I was really happy when I received the cover shown above because there are four different issues on it, which means there are four different things to learn about France!
I will start with the orange stamp on the upper left. This stamp, entitled "Stade de France," was issued on 31 Jan 08 to commemorate 10 years since the inauguration of the Stade de France, which was built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. With a capacity of 80,000, it is the greatest French stadium. Built for the needs for the Football world cup in France, it was also conceived to accomodate various sports events (football, Rugby, athletics automobile races), concerts, and other spectacles. A note of interest regarding the etymology of the edifice:
The word "France" in Stade de France does not refer to the country of France, but it refers to an area, or pays, of the historical province of Île de France known as "pays de France." Île-de-France was made up of several pays: pays de France, Parisis, Mantois, Hurepoix, and so on. Pays de France was the extremely fertile plain located immediately north of the city of Paris, with the city of Saint-Denis at its centre. Pays de France is now almost entirely built-up, being covered by the northern suburbs of Paris. Pays de France is also known as the plaine de France ("plain of France"), and the name of this old pays still appears in the name of some towns in the northern suburbs of Paris, such as Roissy-en-France (which means "Roissy in the pays de France"). Thus, the name of the stadium was chosen to give it a local touch, as it is located in the plaine de France, but of course most people outside of France are not aware of this fact, and assume it is named for the country. In fact, the new national stadium of Switzerland is called Stade de Suisse in presumed homage to the Stade de France. The stadium's owner and operator, Consortium Stade de France, asserts registered trademark status for the name Stade de France.
Under the Stade de France stamp is the issued titled "Vendôme Loir-et-Cher," which was released 04 Feb 08. It chronicles the beauty of Vendôme, a city-garden of 30,000 inhabitants that is home to the castle of the Bourbon-Vendôme and the abbey church of the Trinity. While doing research, I was surprised to read the following about the town: "Napoleon disliked this place very much – so much that he almost ordered it to be destroyed." But, there is a note that citation is needed for this statement, so I guess as of now, it's just hearsay.
Next we have the stamp that shows the Smilodon, or the saber-toothed tiger, which was issued on 21 Apr 08 as part of a 4v set. More on the Smilodon:
Smilodon, sometimes called saber-toothed tiger is an extinct genus of large machairodontine saber-toothed cats that lived between approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago in North and South America. They are called "saber-toothed" for the extreme length of their maxillary canines. The La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles trapped hundreds of Smilodon in the tar, possibly as they tried to feed on mammoths already trapped. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has many of their complete skeletons. Despite the colloquial name of "saber-toothed tiger", Smilodon is not closely related to a tiger, which belongs to another subfamily, the Pantherinae; Smilodon is a member of the extinct subfamily Machairodontinae. The name Smilodon is a bahuvrihi from Greek: σμίλη, smilē, "chisel" and Greek ὀδoύς, ὀδόντος, odoús, Genitive: odóntos, "tooth"). Among the largest felids, the heaviest specimens of this massively built carnivore may have reached a body mass of up to 400 kg/880 pounds.
The other animals in the set are the Mammoth, the Megaloceros, and the Phorusrhacos, all fo which are also extinct.
Just to sidetrack a bit before I discuss the last stamp, I remember visiting the La Brea tar pits numerous times as a child, either on a field trip or for leisure. The tar pits are still there and are hard to miss since they reek of a rather pungent smell if you get too near. In fact, whenever we'd pass by the tarpits in our car, we made sure to roll the windows up to keep the smell from coming in, although it sometimes still managed to seep into the interior of the car through very small crevices and openings.
There are mammoth statues that were placed into the tarpit to simulate how it must have looked like when the mammoths were stuck in the tar. Of course, the tar pools are fenced now to prevent humans - or any other animals - from also getting stuck inside. The museum behind the tar pits is also an intersting visit as there are many exhibits showcasing well-preserved human and animal remains. When I went, there was also a room where you could lie down and look up to watch a movie that was played on the walls. It was very high-tech back then, but they have probably replaced it with something more high-tech by now. Next door to the La Brea Tar Pits is LACMA, or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which I also visited quite a few times.
Now, going back to the stamps. The last stamp, on the uppermost right-hand corner, entitled "Abd El Kader 1808-1883" was issued on 21 Feb 08 to pay tribute to Abd El Kadr, an Algerian Islamic scholar, Sufi, political and military leader who led a struggle against the French invasion in the mid-nineteenth century, for which he is seen by the Algerians as their national hero. One thing to remember about him was that he was noted for his chivalry; on one occasion released his French captives simply because he had insufficient food to feed them. Another noteworthy fact to prove his chivalry:
In July 1860, conflict between the Druze and Maronites of Mount Lebanon spread
to Damascus [where he was staying at the time], and local Druze attacked the Christian quarter, killing over 3,000 persons. Abd al Kader and his personal guard saved large numbers of Christians, bringing them to safety in his house and in the citadel. For this action the French government bestowed on him the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur. He was also honoured by Abraham Lincoln for this gesture towards Christians with several guns that are now on display in the Algiers museum.