Dec 24, 2017

The Heming-way: Domaine du Velay


Reading Hemingway's 1923 essay "Christmas on the Roof of the World," written when he was a 24-year old correspondent for the Toronto Star, makes me feel like I should write something about Christmas in Paris. Or, at least, something about Hemingway in Paris. Or, perhaps, a little of both.

Dec 7, 2017

Laughing yellow: Tomme du Pic de la Calabasse


Given the news and the state of the world, I think it's high time you learn the expression "rire jaune" which means, literally, "to laugh yellow." It's used to describe a forced, hollow laugh, the kind where you're laughing on the outside while crying on the inside. That laugh we do when watching the talk show hosts joke about current events, because they're funny, but it's rather tragic at the same time.

Nov 29, 2017

A Sporting Chance: Galet de Bigorre


I would need to take a big breath to rattle off the list of the things I would do to improve French schools, if it were up to me. But one thing I think the French do absolutely right is the sports class. Starting in primary school and all the way up till high school graduation, they have physical education classes for the kids. Not only do they devote a significant amount of time to this (a couple hours per week or so, depending on the age), they take the opportunity to expose the kids to an incredibly wide variety of activities.

Nov 1, 2017

Ye Olde Shoppe: Délice du Bocain


In a little town in central France called Doué-la-Fontaine sits the Musée aux Anciens Commerces, which is roughly the Museum of Old-Time Stores, ranging from 1850-1950. Naturally, because this is France, the museum itself, which has been open since 1992, is housed in an old-timey building -- 18th century horse stables from the Château des Basses Minières, a castle that no longer exists, except for some basement/foundations.

Oct 25, 2017

Butter Fly: Metsi


Watch the butter fly off the shelves: It's the worst butter shortage in France since World War II. For the past couple weeks, the butter shelves at supermarkets throughout the country have been getting emptier and emptier. And the emptying process seems to be speeding up as people start to stockpile butter in their freezers. After all, Christmas isn't that far away.

Sep 29, 2017

More Than I Bargained For: Le Chèvre Fleur


I ask the woman at the counter for a little of this chocolate, a little of that, some milk with caramelized almonds, some dark with raspberry. It costs 5.5 (about $6) per 100g. When she is holding a few pieces, I ask her, "Is that 100g?" She makes a face and shakes her head in a gesture that means clearly and emphatically "Non!"

Sep 22, 2017

Social Climbers: Fontiennois


When Pippa sits next to one of France's top gymnasts, she's excited to meet one of the best in the country. When Anthony climbs next to some of France's top rock climbers (the women's and men's national teams have worked out at his climbing gym), he's excited to be climbing near some of the best in the world. This is one of the few areas where the French really excel on the world stage.

Sep 15, 2017

That Old Chestnut: Vache de Chalais


It's that time of year again -- for chestnuts, roasting on an open shopping cart. It's also the time of year for marrons confits or marrons glacés, both of which are ways of saying candied chestnuts. They're very sweet (very), very festive, and very French.

Sep 8, 2017

Collection Collectors: Cabrinou


To own just one Picasso, one Monet, one Modigliani is a pretty unattainable dream for most of us. So it's pretty jaw-dropping when you realize how certain people have managed to amass extensive collections of hundreds, even thousands, of some of the world's greatest works of art. Luckily for the rest of us, the French government has managed to collect several of these collectors and their collections.

Sep 1, 2017

Sadistic Site: Cellier


I love that after even five years in France -- five years of pretty intensive trying-to-see-everything -- there are still surprises. And big ones. Really massive ones. Like the Château de Vincennes, which I had never visited, despite the fact that it's a short metro ride away, at the edge of Paris, just minutes from Anthony's office. Turns out, it's chock full of history and only slightly sadistic as a place to bring castle-weary children.

Aug 25, 2017

Frog in My Throat: Morvan


Let's jump right into it: Why are the French sometimes called "Frogs" -- both lovingly and disparagingly? There seem to be as many reasons as there are, well, frogs in a pond. But the most likely has something to do with the frogs the French eat.

Aug 18, 2017

English Forgetting: Gour Blanc


I cry out dramatically when squirted in the eye by an orange I'm cutting. Gigi comes rushing in and I I tell her, "I've been attacked by my orange!" She sighs, "Oh Mom, I thought it was a real misery that happened to you." Which is an approximate translation of what she was evidently thinking in French, which is "J'ai cru qu'un vrai misère t'es arrivé" (literally: "I believed that a real misery arrived to you"). As I flail about dramatically with acid eating through my eyeball, we laugh at how unnatural her sentence sounds. It's not French, but it sure ain't English.

Aug 11, 2017

Calling Georgia O'Keeffe: Kapelu


A trip to the outdoor French market has the potential to be not just more fun than a trip to the supermarket, but much funnier, too. Here are some tomatoes that are saucy even when they're raw. And how very raw they are.

Aug 4, 2017

Tower Power: Brossauthym


Despite what every photograph, souvenir, and marketing brochure would have you believe, Paris is not just the Eiffel Tower. It's not even just the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame towers. There are many towers, looming large around the city. One even dwarfs the Eiffel Tower (in height, not beauty). So today I bring you a tour de tours -- a tour of towers, that is.

Jul 28, 2017

Your New Favorite King: Tomme au Vin Jaune


The Good King René, Roi René 1er d'Anjou, René 1er de Naples, is not just your favorite new king, he's also your favorite new Count of Guise, Duke of Bar, Duke Consort of Lorraine, Duke of Anjou, Count of Provence and Forcalquier, Count of Piémont, Count of Barcelona, titular King of Jerusalem, titular King of Sicily, titular King of Aragon, and Marquis of Pont-à-Mousson. He's also one of the biggest proponents of wine and wine-making in France's history -- maybe that's why his subjects called him The Good King René.

Jul 21, 2017

Straight Shooter: Boursault


My husband doesn't mince words; you might say he's a straight shooter. For example, he doesn't mince words when it comes to my photography, when he teases me for not being such a straight shooter. That is, I have a distinct tendency to lean slightly to the left (true for my politics as well as my photographs). Thank goodness for photoshop, where I can often straighten the problem out. But not always, because sometimes I swear the problem is not me, it's the old French buildings.

Jul 14, 2017

Colossal and Great: Cosne de Port Aubry


On this, the day of the Republic, the day of Democracy, what better story than one about the most Greek of Paris' buildings, and one dedicated to the French greats who have influenced the modern, secular nation? It's appropriate that the word Panthéon comes from the Greek and means "All the Gods" because inside this old church is the resting place of many legendary greats who are worshipped in France.

Jul 7, 2017

Oh, Canada: Tomme de Cidre


I've talked about the American connection to Normandy and World War II many times, and with great pride and awe. But what about our neighbors to the North? On our most recent visit to the Normandy coast, we take some time to honor Canadians, starting at the Centre Juno Beach, which was the invasion beach tackled by the Canadians -- perhaps less famous than Omaha Beach but still plenty bloody.

Jun 30, 2017

Bridging the City: Pont d'Yeu


If there's one thing that really ties this city together, it's the bridges that punctuate the Seine from one end of Paris to the other. The River that Runs Through It may be the star of the movie, but the best way to get up close and personal to her is to get on The Bridge that Runs Across It.

Jun 23, 2017

A Pox On You: Vacher Vendéen


When Pippa erupts with a few itchy bumps on her face, just days before she's supposed to go visit a friend, we worry. Could it be chicken pox? In the US, that may sound unlikely and rare. But in France, it's really rather common. While there is no noticeable rabid, vocal, defiant anti-vaxxer movement here in France (in the same way that it's a traditionally very Catholic country, yet every school teaches evolution -- they simply accept scientific truths), the one thing they don't believe in vaccinating for is the chicken pox.

Jun 16, 2017

Pull up a Chair: Pottok


At the Jardin du Luxembourg, Luxembourg Park, in the heart of Paris, the first thing you generally notice is the Senat building. That's pretty natural, considering the park is the grounds of the former palace of Marie de Medici, King Henry IV's widow, which is now used as the French Senate building. But the more time you spend here, in and out of seasons, the more you discover the park's hidden treasures.

Jun 9, 2017

Crazy, Not Crazy: Le Gratte Paille


This is a story about Puy du Fou, which seems like it would mean "Water Well of the Crazy Person" except that in this case "fou" does not mean "crazy". Puy du Fou, in the old local Vendée dialect, means "Hill of the Beech Tree." It is neither a hill, nor a tree. It's a theme park, with no rides. An amusement park, for education. Many people, especially non-French, might think we're crazy for wanting to go an educational theme park that has no rides. And we are crazy. Crazy for history.

Jun 2, 2017

Wine Not?: Tomme Alsace Affinée aux Fleurs


When you are invited to a French person's house for a dinner party, you should not show up empty handed. I'm here to tell you that there is a reason there are so many gorgeous florists all around France, in cities, in the country, and at markets. It's because flowers are the hostess gift of choice. If you're American, you may want to show up with a bottle of wine in hand: Don't.

May 26, 2017

All My Boozy Cheeses: Petit Pont Cidre


For something new and fun, I'm writing about cheese...and getting paid for it. But there was just one thing about my article in Wine Enthusiast about alcohol-rubbed cheeses that rubbed me the wrong way: I couldn't include all the cheeses I wanted! The French have always been a little inventive with their liquor (and their cheese).

May 19, 2017

Priced Out in Paris: Tomme Caussenarde


In a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, I read that it is more expensive to live in Paris (#5 on the list) than in London (#6), New York (#7), and San Francisco (not even in the top ten, though Los Angeles is tied for #8 with Seoul and Copenhagen).

May 12, 2017

Wild Elephants Couldn't Make Me: Sauvaget Cendré


And now, for part II of the story of Les Machines de L'Ile, I present you the biggest part of the story, in every sense of the word. Three story-high roving mechanical elephants. Did you know such things existed? Could you ever have imagined seeing -- or riding in -- one of these?

May 5, 2017

Wildly Imaginative: Sauvaget


You know those moments (and election seasons) that make you simply despair for humanity? Well, a visit to Les Machines de l'Ile in Nantes is the antidote to that. It's a testament to the best in humanity: creativity, wonder, joy, innovation.

Plus, now I get to say that I've actually seen with my own two eyes my baby being flown to be in a stork's basket (OK, it's a heron, but still).

Apr 28, 2017

Tastes Like Chicken: Palouze des Aravis


Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In this story, it's the egg, but not a regular egg. Then it's the chicken, which isn't real chicken. So when is an egg not just a regular egg? When your French friend serves you quails' eggs for breakfast. They taste pretty much just like chicken eggs, though the shells are a whole lot prettier.

And as for that chicken: the French enjoy not merely chicken but rather a plethora of poultry; they feast on fowl; they binge on birds. Yes, they mostly taste like chicken.

If you're squeamish about your meats, then menus here are a minefield of chickens that are not chicken. You'll often see "volaille" used interchangeably as "chicken", though it really means "poultry." So be on the lookout for "Suprême de Volaille" on a menu, which is chicken breast, plain and simple. But probably not plain, because this is France. So almost certainly served in a sauce. When you buy chicken breasts raw, they are called "blanc de poulet" (literally "white of chicken").

You can also get nice, plump chicken breasts as part of your poularde, that is, fattened chicken.

There's duck of course: both confit de canard (essentially fried duck leg and thigh) or magret de canard (sliced duck breast). You will also see "canette" (duckling) on the menu and in the regular poultry isle of the grocery store. "Canette" also means a drink can, so you might see it on the menu in the beverages section, too. But you'll never see "Suprême de canard". Only chicken breasts reign supreme.

They do sell turkey (dinde) here in France, which is always nice for Americans as we come up on Thanksgiving. But more often than turkey, you'll find "caille" or "pintade" on menus, at butchers, and even in Picard, the frozen food store.

These are not considered exotic foods but rather other, perfectly acceptable, normal versions of poultry to enjoy. Pigeon is a little rarer (I mean less common, not less cooked) but still available in fine restaurants.

The finest French restaurants used to serve the infamous dish "ortolan" (a bunting), a tiny songbird that one ate cooked -- bones, beak, head and all -- until it was banned because the species was becoming endangered. When I say "one ate" I mean someone else ate, because it may taste like chicken, but you wouldn't catch me near it. I'll stick with chicken.

Even among chickens, you can get it right, or you can cock it up. You know that famous French dish "Coq au Vin"? We usually translate it as "chicken in wine sauce," but in fact the word "coq" means "rooster" and it used to indeed be made with rooster -- tougher and darker but supposedly more flavorful than the hens we usually eat. And that is one of the reasons it was stewed slowly in wine sauce, to break down the tough meat.

Older French people, especially those who grew up on farms eating true Coq au Vin lament that the stuff we eat nowadays doesn't come close for flavor. It's hard to imagine how different one chicken could be from another chicken, given that all the birds that aren't even chicken at all taste a lot like...chicken.

Your guide to volaille (poultry):

caille = quail
canard = duck
canette = duckling
coq = rooster
coquelet = young cockerel, baby rooster
dinde = Turkey (so a Turkey from India would be a dinde d'Inde)
orolon = bunting / song bird (now illegal to eat in France)
pigeon = pigeon
pintade = guinea fowl
poularde = fattened chicken
poule = hen
poulet = chicken
poulet de Cornouailles (or poulet Cornish) = Cornish game hen, which you'll never find in France
volaille = poultry, but often used synonymously with chicken

THE CHEESE: Palouze des Aravis

Palouze des Aravis is a farmhouse, raw cows' milk cheese that comes from the Aravis area of the Alps. In the local, traditional dialect, "palouze" is a hard disk, which sums up the shape pretty well. In fact, the particular specimen I find is a slightly fatter disk than usual. Usually, the disks are the height of a focaccia, whereas mine is almost fluffy like a two-layer cake. But the outside is pure Palouse des Aravis: gray, thick, dried-out crust that looks like a boulder.

It's a summer cheese, meaning the milk comes from the cows who are spending their summers grazing on the green hills in the mountains. You can certainly buy it beyond the summer season, however, because it's aged at least 5-6 months. This a great example of how historically cheese was a way of preserving milk and summer flavors for the cold winter months. You can imagine milking the cows in the July, getting all sorts of grass, herb, and flower flavors in the milk, then enjoying the cheese in the freezing cold of February.

The milk is uncooked, then the cheese is pressed to eliminate a lot of the liquids. That beautiful crust is washed only once at the beginning of the aging process, then allowed to dry out, toughen up, and develop natural molds.

The exterior belies what's inside. While a Palouze des Aravis certainly can be super aged and dried out (getting thinner as it goes, generally), mine is still plump and moist. For a hard cheese, that is. There's a hint of creaminess as it warms up in the mouth. The flavor is buttery and sunny, with some of those classic sweet, nutty, grassy hints of a good mountain cow cheese. It's got character but is by no means a super powerful or stinky cheese.


This connection is a very big stretch, because this cheese tastes nothing like chicken. But at the very least, in a kind of anagram-ish way, you can at least use the letters of Palouze to spell out "poule" meaning "hen". Yes, that's honestly the reason I chose this cheese. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Apr 21, 2017

Smells Good: Carré de Vinage


Sometimes, something can be right under your nose, and you won't even notice: for example, the Fragonard perfume museum in Paris, on a gorgeous little alley right near the Opera, where I've been countless times.Yet my path to get to this museum was circuitous, in that it took a young Princeton alumni moving to Paris to study perfumery, reading my blog, and contacting me in order for me to hear about it. But now that I do know, Paris (and my world) will never quite smell the same.

Apr 14, 2017

Keeping It in the Family: Belle-Mère


In the Albanian language (or so I am told...), a brother-in-law that is your sister's husband is not the same word as a brother-in-law who is your husband's brother. That makes sense to me, because they're different relationships, so why should they have the same name? English always seems to have a deficit of relationship names. Well, it turns out, French is even worse.

Apr 7, 2017

Pretty City, Sometimes Witty: Le Saint Mont des Alpes


My grandfather would have said, "You seen one town, you seen 'em all." And that's true if you're looking at this bunch of towns' signs, for they all say Montreal. This tiny little village in Burgundy is one of seven Montreals in France, part of the Association of Montreals of France. Not only is it not the only Montreal, it's not the only town association, either. There's also the Most Beautiful Villages of France, Little Towns of Character, and let's not forget Towns with Raunchy Names.

Montreal in the department of Yonne (Burgundy area) is a charming place that dates back to medieval times, much of it built in the 11th through 13th centuries. It's hard to say which is the oldest of all the Montreals, but it's easy to say which one is not the oldest, and that's the biggest and most famous one you're thinking of in Canada.


Like Montreal in Canada, it's got a heavily Catholic history. The Notre Dame in this Montreal is considered one of the town medieval architectural gems, called out by the famous French Reniassance architect Violett-le-Duc.


This particular Montreal is closely linked with 16th century French King Francois I, which explains this salamander -- his royal symbol.

There is an organization for Petites Cités de Caractère -- Small Towns with Character -- such as Apremont in the Vendée. They're not kidding, by the way; just like the villages on the Most Beautiful Villages of France list (not one of which has ever disappointed me in the slightest), these little towns are carefully selected and are, indisputably, charming.


Cabourg, a small town on the Normandy coast, is very proud to be part of an association, or two, or five. There's the Flowered Villages, FamilyPlus (Destinations for Children and Adults), Internet City 2015, Lions International, and Golden Flower 2013.

Though I am a sucker for the charm of all these hand-picked small towns, my favorite association of cities may just be the Association of French Villages with Raunchy and Singing Names (Association des Communes de France aux Noms Burlesque et Chantants), which had 38 member towns as of last count. The list includes:
  • Arnac (sounds like arnaque, which means Scam), Arnac la Poste (Scamming the Post Office), and Saint Arnac (St. Scam)
  • Bèze (sounds like baiser, which means to f**k)
  • Coubisou (Neck-kiss)
  • Bouzillé (sounds like bousiller, which means to screw up)
  • Corps-Nuds (Naked-Bodies)
  • Monteton (My Nipple)
  • Saint Barbant (Saint Boring)
  • Vinsobres (sounds like Sober Wine)
  • Trécon (sounds like Very Idiotic)
  • Poil (Hairy, also slang for Naked)
  • Les Léches (the Lickers)
  • Longcochon (Long Pig)
  • Beaufou (Handsome Crazy)
This one is not raunchy, and not part of any association that I can tell, but I find it a pretty interesting name, especially for a town in Normandy. Since "Guerre" means "War", first you are in War and then, since it's a tiny town, after just a very brief interval, you are out of War. All Wars should be this way.


In this same spirit in Paris, you can look up at the street signs. Here are my favorite pair of street names: the Rue des Mauvais Garcons (Street of the Bad Boys), and the Rue des Bons Enfants (Street of the Good Children). Not surprisingly, they never intersect.


THE CHEESE: Le Saint Mont des Alpes

Le Saint Mont des Alpes is a hard mountain cheese made from raw milk from Tarine or Abondance cows in the department of Savoie. It was originally made by a smaller coop but in 2013 was purchased by Monts et Terroirs, larger coop created in 1954 and now part of an even larger French dairy coop that owns the brands of Yoplait and Candia. They also own the brand Entremont, and you will sometimes find Le Saint Mont des Alpes under both brand names: Entremont and Monts & Terroirs.

It's a smooth hard cheese that is almost crumbly, but not quite. It's a mild mountain cheese, with sweet hints of nuts and grass. Le Saint Mont des Alpes has won several medals, over many years at various contests, and most recently a gold in 2016. But it's not the kind of cheese that hits you over the head with flavor and character. It's a mild, and mildly sweet, cheese and can often be found in grocery stores.


The cheese is not a royal mountain -- a mont real -- but at least it's a sacred, sainted mountain -- a saint mont. The one I buy is made by Monts & Terroirs (Mountains & Territories), but it's also made by EntreMont (BetweenMountains). The nearest Montreal of France is not far away, in the department of Ain.

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