Sunday, September 30, 2012


Wild blueberry pie is best eaten outdoors with a view of cattle grazing on grassland slopes in the Vosges Mountains, at the Ferme-Auberge Molkenrain. At an altitude of 1,040 meters, on the Route des Crêtes near Wattwiller, the Alsatian inn for backpackers is accessible by car via a bumpy, winding dirt road; or by any of several hiking trails between Saverne and the Vosges summit, the Ballon d'Alsace. 

une tarte aux myrtilles:  a blueberry pie
sauvage:  wild
une ferme:  a farm
une auberge:  an inn

Ce n'est pas de la tarte.
It's not a piece of pie; it's no picnic; i.e., it's not easy.

On n'est pas sorti de l'auberge.
We're not out of the woods yet.

For the curious French reader
Listen to and read along with Eddy Mitchell's French lyrics of Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill. Then tell me how this version wandered off onto the subject of HLM's. Click here.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, September 29, 2012


View of the cathedral in Amiens, the largest medieval edifice in France, twice as large in volume as Notre Dame de Paris. Looking up you can see forever.

jusqu'à la saint-glinglin:  forever (familiar)

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, September 27, 2012


For today's French lesson, and from the intimacy of the family bathtub, the Sacré de Birmanie,  Pompon, has chosen to illustrate the reflexive verb se baigner. To bathe oneself, to have a bath.

Ça baigne:  everything's good (familiar)

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


God protect France is the royalist devise on the ceiling of the chapelle of the Château de Chantilly. The chapel which had been destroyed during the French Revolution was rebuilt in 1882 by Henri d'Orléans, the duc d'Aumale and son of the former king Louis-Philippe, amid the grandes réformes of the Third Republic. After two republics, three constitutional monarchies and two empires, the Trosième République (1870-1940) was the first long-lasting regime to be established in France since the 1789 revolution. It's worth noting that one of the most important reforms of  1882 was Jules Ferry's program of mandatory primary instruction for all children six to thirteen years old. And it's worth noting that the duke legged the entire Domaine de Chantilly to the Institut de France, the French academic institution founded in 1795 which regrouped a new science academy with the letters and science academies originally established by Louis XIV in the 17th century.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, September 24, 2012


On location
Imaginations tend to run wild at the Château de Pierrefonds, often used as a site for turning movies as well as a film location for the current BBC television series Merlin. The medieval to 15th century castle, which had been falling to ruin, was restored, renovated and yes, recreated in the 19th century by architect Viollet-le-Duc at the request of Napoleon III. The emperor, who wanted to use the château near Compiègne as a secondary residence, hesitated between this château and another. At the suggestion of the empress, he made the decision between the two by drawing lots. She, however, who preferred Pierrefonds, rigged the selection by writing Pierrefonds on both pieces of paper used for the drawing.

Viollet-le-Duc's approach to the project was not archeologic; he took great liberty in recreating what he imagined the château had been like during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. His colorful reconstitutions of the interior have been both lauded and berated as eclectic, although his exterior restorations are generally regarded as excellent. 

In the château's crypt are plaster-cast copies of the  recumbent effigies of France's royalty that are in the Basilique de Saint-Denis, Paris. These casts, made at the order of Louis-Philippe, were originally intended to be exposed at the château de Versailles. Today they are the principal players in a strange and creepy sound and dim-light display, le Bal des Gisants, an attraction in the lower reaches of the castle. Undoubtedly the closest a historic monument of France will ever come to being a Disneyland-like representation.

un tirage au sort:  a drawing of lots
un bal:   a dance, a ball
un gisant:  a recumbent statue
un tournage de film:  a shooting, a filming; a film making

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, September 23, 2012


On a day like this one it's easy to see why the French national geographical naming commission (la Commission Nationale de Toponymie) chose "La Côte Opale" --the Opal Coast-- as a name for the stretch of coast running from Dunkerque to the Baie de Somme. France's 2,000 kilometers of coastline, much of it strikingly diverse, is divided into 30 different zones, each with an inspiringly descriptive appellation. 

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Slingshot service--when ravenous and running late

This is the big, old-fashioned café-brasserie made famous in my books by the maître d's quip, "Servi  au lance pierre!" (Served by slingshot!) after I complimented him for the rapidity with which we were served our meals. Les Deux Palais is just across the street from the Palais de Justice on Île de la Cité, Paris, and has a mixed clientele of busy professionals and tourists.
An ô so typical quick lunch table setting, and mosaic tile flooring.
un lance-pierre:  a slingshot; a catapult
ô:  oh

More on fast food, click here...

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, September 21, 2012


In French you'll hear the idiomatic "renvoyer l'ascenseur" often enough, meaning to send back the elevator, i.e., to return the favor, or in some cases to respond to a misdeed by a misdeed; but the imaginative "l'esprit de l'escalier" is a bit more arcane. Literally it means "staircase wit" and is used to describe the feeling you get when you think of a riposte only after the conversation has ended. The idiom comes from a passage in Paradoxe sur le Comédien written in 1778 by Denis Diderot, the French philosopher and writer of 18th-century encyclopedia fame, where he laments not thinking of a reply to an argument against him until he was at the bottom of the stairs. 

We were left speechless, too, at the bottom of the stairs to this pretty wrought-iron gloriette, which sits high atop an artificial cave, La Grotte des Quatre Vents, in the Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. Like a number of other fabriques de jardin that still exist in the park, the grotto dates to the 18th century. The gloriette was a later 19th-century afterthought.

une gloriette:  usually a wrought-iron pavillon in the form of a bird cage; it can also designate a small decorative neoclassic garden pavillon
une grotte:  a cave
un escalier:  a staircase
l'esprit:  mind; wit; spirit
une repartie:  a repartee,  a quick, witty reply

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Se faire un visage de bois
This French expression means to take on a closed and cold facial expression, not to be confused with avoir la gueule de bois (to have a hangover). Another fitting but simple expression for this sculpture, which is a part of the primitive art collection at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, is faire face (to face).

un visage:  a face
une gueule:  a face, e.g., "mug" (slang)
de bois, en bois:  wooden

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


French cat Pompon puts on literary airs after having found le mot juste in his dictionary.

le mot juste:  the right word
juste:  fair; right; tight

©2012 P.B. Lecron


Restons groupés.
Everybody stay together.
An eerie but very important collection of life-size funerary mannequins from Vanuatu, a South Pacific island nation, about 1,750 kilometers from Australia. This mid-20th century grouping is on display in the Oceania section at the Musée du Quai Branly, of which the name, by the way, is interchangeable with  Musée des Arts Premiers, Paris.

Only men of standing in the Small Namba tribe, located on the Malekula Island, had the right to have a "rambaramp" or funerary effigy made of themselves, which they ordered during their lifetimes. At their deaths, their skulls and long bones were used as the base to remodel their bodies and facial features, as faithfully as possible, using organic matter such as clay, rolled banana leaves, pieces of tree ferns, spider webs, feathers and natural pigments. Decorative ornaments indicated the social rank of the deceased. Once the funeral rituals were accomplished, the head of the mannequin was placed in front of his house, whereas the rest of the effigy was taken inside and left to decompose.

un rambaramp:  a male mortuary figure containing the skull of the deceased, formerly created by people of the Small Namba tribe on Malekula  
le défunt:  the deceased
un crâne:  a skull
la glaise:  clay

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, September 17, 2012


Rester les bras croisés:  to remain with arms crossed; to not react
A French Education's mascot (ou plutôt chat masqué), Pompon, illustrates a French expression which in body language can signal that one either has nothing to do, refuses to act, or is analyzing a situation. For some, however, it's simply a comfortable position.

le langage corporel:  body language
les bras:  arms
sans rien faire:  without doing anything, without any reaction

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Most definitely female 
A 19th-century example of the "French sphinx" arrogantly sits guard, reinterpreting antiquity in the Parc de Bagatelle, Paris. The fabulous mythical creature was first introduced in France from Italy as an ornamental sculpture in the 16th century when king and mécène, François I, had the steps leading to the Cour des Fontaines from the Château de Fontainebleau adorned with a pair of sphinxes or sphinges. (They unfortunately did not survive the French Revolution, however there are others in the château's garden.) The French Renaissance sculptures were highly Mannerist revivals of ancient Greek and Egyptian sphinges. They often had elaborate coiffures, and were either clothed or unclothed with luxuriant accoutrements and pearls, like the sphinx we caught from behind in Nancy, below. During the 18th and 19th centuries the French-style sphinx became an important decorative piece in royal palaces and gardens throughout Europe. 
Sphinx or sphinge? The human part of the Egyptian sphinx was typically masculine, while the Greek sphinx was feminine; the French therefore use sphinge to indicate a female sphinx.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Motto: Libre comme l'air
Self-serve on-street electrical car rental in Paris, with a model designed and produced no less by the Italian Pininfarina. It's been almost a year now since the pilot project was put in place offering a new transportation solution to the growing number of Parisians who live unencumbered by the possession, maintenance and parking of their own cars.

Long-term subscriptions can be organized online, while short term users can simply obtain a user's badge at one of the Autolib' offices by presenting a valid driver's license, identifcation card and credit card. The badge allows the user electronic self-access to an Autolib' car parked at one of the numerous dedicated parking stations located in Paris and the greater Parisian area, where he can simply unplug the car he has booked and take off.

When booking the car the user also reserves a parking spot at the return station of his choice, which completely eliminates the hassle of finding a parking place. The act of correctly reconnecting the car to the electrical outlet automatically terminates the rental. Low rental tarifs are calculated in thirty-minute and minute increments, ideal for quick trips and errands necessitating a car. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Ce qui se dit à table, la nappe doit le garder caché. 
What's said at dinner, must not go any farther than the table.
Pompon, this blog's Birman mascot, strikes a pose to illustrate today's expression. In French it literally says that what's discussed at the table, the tablecloth must keep hidden. Another version of this call for discretion says, "Ce qui se dit à table se plie avec la nappe." Freely translated as "dinner conversation should be folded up with the tablecloth and put away." 

une nappe:  a tablecloth
se plier:  to fold up
tête-à-tête:  in private

©2012 P.B. Lecron


A mandatory side trip between Paris and Rouen: Les Andelys and the 12th century ruins of the Château Gaillard, Richard the Lionheart's fortress overlooking chalk cliffs and meanders of the Seine.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, September 10, 2012


Just another pretty face
Sometimes called rose papale and passe-rose, hollyhock is most often called rose trémière, an alteration of rose outremer, because the species was originally brought back to France from overseas--either during the 12th and 13th century Crusades, or as some believe imported from China during the 16th century. If only one flower could evoke summer vacation time in France, it would be this one.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, September 9, 2012


A replica of the Statue of Liberty flame, offered to the city of Paris by the Herald Tribune and installed at the Place d'Alma in 1989, spontaneously became the public's site to pay homage to Princess Diana after her death in a car accident in the tunnel beneath. August 31 marked the fifteen anniversary of the tragic event. I couldn't let another pretty day go by without posting these photos, taken early one morning last week during a rare moment when there were no people gathered around the flame.
©2012 P.B. Lecron


For 700 years this medieval clock has been keeping time in the Cathédrale Saint Pierre in Beauvais. It's thought by Beauvaisiens to be the oldest functioning carillon chime clock in existence. It's dwarfed by the cathedral's 19th century elaborate and imposing astronomical clock a few meters away (not pictured), but no matter. Less than two hours from Paris.

carilloner:  to ring, chime, peal
sonner:  to ring; to strike (as a clock)

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, September 8, 2012


The marble and glass Grande Arche at La Défense built from 1985 thru 1989 has always given rise to controversy because for many it disfigures the perspective from the Champs-Elysées. The interior empty space in the cube-like structure purportedly is tall enough to contain the spire of cathedral Notre Dame de Paris.

That's not the only space empty there: the top story which housed a convention and exhibition center, a computer museum, a restaurant and a panoramic observation area had to be closed to the general public in 2010 for safety and economical reasons; after reparation of an elevator following an accident, it was determined that renovation of the series of panoramic glass elevators would be too costly. Those spaces are now to be used as offices for the Ministry of Ecology, which incidentally has had to call for a safety inspection of the building's façade because of the porosity and erosion of certain of its marble plaques. Some have fallen off. The office space in the two supporting towers continue to be in use.

photo by Ian Byrd

vide:  empty
une flèche:  a spire; an arrow
un ascenseur:  an elevator

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, September 7, 2012


Commemorative bas-relief of Guillaume de Normandie, better known to anglophones as William the Conqueror, in the village of Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme. It was from this port on the Baie de Somme in September 1066 that Guillaume sailed with his army of some 15,000 men and 3,000 horses in a fleet of about 700 drakkars, to conquer and profoundly change England and its property system.

un drakkar:  a longship; a viking-like ship, or a viking ship
une bataille:  a battle
Guillaume le Conquérant:  William the Conqueror

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, September 6, 2012


On the rebound
Monsieur Chat, a.k.a. le Chat Perché, over the years has made himself known around the world. He's usually seen in death-defying and seemingly inaccessible as well as unauthorized places, just like any ordinary housecat. 

The series of grinning cats found in many cities in France and here and there over the globe, is the work of Franco-Swiss pop street artist Thoma Vuille, who started painting them in 1997 in Orléans. This bouncing cat is most easily seen from high atop the Promenade Plantée in the 12th arrondissement in Paris.

rebondir:  to rebound, to bounce, to bounce back, to rally; to get moving again, to suddenly be revived

être en train de remonter:  to be on the rebound (when speaking of the economy or business)
être sous le coup d'une déception amoureuse:  to be on the rebound (when speaking of a love relation) 

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


A stirring view from under the 101-meter high dome of the Basilique de Notre-Dame de l'Immaculée Conception, Boulogne-sur-Mer. Rebuilt after the original gothic cathedral had been demolished following the French Revolution, the 19th century neo-classic sanctuary was designed by an autodidactic architect, the Abbot Benoît Haffreingue. The Jesuit abbot who believed he was called by God to rebuild the cathedral, took inspiration from both the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican and Saint-Paul's Cathedral in London. The building which became his life work, was designated as a minor basilica in 1879. It is not, however, the principal church of the diocese with which the bishop is associated, although it is more often than not referred to as a cathedral by the general public.

une basilique:  a basilica
une coupole:  a dome, a cupola
un dôme:  a dome
un évêque:  a bishop
un évêché:  seat of authority of a bishop or arch-bishop; a bishop's see

iPhone photos courtesy of Ian Byrd.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Mieux vaut dormir debout que courir couché.
Better to sleep standing up than to run lying down. This expression is attributed to someone named Ruppert (with two "p's") Barnes. Pompon (this blog's mascot pictured above) and I have searched high and low online and cannot for the lives of us find out anymore about the enigmatic Ruppert Barnes than what is available on a dated and quirky Website which would indicate that Barnes is perhaps the self-proclaimed and latent master of "gromologie." 

Gromologie, a play on words, is a mot-valise or portmanteau; a fusion of gros and mot to create a neologism or newly coined word. 

gros(-se):  big, large
un gros mot:  a swear word
un portemanteau:  a coat rack or coat tree; as distinguished from a "portmanteau," a term first used by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass (1871) explaining the combination of words to form a new one, "two meanings packed up into one word" (N.B., at that time the French derivation "portmanteau" meant "suitcase" in English)
un mot-valise:  literally a "suitcase word," a reverse translation from the English portmanteau 
endormi(-e), ensommeillé(-e):  sleepy

©2012 P.B. Lecron