Friday, December 19, 2014

Bee all that you can bee

Napoleon liked bees. Do you know why? When Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor, he and his inner circle needed to choose appropriate emblems of his sovereignty. There was much discussion. Some wanted a lion, some an elephant, some an eagle, some an oak tree, some the honey bee. There were two winners: the eagle and the bee.

The eagle because of its association with military victory (and the days of Roman emperors). The bee because it had been the symbol* of France's earliest rulers, the Merovingians (credited with founding France in 457). The Napoleonic advisers thought it wise to ally the Corsican upstart with France's true origins.

Both the Napoleonic and Merovingian connections are why you find lots of stuff from France with the bee as a design motif.

For example, there's the bee glassware from a glassworks in Passavant-la-Rochère, Haute-Saône, in eastern France. The glassworks has been in almost continuous operation since its founding in 1475. The pink La Rochère Bee Tumbler at left holds 8 ounces, is 5-1/2 inches high, and is $10 from A French Addiction. The La Rochère Bee Bowl (photo way above) is 5-1/2 inches in diameter, and is $16 from Terrain. (La Rochère makes tons of other Napoleonic bee glasses and serving pieces. I just picked two of my favorites.)

More bees: There is a town in the South of France called Laguiole. It is known for beautiful hand-forged knives, and a cheese. Unlike the cheese, which can only be called Laguiole if it really comes from that region, any knife can be called Laguiole if it has been made in the general style of Laguiole. The classic Laguiole knife has a bee emblem at the joint where the handle meets the blade.
P.S. There are those who insist that it's a housefly and not a bee, but I'm going with bee.

Laguiole knives (and forks and spoons) can be quite costly, especially if they're made with exotic woods or horn. Just in case you have some extra bucks you don't know what to do with, check out the Laguiole website. The set of 6 ebony-handled forks at left is $364.

*The assumption that the bee was the symbol of France's earliest rulers is based on the discovery of 300 gold-and-garnet bees (see below) in the tomb of Childéric I, the first of the Merovingian kings. Though commonly accepted as bees, they are more likely golden effigies of the cicada, which was a symbol of resurrection--perhaps because the cicada nymph lives underground for years (up to 17 years, depending on the species) before emerging as an adult. It would certainly look as though they were rising from the dead, if you ask me.