Monday, December 31, 2012


Il faut casser la noix pour en avoir la chair.
proverbe français

He that would eat the kernel must crack the nut; God gives the nuts, but he doesn't crack them.

la chair:  flesh
casser:  to break

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, December 30, 2012


This grotesque-style 19th-century nutcracker carved in the shape of a tête de vieillard has been cracking walnuts and hazelnuts for generations in a French friend's family.
un casse-noix, un casse-noisette:  a nutcracker
une noix:  a walnut
une noisette:  a hazelnut
un vieillard:  an old man
l'art populaire: folk art

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, December 29, 2012


At Cabourg
le sable:  sand
l'écume:  foam

Le marchand de sable est passé.
The sandman has passed.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Twelfth-century Syrian nativity scene, one of the many treasures on the walls of the Cathédrale Notre Dame in Saint-Omer. 

une mangeoire:  a trough, manger
emmailloter:  to swaddle, to wrap up
un maillot:  a jersey; shirt
un maillot de corps:  an undershirt

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Learn French with Pompon
Un chat avec des moufles n'attrape pas de souris. 
Pompon, A French Education's mascot--or should I say mask-cat, illustrates an ancient Greek proverb: a cat with mittens doesn't catch mice. 

les moufles:  mittens
attraper:  to catch
une souris:  a mouse
un tapis de souris:  a mouse mat (for computers)

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Les clémentines de Corse sont arrivées! 
Quality controlled Corsican clementines are picked by hand with their leaves, and only at maturity. No storage room ripening for these babies.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Cosette, the child heroine of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, not to be confused with causette...French for chat.

faire la causette:  to have a chat
causer:  to cause; to chat, to talk

Today's vocabulary brings to mind the rather extended and funny French film title, Elle Bois Pas, Elle Fume Pas, Elle Drague Pas, Mais...Elle Cause, which translates to She Doesn't Drink, She Doesn't Smoke, She Doesn't Flirt, But...She Chatters.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Since the late 17th century oak logs embedded in the sand have been used to form a breakwater along the ramparts of Saint-Malo, diminishing the shock of violent waves that come at high tide. Saint-Malo, on the Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, experiences some of the highest tides in Europe; click here to fully appreciate.

un brise-lames:  a breakwater
briser:  to break
une lame:   a wave; also a blade

Photos Marianne Lecron
©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


No, this blog post is not about bacon, but butter. Only an hour after a family member brought home from the Brittany coast four different flavored butters, I heard a French gastronome on a radio program fervently declare that butter was the soul of French cooking. 

These artisanal specialty butters churned with tangy ingredients come from the renowned butter maker, Jean-Yves Bordier, established in Saint-Malo and Rennes. Bordier also offers exclusive made to order butters for les grand chefs according to their own criteria for saltiness, form and use. 
From top, left to right:  classic sweet, smoked salt, seaweed and chili pepper butters. Below a peek inside La Fromagé, Bordier's shop in Saint-Malo.

Avoir le beurre et l'argent du beurre:  to have one's own cake and to eat it, too; literally to have butter and the money from selling it

une baratte:  a churn
sur-mesure:  made to order
l'esprit de beurre:  butter spirit

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, November 19, 2012


Pigeons resting in a date marker, part of the Mont Valérien WWII memorial outside of Paris, are reminders that carrier pigeons played an important message-bearing role during both world wars. If you haven't heard the news story about the remains of a WWII carrier pigeon with its secret coded message intact being recently found in an English chimney, click here.

un pigeon voyageur:  a carrier or homing pigeon
par pigeon voyageur:  by pigeon post
un pigeon messager:  a messenger pigeon
une colombophile:  a pigeon fancier

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Oyster farm beds in Cancale, across the bay from the Mont Saint-Michel.

Le monde est à vous.
The world is your oyster.

une huître:  an oyster
l'ostréiculture:  oyster farming
une ferme:  a farm

Friday, November 16, 2012


Dégourdi(e); that's an interesting word.  The first time I ever heard it spoken it was used by a French friend to describe an unaccompanied five year old who followed directions well and knew her way around the neighborhood. (I fear that in most cases, the days of that sort of parental confidence are long gone.) 

Dégourdi(e) means smart or bright. Remove the "dé," however, and you have the French word "gourde" which as an adjective means thick or numb; or as a noun can either mean a gourd as grown in the garden or a flask; and in certain surly cases, a numbskull. It's not uncommon to hear a French person who has been sitting too long say that he wants to " dégourdir les jambes," i.e., to stretch his legs.

dégourdir:  to restore the circulation to
se dégourdir les jambes:  to stretch one's legs
engourdir:  to numb
s'engourdir:  to become numb

Painted gourdes at the market place in Olonzac.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Eye catching decorative keystone of fish and fowl on a turn-of-the-last century villa in Saint-Valéry, on the Baie de Somme.

un clef de voûte:  a keystone
un voûte:  an arch
un clef, un clé:  a key
la nature morte:  still life

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, November 12, 2012


Cute melamine plates to remind French youngsters of a few of the règles d'or of table manners. From left to right starting at the top: my hands are kept on the table; I always say please and thank you; I don't put my knife to my mouth; and I only start eating after the hostess has begun. As for the childish and emphatic "pretty please," the French would simply pronounce an imploring, "Dis-oui!" Say yes!

Some readers might find the first rule to be surprising--but the etiquette in France is to always keep  both hands visible and on the table when dining; they are never placed on the lap. The most common and comfortable position is one in which the wrists are kept resting lightly on the edge of the table. The reasoning behind this long-standing custom was to guard against surreptitious goings on under royal tables--like the drawing of concealed weapons or the passing of conspiratorial notes.

un règle d'or:  a golden rule
avoir des bonnes mannières:  to have good manners
savoir se tenir à table:  to have good table manners, literally to know how to hold oneself at the table

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, November 9, 2012


Canadian Memorial at Vimy

A daily and stirring reminder in the Pas-de-Calais to those traveling on the A 26 between Arras and Lens of the Canadian sacrifice during WWI. The memorial at Vimy is the most important Canadian war memorial in the world. It was here in April 1917 that 3,598 Canadian soldiers lost their lives to win the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The statue of the young woman, above, represents Canada mourning her lost men. Notice the terrils or slag heaps from coal mines in the background.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Carol E. Cass

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Blue skies and golden hills on a late October foliage tour in Champagne vineyards. October is one of the best months to visit France. Photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron.

Quand octobre est dans sa fin, dans la cuve est le raisin.--dictum français

When October is at its end, the grape is in the vat.--French dicton

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Standing up for display purposes are three of the some 20 million dusty bottles of champagne stocked in the Pommery caves, Reims. (The chicken wire, incidentally, is simply called un grillage in French.) While on the subject of champagne, one cannot enough dispell the myth that placing a teaspoon in an opened bottle of champagne will stop the bubbles from disappearing. It ain't so; only a special hermetic cap like the one below will do the trick.

Photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, November 5, 2012


The French, while they may be important consumers of dairy products, are not big milk drinkers. As Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec put it, "Je boirai du lait quand les vaches brouteront du raisin." I will drink milk when cows graze on raisins. The artist also fittingly described autumn as winter's spring: l'automne est le printemps de l'hiver.
Photos of grapes on the vine in the village of  Champillon, in the Champagne-Ardennes Region. Courtesy of Marianne Lecron.

brouter:  to graze, to graze on
une vigne:  a grapevigne

Je l'ai appris par le téléphone arabe.
I heard it on the grapevine.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, November 3, 2012


"Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée."
A door is necessarily either open or shut.

This French proverb is a line from a late 17th century three-act comedy, Le Grondeur (1691) by David-Augustin de Brueys and Jean de Palaprat. It's spoken by an exasperated valet to his cranky employeur who complains if the door is left open and complains if it is left shut. "Monsieur, je me ferais hacher; il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée, choisissez; comment la voulez-vous? Choose, how do you want it?

gronder:  to scold; to rumble; to growl
hacher:  to mince, to chop, to grind

se faire hacher:  to rather die than admit one is wrong; literally to cut oneself up into tiny pieces

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Plaster cast studies of hands at the Musée Rodin Meudon and Balzac's monk's cloak, below, is the spookiest A French Education will ever get, even on the eve of All Saints' Day--All Hallow Even-- Halloween, or as the French call it la veille de Toussaint.

qui donne la chair de poule:  which gives goosebumps (literally which gives chicken skin)
sinistre:  spooky
quelquechose qui fait froid dans le dos:  something which makes the back cold (literally); spooky

On Halloween in France: The Vandal Had the French Touch, click here.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, October 29, 2012


This birthplace plaque in Nancy caught my attention, first of all because I hadn't realized that "mauvais" which translates to "bad" was a surname, and secondly because it's rare to see an 18th-century school teacher honored in this way. Virginie Mauvais was the daughter of a "constitutional priest," i.e., a priest who during the French Revolution took oath to the new constitution and became a paid clerical agent of the state. (The constitutional clerical arrangement existed from 1790 until 1801 when Napoléon Bonaparte and Pope Pie VII signed an agreement ending it.) 

Virginie as an adult studied, earned diplomas, became a teacher and opened a school for young girls, then later worked in Nancy's budding public schools. Dedicating her life to combatting ignorance and poverty, she developed a modern reading method through which both children and adults could learn to read in six weeks. After her retirement and upon the advice of a former student, she invested in the Portuguese railways system and made a fortune, a part of which she legged to the city of Nancy to build three-story hospital which included a floor for children's surgery. 

une institutrice, un instituteur:  a primary school teacher (feminine, masculine)
une méthode d'apprentissage de la lecture:  a reading learning method
une bienfaitrice, un bienfaiteur:  a benefactress, a benefactor
un bienfait:  an act of generosity

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Learn French with Pompon
No theatrics here; French cat Pompon earnestly illustrates today's expression: il a le diable au corps. He has the devil in him.

tenter le diable:  tempt fate; court disaster
comme un diable dans l'eau bénite:  like a devil in holy water (literally); like a cat on a hot tin roof

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, October 26, 2012


Learn more French with Pompon
Sacré de Birmanie Pompon stretches out to give meaning to the French expression, "Il est long comme un jour sans pain."  He is long like a day without bread. It can either mean something is very long in physical length, or (not in Pompon's case) endlessly boring.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Here's a French children's ditty or comptine fit for the season:

En automne, tout m'étonne.
En hiver, j'espère.
Au printemps, j'apprends.
L'été: j'aurais tout oublié!

In autumn, all amazes me.
In winter, I hope.
At spring, I learn.
Summer: I will have forgotten everything!

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Maman les p'tits bateaux
Qui vont sur l'eau
Ont-ils des jambes?

Mais oui mon gros bêta
S'ils n'en avaient pas
Ils ne march'raient pas!

Here's the translation of the refrain of the very popular French nursery song, Les Petits Bateaux:

Mamma the little boats
That go on water
Do they have legs?

Why yes my silly goose
If they didn't 
They wouldn't run!

Click here to listen to the tune.

marcher:  to walk; to run (as a motor); to function
un gros bêta:  a silly goose
un port de plaisance:  a marina
un bateau de plaisance:  a pleasure vessel, a yacht
une comptine:  a nursery rhyme, a bedtime song

Photo taken a few years ago at the port de plaisance, or river port, on the Moselle, in the city of Nancy.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, October 22, 2012


Gathering wild mushrooms is a pleasant and fairly popular activity in France, so much so that whenever one has a doubt about whether a mushroom is comestible, one can simply take it to any drugstore where its identification is offered as a free and friendly service by pharmacists. These bonnets look to me to be of the mostly non-comestible mycena genus of mushrooms, but I'm no expert. 

un champignon:  a mushroom; a fungus
une ville-champignon:  a boom town

Appuyer sur le champignon:  to step on the gas pedal; to accelerate

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Born of the powerful family of Florentine mécènes, she was the niece of a pope, a Machiavellian queen of France and an ardent believer in astrology. When Catherine de Médici (1519-1589) learned from her astrologer that she would die near Saint-Germain, she took the prediction to heart and thereafter avoided all places having the name Saint-Germain. Some fifteen years later when taken ill and on her death bed at the Château de Blois, a priest was hastily summoned to perform extreme unction. After giving her the last rites, she asked him his name.  "Julien de Saint-Germain," he replied. "Alors, je suis perdue!" she answered, appalled.

un mécène:  a patron of the arts; sponsor
perdu(e):  lost

Gisant or recumbent effigy of Catherine de Médici at the Basilique Saint-Denis.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, October 19, 2012


French cat Pompon is at it again, this time illustrating a play on words:  l'avenir appartient à celui qui se lèche tôt.  Get it?

L'avenir appartient à celui qui se lève tôt:  The future belongs to those who rise early.

se lever:  to get oneself up
se lécher: to lick oneself

©2012 P.B.Lecron

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Tout est bien qui finit bien
After months of restauration, last year's fire damage at Ladurée on the Champs Elysées is officially a thing of the past; the store's sumptuous macaron counter is back in place, and identical to the way it was before.

photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


The temptation to use today's title was too great; plus I'm sure French learners will be delighted to spike their conversation with the lively but benign expression of surprise or admiration,  "La vache!"

The winged bull representing Saint Luke and symbolizing all at the same time spiritual force, tranquility and sacrifice, is posed on the parvis of the Basilique Saint-Epvre, Nancy.

La vache:  Holy cow! Gee!
C'est vache:  It's mean.
Il est vache:  He's mean.

une vache: a cow
vache:  (slang adjective) nasty, mean
un parvis:  a square in front of a church

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, October 14, 2012


When night falls, lights positioned on the inside of the neo-gothic Basilique Saint-Epvre in Nancy are turned on to illuminate the stained glass windows, making them visible from the outside. Unexpectedly dramatic for evening stollers.

un(e) promeneur (-euse):  a stroller (person)
apparaître:  to appear

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Famous French cat Pompon is unequivocal about today's expression:
Tout le monde a des yeux et des oreilles; mais tout le monde n'a pas de discernement. --Madeleine de Puisieux,  Les Caractères (1751)

Everyone has eyes and ears; but not everyone has discernment.

©2012 P.B. Lecron


Quand la poire est mûre, il faut qu'elle tombe: literally, when the pear is ripe, it has to fall; meaning that when things get to a certain point, they have to explode or come to an end.

Tip:  pick pears early and let ripen off the tree!

Wrought-iron decorative ensign at the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen.

Monday, October 8, 2012


What a surprise! Friends just sent me these photos taken the other day outside of the Louvre, next to the Jardin des Tuileries. The company responsible for maintaining the gardens and lawns of the Louvre now uses goats to keep the grass tidy in the steep ditch that runs along the periphery of the park. The small, long-haired goats are a breed found on France's western coasts. Called  les chèvres des fossés, their number has dwindled over the years to only a few hundred. Also known as la vache des pauvres, the poor people's cow, these milk-producing goats, typically belonged to people who did not own grazing land. Property owners would allow them to tether the goats on difficult and rough terrains to crop the grass. 
Photos by John Desjardin

Où la chèvre est attachée, il faut qu'elle broute.
Goats have to graze where they are tethered. This is an expression of resignation to one's situation; when necessity obliges, one must accept the circumstances in which one finds oneself.

brouter:  to graze on, to graze
attacher:  to fasten, to attach, to tie up
le gazon:  grass
la pelouse:  lawn
une fossé:  a ditch
tondre:  to mow

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, October 7, 2012


J'ai un chat dans la gorge!
Cool cat Pompon engages a houseguest to illustrate another French expression.
 "I have a cat in my throat!" Anglophones, however, usually say "frog."

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, October 6, 2012


It's free, amazing, and I send all of my visiting friends and family to see it: Raoul Dufy's La Fée de l'Electricité (The Electricity Fairy), a panoramic depiction of the history of electricity. Painted for the electricity pavillon at the 1937 International Exposition, the work was ordered and financed by Electricté de France (EDF). EDF later donated the immense mural to the city of Paris, where it is on display at the city's Musée d'Art Moderne, without charge.

©2012 P.B. Lecron