Tuesday, January 31, 2012


("Just a face in the crowd", Jef Aérosol 2011, pochoir sur panneau / stencil on board, 80 x 1OO cm)


1982 - 2012 :
30 ans de pochoir et d'art urbain
30 years of stencil art and street art

Mieux vaut tard que jamais... "better late than never," was the object heading on French urban artist and living legend Jef Aérosol's NewYear's greeting e-mailed yesterday, above. According to their code of etiquette, the French give themselves up until January 31 to send  New Year's wishes. A rule I find myself adopting. Bonne Année, Bonne Santé!

les voeux de "bonne année":  wishes for a happy New Year traditionally exchanged at midnight on New Year's Eve, as well as on the days that follow
une carte de voeux:  a card sent to another expressing one's best wishes
souhaiter:  to wish
un souhait:  a wish
le nouvel an:  the new year
bonne santé:  good health
une légende vivant:  a living legend
juste à temps:  just in time

©2012 P.B. Lecron; Image posted with permission of Jef Aérosol, all rights reserved.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


 To give a kingdom for a Carmargue horse
De donner le trône et le reste contre un seul cheval carmarguais...
-- from Georges Brassen's song, Le Modeste

The Carmargue is a race of small, brave, white to light-gray horses indigenous to la Carmargue or Rhone delta territory in the south of France. The race, thought to be one of the oldest in the world, is the traditional mount of the Carmargue gardians or cow herders--cowboys if you like. (The year 2012 marks the 500th anniversary of Carmargue's confrérie des gardians.) Carmarguais horses continue to range in semi-liberty in the marshes of its origin where they've nostalgically become spirited symbols of untamed freedom.

Georges Brassens, poet, composer and performer was a native of Sète, a Mediterranean port which is about 15 km from this thin strip of beach,  La Plage des Aresquiers. Bordered on one side by the sea and the other by a lagoon, it's one of the last wild, natural beaches in the Hérault department--and it still has seashells. 
un cheval:  a horse
un trône:  a throne
la mer:  the sea
à cheval:  astride a horse; to be on both sides of the fence,  figuratively

être à cheval sur les principes:  to be demanding or rigorous
Ne changez pas de cheval au milieu de la rivière:  Don't change horses in the middle of the river.
Mon royaume pour un cheval:  My kingdom for a horse!  (from Shakespeare's Richard III)

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, January 23, 2012


The less said about the local tradition that turns around this statue (and its nickname) the better. Carved in wood, l'Homme sur Sa Bouée (1993) seemingly floats in the canal on the Quai Bélu in Amiens. It is one of three of a series of oak sculptures in the Quartier Saint-Leu carved by German artist Stephan Balkenhol. This once dangerous but now refurbished and picturesque neighborhood is the  "QG" of Amiens students who regularly see to the statue's wardrobe, sometimes dressing it in a sweater, other times less gloriously.

la bouée:  the mud
bois:  wood
chêne:  oak
QG:  for quartier général, general headquarters
une garde-robe:  a dressing room, but by extension also means one's clothes and accessories

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Roadside still
Where I come from this sort of contraption would have been nefariously hidden in the backwoods. In Normandie, however, licensed artisanal stills used to transform apple cider into the famous 40% Calvados alcohol are scattered around the countryside. 
Calvados, named for the Normandie apple-producing department, is served dry, on ice, in cocktails and as a digestif; it's used as well as a cooking ingredient in sweet or salty recipes, and for flambéing. So much has it been used to lace coffee that if one orders a café nature in Normandie it would likely be understood to mean without "Calva." 

un alambic:  a still
un cidre:  a cider
un café nature:  ordinarily means coffee without sugar

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Violin makers inevitably have fascinating storefronts necessarily located in the calmer parts of a city or town (concentration and precision oblige). This atelier is in Rouen on a pedestrian street at Place du Lieutenant Aubert. In Paris luthiers are grouped around the rue de Rome, back behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, the historic music quarter of stringed and other instruments. Worth more than a detour for any mélomane.

un luthier:  a violin maker
un atelier:  a workshop, studio
un instrument à cordes:  a cord instrument
un archet:  a bow for stringed instruments
un mélomane:  a music lover, especially of classical music
la musique savant:  genre including opera, symphonic, chamber, sacred, baroque and contemporary music

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, January 16, 2012


Chez Revert
Fancy that...this Versailles hardware store has been selling nails since 1799. The establishment has changed locations and owners since that time, but the business has been an ongoing affair for more than 200 years in the royal city.

What was happening in 1799?
For one thing, the Rosetta Stone was discovered by a French soldier, Pierre-François Bouchard, during Napoleon Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt. The stone, inscribed with the same text in three scripts including Egyptian
hieroglyphs, provided the key to deciphering the ancient Egyptian writing system. The Rosetta Stone fell into the hands of the British upon their defeat of the French in Egypt in 1801, and has since then been on display in the British Museum in London. Plaster casts of the stone were circulated among European scholars; it was Jean-François Champollion who in 1822 actually deciphered the stone, enabling the interpretations of many other early Egyptian records.

un clou:  a nail
une quincaillerie:  a hardware store
un vendeur:  a seller
décrypter:  to decode

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Night view of Paris with the Seine, Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais and the Champs Elysées, as seen from the Grande Roue,  near Place de la Concorde (foreground). The 65-meter high Ferris wheel--more currently known as an observation wheel--with thank-the-stars heated cabins is a seasonal attraction usually set up for the winter holidays.

la grande roue:  the big wheel
faire la roue:  to turn cartwheels

Photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron
©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, January 13, 2012


The moon this morning at 7:30.

La lune du matin
Weather report from Paris: beautiful but unseasonably mild winter; we can't remember when we last had a frosty morning.

Noël au balcon, Pâques aux tisons. Christmas on the balcony, Easter at the fireplace. 

la lune:  the moon
le matin:  the morning
un temps doux:  mild weather
la météo:  the weather report; forecast
la gelée:  the frost; the jelly
une gelée blanche:  a hoarfrost
le balcon:  the balcony
un tison:  a coal ember

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


En attente
Last but not least, it would seem, to be on the restoration list at the Domaine du Château de Versailles, is the superb cascading water fountain, le Buffet d'Eau. The bronze sculptures, once golden, represent water dieties, Neptune and his wife Amphitrite.
Red marble of Languedoc heightens the sense of impetuosity often associated with Neptune--and the flow of water.
Four young tritons, the equivalent of male mermaids, complete the mythical sea scene.

One of the more beautiful fountains in the park is probably one of the least visited; this masterpiece of Jules Hardouin-Mansart is on an extremity of the formal grounds near the Grand Trianon.  Depending on one's starting point--which for most is the château--seeing it can require a certain amount of determination.

une fountaine:  a fountain
en attente:  waiting
une restauration:  a restoration
marbre rouge de Languedoc:  red marble of Languedoc, a former province in the south of France

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, January 9, 2012


Funicular starts with f-u-n
An outil ludique is how the Tréport mayor described his city's funicular, refurbished in 2006 after 60 years of abandon.
The funicular links the lower city to its upper terrace, saving citizens and tourists 365 steps up and down. It's free of charge to all users!

The funicular climbs and descends this chalk cliff, part of the 120 km formation that extends from Le Havre to Le Tréport, on the Côte d'Albâtre. Steady erosion of the chalk gives the water its milky green color.
View from the cliffs of Tréport, a fishing port on La Manche.  For your free trip up the cliff, click here.

un outil:  a tool
ludique:  playful
un funiculaire:  a funicular
gratuit(e):  free
Côte Albâtre:  Alabaster Coast
La Manche:  The English Channel; literally "the sleeve"

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, January 8, 2012


A French friend's homemade galette des rois. Une réussite.
It's galette des rois season in France...and I say season because these tasty pastries, although traditionally served on Epiphany, are sold and eaten for days before observance of the Christian festival, as well as for a couple of weeks after. Most of France, secular included (because nearly everyone succumbs repeatedly to the playful charm of the tradition), will be putting on weight these next few days.

The galette is typically made of pâte feuilletée stuffed with either frangipane or compote de pomme, in which a "fève" is hidden. When served, the custom is for the youngest person--usually a child, to hide under the table and to say to whom each piece of galette is to be given. This is what is called " tirer les rois."  The server's question "C'est pour qui?" (Who is it for?)  is almost sung like a refrain. The person whose slice has the fève is the king, and is given a paper crown to wear; if a second crown is available he or she may choose a queen or king.

une galette:  a flat round cake
un roi:  a king
une pâte feuilletée:  a flaky pastry
frangipane:  an almond flavored cream or paste
compote de pomme:  apple sauce
une fève:  a bean which symbolised a piece of money and used to be hidden in the galette des rois; today it is usually a tiny porcelain charm or figurine
tirer les rois:  draw the kings, i.e., select by chance
fait maison:  homemade
une réussite:  a success

©2012 P.B. Lecron


We like this style of cheese knife for its clean cutting and versatility. Holes in its blade reduce friction when slicing, so softer cheeses don't stick to it. Its sturdy rounded blade wields firmer cheeses well, and its forked tip is of course for pricking then lifting the cheese slice to the plate. Stainless steel and kitchenproof, but nice enough to go on a plateau de fromage. If you had tight drawer space and could only have one cheese knife, this would be the kind to have.

un couteau:  a knife
un plateau de fromage:  a cheese plate

For more on cheese slicing:
The Right Slice: Cheese Tips
The Right Slice: Cheese Cutting Tips
The Right Slice:  Un Art de Vivre

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, January 6, 2012


Jeanne d'Arc
Sculpture of Jeanne d'Arc in Eglise Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc, Rouen,  erected near the site where the young woman was  burned alive.
January 6 is the 600th anniversary of the birth of the young French martyr, Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc). In the 15th century the teenager led French armies against the English in the One Hundred Years War, liberating Orléans in 1429 and enabling Charles VII to be crowned king of France. She was later captured, turned over to the English, then burned at the stake in 1431 following a trial for heresy.

The French national heroine has been appropriated, so to speak, as a symbol of the extreme right political party, le Front National. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, however, today in giving hommage to the "Maid of Orléans" pointedly declared that "Jeanne n'appartient à aucun parti, à aucun clan." (Joan belongs to no party, to no clan.)

American author and humorist Mark Twain, was fascinated by her life and spent twelve years researching his biography of her, producing what he himself considered to be his most important work: Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. (The rest of the world doesn't necessarily agree.) It's preface by Louis Kossuth, 19th century Hungarian revolutionary and statesman, bears repeating:

"Consider this unique and imposing distinction. Since the writing of human history began, Joan of Arc is the only person, of either sex, who has ever held supreme command of the military forces of a nation at the age of seventeen."

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Traditional cuisine and Versailles institution

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Gustave Eiffel, when conceiving the Eiffel Tower, surely must have been influenced by the graceful form of the very first live giraffe, Zarafa, ever to set foot in France. 

Zarafa, a gift to Charles X from the Pacha of Egypte, was shipped to the port of Marseilles, then led by foot to Paris in 1827, accompanied by the director of the Jardin des Plantes, three cows (from which the young giraffe was given milk) and an escort cavalry of gendarmes. 

All of Paris thronged to the ménagerie of the Jardins des Plantes to see the exotic creature which inspired graphic and literary artists of the time.  Zarafa's coming was a highly exceptional event, only two other hapless giraffes had ever been displaced to Europe before.

Now a museum mascot
After Zarafa's death in 1845 the famous giraffe was stuffed, mounted and put on display at the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle in the Atlantic coastal city of  La Rochelle.

Photo of Zarafa at the Muséum d'histoire naturelle, La Rochelle, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Soon to be a film 
A feature-length animated film based on a story about Zarafa's friendship with a little boy from Sudan who promises to bring the animal back to the savanna, is scheduled to be released February 8, 2012. For the film trailer of Zarafa by Rémi Bezançon and Jean-Christophe Lie, click here.

une girafe:  a giraffe
une ménagerie:  a collection of wild animals 
un gendarme:  an armed French national police officer
naturalisation:  in zoology, process of stuffing and mounting animal skins by a taxidermist

©2012 P.B. Lecron