Friday, January 28, 2011


La Défense is not an entry-level venue for tourists to Paris, but on occasion a stroll along its vast elevated esplanade with suspended gardens and some 60 sculptures and works of art is indicated. Paris' major business quarter is also Europe's largest purpose-built business district. Most Parisian high-rise buildings--containing more that 3 million square meters of office space-- are grouped in this zone.

A favorite photographer's backdrop  on the esplanade is Raymond Moretti's (1931-2005) Cheminée, a 30-meter high sculptured tower of concrete and fiberglass tubes that conceals a ventilation shaft.

Text & photos ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I'm taking a break from doing grocery shopping and at the same time testing a fresh farmers' produce delivery system. The big plus is that my weekly carton of seasonal fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs and meats are organically grown by small producers. Another is that not shopping leaves more free time to chop all of those vegetables.

Salade mâche fresh from the grower. Wonderful
with cubed red beets and vinaigrette.
What I especially like (besides the fact that the delivery man wears a necktie) is probably what others would especially dislike: abdicating food choice decisions. (This is the closest I'll ever come to being in a mean reality-tv cooking show predicament.) 

The online outfit which currently has my business--there are several and I'd like to try as many as possible--allows its clients to delete and replace food items from a pre-composed list. But I don't bother. I make two simple decisions: first choose from which region I want the terroir produce, either the Pays de Loire or Provence; and second what size box, i.e., quantity of food, I want. Two clicks and a week's worth of healthy surprises are delivered to my door. 

Simple and good recipes using the main ingredients of the week are thoughtfully tucked into the carton. Une aubaine.

Vocabulary lesson
Faire des courses: to do some shopping; to run errands
Terroir: terrain of geographical zone considered in relation to agriculture; e.g., the particular growing conditions coupled with man's know-how affect the taste and quality of terroir products
Salade mâche: lambs' lettuce (as opposed to lambs' quarters which is a different plant); corn salad
Aubaine: unhoped for advantage; godsend

Look for this government approval label when shopping for organic foods in France.

Text & photo ©2011 P.B.Lecron

Monday, January 24, 2011


Sad news for mariniers and riverains on the Canal du Midi. Two thousand platanes--some of which are bicentenaries--are being cut down along its banks in an effort to curb a rapidly spreading and mortal fungal tree disease. Authorities say the fungus, ceratocystis platani commonly known as chancre coloré du platane, was undoubtedly imported to the south of France from the United States during WWII via wooden munition crates. France's Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) has determined that neither chemical nor biological treatment can halt the fungus which kills a healthy platane within two to five years. The INRA estimates that nearly 50,000 platanes have already perished in France alone since the fungus was accidentally introduced; platanes in Italy, Switzerland and southern Greece have also been menaced by the disease.

Reports are that the plane trees will be replaced by a broader diversity of trees to lessen the risk of  another large-scale devastation wiping out an entire monoculture.

The good news is that researchers at the INRA have created a hybrid variety of platane,  Vallis clausa, or platanor which resists the deadly fungus.

 Click on the images to enlarge more of my favorite photos of platanes taken on a barge trip on the Canal du Midi, below.

Plane trees reflected in the Canal du Midi.

Like an Impressionist's dream.

Along the chemin d'halage.

Vocabulary lesson
Marinier: bargeman
Marin d'eau douce:  landlubber (perjorative)
Riverain: riverside or riparian property owners
Platane: plane tree
Chancre coloré du platane: colored canker stain of plane tree
Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique: National Institute of Agronomical Research
Chemin d'halage: towpath along the bank; horses and men walking along the banks once pulled the barges to advance them along the canal. These are now favorite paths used by bicyclists and walkers.

For more about the amazing Canal du Midi, the grande dame of European canals and a UNESCO world heritage site turned vacationing barger's paradise, click here.

Text & photos © P.B.Lecron

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Politeness makes man appear outwardly as he should be within
I didn't pay attention to the middle-aged couple huddled in a corner with their backs turned to me--until they approached me from behind and the man said with panache, "Ne bougez pas, madame." (Don't move, madam.)

Scrapbook snapshot from way back when.
This was in my early days in France on a Sunday morning in the underground parking garage of a pied-à-terre apartment. I scarcely knew any of the neighbors so hadn't given the man and woman a second thought as I hunted for something in the car trunk we had forgotten to take upstairs.

What in the world and could this be happening to me, I asked myself. At least he had used the customary polite address "madame."  (Arsène Lupin, the gentleman cambrioleur, a well-loved burglar in French literature, was being immortalized at the time in a television series, Le Retour d'Arsène Lupin--The Return of Arsène Lupin.) I felt a rush of power, reared up and turned to face them. "Je vous demande pardon?"

That must have done the trick. The woman rolled her eyes as the man hesitantly said he wanted to know where I had bought the triangular reflective warning sign mounted on the interior of the trunk's hood. Likely story, I thought as I explained it was simply a built-in feature. We parted ways uneasily with ersatz salutations.

Nothing untoward happened so I'll never know whether if by turning around I had foiled non-violent would-be car thieves who didn't want to be identified from making off with the berline, or if the man was simply an oaf who didn't know better than to approach a lone woman from behind in a parking garage and brandish hold-up lingo.

A well-placed polite term can go a long way
Needless to say, never underestimate the power of politeness. All the tips and do's and don'ts directed toward people visiting or staying in France say the same thing: the French generally place high importance on being polite and using good manners. Indeed, being pleasant and polite in all circumstances helps people be well-accepted in most places. The greater the socioculture difference, the greater the need for politeness.

Jean de la Bruyère
Deciphering codes of conduct
Great 17th century satiric moralist and literary stylist Jean de la Bruyère wrote in his masterpiece, Les Caractères ou les Moeurs de ce Siècle, "La politesse n'inspire pas toujours la bonté, l'équité, la complaisance, la gratitude; elle en donne du moins les apparences, et fait paraître l'homme au dehors comme il devrait être intérieurement." For readers in far-flung places with limited library access, I've found the full text of this work, Characters, or The Manners of the Age, available online at the Internet Archive. It's translated by Henri Van Laun, who renders the aphorism in English as: "Politeness does not always produce kindness of heart, justice, complacency, or gratitude, but it gives to a man at least the appearances of it, and makes him seem externally what he really should be."

The first stylist...Well-coiffed Jean de la Bruyère is credited with being the first writer for whom literary style had its own value in and of itself.

Vocabulary lesson
Panache: flamboyant confidence
Bouger: to move
Pied-à-terre: a small apartment or house kept for occasional use, literally 'foot to earth'
Cambrioleur: burglar, housebreaker (as opposed to voleur)
Je vous demande pardon: I beg your pardon
Voleur: thief
Voiture: car
Berline: four-door automobile
Caractères: characters

For English translation of the full text of Les Caractères click here.

©2011 P.B.Lecron

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


While not observed in lycées throughout France, Mardi
Gras is celebrated in certain cities by lycéens
who go to school wearing disguisements.
Here's a rather successfully put together masquerade
of Karl Lagerfeld from a previous school
 year in Versailles.
Wow, Oklahoma City has a busy chapter of the Alliance Française. When I showed its website to a French friend though, he raised a quizzical eyebrow reading its Mardi Gras announcement "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"

"Ce n'est pas français," he said.

After checking, we found that the expression is  Cajun French--a literal translation of "let the good times roll" and specific to New Orleans Mardi Gras festivities. (Lazay Lay Bon Tom Roulay is how its pronunciation is liltingly treated in most New Orleans publications.)

Nonetheless, it's not a proper French construction and, therefore "not said" here in France. How many times have I heard that quintessential retort, "Ça ne se dit pas." That's not said.

Peu importe, bienvenue au club. No matter, welcome to the club.

Ce n'est pas français: That's not French.
Lycée: secondary school
Lycéen: secondary school student

For more about the Alliance Française d'OKC:

Mardi Gras 2011 falls on March 8.

©P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I love speaking French, but sometimes I feel like what I 'm about to say is an accident waiting to happen. Like the time when I wanted to say "The best thing to do is to shut up and not say anything."

It came out instead a rather winsome "La meillure chose à faire, c'est de fermer ton clapier et de ne rien dire; or shut your rabbit hutch and not say anything.

Vocabulary & slang
Clapet: valve, mouth
Clapier: rabbit hutch
Clapper: to click one's tongue
Ferme ton clapet: hold your tongue, shut up
Quel clapet: what a chatterbox!

A comedy of errors! Click on titles to read earlier posts on the same theme:
Chic, Chickpeas
Madame Malaprop Goes to the Dentist
I Don't Think We're in Kansas Anymore
It's All in How You Say It
Accidental English
The Artichoke Next Door

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Monday, January 17, 2011


Organic chickpeas. Soak overnight then simmer 2 hours
in fresh water with a pinch of baking soda.
Salt after cooking.

They're called garbansos (-zos ) in the midi or south of France, and pois chiches in the rest of country. When talking about chickpeas in French one day, I blundered and said we could serve une salade de pois chiques. That stirred up my French friends because chique can either mean chewing tobacco, chiggers, or if you're in Belgium, chewing gum. Take your pick.

Improvise and improve
Be that as it may, communication skills in a foreign language, like cooking skills, evolve through improvisation. Make a simple and quick salade de pois chiches with any typical Mediterranean ingredients you might have on hand: parsley, coriander or thyme; olives, capers, chives, scallions, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers; cooked and cooled eggplant, zucchini, etc... and splash with freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. This one was made with just chopped scallions and parsley and came out fine.

Vocabulary lesson
Chique: chigger; quid (lump of chewing tobacco); in Belgian, chewing gum
Être du chiqué: to be a sham

Text & photos ©2011 P.B.Lecron

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Having a squeamish French animal rights dilettante hovering in the kitchen baiting me with "pauvre bête" didn't help matters when I opened the waxed paper wrapping and discovered that the pintade still had its long neck and head attached.

A pintade or guinea fowl is, in the words of one recipe writer who offers no elaboration, " a special bird." I had unwittingly received one in a box of fresh farm produce I had had delivered to my urban apartment. Although a free-ranging pintade is a pheasant-like delicacy, I have never in all of the years I've lived in France, bothered to learn what kind of fowl it actually be...If I had known that it were one of those dear and entertaining birds I used to watch as a child around farmhouses I would have excluded it from my order.

High in the pecking order
Guinea fowls are indeed special birds; they can distinguish family members from strangers and are used as barnyard watchdogs, sounding a long and loud alarm call whenever predators or intruders approach, or when anything unusual occurs. They're also lauded because they feed on weed seeds and insects, notably ticks (think Lyme disease) ; they don't scratch up gardens; and they can be trained to come when they are called. Practically pets!

If pressed, a neat way to clean fowl
As I worked on dislodging the pintade's giblets, I was reminded of a tidy way to remove pheasant entrails I used in the days when a French hunter used to drop off game early on Monday mornings during the hunting season. "Pas faisandé!" I remember my husband saying to him to guard against my having to deal with stinky carcasses.

An elderly neighbor showed me how to plume and clean the pheasants, but I was the one to think of using a sack to avoid seeing and smelling the pungent innards that had to be extracted. And no, I didn't put the sack on my head... I covered my hand with a plastic bag before introducing it into the pheasant's cavity so that the entrails would be scooped directly into the sack. As I pulled the sack out, I swiftly twisted it closed and tied a knot. No mess, no fuss.

Vocabulary lesson
Pauvre bête: Poor animal, creature
Une pintade fermière: a free-ranging guinea fowl
Faisander:  to leave game fowl hanging a few days, decomposing, in order to give it a strong and dense odor
Faisan: pheasant
Se faisander: to become high

And if that weren't enough...

You won't find pintade recipes on the website maintained by a guinea fowl breeder who authored the book, Gardening with Guineas.  Jeannette S. Ferguson calls the birds "the gardner's best helpers":

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, January 13, 2011


You have to have grocery shopping experience in France to appreciate her remark and to know that it wasn't a gastronomical sacrilege when my friend Loraine exclaimed  "PICARD!" when asked what she would miss most if she ever returned to the States to live.

With more than 800 stores in France, Picard is the hexagon's premier frozen food producer, thanks to its marketing goal to democratize la grande cuisine. Both producer and distributor, it's high quality products and delectable prepared dishes surpass any surgelés I've ever bought or tasted on either side of the Atlantic. The frozen food is so good that having a Picard nearby has become an extra selling point in real estate transactions!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: French convenience foods often exceed expectations. If you're setting up in France, don't hesitate to explore the nearest Picard store after you've been to the local market. You'll have a pleasant surprise.

Locution lesson:
Hexagon is a term frequently used to designate metropolitan France due to its geographic borders.

La France métropolitaine designates the European territory of France, including Corsica and nearby islands in the Atlantic, English Channel and Mediterranean; as opposed to la France d'outre-mer which refers to parts of the French Republic that are situated outside of Europe.

DOM-TOM is an abbreviation for the ensemble of French departments and territories situated outside the European continent, i.e., Départements d'Outre-Mer - Territoire d'Outre-Mer.

Outre-mer means overseas. Outremer without the hyphen is the word for a color; ultramarine, a brillant deep blue.

Text & photo ©2011 P.B.Lecron

Monday, January 10, 2011


Winging it when words fail me
Without an iota of pretension I can say I've dished out some choice French malapropisms in my day. My slips can sometimes be of the Freudian order, but are more often impromptu concoctions that attest to the proverb that a little learning is a dangerous thing.   Knowing that about 30 percent of words in the English language have French origins, I long ago formed the hit-or-miss habit of giving a French pronunciation to English words when I wasn't sure of their French counterparts.

This free-ranging linguistic practice is not uncommon among landed-francophones. Indeed, when it works it impresses French interlocutors, making them wish they could in turn speak English so well, provided that the transformed word has a somewhat erudite ring to it, like sybarite. It can backfire, however. Take for example the time I complained to my French dentist about a toothache. I used the English word "molar" pronouncing it mo-lar', stressing the second syllable thinking that sounded French enough. Well, it was French, but not the kind a lady would use.

Our molar is molaire in French. What I pronounced was very vulgar French slang for something else: material evacuated from the mouth after efforts of expectoration, i.e., mollard or more politely, crachat. No wonder my dentist backed away, pulled off his mask and exclaimed, "Molaire!"

Gargoyle, Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur,
Narbonne, photo P.B.Lecron
At the time, mollard was not in my jargon (actually, it still isn't) and it was only after asking a French friend to explain to me what I had said wrong that I realized I had some talent at missing educated guesses.  

Little by little I plan to divulge some of my best mistakes in this blog, starting with what I said just a few days ago after a dental appointment. "Le dentiste m'a dit que je dois gargoyliser trois fois per jour." (I wanted to say, "The dentist told me I have to gargle three times a day.") That should have been gargariser, to gargle...

©2011 P.B.Lecron; 
Permission to publish photo attributed to Florian Siebeck,, pursuant to GNU Free Documentation License. 

Friday, January 7, 2011


Setting the scene and a mea culpa
Apple in flagrante delicto
It was a five-course dinner party and all was going well; not like the time before when our house pets, indignant at being relegated to the back bedroom with my pre-teen kids, escaped and spent the better part of the evening loitering around my guests' feet. We lived in the cooler climate of the north of France where air conditioning is largely non-existant; and that summer evening was a warm one, so the French doors to the dining room were open, as was the kitchen window. This gave the family cat, once free from his initial confinement, excellent ingress and egress to both centers of operation, i.e., the kitchen countertop and the dining table.

No sooner would I give the cat a push out the kitchen window, than he would circle the house and stroll back in through the French doors to make his table rounds, or worse, jump up onto the sideboard, spread himself out next to a silver bread basket, and with a great deal of showmanship, preen his underparts.

Our Cavalier King Charles, Marie-Charlotte, was more direct. She had gained entrance by making so much noise scratching the bedroom door that it was impossible not to let her join the party. After noodling the ladies' knees under the table, her modus operandi was simply to hop up onto my chair and keep an eye on my plate and the company whenever I was off to the kitchen...

My guests were all very polite and tenderly feigned amusement; this was afterall the first dinner party I had given after having lost my French husband several months before.  When planning that dinner I had not imagined what solo animal control could entail.

Marie-Charlotte, self-appointed hostess with the most-est

A plan, and how not to spend New Year's Eve

So for this next and more successful dinner party I took two precautionary measures: I invited our veterinarian and gave the cat a fresh salmon tail to appease him just before the guests arrived. Our pets' olfactometers picked up the clinical scent; the cat took a powder and the dog retired under an armchair where she spent most of the evening.

Our vet and his wife had twins, and my other guests, had triplets, so the dinner conversation turned around multiple births--of all sorts-- until the vet asked, "Where's Apple?"

I explained that he was probably under a shrub in a semi-comatose state digesting a salmon tail I had given him earlier to keep him out of the way.

The funny part, or the not so funny part...
One of the guests then told an anecdote that he swore up and down was true. It seems that the parents of a young doctor he knew were hosting what the French call a réveillon, that is a late night dinner typically held on Christmas Eve, or in this case, on New Year's Eve. His mother had prepared salmon as the main course. To her dismay she discovered that during the first course or entrée, the family cat had snuck into the kitchen and eaten a good portion of the fish. She tossed the cat outside then called her husband into the kitchen to confer. There was just enough salmon left to serve their guests, but not themselves, so they decided to make do and hope no one would notice.

All went along as planned until the hostess returned to the kitchen, looked out the window, and noticed the cat stretched out, strangely immobile in the yard. She called her husband back into the kitchen, and after a quick check they realized the cat was dead. Fearing that the cause of death was the salmon, and feeling the heady weight of being the parents of a bright new doctor, and thus incidentally connected with the medical profession and its attendant responsibilities, they phoned the poison center and asked for advice. They were told, with a due abundance of caution, that if the cat had just eaten salmon and died, then the only safe thing to do was to promptly send all who had eaten the salmon to the hospital to have an emergency lavage gastrique, or stomach pumping.

So the guests, after receiving the bad news, begrudgingly left the table and headed to the hospital for the procedure. According to my guest, the worst part for the host and hostess was not telling their guests that they had to go to the hospital to have their stomachs pumped, but rather explaining why they didn't have to have it done themselves.

But the story doesn't finish there. The next day an apologetic neighbor knocked at the couple's door excusing himself for having hit their cat with his car the evening before. "I didn't want to disturb you with this last night because I realized that you were entertaining, so I simply put its body in your yard..."

Text & photos ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


 Don't waste a minute... N'en perdez aucune

Why not abide by this sun dial adage and make it your New Year's resolution? Don't lose one of them!

Sun dial or cadran solaire near the French inland port of Marseillan in the Languedoc-Rousillon region.

©2011 P.B.Lecron