Jul 31, 2015

Get Your Croissants Straight: Long Blanc


The word "croissant" has to do with the shape, so it's ironic that not all croissants are curved into crescents. Ironic, but there's a logical explanation. It involves food snobbery and hyper-regulation and is, therefore, a tale that is, like the croissant itself, classically French.

Jul 27, 2015

Dangerous Liaisons: Petitome


I'm telling some French friends about a book we have, but when I translate "The Heroes of D-Day" into French, I say, "Les Héroes", pronouncing it with the liaison (the connecting sound between the two words): lay-zay-RO. My friends laugh, because with one tiny mistake, I have turned heroes into zeroes.

When a word starts with a vowel, the liaison is made when the final consonant, even one that is usually silent, is pronounced. So, for example: when my doctors tell me I am "trop américaine", they pronounce the normally-silent P at the end of "trop".

The problem is with the words beginning with the letter H. They trip me up on a regular basis because some Hs are considered silent, and some are considered aspirated (pronounced), but the problem is that even the aspirated once are, in practice, 100% silent. So you just have to memorize:

Officially aspirated (but actually silent) H, and therefore the S in the word "les" remains silent (and if there's a le or la, in the singular, it is fully pronounced and not contracted):

Les Halles (name of a metro stop in central Paris)
les haricots verts (green beans)
les haies (hedges)
les hérissons (hedgehogs)
les hiboux  (owls)
les homards (lobsters)
borrowed words like "les Highlanders"

Officially silent H, and therefore the S in the word "les" is pronounced like a Z:

les hommes (men)
les habits (clothes)
les habitudes (habits)
les hébergements (lodgings)
les hémisphères (hemispheres)
les herbes (grasses)
les hormones (hormones)

In fact, the word "héro" starts with an aspirated H, though there's really no way I could have known that unless the tiny compartment in my brain for nearly-useless (yet sometimes vitally important) information on foreign languages were a bit bigger. Believe me when I say, "French Aspirated H, you're my zero."

THE CHEESE: Petitome

Petitome, a contraction of Petit Tome (a small wheel of cheese), is a raw, farmhouse, organic sheeps' milk cheese from Alpes de Haute Provence. It's a small cheese named "small cheese", made in small batches, by a small producer, during a small portion of the year (especially spring/summer), so there's only a small chance you'll ever get to try it.

The white mold-covered Petitome disk is thick and creamy with grassy notes in it, and a hint of wet sheep wool. In a good way. The sheep who give their milk, as well as their wet wooly flavor, to the cheese are from the Laucane, Brigasque, Thônes, and Marthod breeds. They are raised on an organic farm, and the cheese is sold both at the farm and at local markets.


The cheese name, Petitome (pronounced "pa-tee-TUM"), sounds just like "petit homme" (meaning "little man"). If the H were aspirated in "homme", it would be pronounced without the liaison, as "pa-tee-UM". In this case, it's actually a contraction of "petit tome", but there's no way to know that based on pronunciation alone. It's a tiny little detail, these connected sounds at the ends of the words, and generally you'll be understood even if you make a mistake, based on context. Are you talking about a little cheese? Or a little man? But once in a while, when you make a mistake, you'll turn a Hero into a Zero.

Jul 23, 2015

Through Rosé-colored Glasses: Brebidoux


Between sophomore and junior year of college, backpacking around Europe with my friend, we stopped into a wine store in Paris and asked, in our best and most polite French, for a bottle of something "cheap, yet drinkable." The owner treated us very seriously, discussing the relative merits of bottles for 15 or 20 francs (about $2-3, at the time, before euros existed). "This one has a light finish of citrus. That one has a soupçon of red berries and black pepper."

Jul 19, 2015

The Ultimate Goal: Manigodine


Upon hearing the SCOTUS ruling legalizing gay marriage, I call some dear friends in San Francisco, a married lesbian couple, to celebrate. "Screw the most important civil rights moment of my life!," my friend screams at me. "Turn on the game!" I have to admit, I don't even know what sport she's talking screaming about. "Women's World Cup! France vs. Germany! And if France wins, maybe they'll start teaching their girls to play to soccer so there will be teams for when girls like Gigi and Pippa move there!"


Jul 15, 2015

The Blue, White, and Red: Le Vieux Berger


In America, July 4th is all about the Red, White, and Blue. But in France, July 14th is all about the Blue, White, and Red. It's different. Well, sort of.


Just as it sounds completely backwards in English to say "blue" first, if you try to talk about the red, white, and blue in French, they will usually stop with a slightly confused look on their faces and correct you. It just sounds so very wrong.

Jul 11, 2015

First Time for Everything Under the Sun: Chèvre du Montot


In a world of seven billion people, with thousands of years of recorded history, it's hard to be the first at anything. But I'd like to think that Gigi and her friend are the first, in the 850 year history of the cathedral, and, frankly, in the history of the world, to operate a roving lemonade stand in front of Notre Dame.

Jul 7, 2015

Some Like it Hot (But Most Don't): Brie de Nangis


We're havin' a heatwave, a tropical heatwave. In the middle of Paris. It feels more like we're in the middle of Rio de Janeiro, frankly, though that might also be the effect of the Carnaval Parade dancing its way through our neighborhood. Some of the skimpier outfits seem appropriate, even on the streets of Paris, when the thermometer hits 40°C -- 104°F, that is. If only it weren't for all those hot feathers, I might start walking around Paris like this, too.


Jul 3, 2015

Pride and Prider: Fontenille


It's great timing for the Paris Pride Parade (and the one in San Francisco, too) this year, coming right on the heels (yes, the high heels) of the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage throughout the United States. If you can't remember which justices were on which side, I offer you this mnemonic device: Those who voted against were RATS (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia).


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