and Robert Frost spoke on behalf of the Wilderness Act in the Park's meadow.

The Conservancy will celebrate the Park's rich cultural heritage with poetry, music, and historic tours, as well as opportunities to experience and learn about the Park's environment. "This really is a jewel of a landscape, and it deserves to be protected and enjoyed," says Conservancy president, Rebecca Trafton. Those who want to lend the park a helping hand can join one of several weeding parties that day. Open House Highlights:

10:30 am: Free Children's Music Class in the Meadow with Levine School of Music (Parents welcome!)

12:00 noon: Poetry with Grace Cavalieri, DC poet laureate and host of The Poet and the Poem series at the Library of Congress

Fan of Beatrix Farrand, architect Liza Gilbert with Conservancy President Rebecca Trafton, (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Fan of Beatrix Farrand, architect Liza Gilbert with Conservancy President Rebecca Trafton, "This is a jewel. We have to save it."

Ongoing: Walking tours and exhibits Wildlife learning station Information on RiverSmart and energy-efficient homes Park restoration activities (Come dressed to pull English ivy!) Art in the meadow (Artists invited to sketch and paint.)

The Conservancy is especially proud to host poet Grace Cavalieri, who has written a poem for the Park, "In

the Beauty of the City,” which she will debut on May 4th. Ms. Cavalieri invites other poets and the public join her in sharing poems about nature.

The Open House is part of the Partners in Preservation program that seeks to increase the public's awareness of the importance of historic preservation and to preserve America's historic and cultural places.

Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy is one of 24 organizations competing to receive funding in the $1million giveaway sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express.

PHOTO OPS: Poetry Reading with Grace Cavalieri, noon

Music and Art in the Meadow, ongoing

INTERVIEW OP: Rebecca Trafton, President, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

CONTACT: Rebecca Trafton, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy, 434.249.3376,


Dumbarton Oaks Park is located on R St NW in Georgetown between Avon and 31st Streets.


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Tom Anderson and Marc Schappel Host Georgetown Patron's Party

April 25, 2013

The 2013 Patron's Party for the Georgetown House Tour officially began when Grande Dame of Georgetown, 97-year old Frida Burling arrived, sparkling in turquoise.

Jennifer Altemus, Frank Babb Randolph and Katherine Tallmadge (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Jennifer Altemus, Frank Babb Randolph and Katherine Tallmadge

After all, it was Frida's idea a dozen years ago to raise charitable funds for the annual house tour. Past Patron Party hosts have included former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee and his wife Sally Quinn, author Kitty Kelley, developer Herb Miller and his wife Patrice, and, sadly, the late Curt Winsor, Bank of Georgetown President and his wife Debbie.

Cathy Kerkum, Samira Farmer and Jackie Pletcher (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Cathy Kerkum, Samira Farmer and Jackie Pletcher

Honoring the residents who have graciously opened their homes for the annual public event (this year on April 27th), the Georgetown House Tour Patrons’ Party drew Georgetowners, friends of St. John’s Church, and their guests to a landmark Georgetown home for a festive evening.

Paul Frazer and Tina Alster (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Paul Frazer and Tina Alster

Gary Scott, Paul Foster, Terri Robinson, Jeffrey Detwiler and Jennifer Altemus (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Gary Scott, Paul Foster, Terri Robinson, Jeffrey Detwiler and Jennifer Altemus

This year's Spring soirée was held at the stately and elegant P Street residence of Tom Anderson and Marc Schappell of Washington Fine Properties. Their early 19th century home, masterfully restored and renovated, was generously opened to several hundred chic and natty guests who enjoyed cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

Katherine Tallmadge and Frederick J. Ryan (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Katherine Tallmadge and Frederick J. Ryan

Constance Chatfield-Taylor, Charlie Eisen, Jackie Pletcher and Cathy Kerkam (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Constance Chatfield-Taylor, Charlie Eisen, Jackie Pletcher and Cathy Kerkam

Martin Gammon and Sonya Bernhardt (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Martin Gammon and Sonya Bernhardt

Robin Jones and Leslie Maysack (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Robin Jones and Leslie Maysack

Page Evans and Amanda Smith Hood (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Page Evans and Amanda Smith Hood

That fabulous kitchen (Photo by: Judith Beermann) That fabulous kitchen

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