Saturday, May 14, 2011


A classic film with lilting music--not to have been missed
Set decor of the then super-modern Villa Arpel-- full of improbable and sometimes
 avant-garde gadgets--from the 1958 Jacques Tati film, Mon Oncle.
© Jean-Christophe Benoist. Photo reproduced through GNU Free Documentation License.

After playing the cheerful and tinny theme song from the world-famous French film, Mon Oncle (My Uncle), a radio announcer yesterday told an amusing anecdote about President Charles de Gaulle greeting the film's director, Jacques Tati, in a reception line at the Elysée. Standing next to de Gaulle was his majordome, who as the filmmaker approached, discreetly said to the president, "Mon Oncle." 

De Gaulle warmly shook Tati's hand and said, "Je suis très content de votre neveu!" 
(I'm very pleased with your nephew!)

The comedy, which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1959, parodies the emergence of contemporary design, labor-saving appliances and the nouveau riche at the beginning of the Trentes Glorieuses.

un neveu:  a nephew
une nièce:  a niece
un majordome:  a butler
le palais de l'Elysée:  the residence of the French Republic's president
Les Trente Glorieuses:  literally, The Thirty Glorious; the period of strong economic growth between 1945 and 1975 in the majority of western developped nations

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Late at night I hear owls hooting in the nearby forest--a marvel being so close to Paris. It's not likely that I'll be out in the woods after dark to capture our nocturnal serenader numerically, so this vintage Japanese katagami of flying owls will be my illustration.

Poster from an exposition at the
Maison de la Culture du Japon, Paris.
An exceptional decorative art
Katagamis are highly collectable Japanese dyeing stencils used to pattern silks for kimonos. Hand-cut from mulberry bark paper, the innumerable katagami patterns vary in delicacy and design. The one above is simple and bold, but chouette. Note the repetition of the smaller abstract owls to form a vertiginous background.

Although most of the katagamis available on the international art market today were produced in the 19th century or later, the traditional "Ise-Katagami" technique dates to the 13th century, if not earlier.

In 1955 the technique was officially recognized as an important intangible cultural property of Japan. Katagami stencils are still being produced by a small group of ageing artisans who keep the tradition alive in the city of Suzuka, where a museum is dedicated to this exacting art.

For a taste of the exquisite contemporary katagami culture as well as explanation of the stencil carving techniques:

une chouette:  an owl
chouette:  great, nice
un pochoir:  a stencil
le japonisme:  a French term to describe the influence of Japanese arts on French and western artists, especially during the second half of the 19th and early 2Oth centuries--notably the Art Nouveau as well as Impressionism and Cubism movements

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, May 7, 2011


These are fragments of a music partition handwritten on parchment that a French friend found in an antique book; they merit a consultation of musicologists at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. Any thoughts or educated guesses?

parchemin:  parchement
un musicologue: a musicologist
dix-huitième siècle:  eighteenth century

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


The ineffable Charles de Gaulle.
My nifty but clunky rabbit-form corkscrew gave up the ghost yesterday, a casualty of too many stubborn resin corks in inexpensive bottles of wine. Its breaking just before dinner created quite a stir in the kitchen drawer as we fished for another corkscrew. That was when we learned from the token French person present that the old classic chrome lever model we were looking for--and one that nearly every Frenchman's grandfather has or had--is fondly called le Grand Charles.

Why? With each turn of the the corkscrew its two levers rise symmetrically like two arms spreading up and out in the typical Charles de Gaulle victory gesture.

Pushing the upright levers downward lifts the cork out. Oh no, another one of those...

rendre l'âme:  to render one's soul to his maker; in the case of an inanimate object, to quit working; to give up the ghost
un tire-bouchon:  a corkscrew
un bouchon:  a cork
un levier:  a lever

Text & photos with the exception of Charles de Gaulle ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


View of Tour de la Chaîne, to the right, at the vieux port of La Rochelle. The tower is one of three at the majestic entry to the port city's harbor on the Atlantic Ocean.  A chain was once stretched across the harbor entry from this tower to another to prevent enemy vessels from entering the port.

un tour:  a tower
un vieux port:  old port
une chaîne:  a chain

arriver à bon port:  to arrive well and in good health at the place one wanted to go

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, May 1, 2011


May is the month of the lily of the valley, or muguet. The custom in France is to give a bouquet--or even just a stem--of the fragrant woodland plant to friends and loved ones on the first of May. If the muguet is not handpicked, then it can be easily purchased on almost any street corner where vendors set up stands for the day to sell this indispensable porte-bonheur. In the language of flowers, muguets with their tiny white clochettes, represent the return of happiness.

une clochette:  a little bell
un brin de muguet:  a sprig of lily of the valley
une porte-bonheur:  a lucky charm
acheter du muguet:  to buy lily of the valley for good luck

©2011 P.B. Lecron