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A Slice of France #5: The Curies, Michelin Man, Dijon Mustard
The Curies: 1 Family 4 Nobel Prizes!, The Michelin Man: better known in France as “Le Bibendum”, Dijon Mustard: more Canadian than Burgundian!
The Curies: 1 Family 4 Nobel Prizes!
The scientific and intellectual journey of the Curie family is quite impressive: 4 Nobel Prizes. 5 recipients. Hard to top!
It all started on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, the day of the birth of Maria Sklodowska, the youngest of a family of 5 children.
Raised in a highly educated family, Maria, a brilliant student, is hellbent on pursuing scientific studies and research.
But at that time in Poland, women don’t have access to university. She therefore decides to move abroad and join her older sister in France.
She enrolls at the Sorbonne University in October 1891 and obtains, three years later, a double degree in Physical Science and Mathematics.
In 1895, she marries Pierre Curie, professor at the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry of the city of Paris.
Maria Sklodowska becomes Marie Curie.
Pierre and Marie
From their union two daughters will be born. Irène in 1897 and Eve in 1904.
Pierre and Marie will now work together in their laboratory.
In 1903, they receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, along with the French physicist Henri Becquerel, for their work on radiations.
Marie is the first female recipient of a Nobel Prize.
Tragically, Pierre Curie dies in a traffic accident in 1906. Marie takes over as director of the laboratory.
In 1911, Marie is awarded a second Nobel Prize, this time for Chemistry, for her discovery (with Pierre) of Polonium and Radium.
She is to date the only person to have received two Nobel Prizes, and moreover in two different disciplines!
Marie dies in 1934, at the age of 66, of pernicious anemia caused by the radiations to which she had been exposed throughout her life.
Her ashes, as well as Pierre's, were transferred to the Pantheon (Paris) on April 20, 1995.
Irène becomes, like her parents, an outstanding scientist. Holder of a doctorate in science in 1925, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 along with her husband, the physicist Frederic Joliot, for their discovery of artificial radioactivity.
She dies in 1956, at the age of 58, from leukemia probably caused, like for her mother, by an overexposure to radiations.
The youngest of the Curie family will follow a completely different path. She becomes a journalist, writes a biography of her mother: Madame Curie, and collaborates with several charities including UNICEF.
It is her American-born husband, Henry Richardson Labouisse Jr., who brings the Curie family their 4th trophy in 1965: the Nobel Peace Prize!
Eve will have a much longer life than her parents and her sister. She dies in 2007, at the canonical age of 102!
A unique family, to say the least!
The Michelin Man: better known in France as “Le Bibendum”.
Where does Bibendum ([bibɛ̃dɔm] in French pronunciation), the funny name of the Michelin mascot, one of the most easily recognized in the world, come from?
During the Universal Exhibition of 1894 in Lyon, a designer showed André Michelin (co-founder of the company) a series of advertising posters. One of them, initially created at the request of a brewery that never followed up, caught his attention..
It features a plump man brandishing a mug of beer, accompanied by the slogan: nunc est bibendum (“Now it's time to drink”).
André Michelin asks the artist to redesign the character by using tires for the body.
He keeps the Latin slogan, and adds a second: “The Michelin tire drinks the obstacle”.
The mascot is then called the “Michelin Man”, but some people, as a bit of a joke, start to use the name Bibendum instead. It will stick!
Bibendum will quickly acquire international fame and become the brand ambassador.
In 2000, Bibendum was elected best logo of the century.
Dijon mustard: more Canadian than Burgundian!
Dijon, a city located 300 km south-east of Paris, is the historic capital of the Duchy of Burgundy, and birthplace of Gustave Eiffel (yes the tower one!).
Mustard, introduced by the Dukes of Burgundy 600 years ago, is the third most consumed condiment in France, just after salt and pepper.
However, the term “Dijon mustard” is not legally protected, and the relative simplicity of its recipe means that the so-called “Dijon mustard” can be produced anywhere in the world!
Three ingredients are needed for its preparation:
Black mustard seeds.
Verjuice: originally a very acidic grape juice now replaced by a mixture of water and white wine vinegar.
Canada is the world's largest producer of mustard seeds and over 70% of the mustards produced in Burgundy are made from Canadian seeds for reasons of profitability and productivity.
Of the 170 mustard makers in France after the Second World War, there are barely ten left to this day...
However, if you wish to consume a “real” Dijon mustard, choose the “Moutarde de Bourgogne” appellation, which has a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) stipulating that: the mustard seeds come from Burgundy, the white wine used is Aligoté white wine from Burgundy and mustard production takes place in Burgundy.
In June 2022, a real catastrophe befalls France. Mustard, the favorite condiment of the French, is now impossible to find! The culprit of this shortage? Canada, and more particularly the unprecedented heat wave of the summer of 2021, which affected the harvest of mustard seeds. The production fell by nearly 30% and the ripple effect was felt all over the world…
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