Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Say ouistiti! Armed with a smart phone, friend Sylvia captured this great face somewhere out in the Gard countryside.

un ouistiti:  a weirdo (slang); when taking photos the French will often tell their subjects "dites ouistiti" to get a big smile--the result is the equivalent of saying cheese
chahuter: to horse around;  to prevent a professor or lecturer to speak by being disorderly (familiar)
dans les parages: nearby, in the area of

©2013 P.B. Leacron

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Buy in bulk
Close-up of dehydrated vegetable snacks sold in bulk from help-yourself glass bins in a French supermarket.  Bulk buying is more and more widespread in France.
Who is Béa? She's an economical French woman who through her care and concern for our planet and resources has become an international icon and champion of a pared-down and drastically less-wasteful lifestyle. Her home is so uncluttered and clean, and her blog, too!

Originally from Rochefort-du-Gard, a community near Avignon, Béa Johnson started out as a fille au pair in the United States. Today, married with her own family and living in San Francisco, this pretty and très chic queen of parsimony and simplicity has managed her household so that it produces no more than a liter of rubbish per year--and enjoys life more!

If like me, you are appalled by the quantity of rubbish generated in the space of just one day, or if you're wondering how on earth Béa does it, go to her Zero Waste Home blog  for tips or read her book, below, edited in both English and French. She says she doesn't remember the last time she took out the trash. . .

le déchet:  waste
une poubelle:  a dust-bin, a garbage can; the name originates from its inventor, Eugène Poubelle, a préfet in the Parisian area, who in an 1884 crusade to eliminate loose kitchen rubbish in city streets imposed a rule obliging citizens to contain their trash in the regulation wooden, white iron-lined recipients with covers
encombrer:  to clutter
désencombrer:  to declutter

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Monday, December 23, 2013


Compter ses bénédictions
Au lieu de moutons
We were sitting in a small restaurant in a marvelously remote Auvergne village, Lavaudieu, when the proprietor's wife called us to quickly come to the window to see the sheep returning to the stable.

compter:  to count
une bénédiction:  a blessing
au lieu de:  instead of
s'endormir:  to fall asleep

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Learn more French with Pompon
French cat star and Sacré de Birmanie Pompon is back with another French lesson. His word today is mater--to reduce someone to obedience, to repress. But it also means to eye or ogle. Good choice, Pompon.

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Those who know the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres but haven't visited it in a few years are in for a surprise. Not only are its 13th-century stained glass windows in the process of being restored (since 1998), but artisans have been steadily and painstakingly restoring and cleaning the cathedral's dark, sooty walls and arches since 2008. The cleaning project is programmed to finish in 2015. The difference, as you can see in these photos, is dramatic and changes considerably the effect of viewing the cathedral's 94 stained glass picture windows. And when I say picture windows, I mean it literally--for the baies vitraux each tell a Biblical story. Before the advent of the printing press, the masses were not able to read text; thus the stained glass images were designed to be read like cartoons.
If the precious stained glass windows survived two world wars, there's a reason. Because the thousands who flocked to the cathedral on pilgrimages through the centuries used to sleep inside on the floors of the edifice, the windows were installed on hinges so that they could be opened to freshen the air in the cathedral. (Likewise, the floors were designed with a slope so that the water sloshed on the floors to cleanse them would run off on an intended course.) That the windows were on hinges facilitated their removal during both WWI and WWII so that they could be hidden away for safekeeping.

For an interesting account of how the entire cathedral was saved from destruction during WWII, click here.

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Presser le citron
"Presser le citron"  or "presser quelqu'un comme un citron" both mean to exploit someone to the maximum. 

It's unusual to find lemons ripening with their leaves still attached on supermarket shelves these days, although it was a more common practice twenty years ago. What luck I had a camera in my bag when I came across these at the grocery store. 

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


It was a real thrill to attend the École Centrale Paris "remise de diplôme" ceremony recently held in the UNESCO building--not only to be there as a proud parent but also to hear the keynote address of French particle physicist and alumnus, Nathalie Besson. Besson worked on the Large Hadron Collider project, to date the world's most powerful particle accelerator. The symmetry and beauty of the pre-formed concrete ceiling and walls of the UNESCO amphitheatre, with colored projector lighting, harmonized. Universal appeal.

une remise de diplôme:  a graduation ceremony
le béton:  concrete

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Monday, December 16, 2013


In Lavaudieu, which translates to "the valley of God," we were charmed by the welcome and helpful recommendations of Madame Robert at her rural bed and breakfast, La Maison d'à Côté, and the sweet simplicity of our room with a view of the Senouire River. Quiet and calm are guaranteed for a good night's sleep before radiating out toward other interesting spots including la Chaise-Dieu, Brioude and Puy-en-Velay. The Senouire River Valley is also known as Lafayette's country...the general and marquis who helped the American cause in its War of Independence was born in nearby Chavaniac where his château is now a museum.

La Maison d'à Côté, Chambres d'hôtes, 43100 Lavaudieu

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, December 15, 2013


In the Haute-Loire
One of the best travel tips I can offer is to journey from one Plus Beau Village de France to another and to plan to stay in local bed and breakfasts, called chambres d'hôtes--and often--de charme. Such an itinerary will necessarily lead you to extraordinary out of the way places, like the medieval benedictine Abbaye de Lavaudieu, of which its restored romanesque cloister is the sole entirely intact remaining in the Auvergne region. A treasure trove which includes not only these fascinating sculpted columns but an important 12th century mural in its refectory.
hors des sentier battus:  off the beaten path

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Avant l'heure, c'est pas l'heure!
When you say it's fifteen til, it's fifteen til! Notice the screw substituted for a foot of this 19th-century alarm clock on display in the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires de Lavaudieu.  Nestled in the Haute-Loire in the Auvergne,  Lavaudieu is ranked among the most beautiful villages of France.

au préalable, à l'avance:  beforehand
un réveil:  an alarm clock
réveiller:  to wake up

To listen to Edith Piaf sing Avant l'Heure, click here.

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Monday, December 2, 2013


An unusual exhibition in the pigeon loft of the 12th-century Normandie dungeon tower at the Château de la Roche Guyon. Artist Jeanne Lacombe stuffed photos of pigeons into roosting holes carved into the medieval limestone chamber. The casual observer would think that the photos were placed in the holes to prevent live pigeons from taking up residence in the dovecote, although the installation, smacking of conceptual art, is a part of a program establishing the château as a lieu for contemporary artists to expose their works. A musée éphémère. In her text accompanying the display, Mme Lacombe draws a parallel between unwanted pigeons and itinerants and illegal immigrants.

During WWII Rommel occupied the Château La Roche-Guyon, which from its origins was built into the chalk cliff overlooking the Seine, 66 kilometres northwest of Paris. Through the centuries the site has evolved in layers; descending from the first ancient troglodyte fortress at the top of the cliff down to the construction of its renaissance château, then later its 18th-century stables. A careful walk up the 250-step tunnel, excavated in the Middle Ages to form a stairway to the top of the dungeon tower, affords a commanding and panoramic view of the river valley and the bordering Normandie countryside.

un pigeonnier:  a dovecote, a pigeon house or loft
un sans domicile fixe: a homeless person, a person without a fixed domicile or permanent residence; an itinerant; commonly called an SDF
cataloguer quelqu'un:  to catalogue or pigeon-hole someone
un musée éphémère:  ephemeral museum; i.e. a temporary museum

©2013 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Wooden shoes, clogs, or as the French call them, sabots, a 19th-century symbol of anarchy. The shoe was typically worn by factory and farm workers. The verb saboter originally meant to walk noisily along. Although the origin of the word "sabotage" is debatable, most right-thinking Frenchmen will tell you that it comes from the act of protesting workers, who during the industrial revolution would throw their wooden shoes into cogs of the machinery, thus upsetting the works. Another explanation is that the word derives from the action of making noise with ones shoes in order to muddle the sound of secret conversations or covert speeches.

un sabot: a clog; a hoof
un sabotier:  a clog maker
une saboterie:  a clog factory
encombrer:  to clog up
saboter:  to sabotage (as of a machine, an installation or a negotiation); to botch or make a mess of

©2013 P.B. Lecron