Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Say ouistiti! Armed with a smart phone, friend Sylvia captured this great face somewhere out in the Gard countryside.

un ouistiti:  a weirdo (slang); when taking photos the French will often tell their subjects "dites ouistiti" to get a big smile--the result is the equivalent of saying cheese
chahuter: to horse around;  to prevent a professor or lecturer to speak by being disorderly (familiar)
dans les parages: nearby, in the area of

©2013 P.B. Leacron

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Buy in bulk
Close-up of dehydrated vegetable snacks sold in bulk from help-yourself glass bins in a French supermarket.  Bulk buying is more and more widespread in France.
Who is Béa? She's an economical French woman who through her care and concern for our planet and resources has become an international icon and champion of a pared-down and drastically less-wasteful lifestyle. Her home is so uncluttered and clean, and her blog, too!

Originally from Rochefort-du-Gard, a community near Avignon, Béa Johnson started out as a fille au pair in the United States. Today, married with her own family and living in San Francisco, this pretty and très chic queen of parsimony and simplicity has managed her household so that it produces no more than a liter of rubbish per year--and enjoys life more!

If like me, you are appalled by the quantity of rubbish generated in the space of just one day, or if you're wondering how on earth Béa does it, go to her Zero Waste Home blog  for tips or read her book, below, edited in both English and French. She says she doesn't remember the last time she took out the trash. . .

le déchet:  waste
une poubelle:  a dust-bin, a garbage can; the name originates from its inventor, Eugène Poubelle, a préfet in the Parisian area, who in an 1884 crusade to eliminate loose kitchen rubbish in city streets imposed a rule obliging citizens to contain their trash in the regulation wooden, white iron-lined recipients with covers
encombrer:  to clutter
désencombrer:  to declutter

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Monday, December 23, 2013


Compter ses bénédictions
Au lieu de moutons
We were sitting in a small restaurant in a marvelously remote Auvergne village, Lavaudieu, when the proprietor's wife called us to quickly come to the window to see the sheep returning to the stable.

compter:  to count
une bénédiction:  a blessing
au lieu de:  instead of
s'endormir:  to fall asleep

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Learn more French with Pompon
French cat star and Sacré de Birmanie Pompon is back with another French lesson. His word today is mater--to reduce someone to obedience, to repress. But it also means to eye or ogle. Good choice, Pompon.

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Those who know the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres but haven't visited it in a few years are in for a surprise. Not only are its 13th-century stained glass windows in the process of being restored (since 1998), but artisans have been steadily and painstakingly restoring and cleaning the cathedral's dark, sooty walls and arches since 2008. The cleaning project is programmed to finish in 2015. The difference, as you can see in these photos, is dramatic and changes considerably the effect of viewing the cathedral's 94 stained glass picture windows. And when I say picture windows, I mean it literally--for the baies vitraux each tell a Biblical story. Before the advent of the printing press, the masses were not able to read text; thus the stained glass images were designed to be read like cartoons.
If the precious stained glass windows survived two world wars, there's a reason. Because the thousands who flocked to the cathedral on pilgrimages through the centuries used to sleep inside on the floors of the edifice, the windows were installed on hinges so that they could be opened to freshen the air in the cathedral. (Likewise, the floors were designed with a slope so that the water sloshed on the floors to cleanse them would run off on an intended course.) That the windows were on hinges facilitated their removal during both WWI and WWII so that they could be hidden away for safekeeping.

For an interesting account of how the entire cathedral was saved from destruction during WWII, click here.

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Presser le citron
"Presser le citron"  or "presser quelqu'un comme un citron" both mean to exploit someone to the maximum. 

It's unusual to find lemons ripening with their leaves still attached on supermarket shelves these days, although it was a more common practice twenty years ago. What luck I had a camera in my bag when I came across these at the grocery store. 

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


It was a real thrill to attend the École Centrale Paris "remise de diplôme" ceremony recently held in the UNESCO building--not only to be there as a proud parent but also to hear the keynote address of French particle physicist and alumnus, Nathalie Besson. Besson worked on the Large Hadron Collider project, to date the world's most powerful particle accelerator. The symmetry and beauty of the pre-formed concrete ceiling and walls of the UNESCO amphitheatre, with colored projector lighting, harmonized. Universal appeal.

une remise de diplôme:  a graduation ceremony
le béton:  concrete

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Monday, December 16, 2013


In Lavaudieu, which translates to "the valley of God," we were charmed by the welcome and helpful recommendations of Madame Robert at her rural bed and breakfast, La Maison d'à Côté, and the sweet simplicity of our room with a view of the Senouire River. Quiet and calm are guaranteed for a good night's sleep before radiating out toward other interesting spots including la Chaise-Dieu, Brioude and Puy-en-Velay. The Senouire River Valley is also known as Lafayette's country...the general and marquis who helped the American cause in its War of Independence was born in nearby Chavaniac where his château is now a museum.

La Maison d'à Côté, Chambres d'hôtes, 43100 Lavaudieu

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, December 15, 2013


In the Haute-Loire
One of the best travel tips I can offer is to journey from one Plus Beau Village de France to another and to plan to stay in local bed and breakfasts, called chambres d'hôtes--and often--de charme. Such an itinerary will necessarily lead you to extraordinary out of the way places, like the medieval benedictine Abbaye de Lavaudieu, of which its restored romanesque cloister is the sole entirely intact remaining in the Auvergne region. A treasure trove which includes not only these fascinating sculpted columns but an important 12th century mural in its refectory.
hors des sentier battus:  off the beaten path

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Avant l'heure, c'est pas l'heure!
When you say it's fifteen til, it's fifteen til! Notice the screw substituted for a foot of this 19th-century alarm clock on display in the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires de Lavaudieu.  Nestled in the Haute-Loire in the Auvergne,  Lavaudieu is ranked among the most beautiful villages of France.

au préalable, à l'avance:  beforehand
un réveil:  an alarm clock
réveiller:  to wake up

To listen to Edith Piaf sing Avant l'Heure, click here.

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Monday, December 2, 2013


An unusual exhibition in the pigeon loft of the 12th-century Normandie dungeon tower at the Château de la Roche Guyon. Artist Jeanne Lacombe stuffed photos of pigeons into roosting holes carved into the medieval limestone chamber. The casual observer would think that the photos were placed in the holes to prevent live pigeons from taking up residence in the dovecote, although the installation, smacking of conceptual art, is a part of a program establishing the château as a lieu for contemporary artists to expose their works. A musée éphémère. In her text accompanying the display, Mme Lacombe draws a parallel between unwanted pigeons and itinerants and illegal immigrants.

During WWII Rommel occupied the Château La Roche-Guyon, which from its origins was built into the chalk cliff overlooking the Seine, 66 kilometres northwest of Paris. Through the centuries the site has evolved in layers; descending from the first ancient troglodyte fortress at the top of the cliff down to the construction of its renaissance château, then later its 18th-century stables. A careful walk up the 250-step tunnel, excavated in the Middle Ages to form a stairway to the top of the dungeon tower, affords a commanding and panoramic view of the river valley and the bordering Normandie countryside.

un pigeonnier:  a dovecote, a pigeon house or loft
un sans domicile fixe: a homeless person, a person without a fixed domicile or permanent residence; an itinerant; commonly called an SDF
cataloguer quelqu'un:  to catalogue or pigeon-hole someone
un musée éphémère:  ephemeral museum; i.e. a temporary museum

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Wooden shoes, clogs, or as the French call them, sabots, a 19th-century symbol of anarchy. The shoe was typically worn by factory and farm workers. The verb saboter originally meant to walk noisily along. Although the origin of the word "sabotage" is debatable, most right-thinking Frenchmen will tell you that it comes from the act of protesting workers, who during the industrial revolution would throw their wooden shoes into cogs of the machinery, thus upsetting the works. Another explanation is that the word derives from the action of making noise with ones shoes in order to muddle the sound of secret conversations or covert speeches.

un sabot: a clog; a hoof
un sabotier:  a clog maker
une saboterie:  a clog factory
encombrer:  to clog up
saboter:  to sabotage (as of a machine, an installation or a negotiation); to botch or make a mess of

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


The château of the royal city of Amboise in autumn colors, seen from across the Loire River on a November day. It's such a pretty spot that Leonardo da Vinci, when invited by his mécène and close friend François Premier, decided to spend his final years here. From 1516 through 1519 da Vinci resided in a manor house near the château. He was buried in château's chapel.

The French make a distinction between two different ambers--both of whose colors are in this iPhone photo; one is ambre gris, a creamy gray and smelly intestinal stone coming from sperm whales and once used in the perfume industry (today it's synthesized), and the other is ambre jaune, the name for and the color of the famous golden-orange resin fossil. 

photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron

un mécène:  a patron, a sponsor; a patron of the arts

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Sage comme un image
Cat star Pompon shows what this French expression means. 

un sage:  a sage, a wise person
sage:  wise (adjective)
un enfant sage:  a well-behaved child

être sage comme un image:  to be as good as gold

smart photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Our English word "cabbage" probably comes from the French influence wrought in England following Guillaume le Conquérant's 1066 conquest; it's most likely a derivative of the Norman French caboche for head. Caboche in turn suggests the even earlier Old French word boce, which means hump or bump, and the Latin caput for head. 

The French language reference book of choice, Le Littré, tells us that in Old French the word for cabbage was li chols or chos or chous. Today it's simply "chou" in the singular, and "choux" in the plural. Pictured above, center, is the rounded and smooth and very common variety, chou cabus. No wonder.

mon chou:  a term of endearment meaning my darling
un bout de chou:  a small child
faire chou blanc:  to fail at something or to draw a blank
être bête comme un chou: to be stupid or dull (as for a person); to be simple or easy (as for a task to do)
aller planter ses choux: to take one's retirement in the country; to not take risks; to withdraw

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Sel de la terre
Selling between ten and fifteen euros for 100 grams or so, this gourmet salt flavored with bits of black truffles is a bit steep--but because only a pinch will do it's an interesting way to dress up scrambled eggs. Fleur de sel is the finest upper layer of salt crystals caused by the evaporation of sea water. It's  delicately hand-harvested with a special rake from coastal basins.

les salines or les marais salants:  salerns or series of shallow sea pools where salt is collected
une truffe:  a highly prized black mushroom or truffle; the end of a dog's nose
truffer:  to be garnished with truffles (cooking)
être truffé(e):  to be stuffed with (slang)

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, November 3, 2013


It had already been a long day, but we made one last stop on our way home just to admire the collection of brightly decorated 16th century Iznic ceramics at the Musée National de la Renaissance in the Château d'Ecouen. Created and produced at the demand of the Turkish sultan Soliman le Magnifique for his palace, the ceramics' motifs reflect Byzantine, Near and Middle Eastern and Chinese influences. All by way of the Silk Road--la Route de la Soie. Rapidly exported, the ceramics were highly prized by European royalty.

During the 19th century a French consul in Rhodes amassed this treasure trove of almost 450 pieces, which today is the most important collection of Ottoman empire ceramics conserved in France.

les arts de la table:  everything that has to do with the embellishment and decoration of tableware

Tous les maris contents danseraient sur le dos d'une assiette.
All of the happy husbands in the world could danse on the back of a single plate.

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, November 2, 2013


From potter's clay
We were awed by the endearing simplicity of these late 19th-century terra cotta headstones in a small protestant cemetery tucked away under trees on a hillside in Montaren, a sunny village in the Gard. A number of the twenty or so markers were for youthful people whose time of demise often coincided with cholera epidemics in the region. We learned that the headstones, crafted by family members who worked in a local brickyard, were put in place between 1877 and 1905, well after most of the dates of death.

Up until the 19th century French protestants, victimized as heretics, were not allowed to be buried alongside Catholics in parish cemeteries, so their dead were usually buried in family gardens or out in the countryside. Napoleonic laws, however, allowed the creation of large protestant-dedicated cemeteries, or as here, the allotment of a parcel of land separated from but adjoining the Catholic lots in the communal cemetery. 

ci-gît:  here lies
une stèle:  a funerary monument
une pierre tombale:  a tombstone
la terre cuite:  terra cotta
un cimetière:  a cemetery
une briqueterie:  a brickyard

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, October 31, 2013


The human condition along with death, mortality, vanities and repentance are ripe for contemplation when seated in a prie-Dieu atop one of the some 375 magnificent inlaid marble tombs which make up the flooring of one of the world's greatest cathedrals, St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta. Built in the 16th century by the knights of the Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem, the high Baroque cathedral was commissioned by a French chevalier and Grand Master, Jean L'Evesque de la Cassière. 

un chevalier de Malte:  a knight of Malta
un soldat pontifical: a papal soldier
inévitable: unavoidable
un prie-Dieu:  a low chair from which one kneels to pray
s'agenouiller:  to kneel down

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Not to miss: an exceptional and luxurious paravent in lacquerware dating to 1932 realized by Louis Midavaine (1888-1978), founder of the internationally renowned Atelier Midavaine dynasty. The paravent with two polar bears on an ice field with a third swimming, is on display in the decorative art halls at the Palais de Tokyo. The Atelier Midavaine bears the designation of Entreprise de Patrimoine Vivant, a national award for excellence of French know-how. Curiously, Louis Midavaine first learned the Asian lacquer technique while being held prisoner during WWI, the Germans having called upon Chinese artisans to lacquer the wooden propellers of their fighter planes.

The Palais de Tokyo, which houses the city of Paris' Museum of Modern Art, today has also become a major venue of contemporary art. The building overlooks the Seine at 13 avenue du President Wilson and is one of three remaining permanent structures built for the 1937 International Exposition in Paris.

un ours polaire:  a polar bear
une banquise:  an ice field
une laque:  a lacquerware object
un paravent:  a folding screen

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Iodine rich air
A gray day on the beach at Berck-sur-Mer, reputed to have the saltiest sea air in the Pas-de-Calais. The French set great store by the benefits of l'air marin. It's worth noting that one of France's leading orthopedic surgery and physical therapy centers, a part of the Fondation Hopale medical group, sits just opposite the view above on prime ocean-front property. In fine weather patients accompanied  by family or friends take promenades on the long stretch of sea wall. 
The same stretch of beach on a sunny day.
l'iode:  iodine
la kinésithérapie:  physical therapy
un/une kinésithérapeute:  a physical therapist

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Monday, September 30, 2013


That my mother once had a hairdryer like this one set up at home in the early 1960's makes this unexpected display in the Château de la Roche-Guyon seem all the more normal. With a view overlooking the Seine River Valley, it's difficult to imagine happier circumstances for drying one's hair.

un sèche-cheveux:  a hairdryer
shampouiner:  to shampoo
un shampooing:  a shampoo
un après-shampooing:  a conditioner
une mise en plis:  a hair set

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Friday, September 27, 2013


Insouciant, indifférent, nonchalant--all French synonyms for "sans souci." 

un souci:  a worry, a concern
sans souci:  carefree
cadet: second child; junior

le cadet de mes soucis, also le moindre de mes soucis: the least of my worries

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Still waters run deep
Il faut se méfier de l'eau qui dort
The pensive river god Anqueuil, is named for the small watercourse that feeds into the canal at the gardens of the Château de Vaux le Vicomte. Sculpted by the talented 17th-century artist, Mathieu Lespagnandel, the statue was restored in 1880.

se méfier:  to be wary

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Beau comme un camion

This brand-new garbage collection truck in Valletta, the capital city of Malta, has to be the most handsome of its kind in the world. Valletta, or as the French call it, La Valette, was named for its French founder, Jean Parisot de La Valette (1494-1568). 

An awestruck onlooker was left bouche bée.

un camion:  a truck or lorry
un camion poubelle:  a garbage truck
bée: gaping
bouche bée:  open-mouthed

beau comme un camion: handsome as a truck, literally; pretty as a picture, figuratively

©2013 P.B. Lecron