74 episodes

French history is wacky, wonderful - and seriously weird. If the only thing you know about French history is that you hated reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school, pour yourself a glass of pinot noir and get ready for a wild ride. Learn about the time France ran out of cows - and figured out how to eat zebras. Learn about the eccentric national hero keeping bees on top of the Louvre. Learn about the revolution which fought for brotherhood, equality, and a national holiday for marshmallows! New episodes every few weeks! /// Featured on iTunes Buzzed About, CBC/Radio-Canada, Bello Collective, and The Audit.

The Land of Desire: French History and Culture Diana Stegall

    • History
    • 4.9 • 510 Ratings

French history is wacky, wonderful - and seriously weird. If the only thing you know about French history is that you hated reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school, pour yourself a glass of pinot noir and get ready for a wild ride. Learn about the time France ran out of cows - and figured out how to eat zebras. Learn about the eccentric national hero keeping bees on top of the Louvre. Learn about the revolution which fought for brotherhood, equality, and a national holiday for marshmallows! New episodes every few weeks! /// Featured on iTunes Buzzed About, CBC/Radio-Canada, Bello Collective, and The Audit.

    71. Marie Bonaparte, Part I

    71. Marie Bonaparte, Part I

    “I liked murderers. I thought them interesting. Had not my grandfather been one when he killed the journalist? And my great-granduncle Napoleon, what a monumental murderer he was!” – Marie Bonaparte



     

    Welcome back! After a long break to buy new soundproofing equipment – which may or may not have been successful – we’re back with a new miniseries. I’m excited, as I think we’re covering one of the most interesting subjects this show has ever covered: the heiress, philanthropist and pioneering psychoanalyst Marie Bonaparte. Naturally, if we’re going to discuss a pioneering child psychologist we have to go back to the beginning and tell the story of her family – and oh, what a family!

    Episode 71: “Marie, The Last Bonaparte”













    Transcript

    Bienvenue and welcome back to The Land of Desire. I’m your host, Diana, and each month I provide a glimpse into French history and culture. As I’ve settled into my new apartment, it took a little longer than I’d hoped to set up a new recording studio, and I had to order some new equipment. It was a blessing in disguise, as this delay gave me time to really luxuriate in the research of this month’s subject, someone who might be one of my favorite characters ever featured on this show. 

     

    Marie Bonaparte is what I like to call a fascinating woman, the kind of woman who spends her life being unconventional, pioneering, wildly interesting and getting away with it all by being very rich. Her life story is outrageous, shocking, and almost too on the nose metaphorically: she’s the descendant of the man who swept away the Ancien Regime, and used her inheritance to drag Europe into the modern age. Marie Bonaparte was blessed and cursed with a larger-than-life family, and this obsession with family brought her into contact with the ultimate expert on the subject: Sigmund Freud. From a line of tyrants, murderers and emperors, Marie’s own enduring legacy is that of an advocate for the refugee, the child, and the visionary. While her ancestors traded on their power, their money and their name to acquire more of the same, Marie Bonaparte used her influence to push for newer worlds, broader minds and safer harbors. She experimented with her sexuality, she launched an illustrious career, and she saved the life of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. Marie Bonaparte’s life is far too interesting to fit into a single episode. To begin – and with Freud, where else could you begin? – we’ll focus on Marie Bonaparte’s family. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. Along the way, we’ll encounter royal refugees, lions, murderers, Hitler, a seriously weird uncle, Edgar Allen Poe, Queen Elizabeth, Leonardo da Vinci, and more. This month, settle in for the fascinating story of Her Royal Highness, Princess Marie of Greece and Denmark, the last Bonaparte.

     



     

    “I do not believe that any man in the world is more unfortunate in his family than I am.” So wrote Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810, after facing another disappointment from his sprawling, fractious family. To give a little credit to the family in question, Bonaparte was as tyrannical over the dinner table as he was over the continent. In the first year of his empire, Napoleon wrote to one of his lieutenants that he expected absolute loyalty, subservience and obedience from his family if they wanted to share in his glory and power. “I recognize only those who serve me as relations. My fortune is not attached to the name of Bonaparte, but to that of Napoleon…those who do not rise with me shall no longer form part of my family.” Ruling over an enormous band of jumped-up Corsicans was like herding cats, and even General Bonaparte himself could barely manage the task. The easiest cat in the bag was Napoleon’s older brother, Joseph,

    • 40 min
    70. Fifth Anniversary! Listener Q&A

    70. Fifth Anniversary! Listener Q&A

    What if it succeeds?



    Aloha from Hawaii! Your host is celebrating a lot of things right now: Bastille Day, the ability to travel responsibly, the birthday of a certain overworked and abused producer-intern, and oh yeah, the fifth anniversary of The Land of Desire!!! I’m celebrating by answering some excellent questions from you, dear listeners. Merci beaucoup.

    Episode 70: “Fifth Anniversary! Listener Q&A”













     

    Transcript

    Bienvenue and welcome back to the Land of Desire. I’m your host, Diana, and this month, The Land of Desire turns five! I can’t believe it! I wanted to celebrate by reaching out to all of you to answer your questions and say thank you! Thank you so much to everyone who wrote in over the past few weeks, whether you had a question, an episode suggestion, or just said hello. I won’t be able to answer every question I received, but here are a few of my favorites!

     

    I’ll start with this question from Matt, which is by far the most popular question I received: What topics do you have coming up? How do you decide what to discuss?

     

    When I first started The Land of Desire, I planned out all these epic miniseries. In a testament to my ability to scope projects appropriately, I originally intended to launch this show with a ten – yes, that’s right, ten – part series about the history of the Louvre. Needless to say, don’t expect that series any time soon. The problem with a big miniseries is that it’s easier to burn out – or worse, realize that your audience doesn’t actually care about this subject when you still have four more episodes to go! So I try to force myself to scale back and do more one-off episodes because they’re simply more sustainable. I mean, look at “Women at War” – that miniseries began in September 2019, and by the time it finished, I’d changed jobs, nursed my sister back from a car accident, begun sheltering in place and witnessed at least two waves of a global pandemic. These days, if I get any bright ideas like “Time for a deep dive of the entire Hundred Years War!” I shake my head, take a deep breath, and say, “No, let’s talk about the potato.”

     

    Often when I’m beginning the process of brainstorming a new subject, I’ll take a look at my own personal life for inspiration. What am I reading lately? How have I been spending my time? What’s already got my attention these days? It’s a much better jumping off point for me than forcing myself to go back to a subject I selected for myself months ago. Take last month’s episode, for example – by the time this episode goes up, my boyfriend and I will be taking a very exciting vacation to Hawaii. Obviously in June I wanted an excuse to daydream about tropical islands some more, which led me down the path of studying the cultivation of vanilla. Since I’m in vacation mode, I’m trying my best not to think about next month’s episode topic. Empty head, no thoughts. It’ll be as much a surprise to you as it will to me. 

     

    Rhian then asks, : how long does the research process usually take? 

     

    For a single standalone episode, it’s about two to three weeks of research, while a miniseries of course can be much more research spread out over the course of months. My production schedule is always the same: aim to be done with research by Sunday night, aim to finish the script by Monday night, aim to finish recording and editing the vocals by Tuesday night, then on Wednesday mix in music, write the blog post and draft the social media updates. God knows it almost never works out that way. My research always starts in the same place: my enemy and my friend, JSTOR. The absolutely amazing San Francisco Public Library system offers me free access, and I take full advantage of it. I read 8 billion papers about a particular topic until I’m able to figure out wh...

    • 15 min
    69. The Boy Who Solved Vanilla

    69. The Boy Who Solved Vanilla

    “Here Albius fertilized vanilla.” – Tribute to Edmond Albius, Saint Suzanne, Réunion.



    We’re back! After a big move, which required the dismantling and relocation of the trusty recording studio (a.k.a. Diana’s closet), I’m excited to record in my new space! 

    Next month is the show’s sixth anniversary – I know, right?!! – and I’m asking YOU to submit questions for a special listener Q&A episode. You can contact me right here. Otherwise, send me a question on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter! 

    After my last episode about potatoes, I figured I’d follow up with a little dessert. Today, let’s learn about one of the most valuable and mysterious plants on earth, the dizzying journey it made from its native homeland to its most famous outpost, and the unlikely character who unlocked its secrets. This plant’s intoxicating flavor is so widely enjoyed, and so universally incorporated into dishes around the world, that its name has become a byword for the everyday and boring. This is extremely unfair, since we’re talking about one of the world’s most labor-intensive and delicate plants, the only edible orchid on earth. That’s right: this week, we’ll learn about the sultry secrets of vanilla.

    Episode 69: “The Boy Who Solved Vanilla”













     

     

    Edmond Albius, the boy who unlocked vanilla

     



    Watch “Edmond’s gesture” in action in this video of vanilla hand-pollination, still used for the production of essentially all commercial vanilla in the world.



    See the humble melipona bee, which naturally fertilizes vanilla plants in Mexico.

    Transcript

    Bienvenue and welcome back to the Land of Desire. I’m your host, Diana, and this is the show’s first episode ever recorded outside of a closet! Just in time for the podcast’s fifth anniversary next month, I’m finally settled into my new apartment, and I’m working out the kinks of recording in a new space. I’ll be ordering some more recording equipment to really set up the space, so I beg your patience if this month’s sound quality is below average. It sounded nicer when I was essentially recording an episode underneath a pile of coats, but it’s a little easier on your host to sit in a chair, you know?

     

    Before I jump into today’s episode, a quick announcement: next month is the fifth anniversary of this podcast! I know, right? I’m going to celebrate with a big of a mixup – it’s been a few years since I did a Q and A episode, and there are a LOT more listeners nowadays. Between now and the end of the month, please send me your questions – these can be questions about subjects discussed in previous episodes, questions about the podcast’s production, or even just questions about me. You can send me questions through Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, or use the contact form on the show’s website, thelandofdesire.com. I look forward to answering my favorites in next month’s episode! Okay. On with the show.



     

    Perhaps I love a theme, perhaps I’m just hungry, but this month I’m continuing the theme of curious French food history, but we’re moving as far away from the damp, gloomy soil of l’Hexagone and traveling all the way to the balmy shores of the Indian Ocean. We’ll learn about one of the most valuable and mysterious plants on earth, the dizzying journey it made from its native homeland to its most famous outpost, and the unlikely character who unlocked its secrets. This plant’s intoxicating flavor is so widely enjoyed, and so universally incorporated into dishes around the world,

    • 35 min
    68. Antoine Parmentier & The History of the Potato

    68. Antoine Parmentier & The History of the Potato

    “The vegetable of the shack and the château.” – Le marquis de Cussy



    April showers bring May flowers – unless they bring floods, famine, and fear. This month, I’m looking at the moment in French history when farmers turned their nose up at the foods of the New World – until they realized what the potato had to offer. Antoine Parmentier, one of the great hype men of food history, features in this month’s episode all about the tastiest of tubers!

    Episode 68: “Antoine Parmentier & The History of the Potato”













     

     

    Antoine Parmentier, “the apostle of the potato”



     



    Transcript

    “Le légume de la cabane et du château.” – Le marquis de Cussy

     

    Bienvenue and welcome back to The Land of Desire! I’m your host, Diana, and most of this script was written over the course of a gloomy, rainy weekend here in San Francisco. As always, the arrival of rain in the Bay Area has only one appropriate response: “Ah, but we need the rain” – and it’s true, California is always in a fluctuating state of drought, and this year is particularly bad. I say this to explain that I have climate shifts on the brain right now, and my recent reading all focuses on the relationships between humans, cities, and weather. This month, as we wait to see whether April showers really do turn into May flowers, I’d like to do a prequel episode, if you will. If you’ve been a listener from the start – or if you’ve taken a dig through the archives – you’ll remember that the debut episode of this podcast centers around the volcanic explosion which kicked off a series of bread riots in France, acting as kindling for the French Revolution. Today, let’s ask this question: why didn’t that volcano trigger riots in Britain, or other countries in Europe? Or to put it another way, we associate the French Revolution with an uprising of millions of French peasants. It was the 1780s, why on earth did France still have so many peasants? Today, we’re taking a closer look at a dreadful century when France was – horror of horrors – out of date, behind the times, and out of fashion. As the rest of the West underwent an agricultural revolution, the French kept her ancient farming practices – no matter what the cost. One of the greatest revolutions in French history didn’t take place in Paris, or even Versailles, but out in the sticks, where wheat – the so-called staff of life – gave way to new crops, and a whole new way of life. In this episode, let us appreciate one of the great changemakers of French history: the potato.

     



    Subsistence farming/the old ways



    “And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat.” This passage from the book of Exodus perfectly captures the shmita, or the Sabbath year of the ancient world, in which farmers would spend an entire year letting their fields sit, fallow, as the soil rested and recovered. Though they wouldn’t have known why at the time, the chemistry checks out. Cereal grains, like wheat and rye, are “scavenger” plants – their roots dig down, down, down into the soil, gobbling up nutrients and incorporating them into the the stems and leaves, thus producing a nutritious crop with enough vitamins and minerals to sustain, oh, the human race. But scavenging the soil comes at a cost: planting cereal grains like wheat and barley in the same dirt year after year eventually leeches those nutrients, especially nitrogen, out of the soil. Things stop growing. Giving the farm a break – a sabbatical, if you will, eh eh – let those biblical farms recover and kept ...

    • 49 min
    67. Marcel & Celeste, Part II

    67. Marcel & Celeste, Part II

    “Proust n’a aime que deux personnes, sa mere et Celeste.” – Prince Antoine Bibesco



    What better way to “celebrate” a year of sheltering in place than a closer look at France’s most famous social distancer? This week, I’m looking at the curious relationship between the eccentric, reclusive writer, Marcel Proust, and his beloved housekeeper-confidant, Céleste Albaret. Together, the two hunkered down into a mostly nocturnal life of writing, collaborating, and remembering while the world outside became incomprehensible. It’s the ultimate experiment in working from home – if your Uber Eats came from the Hotel Ritz, that is! Here’s the conclusion of our two part history of Marcel & Céleste. (Listen to part one here: 66. Marcel & Celeste, Part I.)

    Episode 67: “Marcel & Celeste, Part II”













    Transcript

    In 1916, Marcel received a surprising letter: a sixteen year old soldier who had snuck his way to the front line wrote him from the trenches to admire his work. Entering into a discussion of friendship, Proust confessed, “I am myself only when alone, and I profit from others only to the extent that they enable me to make discoveries within myself, either by making me suffer…or by their absurdities, which..help me to understand human character.” While Proust continued making sorties outside his apartment, it’s unclear whether they were out of genuine loneliness or a colder, more ambitious sort of reconnaissance. In his all-encompassing dedication to In Search of Lost Time, Marcel’s own life seemed less and less important – in many ways, it seemed, his life was already over. His real life – that of dazzling society soirees and elegant salons, was an anachronism, murdered by the war. He now existed for reconnaissance work: categorizing the beauty and elegance he had known, trying to capture its essence in full. One night, he knocked on the door of a quartet leader, asking to hear a particular work of music as soon as possible. The two of them shared a cab around Paris, picking up the other musicians, and ferrying them back to 102 boulevard Haussman at one in the morning. Another time, he interviewed his housekeeper Celeste’s young niece to accurately capture the writing of a high school girl. He spent his money recklessly – what use was money if not in service of his work, and what use was money if he was going to die young? Of this he was convinced, the only question was whether he would finish his great work first. “I am a very old man, Celeste,” he once told his beloved housekeeper and friend. “I shan’t live long…and that is why I am so anxious to finish.”

     

    In 1917, as World War One ground up a generation of Europeans, Marcel Proust began attending regular dinners at the Hotel Ritz. There, he dined with other refugees of the old world: princesses on the run from empires which no longer existed, sophisticated artists and intellectuals, aging dandies and more. Relying on his personal charm and the gossip of the Ritz staff, Proust learned everything he’d ever wanted to know about the ruling classes of the aristocracy. Spending the dwindling reserves of his fortune on lobster and champagne while the war approached its climax, Proust was an eyewitness to the changing of the guard. On July 27th, 1917, attending a dinner party in the Ritz hotel room of a Greek princess, Proust heard the air raid siren go off. Standing on the balcony, Proust replayed that fateful night from three years earlier, “watching this wonderful Apocalypse in which the airplanes climbing and swooping seemed to complement and eclipse the constellations.” A few months later, Proust stepped out onto the sidewalk and encountered two soldiers: Americans.

    • 25 min
    66. Marcel & Celeste, Part I

    66. Marcel & Celeste, Part I

    “Proust n’a aime que deux personnes, sa mere et Celeste.” – Prince Antoine Bibesco



    What better way to “celebrate” a year of sheltering in place than a closer look at France’s most famous social distancer? This week, I’m looking at the curious relationship between the eccentric, reclusive writer, Marcel Proust, and his beloved housekeeper-confidant, Céleste Albaret. Together, the two hunkered down into a mostly nocturnal life of writing, collaborating, and remembering while the world outside became incomprehensible. It’s the ultimate experiment in working from home – if your Uber Eats came from the Hotel Ritz, that is!

    Episode 66: “Marcel & Celeste, Part I”













    Transcript

    Bienvenue and welcome back to the Land of Desire! I’m your host, Diana, and before I get started, I’d like to give a big welcome to new listeners! For those who don’t already know, this week I was able to live out one of my childhood dreams. Growing up, my favorite section of the newspaper was always the advice columns. What can I say -I love telling people what to do! My friend, Danny Lavery, is better known as Dear Prudence over on Slate, and this week they invited me to be their guest host! For my longtime listeners, if you’ve ever thought, “Hmm, I really love Diana’s weird anecdotes about French history, could she tell me how to raise my children?” then it’s a banner day for you. You can listen to the episode at slate.com/podcasts/dear-prudence, and I’ll put the link in this episode’s show notes. Meanwhile, if you’re a Dear Prudence listener tuning in for the first time, thank you and welcome! With that happy announcement out of the way, let’s turn to today’s episode. 

     

    Listeners, we have come to the end of a very, very long year. I’m cranky, I’m bored, I’m really really really good at baking now and I miss my friends terribly. One of the only ways I’ve gotten through 2020 with my sanity arguably intact is by experiencing it side-by-side with my loving boyfriend, Daniel, or as he prefers to be known, the much-abused unpaid intern and occasional producer of this show. He has been the bright spot of my year, and I wanted to pay him back by giving him a little Christmas gift: an episode all about his favorite person in the world, and perhaps the person best suited to comment on this strange period of history, the great French writer, Marcel Proust. 2020 was a year of seclusion and confinement, and it was also a year of transition. We speak of the Before Times, and a world, a whole way of life, which feels like it’s slipping out of our reach. At the same time, we hunker down, sheltering ourselves against an invisible enemy, staying within the safe confines of home and wiping down the groceries. Who could better understand the story of this year than a man conceived during a siege, who spent the last third of his life as a recluse, terrified of infection, dreaming of a lost world and mourning the impossibility of return? But there is one aspect of Marcel Proust’s life which feels especially relevant to us today, a part of his story which is often skipped over. While Proust famously loved and adored his sainted mother, his later years are inextricably linked to Proust’s father: the world-famous epidemiologist, Adrien Proust, pioneer of the modern cordon sanitaire. Today, we will navigate between the inner world and the outer, between safety and exposure, between past and present, between reality and memory, between sickness and health, between the glittering world of fin-de-siècle Paris and the dark chamber in which our story is set. The chamber in question was a refuge, it was a nest, and in many ways, it was a cage. This is the story of Proust’s bedroom.

     



    I. Open with impending siege (so he thinks) of Paris in September 1914,

    • 32 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
510 Ratings

510 Ratings

Ajax0012 ,

Witty, Charming, Funny & Informative!!

An absolutely wonderful podcast about French culture and history!

french-cookie ,

A treat!

I’m an enthusiastic Francophile, and I love this podcast! What I love most is that Diana provides rich context and storytelling to offer such a unique perspective, that I learn new things about regions, people, and bits of French culture I am familiar with. Magnifique!

hellacross ,

Hidden gem podcast

I listen to a lot of podcasts and this one is top notch in terms of the storytelling and research that goes into it. I was totally hooked on the Dreyfus affair series and followed that up with the Three Alexandres which was also great. Looking forward to listening to more!

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