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


I think it's Albanian language in which 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.

Mar 31, 2017

Shield Your Family: Gueule d'Amour


The Chateau Fontaine-Henry is really into their family crests, and a visit there gets me thinking. What would our family crest be? The tradition of blazons -- heraldry, shields, crests, coats of arms -- goes back to medieval ages, and possibly beyond. Each color, symbol, and even sometimes the shape has meaning. It's like a language you just haven't learned.

Mar 24, 2017

Curiosity (Almost) Killed the Castle: Le Bajocasse


This is really part 3 of a series on superlative castles: deepest moat (Breze), tallest castle (Brissac), and now the tallest roof in France at Fontaine-Henry. It doesn't seem like it would be a real statistic, but when you see the building, you'll understand. It's like a Mansard roof on steroids. The roof takes up half the building, height-wise. It's not the only charming thing about this castle, which is called a Normand "jewel". And yes, curiosity almost killed this castle.


Mar 17, 2017

Hot Tin Roof: Tomme de Carayac


The city of Paris has asked for its rooftops to be considered a Unesco World Heritage site. And why not? They certainly are something special. Between the Mansard roofs, the tin roofs, the orange chimneys/vents, the dormer windows, the slate tiles, and the oddball shapes and angles, it's hard to mistake this cityscape for anywhere but Paris.

Mar 10, 2017

All Aboard the Bike Train: Brie à la Truffe


Instead of dismantling those old train tracks, why not put them to good use? Thanks to an amazingly vast train network -- and one that has been consistently modernized -- there are old tracks around France that have been turned into Vélorail ("vélo" meaning "bike"). Ours departs from the Pont de Coudray in the Calvados area of Normandy and arrives at the Pont de Brie.

Mar 3, 2017

The Shiny Belly of Paris: Peralous


This is what Les Halles used to be: a market with every food of the season brought into the heart of Paris sold to a seething mass of humanity. Emile Zola famously described is as the belly of Paris, because it was know for all the dirt and vermin that come with a huge old market, and all the vice and crime that come with seething masses of humanity. Zola did not, evidently, have high regard for bellies.

Feb 24, 2017

The Highest Heights: Laïous


After going down, down, down to the deepest moat in Europe, now I take you up to the tallest castle in France: the Château de Brissac. It also happens to be Gigi's favorite castle in Europe, and that's really saying something, because she's generally claims to suffer from a serious case of castle burn-out. In this case, it's not actually the height that impresses her, it's the history.

Feb 17, 2017

Deep Moat: Le P'tit Azay


Château de Brézé could be just another castle except for one profound difference, literally profound. It's a medieval castle with what is purported to be the deepest dry moat in Europe. And the moat is not just a channel dug around the castle; it's its own labyrinthine fortress with caverns, tunnels, staircases, bridges, ovens, wine presses, horse stables, and living quarters. It has at one time been a wine cellar, silk work farm, bakery, and military barracks.  Its tagline: Château de Brézé, A Château under a Château.

Feb 10, 2017

Can't Beat That Sweet Treat: Kaïkou


Fluffy sugary things. You can't beat that. Or, rather, not only can you beat that, you must beat that, because that's how sugar gets so fluffy in the first place. The French make their sugar go further, stretching it (sometimes literally) with egg whites and other ingredients to come up with three very French, very sweet treats: guimauves (like marshmallows), nougat, and meringue. Just so you know, I don't love any of them.

Feb 3, 2017

Libraries vs. Librairies: Bouca


The rest of the world can go on their Kindles and iPhones, but the French still like good, old-fashioned books. Sometimes old-fashioned to the point of antique.

The French celebrate books and writers and poets and philosopher-poets and philosopher-writers like Americans honor athletes and war heroes. As somebody who loves a good book, it just makes me love the French more. A chicken in every pot? More like a bookstore on every corner.

Jan 27, 2017

Five A's that I Give an F: Pommeau


The Friendly Association of Authentic Andouillette Lovers (known in French as the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique -- or better yet, AAAAA or 5A) will clearly beg to differ with me, but authentic 5A andouillette is the closest thing to a teenage boy's gym sock that I ever want to smell or eat. And I'm a person who eats maggot-covered stinky French cheese for fun.

Jan 20, 2017

They Got Us Covered: Chavroux


It takes so little for my daughters to be punk and rebellious here in France: a little temporary dye in their hair, ripped jeans, a cropped top that shows a belly button. Sacré bleu! So racy! Let's play a game: How many French school dress-code violations can you spot in this photo?

Jan 13, 2017

The Pagentry of Tapestry: Le Petit Saint Roch


By pure accident, I have now seen several of the most famous, most beautiful tapestries in the world. Is it any wonder that France created and houses so many of these treasures? It seems like a fancy tapestry kind of place. Or, more accurately, places: several of the great houses for manufacturing tapestries in history were Aubusson, Beauvais (where you can still have tapestries made today), and the most famous of all, right around the corner from me in Paris, Manufacture des Gobelins.

Jan 6, 2017

In a Lather About Lather: Le Causse Méjean


The city of Aleppo's good name has been dragged through the mud recently, which is ironic because this formerly-beautiful city is closely connection with something that cleans mud really well. It's where one of the sweetest-smelling, cleanest French traditions arose: savon de Marseille, or Marseille soap. This French classic is based on Aleppo soap, an ancient tradition of olive oil, laurels, water, and ash.

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