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