Dec 19, 2018

Tanks for Nothing: Gabiétou


I'm not going to tell you the news any better than the major news outlets can, but I can just tell you  the stories from my friends in France. The mood is, as you can imagine, bleak. It's not been helped by the fact that the weather the past couple weeks in Paris (and France in general) has also been bleak -- dark, cloudy, rainy, cold. Add to that cars burning in the streets, protesters building barricades, riots, injuries, looting, graffiti, a center-city lockdown, and now a terrorist shooting in Strasbourg on top of it all, and you'll understand my Parisian friends' gloominess. The photos of tanks on Paris city streets are, simply, surreal.

Nov 28, 2018

Maltese Days & Knights: Pecura Corsa


"Napoleon Bonaparte slept here" may not be the most unique thing a Mediterranean port of call could claim, but at least it's a small claim to French heritage. Such is the case for Malta, the tiny nation of three islands (Malta, Gozo, and Comino) at a very strategic spot in the Mediterranean -- between the northern tip of Africa and Italy, basically standing guard at the narrowest point between the eastern and western halves of the sea. Napoleon's forces occupied the small nation for two years, and since then it's mostly been under British rule/protection or, more recently, independent, but some of the effects of that two-year occupation can still be seen.

Nov 13, 2018

Angélique -- Lover and Fighter: Saint Angel


My French friend is about as shocked to learn that I've never heard of Angélique, Marquise des Anges, as I would be if she told me she'd never heard of The Sound of Music (which she has) or The Brady Bunch (which she hasn't). You grow up thinking certain cultural references are universal, then realize that's only true within your own, limited universe. But if you were alive in the '60s and '70s (and pretty much since then, too) in France, then you're part of the universe that knows about this classic TV movie-series.

photo from: https://actu.orange.fr/societe/people/article-5-secrets-sur-la-saga-angelique-marquise-des-anges-CNT000000zPpje.html

Oct 31, 2018

Good Things Come to an End (But Not This Blog): Tomme de Corrèze


Is it true that all good things must eventually go the way of the bidet, the beret, and the street-corner mime? Not everything, but certainly, there seem to be a lot of sad endings in France recently.

Oct 16, 2018

Embracing the Fog: Tome du Ségala


Having tasted somewhere around 700-800 French cheeses by this point, it's tempting to be snarky about attending the annual San Francisco Cheesefest. It's not France, after all. And at this point, I'm pretty hard to impress. But I have to admit that I am impressed by a couple of the cheeses and, even more, by the sincerity and passion evident everywhere.

Aug 22, 2018

South of the Border: Abbaye de Belloc


As you approach the Belgian border, you'll notice a certain Belge-ifying of the architecture and even the language. In Alsace and Lorraine, as you approach the German border, you'll notice not just the change in architecture, building colors, and names of towns but also how Germanic the food becomes. But head down to the Spanish border and it's as if France comes to a dead end, with nothing south of the border.

Aug 8, 2018

Saumur is Set in Stone: Lochois


Saumur, a small city out past the Loire Valley in the department of Maine-et-Loire in the region of Pays de la Loire, is famous for several things: One is the beautiful reflection of the city over the Loire River. Another is the history -- and there's a lot of it. And you can't hear about Saumur without hearing about tuffeau (also sometimes spelled tufeau) or limestone.

Jul 25, 2018

Temple of Reason: Tomme de Chartreux


In today's episode of "things in history you never heard of before," I bring to you the Temple of Reason, which was the place of "worship" in the Cult of Reason, which was supposed to replace Christianity (and organized religion in general) in France in the 18th century. You've probably never heard of the Cult of Reason, but you've certainly heard of the most famous Temple of Reason...

Jul 11, 2018

The Big Cheese: La Grosse Tomme


This is a story of big cheeses, not just one but five: two big cheeses that are actually cheeses, and three big cheeses that are "merely" generals, presidents, and founding fathers. And they're all related and tied in to this time of year, July, which is the month both France and the United States celebrate their revolutions.

Jun 27, 2018

Lolita Complex -- Not So Complex: Tomme du Fédou


You've probably got the wrong idea about sex in France. The truth of the matter is less, well, sexy than what you imagine. That is to say, it's not all wild abandon and mistresses and promiscuity, no matter how much the movies and jokes -- and occasional politicians -- embody that. I'm not sure whether this proves or disproves my point, but the French even have a new law, introducing for the first time in the country's history a legal age of sexual consent.

Jun 12, 2018

Of Corset: La Miche Gavotte


The tortured history of French dresses is, let's face it, mostly tortured because of the corset. However, it's also partly due to the paniers -- those enormous hips created under the ball gowns -- as well as the bustles behind. And yet, no matter how god-awful they must have been to wear, my girls and I continue to fantasize about them, and "ooh" and "aah" each time we see one.

May 24, 2018

Madeleine/Madeline: Géromé


Sure, macarons may be trendier, but if there is one simple sweet treat the French love to eat in droves, it's madeleines, a ubiquitous cookie-cake eaten by -- according to my estimates -- 61% of children as an after school snack on any given school day. (The other 39% are eating pain au chocolat.)

May 2, 2018

Paris, Paris Everywhere: Crottin de Pays


The world's most famous Paris, after Paris itself that is, has to be Paris in Las Vegas, thanks to the half-sized Eiffel Tower, and to the millions of pleasure-seeking visitors. My motto for the Paris tower and casino: Half as Tall, Twice as Tacky. Actually it's much more than twice as tacky -- you can bet on it.

Apr 18, 2018

What Time is It? Cheese O'Clock: Le Cendré Fermier


Now that most watches and clocks are digital, analog watches with their big and little hands are practically relics of the past. Until, of course, you compare them with actual relics of the past, ancient timekeepers -- sundials. There are plenty of these around France, and even in the heart of Paris itself. You really can't set your watch by them (and no need to set your phone as it is syncing automatically, of course), but you can at least count on them to be fascinating.

Apr 1, 2018

Emma-ma-ma-Marianne: Le Volcanique


Emma-ma-ma-Marianne. It sounds like a lyric in a rock song of two names colliding. Actually it's two images colliding in my head -- two young women who stand as symbols: American Emma Gonzalez, the Parkland student symbolizing a movement whose image is everywhere, and Marianne, the French symbol of liberty whose image is...everywhere. Here, for example, a piece by street artist Obey (real name Shepard Fairey) hangs in l'Elysée, home of French President Macron.

Mar 14, 2018

What's Lacking: Crémeux des Cîteaux


Though English remains our family language, we find after so many years of parler français, that there are certain French words and phrases we miss and can no longer quite express in English. Ironically, one of the words I'm annoyed I cannot express when I'm not speaking French is "dépaysement" (literally "being out of country") or that feeling of being someplace exotic and away from home. Which for me, at this point, is virtually everywhere I ever am (in Paris, I'm dépaysée, but also in San Francisco. It's either all "home" or all "exotic" to me!).

Feb 14, 2018

All Dressed Up and Snow Place To Go: Flocon de Savoie


It's been all over the news, and all over the ground: snow in Paris. My friend complained of a 739km traffic jam coming home from a ski vacation. Another complained that because so much of Paris' public transportation was paralyzed, they had to walk 4km, at night, with children, dragging ski luggage in the snow, in order to get home. Meanwhile, in Tahoe, the ski grounds of Northern California, my friends complain there's virtually no precipitation and temperatures around 60°F (that's 16°C) in the middle of winter.

Jan 31, 2018

Out of Time: Coup de Corne


To live in Paris is to live, always, a little anachronistically. There is so much old, juxtaposed against modern life. Nothing proves this point better than this sign:

Jan 18, 2018

Give Us This Day Our Day-Old Bread: Raclette Fumée


When my aunt visits Paris, she goes out to breakfast at her fancy hotel and asks for something that is not listed on the menu but that she feels certain she can obtain in France: French toast. To a Frenchman hearing these words, this means French bread (that is, baguette) toasted. This is easily done; however, it is not at all what she wants. No amount of her translating the words "French toast" into the French language can make the waiter understand that she does not want toast from French bread. What she wants, in French, is not "French toast" at all; it's "pain perdu" which literally means "lost bread."

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