Saturday, December 31, 2011

MINDING ONE'S OWN BUSINESS

Exercising rights 
Here's a popular and low-brow (but fun) French expression from days gone by--and inspired by the late 19th century liberation of women from their tight corsets and cumbersome skirts so they could pedal bicycles:  Je ne te demande pas si ta grand-mère fait du vélo. (I don't ask you if your grandmother rides a bike; i.e., I haven't asked your advice, mind your own business.)

A delightful réplique to quell indiscreet questions, the expression is used as a refrain in a 1925 hit opérette Trois Jeunes Filles Nues, Est-ce que je te demande.

Vocabulary
un vélo: a bike; the word is short for vélocipède
une grand-mère:  a grandmother
demander:  to ask
une bicyclette:  a bicycle
une réplique:  a retort
une opérette:  a musical genre mixing comedy, song and dance

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Friday, December 30, 2011

DREAM IN COLOR

 


Rêve ta vie en couleur, c'est le secret du bonheur. 
Dream your life in color, it's the secret to happiness. -- Walt Disney

Walt Disney, an American of Irish extraction, has made his way onto this blog because his surname is an anglicization of the French Norman name d'Isigny. According to Wikipedia a branch of the d'Isigny family emigrated to Ireland in the 17th century. Disney's grandfather would leave Ireland for America in 1834 to establish his family there. Later Walt would be born in Chicago in 1901.

Butter by the way: One of the three best butters produced in France is the beurre d'Isigny, the other two being the beurre Charentes-Poitou and the beurre Deux-Sevres. All three have been accorded the prestigious A.O.C. label--appellation d'origine contrôlée, which is an official and strict state guarantee of a food product's origin and quality; i.e. that it comes from a specific terroir or country area, and was produced and conditioned with a particular and traditional savoir-faire.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

BE IT EVER SO BAROQUE

En trompe-l'oeil: il y a l'être et le paraître
On the theatrical side of the urban revolution and in all its piney splendor is this French mobile telephone relay antenna masquerading as a conifer. In recent years, portable telephone operators with a taste for ecological paradox and an audacious sense of mise-en-scène have planted the metal and plastic supercheries here and there to dissimulate hideous rods and wires. Is it the perception or the reception that counts?
Curiously, this tree that hides the forest is in the town of Villepreux, on the plaine de Versailles--a plain which is almost on the axis of the perspective of the Grand Canal of the Château de Versailles, some 12 km away. Louis XIV, who had a special liking for elaborate baroque theatre decor and machinery, would have undoubtedly approved of the camouflage.

Vocabulary
une antenne arborisée:  an antenna dissimulated as a tree
être:  to be
paraître:  to appear
une mise en scène:  a stage setting
une supercherie:  a deception, a fake
par ici et par là:  here and there

Text & photos ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Monday, December 26, 2011

CHOCOLATES AND EPISTLES

A reminder to read Les Lettres de Madame de Sévigné
One-thousand-five-hundred letters and three centuries later.  Marie de Rabutin-Chantal (1626-1696) who would marry and become the Marquise de Sévigné, a revered woman of letters of the Grand Siècle, had a fashionable passion for chocolate. With a fine mind and sense of humor, she had also what the French call de l'esprit.  Her witty epistolary works, occasioned by the moving away of her beloved daughter and years of correspondence with her, have important literary and historic value.

Chocolate was introduced to the royal court in France in 1643 when Louis XIV's Spanish fiancée, Marie-Thérèse, gave some to him as an engagement gift; by 1650 a chocolate craze had taken hold among French aristocrats. (Cortèz had initially brought chocolate to Spain in 1528 from the New World.)

In 1898 a chocolatier created the brand Marquise de Sévigné, one of the principal haut de gamme chocolates since. Today simply mentioning "la Marquise" is enough to conjure up visions of cocoa...


Vocabulary
Le Grand Siècle:  during the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715); the apogee of French classicism
l'esprit:  the spirit, soul, mind
avoir de l'esprit:  to be witty
avoir l'esprit vif:  to be quick-witted
épistolaire:  epistolary; that which pertains to an exchange of letters
un chocolatier:  a chocolate maker
haut de gamme:  high end

Boutiques Marquise de Sévigné
61 Avenue Victor Hugo
75016 Paris

32 Place de la Madeleine
75008 Paris


Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, December 24, 2011

AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE

La veille de Noël -- Christmas Eve

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Friday, December 23, 2011

SACRE POMPON

Le bonheur est dans la cuisine
What will it be for the traditional French Christmas dinner--stuffed capon, turkey or goose?

Vocabulary
sacré(e):  sacred; blasted, 'good ole' (familiar)
le bonheur:  happiness
la cuisine:  the kitchen; cooking
un chapon:  a capon
une dinde:  a turkey
une oie:  a goose
farci(e):  stuffed

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, December 22, 2011

EVERGREEN

Druids believed holly was sacred and eternal, ancient Romans thought holly protected against maledictions and planted it near their houses, and superstitious English maintained that whoever in a couple brought the first sprigs of Christmas holly indoors would be the one who wore the pants in the family for the coming year. 

In France, where the Roman traditions left their mark, it was once the custom to hang a holly branch on the doors of stables and houses on Christmas Eve to guard against harm. Still today some French observe the custom of not bringing holly into the house until December 24 lest it bring bad luck. (I might add that there is a practical side to that habit, considering how painfully prickly dried-up holly is.)

Another curiosity is that in olden days French wagon drivers would even insert a small piece of holly wood into their new wagon's assembly to protect against accidents.

Vocabulary
un houx:  a holly
une écurie:  a stable
un charretier:  a cart or wagon driver
une charrette:  a cart

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

SAINT-POMPON

When the GPS stopped working in the Dordorgne backwoods and we unexpectedly found ourselves in a  village with the unlikely name of St. Pompon, there was no question but to stop to take a souvenir photo to show the family cat. Once home we learned that a local seigneur upon his return from a crusade in the 13th century decided to name his village for Saint Pomponius, a sixth-century Neapolitan bishop.

Traditionalists in France still take a dim view of giving pets Christian names, like Georges, Pierre or Benoît.  That's why we had thought we were safe when we started calling this fellow Pompon...


Vocabulary
désapprouver:  to disapprove of, to take a dim view of
un seigneur:  a nobleman
une croisade:  a crusade


In the Occitan dialect, Saint-Pompon is said Sent Plemponh. Plen ponh is translated to French as à pleines poignées...i.e., handfuls!

Monday, December 19, 2011

YOU'D BETTER WATCH OUT

An anonymous French wag wrote:  There are four ages in the life of a man--the one where he believes in Santa Claus; the one where he no longer believes in Santa Claus; the one where he is Santa Claus; and the one where he looks like Santa Claus.

Il y a quatre âges dans la vie de l'homme--celui où il croit au Père Noël; celui où il ne croit plus au Père Noël; celui où il est le Père Noël; et celui où il ressemble au Père Noël.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, December 18, 2011

POPULAR CULTURE

Usually it's the religious icons that find their places in architectural recesses here, but in the south of France it's not surprising to see a santon provençal, this one a shepherd, in a small alcove above the front door.

Santons de Provence are brightly painted clay figurines used to create crèches de Noël. Part of their charm of these nativity scenes is that there are not only the holy principals, but also figurines representing all of the trades of a provençal village, from miller to basket weaver. (My own collection includes the mayor of the village and a bohemian!)

A bit of history
Franciscan monks introduced enacting living nativity scenes at Midnight Mass to Provence in the 13th  century. When these were prohibited during the 18th-century French revolution, faithful individuals of Marseilles took to fabricating their own nativity scenes, inviting others to admire them in their homes. The practice became widespread, giving birth to the small industry of modeling santons.

Every year during the month of December a fair is held in Marseilles, the historic capital of santons, to display and sell works of France's forty leading santonniers.

Vocabulary
un santon:  a figurine or small personage coming from the word santoun, little saint
un santonnier:  a maker of santons
une crèche:  a model of the the scene representing the birth of Jesus, displayed in homes or public places at Christmas, a nativity scene
Provence:  former province of southeastern France on the Mediterranean coast, east of the Rhone River
une niche:  a shallow recess, often used to display a statue or ornament
un berger:  a shepherd
un métier:  a trade or profession

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, December 17, 2011

TODAY IN HISTORY

Effigies of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, at the Basilique de Saint-Denis, necropolis of the kings of France. It seems like trivia today, but after diplomatic efforts of Benjamin Franklin, it was on December 17, 1777 that Louis XVI first recognized the independence of the American colonies from the British state. This lead to a friendly commercial alliance, then to France giving financial and important naval support to the colonies against the British.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, December 15, 2011

MISS-BUTTONED


What does a French youngster say when he has mis-buttoned his shirt? An old-fashioned nursery school expression and mental exercise that pairs days of the week to indicate how many buttons he skipped:

J'ai mis lundi avec mercredi.  I've put Monday with Wednesday. (If he's only missed one button.)

J'ai mis mardi avec vendredi.  I've put Tuesday with Friday. (If he's missed two buttons.)

Of course, he can start with any day of the week.



Vocabulary
un bouton:  a button
vieillot(te):  old-fashioned
une école maternelle:  a nursery school
une pouponnière, une crèche:  a day nursery


Days of the week
dimanche:  Sunday
lundi:  Monday
mardi:  Tuesday
mercredi:  Wednesday
jeudi:  Thursday 
vendredi:  Friday
samedi:  Saturday  


©2011 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

COCOONING ATTITUDE

So cosy at home, there's no need to go out. The French use the word cocooning, but have other ways to say it, too. In fact the word originally comes from the medieval Provençal language where coucoun meant eggshell.

Vocabulary
le coconnage or le couconage:  the formation of cocoons; the feeling that one is so well at home that one hardly needs to go out except for vital necessities
un cocon:  a silky case spun by insect larvae; something that envelops or surrounds, in a protective or comforting way
cocooner:  to stay at home
cocooning:  staying at home
casanier:  stay-at-home, sedentary as an adjective; homebody, as a noun

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Monday, December 12, 2011

LESS IS MORE

Le moins est le plus
Vocabulary
un sapin de Noël:  a Christmas tree
une boule de Noël:  a Christmas ball
une guirlande:  a garland
une guirlande electrique, lumineuse:  a string of lights
le moins:  less
le plus:  more

Expression
Quand on décore un sapin de Noël, on a toujours l'impression qu'il nous faudrait une guirlande de plus.  When decorating the Christmas tree, we always have the impression that it needs one more garland.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, December 11, 2011

WHAT IMPRESSES ME

Ce qui m'épate
Les pâtes m'épatent.  The 16th century marriage of Catherine de Médicis with Henri II brought pasta to France. Making homemade pasta has become our latest indoor cold-weather activity.

Vocabulary
épater:  to astonish, to impress (familiar)
épatant: amazing
des pâtes:  some pasta
des nouilles:  linguine or tagliatelle in Italian          

Comment épater sa famille?


©2011 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, December 10, 2011

IMITATION OF NATURE

La Nature sculpted by Niccolo Pericoli, dit Tribolo (circa 1500-1550).  The French king François I commissioned the statue in 1529 to serve as a support for a vase. Bella maniera.

Why oh, why, does the beauty of this pristine statue remind me of the old television jingle "Calgon, take me away...?"  My commonplace and misplaced commercial reference aside, the sculpture in all its exaggeration is just one among many of the splendors of the Château de Fontainebleau.

Photo courtesy of Carol E. Cass   ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Friday, December 9, 2011

ALL IN PUN

When Repetto, the world reference in danse shoes since 1947, announced yesterday that it was getting into the perfume business and would introduce a powdery fresh parfum, the first thought that came to our minds was this would surely be an "odeur-rat."
Ageless photo made several years ago of children's tutus and ballet shoes in the Repetto store window, near the Opéra Garnier, Paris. Courtesy of Dr. Carol E. Cass
Vocabulary
un petit rat de l'opéra:  a young ballet pupil
un jeune élève danseur de l'opéra:  idem
une odeur:  a smell
un rat:  a rat
l'odorat:  the sense of smell
un jeu de mots:  a play on words; pun
un parfum:  a perfume

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, December 8, 2011

WINDOW DRESSING

Deconstruction
Lanvin Homme-- a marked predilection for René Magritte.  15 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

GLASS CEILING CHIC

Detail of ceiling at Le Hall des Sources, inaugurated in 1903,  Parc des Sources, Vichy. Under the diffused light of this Belle Epoque geometry are grouped the buvettes of five thermal sources.

Vocabulary
une buvette:  a water bar, as here; or refreshment
vitrail(aux):  stained glass window(s)

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

KAKI FRUIT

Persimmons or kaki fruit at the market. No translations necessary.

Mousse de Kaki
Peel 2 ripe persimmons and cut into pieces. Make a purée with fruit and 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.  Add 1 cup of cream and whip until mixture forms a mousse. Spoon into dessert bowls or verrines and chill 3 to 4 hours before serving. Sprinkle with cinnamon powder and/or crushed almonds.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A WHIFF OF RUM


When they begin the bisquine...
We were lucky to happen upon the passage of the schooner, La Cancalaise, through the rocky strait between la Pointe du Grouin and l'Île des Landes, which forms the outer limit of the Baie du Mont-Saint- Michel. The craft is a replica of "La Perle," one of the powerful and agile fishing boats, or bisquines, that typically navigated around the bay and the Côte d'Emeraude from the 1800's to the early 1940's.
The Ile des Landes is a continental island isolated from the Brittany mainland by virtue of the water level; just beyond it is the starting point for the legendary Route du Rhum, a solo translatlantic 3,510 mile race between Saint-Malo and Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe. The break-neck speed sailing event is held every four years during the month of November. The next will be in 2014.

Vocabulary
la côte:  the coastline; also rib, hillside
émeraude:  emerald
une île:  an island
une goélette:  a schooner

For information about going on a day-long sailing adventure as a "crew member" on the Cancalaise, click here. No experience necessary.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Friday, December 2, 2011

FOR PITY'S SAKE

Par pitié...
The vacuum cleaner noise was too much for any cat to bear. He gave up; il a baissé les pattes.

Vocabulary
un chat d'intérieur:  an indoor cat
un chat de maison:  an ordinary house cat and not purebred
un chat de gouttière:  an alley cat
un vacarme: a harsh noise, din
un boucan: a noisy racket
un aspirateur: a vacuum cleaner
une patte:  a paw

Expressions 
J'abandonne!  I give up!  It's hopeless.
Je donne ma langue au chat.  I give up (as in a guessing game); literally "I give my tongue to the cat."
Par pitié!  For pity's sake!
De grâce!  Please!
Il a baissé les bras:  He gave up; literally he lowered his arms.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, December 1, 2011

DESIGNER TREES

Architectural pruning--plumb perpendicular
To accentuate landscape compositions and to control volumes, the French have resorted to the taille architecturée of ornamental trees for centuries. Above is an example of the very regular and controlled  taille à rideau in an allée in the park of the Château de Versailles. This laborious pruning technique, so typical of classic French gardens, today is done with large motorized circular blades mounted on mechanical lifts. Lines of rectangular trees like these are thus seen more and more in urban landscapes where trees are fitted in to coexist with traffic and utilities. So much for the practical side of the tree.

Vocabulary
une taille architecturée:  an architectural pruning
un rideau:  a curtain
tailler: to cut; to prune
un arbre d'ornement:  an ornamental tree

©2011 P.B. Lecron