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Dearest listeners,

Well, slap me in spandex and call me Spiderman, cause this is a REBOOT! This is the first issue of the ✨new✨ The Land of Desire newsletter: interesting articles, recommendations, funny stories, neat anecdotes that aren’t quite big enough for their own episode, and all manner of fascinating odds and ends about French history and culture - straight to your inbox!

This newsletter comes in two flavors: free and paid. Free subscribers will receive a newsletter once per quarter, and paid subscribers will receive a newsletter every! single! month! Don’t wanna miss a thing? Subscribe for the paid content here:

If there’s one thing I have in common with Napoleon it’s a bloodthirsty quest to rule Eur- a love of logistics. September 21-22 marks this year’s European Heritage weekend, during which time all the big institutions and government buildings throw open their doors for the hoi polloi. It’s really fun if you happen to be in Paris at the time - this is how I toured the Hôtel de Ville - but the real jackpot is a tour of the presidential palace:

An underground world exists under President Emmanuel Macron’s office and the Elysee’s 18th-century golden reception rooms, occupied by a small battalion of workers that makes the whole place tick. They labor out of sight in a maze of austere corridors and narrow rooms with artificial light and gray and beige walls[...]

The kitchen staff of 28 people, plus apprentices, serves 92,000-95,000 meals per year. They cook daily for Macron and his wife Brigitte and for some Elysee employees, and handle official dinners, big events like receptions at the Chateau of Versailles west of Paris and prepare in-flight meals for the presidential plane.

Presidential tastes and menus remain one of the best kept secrets of the Elysee.

Opening the palace doors to the public seems like a duh move. But I understand the hesitation - it looks like less of the budget was going towards security than you might have expected:

…A few weeks ago the French government was embarrassed by a story that French taxpayer money went to repairing shredded armrests and a urine-soaked sofa sullied by former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s dogs. And a few weeks ago, an annual budget report from France’s Court of Auditors revealed that 32 works of art and 625 pieces of furniture were missing from the Élysée Palace and other presidential residences.[…] Objects from France’s legendary Sèvres porcelain factory, a historic royal entity now run by the state, have been discovered on eBay by the French interior ministry. 

But don’t worry, it’s all under control now:

In the past seven years, the Elysée has lodged 81 criminal complaints over the suspected theft of 122 sculptures, paintings or photographs, and 546 pieces of furniture and other objects, believed to be worth tens of thousands of pounds. 

A police source said: “There appears to be a shocking degree of carelessness in keeping track of things. These items weren’t taken from an auction house or a private apartment, but from the president’s official residences where security is extremely high. Investigators will be looking at whether they were stolen by staff.” 

They’ve got top minds working on it:

Napoleon? Dynamite.

  • Speaking of Napoleon, there’s a new book all about Napoleon’s later life - Elba, escape and exile: The Invisible Emperor: Napoleon on Elba from Exile to Escape.

  • Want the full scoop? The Andrew Roberts biography won every award when it was published, and I get why: it’s not often that I read an 800 page biography that leaves me wanting more! It’s an incredible page-turner, not at all boring, and entirely worth your while. Need a cozy read for fall? Trying to get a head start on your Dad’s Christmas present and you’ve run out of presidential biographies? This’ll do the trick: Napoleon: A Life

  • Want to see St. Helena for yourself? Good news: “the world’s most useless airport” is now open! Check out these gorgeous photos from The Atlantic to see what the most obscure British colonial outpost looks like today:

The very, very, very ancien régime

Paleontologists just discovered yet another enormous dinosaur bone in southern France:

This bone comes from a Sauropod, which lived about 140 million years ago and weighed as much as ten elephants. The bone was found near the town of Cognac, an area that’s rich with dino bones. Cognac sits on top of a prehistoric marsh, which results in an annual crop of delicious wine grapes and fossils. So far, paleontologists have excavated over 7,500 fossils from the region! If you want to learn more about ancient Europe, Tim Flannery’s Europe: A Natural History is an interesting guide for the layperson.

Speaking of bones…

As those of you who listened to the episode "The Road to Hell" already know, I’m obsessed with stories about exploring the Paris catacombs. All my obsessive Google alerts keep in the loop whenever anyone does anything cool under the city streets, and this spring those alerts paid off with a spectacular 7,000 word odyssey:

I arrived in Paris…with an aim to investigate the city’s relationship to its underground in a way no one had before. We planned a traverse — a walk from one edge of the city to the other, traveling exclusively by subterranean infrastructure. […] We’d spent months planning, studying old maps of the city, consulting Parisian explorers, and tracing potential routes. The expedition, in theory, was tidy. We would descend into the catacombs just outside the southern frontier of the city, near Porte d’Orléans; if all went according to plan, we’d emerge from the sewers near Place de Clichy, beyond the northern border. […]

Every step of the trip, of course, would be illegal.

It’s ghoulish, ghastly fun: A Three-Day Expedition to Walk Across Paris Entirely Underground


Hey Diana, why are you trying this again when the old newsletter didn’t work? What is going to be different this time?

Well, in classic Diana style, I shot for the moon when starting a new project. This time around I thought about the newsletters I most love to receive (The Browser, Nicole Cliffe, Shatner Chatner, etc) and realized what they all have in common: they’re simple, they’re straightforward, they’re no-frills, they’re chatty and conversational. Writing July’s listener Q&A episode showed me how fun that low-stakes approach can be, and I wanted to keep those good vibes going!

Why the switch over to Substack?

A few good reasons:

  1. As mentioned above, I have a tendency to overdo it. Substack prevents me from too much fiddling, and thank goodness for that. This means it’s easier for me to produce more content on a regular basis.

  2. I don’t like having a community that depends on Facebook. I don’t want my listeners to feel like they have to have Facebook to meet and discuss the show. I used to live near Mark Zuckerberg and I know how often he changed his mind about his landscaping; I don’t want my precious listenership subject to that dude’s whims and fancies. Substack lets me reach out to y’all directly, so if The Zuck shorts a circuit someday and pulls the plug on this whole Facebook enterprise, our community is still intact!

  3. As a subscriber, it’s easier to support an artist through Substack than Patreon. As an artist, it’s easier to provide content for supporters through Substack than Patreon. Everybody wins!

That’s it for the inaugural issue!

What’s next?

  1. Click the little heart button at the bottom of this email! This helps new people discover the newsletter.

  2. Click the little chat box to leave a comment on this specific issue.

  3. Keep an eye on your inbox - I’ll be opening up the discussion thread in just a moment so we can all jump in and introduce ourselves!