Jun 29, 2015

Spectacle Debacle, Part IV: Bonne Fête Papa


In previous years, the end of the year debacle has always involved us running, literally, from the kermesse (school carnival) and theater shows over to the gym for the gymnastics gala. So imagine my surprise when they tell me that this year, the kermesse and gala are on two separate weekends. I envision a stress-free, calm, debacle-free end-of-June, end-of-school performance schedule. Ha!


Jun 25, 2015

A New Paris Perspective: Tour Guyotte


Actually, my new perspective on Paris is a rather old perspective on Paris, from the top of the 16th century Tour Saint Jacques, in the 4th arrondissement. It's perfectly central, with nothing blocking it, so there's a 360 degree view here of the city that most people don't get to see, partly because the tower is only open for small groups, with advance tickets (which sell out in minutes, sometimes seconds), on limited days during the summer season. So right about now, I'm feeling pretty lucky.


Jun 21, 2015

Stop and Smell the Roses: Fleurs de Brebis


If you're going to stop and smell the roses, you could do a lot worse than hitting the annual Rose Competition at the Parc de Bagatelle, on the outskirts of Paris.

When I say outskirts, I mean right at the western edge of the Bois de Boulogne, not far from La Défense, which seems around the last place in Paris you'd want to go for nature, and flowers.

Jun 17, 2015

Star of the Knight: Etoile


Barbara Ehrlich White, a prominent art historian, is the star of the night, who now has a star of the knight. That is, I am there to watch her, surrounded by friends and family and colleagues, be inducted as a Chevalier (Knight) to the Ordre des Arts et Lettres -- the Order of Arts and Letters, an honor bestowed upon her by the French government in recognition of her profound contribution to French culture.

Jun 13, 2015

Emptying the House: Saint Sauveur des Basques


On a weekend drive in the country on Ile d'Oléron, an island off the Atlantic coast, we see a sign advertising not just a vide grenier (literally "empty the attic", what we'd call a garage sale) but a vide maison. Emptying a whole house. Since neither Pippa nor Anthony are with us to complain about how boring and impractical this is, Gigi and I naturally stop to shop. And find some seriously impractical treasures. But definitely not boring.

Jun 9, 2015

Then, Now, Wow!: Reblochon de Savoie


You've seen plenty of old photos of Paris, but these photos from 100 years ago are an extra rare treat, because they're in color. This montage, at the Journal du Siècle, is the kind of thing that Parisians and Paris-lovers pass around on the Internet. You won't be surprised to hear that seeing these pictures sets me off on a quest to reproduce many of them, to compare and contrast the same spots 100 years later.

Some spots are relatively unchanged. (All old photos from Journal du Siècle, unless otherwise noted.)

Jun 5, 2015

Open for Business: Tomme Cabrioulet


Yes, it's another tough day at the office. A good friend graciously invites me to spend a glorious spring day with her at the French Open, so I wouldn't want to be rude and refuse or anything. It's noble of me to spend a day at famed Roland Garros stadium to watch the French Open. I know, because as we take our seats, the usher fervently wishes us "a good match", as if it was all going to be such hard work.

Jun 1, 2015

The Egg in the Water: Coeur Poitevin


Young French children learn about "the egg in the water", "l'œuf dans l'eau", which is a homonym for "l'E dans l'O" -- the letter E stuck in the letter O, that is. It's an oddball spelling manœuvre, but useful for when your sœur (sister) orders hors d'œuvres.

It's an ancient Latin leftover, and now usually written as two separate letter -- oe. So most words, including such common words as œuf and cœur (heart) and œil (eye) are written oeuf and coeur. Certainly it's a lot easier with typewriter keyboards. Some words made it into English with the oe, including diarrhoea, if you're British. If you're American, your diarrhea has lost the O, so there's no egg in the toilet water, just diarrhea.

You can have an O followed by an E that is not an egg in the water -- such as poésie (poetry, pronounced "po-eh-ZEE"), coefficient (pronounced co-eh-fee-SHAN), or Noël. But in most cases, O followed by E is a throwback to old Latin. In the above case, the sign is wishing you "meilleurs vœux", or "best wishes".

Besides the "egg in the water" -- the E in the O -- it's also known in French as the o-e ("connected o-e"), the  ("oe stuck together"), and, my favorite, "Ethel". It is not named after a 1950s housewife, but rather is a modernized pronunciation of an ancient word eðel. Frankly, I've never heard a French person call it that, and most of my French friends don't even understand what I mean when I call it that, so I think this name is even more obsolete than the Ethel (or E in the O) itself.

THE CHEESE: Cœur Poitevin

Cœur Poitevin is a raw goats' milk cheese, from the same family as Cœur de Touraine and the non-heart-shaped Selles-sur-Cher. It's named for the region where it's made -- the Marais Poitevin, which sounds better in French than its English translation, the Poitevin Swamp. The Marais Poitevin is an interregional park, covering areas in Deux-Sèvres, home to so many delicious goat cheeses, the Vendée, and the Charentes-Maritimes.

The cheese is lightly ashed and medium strength tangy-goaty. I'm sure it's psychological, since I know where it's made, but I feel like the saltiness actually tastes swampy. And I mean that in a good way. It's a creamy, lovely heart-shaped cheese.


In theory, this name of Cœur Poitevin cannot be written without an E in the O. In practice, of course, it can be -- Coeur Poitevin -- and that's how I regularly write it, because I can't be bothered to find the "œ" on the keyboard. I'm not alone; French people generally type -- and handwrite -- the OE as two separate letters also.

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