Tuesday, March 29, 2011


More photos from the Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris, this past Saturday--the first weekend of spring!

PHOTOS BY MARINE SANZ-VICO. All rights reserved.
Click on photos to enlarge.  Thank you, Marine!

Sunday, March 27, 2011


A showy first Saturday of spring

Marine Sanz-vico, a young graphic designer and guest photographer for A French Education, captured these shots yesterday at Paris's most bucolic park, Bagatelle. Click on photos to enlarge.

un paon: a peacock
faire la roue:  deployment of feathers into a fan, as a peacock; to do cartwheels
léon:  for the French, the sound that a peacock makes

Photos Marine Sanz-vico. All rights reserved.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Listening to the sung word is a wonderfully osmotic way to learn, especially a Romance language. Even if un peu ringard--in the first sense of the word, out of date and not minable--these two French songs with lingering lyrics are more than listenable:  Françoise Hardy singing Mon Amie la Rose and Yves Montand interpreting Les Roses de Picardie.
une rose:  a rose
un rosier:  a rose bush
rose:  pink
rose saumoné, -e:  salmon pink
un peu:  a little bit
vernaculaire:  vernacular
minable:  mediocre, pathetic
ringard, -e:  (familiar) out of date, square
voir la vie en rose:  to see life in rose-tinted glasses

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Friday, March 25, 2011


Can you remember the first time you ever saw the sea or ocean?

L'aiguille formation at Etretat. Image from
User Urban, GNU Free Documentation License.
A quote from a 19th century French writer has me remembering my first impressions of the Gulf of Mexico as a small child. Now that I'm expecting young visitors from the flat--but beloved-- Gulf Coast I'm eager to show them how dramatically different the French coastline is.

Our starting point will be the cut-out alabaster cliffs and pinnacle formations at Etretat in Normandie. The old fisherman's village turned seaside resort a century ago attracted famous French painters and writers by the droves: Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet, Camille Corot, Victor Hugo, Guy de Maupassant and Maurice Leblanc to name-drop a few. It was writer Alphonse Karr who said:  "If I had to show the sea to a friend for the first time, I'd choose Etretat."  (Si, j'avais à montrer la mer à un ami pour la première fois, c'est Etretat que je choisirais.) That's quite an endorsement.

Surf's up at the Elephant Cliff. Photo Carol E. Cass.
See it now
Armchair and laptop tourists can click here for a virtual trip to experience the dramatic beauty of Etretat. Or  here for a 360° panoramic view of Etretat's Elephant Cliff. But for a stupendous minute-long aerial video click here! To feel like your there walking around, try this video, however you might want to lower the volume of the music...and keep in mind that as much as I enjoyed their promenade, I don't know these friendly people.

View of beach from opposite hillside. Photo Carol E. Cass.
albâtre:  alabaster
une falaise:  a cliff
une aiguille:  a needle
la mer:  the sea
le littoral:  the coast
littoral, -e: (adjective) coastal
un village de pêcheur:  a fisherman's village
une plage de galets:  a stone beach
être en état:  to be in good form
N.B: you'll want to be in good form if you decide to walk up the steps to the hilltop church, Notre Dame de la Garde.

Click on photos to enlarge them.
©2011 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Almost musical. Weeping willow branches reach
downward in a decrescendo at Giverny. 
I hadn't realized what a big deal learning to drive was until my own sweet-sixteen Franco-American hybrid teenagers were behind the wheel. Suddenly the legal age to have a learner's permit seemed far too young, even if the kids had grown up with priority on the right. "Relax," my sister reasoned with me, "they can see better than we do, have quicker reflexes and they can still turn then heads." 

So, to rack up some of the 3,000 kilometers required of young learners in the French conduite accompagnée program, we'd pile into the car to make pèlerinages to Monet's gardens at Giverny, an hour's drive away--for maman to walk, pray and unwind. 

Atmosphere, atmosphere
Claude Monet (1840-1926) said, "For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at each instant; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life--the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value."

"Pour moi, un paysage n'existe pas dans son propre droit, puisque son apparence change à chaque instant, mais l'atmosphère environnante qui'l apporte à la vie--la lumière et l'air qui varient sans cesse. Pour moi, ce n'est que l'atmosphère environnante qui donne des sujets à leur juste valeur."


conduite accompagnée:  accompanied driving for learners 16 to 18 years-old; apprentice drivers must be accompanied by a designated adult licensed driver

un pèlerinage:  a pilgrimage
un paysage:  a landscape
maman:  mamma
un saule pleureur:  a weeping willow

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Vendange or vidange?
I came back from one of those terrific hotel barge trips on French waterways raving to my French friends about the meals and wine served on board. But I slipped up--again--and created one more of those moments of hilarity that mes amis have come to love and expect. Instead of saying we had sipped a very good vendange tardive wineI said vidange tardive.

Vendange tardive is a late, hand-picked grape harvest to produce a liquoreux wine that pairs well with fois gras or some of the stronger cheeses. Vidange is a motor oil change...

une péniche:  barge
mes amis, -es:  my friends
liquoreux, -euse:  syrupy (an adjective to describe wine)
moelleux, -euse:  mellow (color); moist (cake); sweet (wine)
hi-hi:  (pronounced hee-hee) laughing, tee-hee
hilarité:  hilarity, mirth
fois gras:  liver of a duck or goose which has been fattened through the forced feeding of grains
tardif, -ve:  late
tarder:  to delay

La plus perdue de toutes les journées est celle où l'on n'a pas ri. -- Nicolas Chamfort, French writer (1741-1794)
The most completely wasted of all days is that in which we have not laughed.

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron


This is not simply a pretty coffee-table gift book, it's also a great compilation of classic French recipes, copied from the Claude Monet family's carnet de recettes. Lavish food and table setting photos, as well as those of Alice and Claude Monet's Giverny interieur, easy enough to follow instructions and delicious historical anecdotes make this a must for the collector's cookbook shelf. Claire Joyes and Jean-Bernard Naudin. Preface, Joël Robuchon. Editions Chêne.
Beautiful book jacket, beautiful cover board. Mine is the 1989 French edition.
Sample an easy Monet family recipe
Bananes au gratin 
6 bananas
1/3 cup of powdered sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cut the bananas in quarters, lengthwise. Arrange them in an oven dish.
Mix the powdered sugar with the lemon juice and butter. 
Pour half of the sauce on the bananas.
Bake in a hot oven 20 minutes, basting often with the rest of the sauce.
Serve hot or cold. Serves 6.

un carnet:  a note book
une recette:  a recipe
un livre:  a book
une banane:  a banana
sucre:  sugar
sucre en poudre:  powdered sugar
beurre:  butter
jus de citron:  lemon juice

The book is also available in English: Monet's Table:

For more recipe books no collector should do without, see Taste and Imagination,  Try It, You'll Like It, and Life's Little Luxuries: Ladurée Sucrée.

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron 

Monday, March 21, 2011


Early spring at Giverny
Lily pads and morning reflections at Giverny in early spring.

In 1899 Claude Monet began painting his water lily series, some of the most loved and well-known works of the 2Oth century. He continued to paint them until the end of his life:

"J'ai mis du temps à comprendre mes nymphéas... Je les cultivais sans songer à les peindre... Un paysage ne vous imprègne pas en un jour... Et puis, tout d'un coup, j'ai eu la révélation des féeries de mon étang. J'ai pris ma palette. Depuis ce temps, je n'ai guèrre eu d'autre modèle." -- Claude Monet

"It took me time to understand my water lilies... I planted them without ever thinking of painting them... A landscape doesn't pervade your spirit in one day... And then, all of sudden, I discovered the enchanting visions in my pond. I picked up my palette, and since then, I have hardly painted anything else." -- Claude Monet

"Je veux peindre l'air dans lequel se trouve le pont, la maison, le bateau. La beauté de l'air où ils sont, et ce n'est rien d'autre que l'impossible."-- Claude Monet

"I want to paint the air that's around the bridge, the house, the boat. The beauty of the air where they are, and it is nothing other than the impossible." -- Claude Monet

Monet's kitchen door.

Tulipier or tulip tree on the grounds.

For more information, opening, hours and history, go to http://www.fondation-monet.fr/uk/

Text & photos ©2011 P.B. Lecron


Here's one more monumental door, this one in the north of France at 3 rue de Bergues in Esquelbecq, a typical Flemish village, population 2,200.  The house was built in 1780; it's sculpted façade is listed on the inventary of Monuments Historiques.

Esquelbecq is situated in the heart of Flanders on the banks of the Yser, a well-known river which formed a natural obstacle to the German advance during WWI. The village's name is derived from the Dutch Ekelsbeke or "acorn brook" because the Yser is lined with numerous oak trees.

Flamand(e):  Flemish
Flandres: Flanders
un chêne:  an oak tree
un gland:  an acorn
glander:  to hang around

Another in my series of French monumental doors: Stone and Illusion

Text & photo © P.B. Lecron

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Barring strikes, train travel in France is so easy, convenient and relaxing; I'm always amazed by the fact that I only have to pack a rollerboard and walk ten minutes down the hill to a small neighborhood train station to have rail access to most European cities, large and small. Beautiful Brussels, for example, is just an hour and twenty minutes by TGV from Paris...a jaunt.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Friday, March 18, 2011


The first Franco-Mongolian sister cities
Greetings to my readers in the Republic of Mongolia! I used to live not far from Rubrouck, a pretty village in French Flanders that has been twinned since 1994 with Bulgan, a small community in Mongolia. The pledge of friendship between the two communities came about because of an important voyage made by Guillaume de Rubrouck (1215-1295) to the Mongolian empire in 1253.
Bas-relief in brick depicting Guillaume de Rubrouck
on an exterieur wall of the village museum.

Rubrouck, an intrepid and sturdy Franciscain monk, traveled to Karakorum, Mongolia in 1253 bearing a letter of friendship from his French king, Saint-Louis.  To arrive there he travelled 16,000 kilometers by foot and horse, leaving from Constantinople and crossing the vast steppes of Central Asia to meet the successor of Gengis Khan, Mangou Khan. Bulgan was the barefoot Franciscain's first important stopping point when he arrived in western Mongolia.

Rubrouck's writings of his adventures, discoveries and observations is a significant ethnological work of the Middle Ages, preceding those of Marco Polo who travelled on the Route de la Soie in 1275.  In 1983 a pair of French historians, Claude and René Kappler published an authoritative translation of Guillaume's account, Voyage dans l'Empire Mongol (1253-1255).

The book stirred up interest in the historical event and stimulated a small group of French enthusiasts to organize in 1990 an equestrian expedition retracing the part of Rubrouck's voyage which he had followed on horseback. The  expedition which had the support of both the French and Mongolian governments, has since been repeated several times and has as well incited townspeople of  the Rubrouck village to actively preserve and honor the memory of its native son.

Since the twinning, the two communities have engaged in regular and heart-warming cultural exchanges, some of which have been filmed and can be viewed on line. In 1996 the president of the Republic of Mongolia travelled to French Flanders to inaugurate the small museum dedicated to Guillaume Rubrouck's voyage.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, March 17, 2011


The naming of cats is a difficult matter--T.S. Eliot, 
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

It was indeed a holiday game coming up with a name for this little, soon to be big, Birman.  I had suggested Pierre-Henri, Paco, Diego and Blaise; Yo-Yo, Sparky, Maximo and Enzo--but his young mistress settled the question, and for family purposes the chocolate-nosed ball of fur curls his tail to the sound of Pompon.

un pompon:  a pompom
pomponner: to doll up; to dress up

Popular Expressions
à vous le pompon:  to you the advantage; you win
avoir son pompon:  to have too much to drink; in times past, simply to be happy
décrocher le pompon: to win, to be first place; literally to detach the pompon, as on a merry-go-round to win a free ride

C'est le pompon:  It's the last straw.
Il tient le pompon:  He takes the cake.
C'est le pompon de la pomponnette :  It's the end-all.  That beats everything.

French Canadian Expressions
en avoir ras le pompon:  to be exasperated, fed up
se calmer le pompon:  to calm down

It used to be said that to touch the red pompon on a French sailor's beret brought good luck.

By the way and quite coincidentally with the title of this post,  Aka Birman is a set of conditioning movements in Burmese martial arts where the combat sequence is performed without an adversary, with or without arms. Our Pompon is a chocolate-point Sacré de Birmanieor Birman, and practices this sport.

For T.S. Eliot's poem, The Naming of Cats, click here.

French drama
A seven-minute film clip from the 1967 Marcel Pagnol film, La Femme du Boulanger, where the reconciliation beween the baker and his younger, errant wife coincides with the return of his black cat, Pomponnette. To view, click here.

Text& photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


And I thought the Florida coast sunsets were dramatic! This is a coucher de soleil on a calm Sunday evening in the Normandie countryside.

un coucher de soleil:  a sunset
à la tombée de la nuit:  at nightfall
le crépuscule:  the twilight, dusk

Les soleils couchants 
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D'hyacinthe et d'or. -- Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

The sunsets
Don the fields,
The canals, the entire town,
In hyacinth and gold.

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Today's favorite photo from Versailles: the long awaited blooms of hundreds and hundreds of meters of daffodils.  They line the double alleys and sidewalks along both sides of two of the city's principle streets leading to the center of town. Fit for a king.

Photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Monday, March 14, 2011


Although the coq has never been chosen as an official symbol of France, it is one by default, and has been used as such since the creation of Gaule and the fall of the Roman Empire. It results from a jeu de mot:  in Latin gallus is the word for both cock and the inhabitants of Gaule.

The poulailler or chicken run at Claude Monet's house and gardens at Giverny may well  be the nicest in all of France.

un coq:  a cock, rooster
le coq gaulois:  the young French cock and emblem of the French fighting spirit
coquet, -ette:  appearance conscious or clothes conscious; smart, stylish, flirtatious 
une girouette:  a weather cock or vane
déplumer:  to pluck
se déplumer:  to mould, to lose its feathers (bird); to go bald, to lose one's hair
"Cocorico!":  imitation of the rooster crow; exclamation--often ironic--of French patriotism
un jeu de mots: a play on words

If you liked this, then click here for another photo and post about Giverny chickens.

Text & photos ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Pet chickens sunning in the chicken run at Claude Monet's gardens in Giverny.

une poule: hen; mistress (slang)
se lever avec les poules: to be an early riser
se coucher avec les poules: to go to bed early
quand les poules auront des dents: when hell freezes over
ma poule: term of affection
ça roule ma poule: okey-doke
une poule mouillée: coward, literally a wet chicken
un poulet: chicken; police officer, cop (slang)
mon petit poulet: my little chicken (affectionate)
un poulailler: chicken run
une poulette: pullet; (my) love or pet

Click on Ah Si Vous Connaissiez Ma Poule interpreted by Maurice Chevalier, 1938

N.B: Certain regions in France are noted for the quality of their chicken production: Sud-Ouest, Landes, Loué, Mayenne, Gers, Challans, but the most choice of all is the "poulet de Bresse."

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, March 12, 2011


This silhouette is not really an ombre chinoise,  but it does make me think of the charming French term for hand shadows.

For a short but entertaining video of ombres chinoises, click here.
silhouetter: to outline
ombres chinoises: shadow graph; shadow show or pantomime
une ombre: shadow
ombrer: to shade
un store: a window shade

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Friday, March 11, 2011


If you're a kitchen-activity loving francophone, then why not sharpen your French language listening skills and learn some nifty cooking techniques at the same time? A French leader in online cooking demonstrations, 750 grammes.com, has lots of short, snappy video tutorials with easy to follow tips and recipes.

Un tuyeau: these videos are helpful because they show the best  ways to cut, chop and peel--even if you don't speak French!

To date, 750 grammes.com airs more than 135 free video tips and recipes clips on Daily Motion--the French equivalent to Youtube--so to help you get started, just click on any of these clips that I liked:

how to peel garlic
how to make a béchamel
how to peel a lemon
how to segment a lemon
how to peel a turnip  (Yes, you'd be surprised!)
how to make meringues
how to make vinaigrette
how to make taboule

un tuyeau: here, a tip; also pipe

Text & photo © 2011 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Hôtel de la Lauzière, Arles
Here's another stop-dead-in-your-tracks early 17th century monumental door. The elaborate façade is conspicuous proof of the social status of the grande famille that once lived within the walls of the hôtel particulier to which it gives entrance. 

At 42 rue de la République in Arles, the door is framed by stone torsades sculpted in the Mannerist style, a movement in art and architecture between the Renaissance and Baroque periods in which unusual effects were obtained by the use of scale, lighting, perspective and color.

une grande famille: an important family as opposed to a big family, which would be translated as une famille nombreuse

hôtel particulier: an imposing private residential structure; a townhouse

une colonne torse: a twisted column
torsader: to twist

porte à porte: door-to-door

Read more: Stone and Illusion

Text & photos ©2011 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Ô, so Arles are these windows and shutters painted sunny Provençal colors délavés by the elements. In  French, full-paneled shutters, above, are called volets, as opposed to persiennes which are louvered, below. We can't help but think of the lilting and so typically French-style film music of  Les Volets Clos when looking at them...(click on the title to hear the vintage hit.)

Did you know that Arles is second only to Rome in number of Roman ruins?  Arles' arena, theatre and cryptes date to the first century B.C., and its Roman baths and necropole date the to 6th and 7th centuries, A.D. But that's not all; no less that five thematic pedestrian circuits guide visitors along the Arles of Antiquity, the Arles of the Middle Ages, the Arles of the Renaissance and Classic periods,  the Arles of Vincent Van Gogh, and finally a special tour focused on Arles as a world heritage site. More to come...

delavé(e): washed out
Les Volets Clos: the closed shutters
Fermons la fenêtre et laissons les volet clos: Let's shut the window and leave the shutters closed.

Text & photo ©2011 P.B. Lecron