Monday, April 30, 2012


Quand le chat n'est pas là, les souris dansent. --proverbe français
When the cat's away, the mice will play. --French proverb

le chat:  cat
les souris:  mice
danser:  to dance
jouer:  to play

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Clean as a whistle
If you haven't been to Paris lately and stopped at the Gare Saint Lazare, get ready for a surprise. The train station's facelift transforming and opening its main halls on three levels into a sparkling shopping mall with 80 boutiques has been completed, after ten years of work. The Gare Saint Lazare is one of Europe's most frequented stations.
une gare:  a station
un centre commercial:  a shopping mall
le travaux:  construction or building work

Song: À la Gare Saint Lazare

©2012 P.B. Lecron


A 15th-century English nun and field sports authority of her time, Dame Juliana Berners, had this to say about greyhounds in her Boke of Saint Albans: a good greyhound should have the head of a snake, the neck of a dragon, a back like a beam and the flanks of a bream, the paws of a cat and the tail of a rat. 

This translates into French as: un bon lévrier doit avoir la tête d'un serpent, le cou d'un dragon, le dos tel une poutre et les flancs d'une brème, les pattes d'un chat et la queue d'un rat.

The above greyhound or lévrier points toward the upstairs exhibits at the exceptional Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, world-class wrought iron museum in Rouen.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, April 28, 2012


En pleine force de l'âge

Talented French naturalist painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), died at the age of 36 and at the height of his career, en pleine force de l'âge. Auguste Rodin sculpted a monumental bronze sculpture of him  commissioned by Bastien-Lepage's hometown, Damvillers in the Lorraine region. This is the model of that sculpture, which is among a collection of Rodin's plasters at the Musée Rodin in Meudon, companion museum to the Paris Musée Rodin. Rodin lived, sculpted and was buried at the Meudon site. 

Between Realism and Impressionism:  Les Foins, painted by Bastien-Lepage in 1877, is on display at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Photo via Wikicommons.

en plein force de l'âge:  in the prime of life
un peintre:  a painter
un sculpteur (-trice):  a sculptor

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, April 27, 2012


The clock is a wonderful invention to remind us of mealtimes.-- Diogenes
L'horloge est une belle invention pour rappeler l'heure des repas. --Diogène Le Cynique

This Louis XIV style cartel keeps time on the mantel piece of sculptor Auguste Rodin's salon du temps, a small study leading into the dining room of his home, Villa des Brillants, in Meudon.

un cartel:  here, a wall clock
une horloge:  a clock
rappeler:  to remind somebody of something; to call back
un repas:  a meal

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Un dictionnaire, c'est tout l'univers par ordre alphabétique.--Anatole France

Indispensable for landed ex-pats: Le Littré, the classic French dictionary and reference of choice. Above is a contemporary and abridged version of the work which originally appeared in five tomes in the late 19th century.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


A taste of garlic
L'ail frais de provence, pretty as a picture, is now available at the market. Roasted fresh spring garlic is a good and easy side dish. Remove the first layer of skin from the garlic heads, trim ends and place in an oiled, ovenproof dish. Season lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper, then bake in medium-heat oven for 45 minutes. Goes particularly well with lamb.

Proverb from Auvergne
Ail le soir, oignon le matin 
Est le malheur du médecin.

Garlic in the evening, onion in the morning
Is the doctor's misfortune.

l'ail:  garlic
frais (fraîche):  fresh, when speaking of produce as here; cool

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


L'Arbre Sec or Dry Tree
Difficult to leave the subject of the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles without a word about this graceful enseigne or trade sign. Today its the signature piece for the wrought iron museum, but during the 16th or 17th centuries it served as a sign for a drapier or cloth merchant on la rue de l'Arbre Sec in Paris.

Why a tree to represent a maker and seller of sheets? According to museum information, because the finest fabrics came from the Middle East, cloth merchants used to allude to and identify themselves with legends from that part of the world. The tree here depicts an oak that went along on a pilgrimage to the valley of Jehoshaphat in the Holy Land. It supposedly had started growing at the beginning of the world on Lot's tomb, but dried up at the death of Christ, thus the name, l'Arbre Sec.

le fer forgé:  wrought iron
ferronnerie:  ironware, ironwork
un arbre:  a tree
sec (sèche):  dry

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, April 23, 2012


Let your shoes carry you up these stairs to the mezzanine of the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, a remarkable antique wrought iron museum in Rouen. The steps, an unexpected treat in the late 15th-century church converted into museum, are covered with an extremely durable and handsome antique linoleum, reinforced by nailed leather nosing. Honestly. High quality, organically based linoleum was invented by an Englishman in 1855. 

un nez de marche:  mold or nosing on a stair
un escalier:  a staircase
le cuir:  leather

Music link: Stairway to Paradise, with the late French singer Georges Guétary, from Vincente Minnelli's An American in Paris

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Musée Le Secq des Tournelles
If you didn't know that it's in a former church, you might walk right past Rouen's best-kept secret: Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, a little-known and astonishing treasury of antique ornamental wrought iron. Unique in Europe, the museum holds a huge variety of eye-catching objects and graceful architectural elements that are either suspended, mounted on stone walls and columns, set in the nave or displayed in cases.
The power of contrast lends decorative ironwork, with its inherent strength and delicacy, its enduring and universal appeal. Forged from the artisan's mix of minerals, fire and passion, its warmth, texture and varied forms stir emotions and imagination.
Ancient Egyptians deemed iron the "metal from heaven," associating it with meteorites. The Le Secq collection would seem to have landed in just the right spot, under the flamboyant gothic roof of the late  15th century church. "Flamboyant" literally means flaming or blazing, as represented in the flamelike ornamental stone openwork.
Jean-Louis-Henri Le Secq des Tournelles (1818-1882), one of France's leading 19th-century architectural photographers, recognized the artistic value of wrought iron and had the foresight to amass the first methodical collection ever of ornamental ironwork. His son donated the treasure to Rouen specifically because the city offered to display the collection nearly in its entirety in the ancient church.
Essentially European, the collection ranges from late antiquity to the early industrial era. Many pieces are rarities, like a 16th-century Italian canopied bed or the finely forged partition doors from a 13th century abbey, below.
From lacy black balconies, balustrades and showy trade signs to delicate thimbles, robust andirons and airy weathervanes, every kind of artistic ironwork is represented, with the exception of arms and armor. With all of its keys and locks, three centuries of medical and scientific instruments, intricate early 19th-century Berlin cast iron jewelry, and superb household utensils, the Le Secq is more than the sum of its parts. It has something more--a special quality found only in museums dedicated to a single person's collection, the traces of the fervor and passion of a lifetime.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

The above text, with slight revisions, appeared originally in France Today magazine, June 2006, in an article I wrote, Passion Wrought in Iron. The photos were all shot this past week on a return visit to the museum. More photos to come!

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Be prepared to be flabbergasted when entering my all-time favorite decorative arts museum, Musée Le Secq des Tournelles in Rouen. Some 8,000 works of the 13,500 piece collection--the world's largest public collection of wrought iron--is amazingly displayed in a deconsecrated 15th-century flamboyant gothic church. 
Like a flame. The church-turned-museum's tower illustrates the French Gothic flamboyant style of the late 15th to 16th centuries. (Its spire, however, is missing, having been demolished in 1810.) Note the ornate tracery of the windows, the intricate details of the stonework and the complicated, lacy interior spaces.

More photos to follow in next blog post...

©2012 P.B. Lecron


Travel tip: Don't get crabby if someone makes a wrong turn, even if you're cold, hungry and it's beginning to rain. You might find a warm, welcoming haven with excellent food (at the right price) just around the corner. We did at Pascaline, where for a simple lunch we had the day's menu: parsnip and  Jerusalem artichoke soup followed by roasted chicken breasts with a creamy cider and butter sauce served over the most delicate potato cakes imaginable. A memorable meal I shall diligently try to imitate. Pascaline, 5 rue de la Poterne, Rouen.

une découverte heureuse faite par hazard:  a serendipity
grincheux (-euse):  crabby
chanceux (euse):  lucky
le plat du jour:  today's special
suprêmes de volaile:  chicken breasts
galette de pomme de terre:  potato cake

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, April 20, 2012


L'amour force toutes les serrures
Love laughs at locksmiths
To seal their love, sweethearts in Paris, like in other world capitals, attach locks marked with their initials, names or dates to bridges, then toss the keys into the water below. The weight of the locks can pose problems. The city of Paris at times has had to cut out and replace entire panels of protective fences on footbridges over the Seine which were heavily laden with lovelocks, or cadenas d'amour. Above is a tidy new start of lovelocks on the pedestrian bridge, the Passerelle Léopold Sédhar Senghore, between the Jardin de Tuileries  and the Musée d'Orsay. 
A combination lovelock can be practical; especially considering the story of the spurned lover who one day was seen bitterly struggling to remove his cadenas d'amour with heavy-duty cable cutters. 

une serrure:  a lock
un cadenas:  a padlock
combinaison:  combination
forcer:  to force
une passerelle:  a footbridge

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Yesterday for a glorious hour between 5 and 6 p.m. and with impending rain, we had Monet's jardins de Giverny to ourselves. It just began to sprinkle as we left at closing time.

Not a soul in sight.

En province, la pluie devient une distraction. --Edmonde et Jules de Goncourt, extract from Idées et Sensations

In the country, rain becomes a distraction.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Travel tip: visit the Monet gardens at Giverny after 4 p.m. when most have gone; even better in a light rain as we did today. You'll have the gardens all to yourself.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


A peek inside
Insolite not because of the fashion-theme decor of this lavatory at the Charles de Gaulle airport, but because I went to the trouble of snapping a photo of it while there to post on this blog...

insolite:  unusual
tape-à-l'oeil:  eye-catching, flashy
un mannequin de couture:  sewing dummy; lady valet

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, April 16, 2012


Colza, à perte de vue à la Beauce. La Beauce is a large, flat and fertile agricultural region southeast of Paris producing colza, wheat and white beets. So much wheat is produced there that it's called the grenier à blé de la France.

la vue:  sight
une perte:  a loss
un champ:  a field
un grenier:  a barn or granary
le blé:  wheat
un grenier à blé:  a wheat basket

Photo courtesy of Pierre Lechanteux
©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, April 15, 2012


A Sunday promenade near colza fields in la Beauce, one of the regions in France that receives the least rain. Photo courtesy of Pierre Lechanteux.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Spring and asparagus are dripping wet. Asparagus without Hollandaise? Difficult to imagine, but in a culinary or waistline pinch serve it with a dense vinaigrette thickened by a generous quantity of Dijon mustard and flavored with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

A tip for those who are making Hollandaise sauce: the butter should be cut up into very small pieces so that it melts rapidly at very low heat to prevent the egg yolks from curdling.

une asperge:  an asparagus
asperger:  to lightly spray someone or something with water
la grande asperge:  slang for a tall, thin person
©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, April 13, 2012


 On n'est jamais si bien servi que par soi-même.
One is never better served than by oneself. 

Pompon had no compunction about reaching down to the bottom of the water pitcher for the last few drops. Waste not, want not.

une carafe d'eau:  a water pitcher
l'eau du robinet:  tap water
un broc:  a pitcher

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, April 12, 2012


More and more Smart cars in Paris: it's all about parking.  Developed by the watchmaker Swatch and Mercedes-Benz, the citadine measures 2m50 and can be parked almost anywhere. Although parking  a car perpendicular to the sidewalk where parallel parking is the rule contravenes the French Code de la Route, parking a Smart car in this way is sometimes tolerated in the big cities.

une voiture:  a car
une citadine:  here, a small car destined for use in urban traffic

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


In contrast to the goat of yesterday's post, these two domesticated goats, which were abandoned by their property owner, roam free on a hilltop near Comps, a village at the junction of the Rhone and Gardon Rivers in the south of France. Friend Sylvia snapped the photo and sent it saying that locals bring water for the goats to drink.

On n'a jamais vu une chèvre morte de faim. --proverbe francais

No one has ever seen a goat dead of hunger.

une colline:  a hill
une chèvre:  a goat
jamais:  never
mort(e):  dead
la faim:  hunger
mourir de faim:  to die of starvation

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Tu me rends chèvre. 

You're driving me crazy.

une chèvre:  a goat
fou:  crazy
rendre:  to cause to be; to render

Photo shot in the Beauce, a major French agricultural region southeast of Paris, by Pierre Lechanteux
©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, April 9, 2012


lundi de Pâques

Photo courtesy of Pierre Lechanteux
©2012 P.B. Lecron


Does anyone remember the cooking school scene in Julie & Julia where Julia Child becomes vexed when asked if she knew how to boil an egg? It may have been a put down, but in reality it's an easy to fail test. 

I learned my lesson about eggs years ago at Easter when I opened a Tupperware container (yes, they have those kind of parties over here, too) of my homemade American potato salad in my French in-laws' kitchen. Their gasps made me want to disappear into a hole as the odor of the overcooked eggs wafted up to their very sensitive olfactory organs.

Today is lundi de Pâques, a French holiday and a day when many are busy making des oeufs à la diable. Here's the no-fail method to the first step of the process, cooking the eggs correctly: 

Bring eggs, covered with at least an inch of cold water,  just to a boil. Reduce heat immediately and let simmer for 10 minutes. Do not boil. Place eggs immediately in icy-cold water for 3 minutes, then tap or roll them on a board or countertop till their shells are cracked. Put them again in cold water and let sit for 5 minutes before peeling. Their shells should slip off easily, and the egg yolks should be delicious and neither have a gray tinge nor be smelly. 

un oeuf:  an egg
le diable:  the devil
des oeufs à la diable:  deviled eggs (à la sauce diable)
Photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron (telle mère, telle fille!)
©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Probably no other animal on earth symbolizes so much to so many as does the docile sheep. This grazing flock is  a detail of a section of the arched passageway  under the 16th century astronomical clock, le Gros-Horloge, in Rouen. The entire scene is a depiction of the Good Shepherd.

un mouton:  a sheep
l'agneau:  lamb (male)
l'agnelle:  lamb (female)
une brébis:  a female sheep
un bélier:  a ram
la laine:  wool

Doux comme un agneau:  gentle as a lamb

photos courtesy of Carol E. Cass
©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, April 6, 2012


Looking back:  the Marseillan fishing village seen through a barge porthole on the Thau Lagoon, the second largest lake in France.

Clothing Advice from Grand-mère
The temptation is to dress lightly in April, but it's a capricious and chilly month. Best to heed the old French dictum:

En avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil.
In April, don't take off a thread; or "Til April's dead, change not a thread."

une péniche:  a barge
un hublot:  a porthole              
un lac:   a lake
une lagune:  a lagoon
se decouvrir:  to take off
un fil:  a thread

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Delivery and content
This "oui"  on a Versailles sidewalk, like a voice from the past, takes me back to a university  Philosophy of Religion survey course in which an enthusiastic and venerable professor flounced around the auditorium punctuating his every lecture with energetic proclamations of "the answer is yes!" The challenge was to find the question, and still is.

le trottoir:  sidewalk
le voie publique:  public thoroughfare

More street art by Emanuel Braudeau
Versailles Streets: In the Mood for Art
More on Versailles Street Art

©2012 P.B. Lecron


A friend Sylvia, from her sunny digs in the south of France, illlustrates with a photo of her toes the meaning of the French slang term "pénard." Tranquil, calm,  peaceful, comfortable, cushy.

Take note of the tidy stonework of the wall around the pool. It's en pierre sèche--stones layered without mortar-- a masonry technique typical of the countryside around the Gard provençal.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Entre le poire et le fromage: a French expression
Between the pear and the cheese--the expression refers to the lull between two events; one that provides a relaxed moment favorable to light and sometimes too loose conversation, as one would experience near the end of a meal when people have had perhaps too much to eat and drink. 

The expression dates back to the Middle Ages when pears were eaten after the meat course to rinse the mouth. Cheese and wine then followed.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Pompon predicting the weather, right on the mark. We should have named him Torricelli, even his whiskers are frizzing.

un Sacré de Birmanie:  a Birman cat, one of France's favorite cat breeds
la pluie:  rain
la prévision météo:  weather forecast
les moustaches:  whiskers
friser:  to frizz or curl
un baromètre:  a barometer

Lorsqu'un chat se lave derrière l'oreille, c'est qu'il pleuvra bientôt.
"When kitty washes behind her ears, we'll soon be tasting heaven's tears."

Photos of Pompon by Marianne Lecron
©2012 P.B. Lecron

More cameos of Pompon?
Vive La Sieste
A Taste for Luxury
A.K.A. Pompon

Monday, April 2, 2012


Savon au lait d'ânesse--donkey milk soap. We're not sure you'll find this yet in celebrity bloggers' trousses de toilette, but it is reputed to have excellent regenerative qualities for the skin, and it is making a European comeback as a beauty essential. I bought this bar at a French garden center, of all places.

Cleopatra bathed in donkey milk, so did the Roman Empress Poppaea, Nero's second wife. And Napoleon Bonaparte's pretty sister, Pauline resorted to using donkey milk, too. Why not you?

le savon:  soap
une ânesse:  a female donkey
une trousse de toilette:  toiletry case

©2012 P.B. Lecron