Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Cosette, the child heroine of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, not to be confused with causette...French for chat.

faire la causette:  to have a chat
causer:  to cause; to chat, to talk

Today's vocabulary brings to mind the rather extended and funny French film title, Elle Bois Pas, Elle Fume Pas, Elle Drague Pas, Mais...Elle Cause, which translates to She Doesn't Drink, She Doesn't Smoke, She Doesn't Flirt, But...She Chatters.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Since the late 17th century oak logs embedded in the sand have been used to form a breakwater along the ramparts of Saint-Malo, diminishing the shock of violent waves that come at high tide. Saint-Malo, on the Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, experiences some of the highest tides in Europe; click here to fully appreciate.

un brise-lames:  a breakwater
briser:  to break
une lame:   a wave; also a blade

Photos Marianne Lecron
©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


No, this blog post is not about bacon, but butter. Only an hour after a family member brought home from the Brittany coast four different flavored butters, I heard a French gastronome on a radio program fervently declare that butter was the soul of French cooking. 

These artisanal specialty butters churned with tangy ingredients come from the renowned butter maker, Jean-Yves Bordier, established in Saint-Malo and Rennes. Bordier also offers exclusive made to order butters for les grand chefs according to their own criteria for saltiness, form and use. 
From top, left to right:  classic sweet, smoked salt, seaweed and chili pepper butters. Below a peek inside La Fromagé, Bordier's shop in Saint-Malo.

Avoir le beurre et l'argent du beurre:  to have one's own cake and to eat it, too; literally to have butter and the money from selling it

une baratte:  a churn
sur-mesure:  made to order
l'esprit de beurre:  butter spirit

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, November 19, 2012


Pigeons resting in a date marker, part of the Mont Valérien WWII memorial outside of Paris, are reminders that carrier pigeons played an important message-bearing role during both world wars. If you haven't heard the news story about the remains of a WWII carrier pigeon with its secret coded message intact being recently found in an English chimney, click here.

un pigeon voyageur:  a carrier or homing pigeon
par pigeon voyageur:  by pigeon post
un pigeon messager:  a messenger pigeon
une colombophile:  a pigeon fancier

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Oyster farm beds in Cancale, across the bay from the Mont Saint-Michel.

Le monde est à vous.
The world is your oyster.

une huître:  an oyster
l'ostréiculture:  oyster farming
une ferme:  a farm

Friday, November 16, 2012


Dégourdi(e); that's an interesting word.  The first time I ever heard it spoken it was used by a French friend to describe an unaccompanied five year old who followed directions well and knew her way around the neighborhood. (I fear that in most cases, the days of that sort of parental confidence are long gone.) 

Dégourdi(e) means smart or bright. Remove the "dé," however, and you have the French word "gourde" which as an adjective means thick or numb; or as a noun can either mean a gourd as grown in the garden or a flask; and in certain surly cases, a numbskull. It's not uncommon to hear a French person who has been sitting too long say that he wants to " dégourdir les jambes," i.e., to stretch his legs.

dégourdir:  to restore the circulation to
se dégourdir les jambes:  to stretch one's legs
engourdir:  to numb
s'engourdir:  to become numb

Painted gourdes at the market place in Olonzac.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Eye catching decorative keystone of fish and fowl on a turn-of-the-last century villa in Saint-Valéry, on the Baie de Somme.

un clef de voûte:  a keystone
un voûte:  an arch
un clef, un clé:  a key
la nature morte:  still life

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, November 12, 2012


Cute melamine plates to remind French youngsters of a few of the règles d'or of table manners. From left to right starting at the top: my hands are kept on the table; I always say please and thank you; I don't put my knife to my mouth; and I only start eating after the hostess has begun. As for the childish and emphatic "pretty please," the French would simply pronounce an imploring, "Dis-oui!" Say yes!

Some readers might find the first rule to be surprising--but the etiquette in France is to always keep  both hands visible and on the table when dining; they are never placed on the lap. The most common and comfortable position is one in which the wrists are kept resting lightly on the edge of the table. The reasoning behind this long-standing custom was to guard against surreptitious goings on under royal tables--like the drawing of concealed weapons or the passing of conspiratorial notes.

un règle d'or:  a golden rule
avoir des bonnes mannières:  to have good manners
savoir se tenir à table:  to have good table manners, literally to know how to hold oneself at the table

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, November 9, 2012


Canadian Memorial at Vimy

A daily and stirring reminder in the Pas-de-Calais to those traveling on the A 26 between Arras and Lens of the Canadian sacrifice during WWI. The memorial at Vimy is the most important Canadian war memorial in the world. It was here in April 1917 that 3,598 Canadian soldiers lost their lives to win the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The statue of the young woman, above, represents Canada mourning her lost men. Notice the terrils or slag heaps from coal mines in the background.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Carol E. Cass

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Blue skies and golden hills on a late October foliage tour in Champagne vineyards. October is one of the best months to visit France. Photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron.

Quand octobre est dans sa fin, dans la cuve est le raisin.--dictum français

When October is at its end, the grape is in the vat.--French dicton

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Standing up for display purposes are three of the some 20 million dusty bottles of champagne stocked in the Pommery caves, Reims. (The chicken wire, incidentally, is simply called un grillage in French.) While on the subject of champagne, one cannot enough dispell the myth that placing a teaspoon in an opened bottle of champagne will stop the bubbles from disappearing. It ain't so; only a special hermetic cap like the one below will do the trick.

Photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, November 5, 2012


The French, while they may be important consumers of dairy products, are not big milk drinkers. As Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec put it, "Je boirai du lait quand les vaches brouteront du raisin." I will drink milk when cows graze on raisins. The artist also fittingly described autumn as winter's spring: l'automne est le printemps de l'hiver.
Photos of grapes on the vine in the village of  Champillon, in the Champagne-Ardennes Region. Courtesy of Marianne Lecron.

brouter:  to graze, to graze on
une vigne:  a grapevigne

Je l'ai appris par le téléphone arabe.
I heard it on the grapevine.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, November 3, 2012


"Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée."
A door is necessarily either open or shut.

This French proverb is a line from a late 17th century three-act comedy, Le Grondeur (1691) by David-Augustin de Brueys and Jean de Palaprat. It's spoken by an exasperated valet to his cranky employeur who complains if the door is left open and complains if it is left shut. "Monsieur, je me ferais hacher; il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée, choisissez; comment la voulez-vous? Choose, how do you want it?

gronder:  to scold; to rumble; to growl
hacher:  to mince, to chop, to grind

se faire hacher:  to rather die than admit one is wrong; literally to cut oneself up into tiny pieces

©2012 P.B. Lecron