Saturday, November 18, 2017

L'hexagone dans le Triangle

It's been a while since I have posted to Polly-Vous Francais!  I am happy to report that I am now in the "Triangle" area of North Carolina, where there is a vibrant French and Francophile community.  Stay tuned for updates on French-related activities in the area.

For starters:

RDU, the airport has daily flights to Paris

And the Alliance Francaise de Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill has just launched its new website:

And of course Raleigh is the sister city of Compiegne, which has great connections

And American Friends of the Chateau de Compiegne

Stay tuned!  Lots more updates from all over to be posted!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Seating Arrangements

Today I was at a meeting of French and American dignitaries to discuss French/American cultural activities.  Just my cup of thé!

The American organizers asked the ranking French diplomatic officer to sit at the head of the large conference table.  "Non, non," he demurred, "we will sit across the table from each other."

So the French delegation was on one side, the Americans on the other.  "L'océan Atlantique au milieu!" I joked.

As we were settling in, I mentioned to my French colleagues how seating arrangements can vary so much culturally between France and the U.S.  "For example, the rule that in France a woman always sits on the banquette in a restaurant, and the man..." Before I could finish they all nodded appreciatively.  "In the U.S., that doesn't exist," I said.

"Ah," said monsieur, "Alors, that is because there aren't banquettes in the U.S.?"

"Si, si, il y a des banquettes," I said.  "Mais il n'y a pas de règle."

Monday, February 29, 2016

O Panic! O Thrill! I'm Moving to Paris (History 2006 version)

Is it possible to imagine the sheer excitement and thrill and bone-chilling what-the-hell-am-I doing  anxiety when you are about to embark on a move to Paris?

Well, that was me, one decade ago today.

Breathe, Polly, breathe, I told myself.

House was turned upside down.

I was busy moving my stuff into storage. Becoming best buddies with the consignment store.

Organizing my grown kids' stuff into their own separate storage units.

Figuring out bank accounts, mail, goldfish, phones. Not sure I was doing any of it right.

Breathe, Polly, breathe, I told myself.

Every day was panic and exhilaration.

I had friends and helpers, joyful and forceful, who boosted me when I needed it.

I knew it was right, but I was anxious.  Helpers insisted on Rescue Remedy. Friends and I insisted on wine.

Breathe, Polly, breathe, I told myself.

Then the email of emails arrived from my Paris landlady, whom I hadn't yet met:

"The apartment is waiting for you!  Do you prefer tea or coffee for breakfast?  We'll stock it for your arrival.  The bed is made up with fresh sheets, and all you have to do is arrive safely and collapse into bed. We are having friends for dinner the next day to welcome you to Paris."

Polly wept briefly and breathed a deep breath of relief. This would work. This would WORK!

And so I embarked on my Paris adventure, March 2006.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Booksellers on the Seine (Post card version)

I love my collection of vintage Paris postcards.  I add to it every time I am in Paris, usually at lingering but somehow way-too-short trips to the Marché aux Timbres or the Marché aux Puces at Vanves.

This one, of a bouquiniste (book seller) on the banks of the Seine, appealed for a very specific reason:  I have a painting from almost the same vantage point.

Here is the post card:

And here is my painting, which I wrote about here.

Cool, oui?  I love how the shadow angles are the same.

Some collectors prize unblemished cartes postales, i.e.,  those which have no writing on them. Shame on me, maybe, but I love the post cards and greeting cards of yore with messages to friends, family, lovers, and -- in this case -- colleagues.  I get a glimpse of French life -- someone else's life --  in a brief message. (Or sometimes not so brief, but that's another story.)  Am I just a voyeur into others' past lives?  Oh well.

Here is the flip side:

Translated, it reads
"Best wishes to all the team.  Work,  work work. Fun, Fun fun!  Hi to everyone."

And the other cool thing that I discovered was that this company, Rhovyl, still exists in Tronville.  I wonder if anyone there remembers this co-worker.

I was trying to figure out the date of the post card, and so I hunted down the stamp.

Ah, it turns out it's not just any stamp.  This is none other than the Marianne Stamp designed by Jean Cocteau for La Poste in 1961.

 How cool is that? (Marianne, of course, is the symbol  of la République.  In the U.S. we have Uncle Sam, who is unfortunately kind of fixed in a goatee and hat.  Marianne is always evolving. One beauty after another.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Stealing Paris

Today I received a notice from a reader that someone was using a photo from my blog, which had been doctored and captioned,  for a hateful and racist post on a Facebook page.

Steam poured out my ears.  As if this week hasn't been awful enough for everyone who loves Paris and France.

It is bad enough when people use photos or other artistic creations without attribution or permission.

Alas, sadly we bloggers get accustomed to that sheer theft for our finer works of art or prose.  It shouldn't happen, but it does, and we try to remedy the situation as best we can. (I've been writing this blog for 8 years without remuneration, just for the love of sharing my bit of France.  I cringe to think of the number of people who have used images or text from this blog without asking.)

Just ask me, and usually -- USUALLY -- I will give permission.

Fortunately, Facebook was responsive to my report of copyright abuse today.  And for the pages which had shared it.

Here's what I wrote to my friends.  I rarely swear, so you have to understand my outrage:

There are lots of photos of Paris, I know. But dammit, *I* spent the money to be there for that moment, to take my kids to Paris for New Years, to rent the apartment on that street, to take the time and effort to get up early to take the photo, to post in on my blog. All for free, to share the love of Paris on my blog. And some idiot A-hole thinks he can just appropriate it to promote some anti-Islamic crap? That's the outrage.

Here is my original blog post, dated January 1, 2011.

The New Year's photo from that post.  I love Paris!  I love so many friends in Paris, of all different races and nationalities.

And  -- gahhhh --here is the doctored photo that some despicable thieves used to promote their own hateful agenda this week.

Whatever can be done to knock down these messages is not soon enough.  Not only did they steal a photo of beloved Paris, but they contorted it and turned it into a message of hatred.  Thankfully, Facebook has been prompt in stopping these pages.

Let's get rid of these thugs' photos!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Heureuse Année!

A lovely, if somewhat dark, 1928 carte de voeux that I found at the Marché aux timbres in Paris.

Bonne année cards haven't always been images of popping champagne corks, fireworks, and glittery Eiffel Towers, I guess. This one is just serene.

And on the flip side, a sweet and somewhat traditional message returning good wishes for the year.

I think that in France one normally doesn't wish Happy New Year until after the stroke of midnight.  After that, you can wish Bonne Année for the entire month of January.  I like that.

Anyway, here is the message side.

It reads:

"Ma chère Renée,
Je vous remercie bien vivement de vos souhaits qui m'ont fait le plus grand plaisir.

Je vous envoie, ainsi qu'à ma cousine, mes meilleurs voeux pour cette nouvelle année et vous prie de croire à l'assurance de mes sentiments très affectueux.  Je vous embrasse de tout coeur."

Loosely translated:

My dear Renée,
Thank you so much for your good wishes, which made me so happy.

I send to you, and to my cousin, my best wishes for this new year, and beg you to believe in the assurance of my very affectionate sentiments.  I send kisses with all my heart."

(I just love the French sign-off on letters, don't you?  So flowery and elegant.)

And so, mes amis, I beg you to believe in the assurance of my warmest wishes for a happy and healthy 2015.

Bonne année to all!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Suggestions for Celebrating New Year's in France

How to celebrate New Year's in France?

Here are mouth-watering and intriguing suggestions ...from 60 years ago. The 1954 December issue of Plaisir de France had the following delightful column, "Suggestions Pour le Réveillon."  Scroll down for the translation by yours truly.

Le réveillon, by the way, is the late-evening festive meal that is traditional for both Christmas Eve and New Year's eve.

Suggestions for New Year’s Eve in France – 60 years ago

"Ah, the perennial question – a ritual, really: where and how will we spend New Year’s Eve? Out at a cabaret or at home?

A cabaret? The tradition is on the decline, if it’s not vanishing, and a number of grand restaurants do not even have a special menu for the evening any more. They simply prolong the dinner. There are nevertheless some notable exceptions. In Paris, on rue Royale or avenue de l’Opera, you can celebrate New Year’s eve in some grand establishments for 3500 or 4000 francs, plus champagne at 2000 to 2800 francs per bottle. And, livened by jazz, among the couples of dancers and underneath the little multicolor balls strung from table to table, you might enjoy a menu such as
Truffled hen
Foie gras with porto gelée
Salade Lorette
Bombe glacée
Buche de Noel
Fruit platter

Those who like to travel might head south in their cars and, seeking out the picturesque, can head to Provence – to Mousade, L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Sains-Gilles or Saint-Michel-de-Frigolet, listen to midnight mass and attend the benediction of the lamb, presented at the Offertory on a little beribboned cart pulled by a ram, with the shepherds and shepherdesses in old-fashioned attire and head dress. The réveillon dinner will be provençal, of course, with green and black olives, anchovies, scallops, snails, maybe some aioli, sautéed chicken a la provençale or wild thrush, which you will dip the leg of in a glass of Chateauneuf-du-pape. Of course, the 13 desserts – almonds, figs, raisins, hazelnuts, brown and white nougats, pommes de paradis, jams, fougasses, etc., will complete the festivities. To top it off, wines might include a white Chante-alouette and the lovely muscat de Beaume-de-Venise which will make the girls lively and cause them to dance.

Or perhaps we are somewhat tired of the conformist menu and we aspire to something else. Oysters, so enjoyable, and especially belons with their musky flavor, are a nice substitute. By why not a gratinée or one of these wonderful pâtés de campagne en croûte, for which the lady of the household surely has a secret recipe? Or perhaps a trout or Arctic char, glazed in a gelée but which has been perfectly prepared in an exquisite court-bouillon, which could replace the langouste or the lobster? Roast goose or turkey? Too common! A pheasant, preferably a hen, which is more tender and delectable,  roasted wild thrush, a nice leg of goat served more than pink - almost red - will win you lots of accolades. With the leg of goat, madame, absolutely no gooseberry or red currant jam! Even avoid chestnut purée,  and instead serve a lovely purée of mushrooms which will give the soul of the forest to your meal.

There are more simple menus: onion soup, white or black boudin, a nicely arranged platter of gourmet cold cuts, where the pork filet is alternated on the platter with poulet en gelée. Or even small escargots, andouillette grilled with apples, or a galantine of poultry.

For you lovebirds – young or old – there exists yet another réveillon: the one spent at home, radio on softly in the background, a log on the fire (because there are still fireplaces, even in Paris!)

But perhaps you like adventure or the unexpected? If so, a few days before the réveillon, go to the tourism agency of the Boulevards, and sign up for the “réveillon surprise,” for 4000 francs per person. On the evening of the réveillon (Christmas or New Year’s), at 9:00 pm, you board blue or brown buses which will take you on the most amazing tour. Your bus will leave Paris by one of the Portes and then enter via another Porte; then your driver will seem to decide to head to one of the nearby towns; then en route he will veer onto another road and take you someplace completely different. Delighted and dizzily turned around, you will ask yourselves where on earth he might be taking you.

Last year, the buses stopped, at about 10 p.m., some in Robinson, others in Moulin-Orgeval or in the forest of Fontainebleau, others elsewhere. And en route the happy travelers enjoyed a menu which was undoubtedly very classic, but spiced with fun: dancing the farandole, crazy running from one level to the next, and other unexpected festivities. And the wine was included in the price - so no surprise on that score.

What shall we drink, though, during meals either rich or simple? Unless in our travels we find a province which is unquestionably spoiled by Bacchus, whose wine crus we simply can’t pass up, I admit that my favorites, for the reveillon of Christmas or New Year’s, is:


The name itself is magical, and without a doubt the most effervescent word in the French language. The word itself bursts forth like the cork from a champagne bottle.

However, madame, make sure that you swirl your champagne with one of these little winged twizzle sticks which a maître d’ will place in front of you with a flourish. This “brassage” lends to the wine a foamy verve, this bubbling (let’s not speak of carbonation) which Dom Perignon spent so much effort to perfect. Before Dom Perignon, as sometimes was the case in Anjou, champagne gently bubbled like this so pleasantly. But rarely do we let it keep this lovely characteristic. Respect it, madame, with Dom Perignon -- and with good taste.

One final bit of advice – and perhaps the most useful: never replace champagne by a mere sparkling wine, because as the Prince of Gastronomes, Curnonsky, once said “One does not champagne-ize champagne.”

Paul-Emile Cadilhac
of the Academie des Gastronomes.
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