Saturday, December 26, 2009

Meilleurs Voeux

Joyeux Noel, Bonne Annee, Happy Holidays to all and best wishes for 2010! 

When I dust off the snow, I'll be back with my Top Ten Things I Can't Shake from Paris.

I promise.

A bientot!

Monday, December 14, 2009

When You Wish Upon a Star

On this day four years ago, I was having a hard time making sense of what I would do next in my life.  I had successfully finished the important project I'd been managing, so my job was sadly ending. The sale of our family house of 15 years was looming. My kids were away at school, and I didn't know where I was going to live next or what I was going to do when I got there.  A relationship had imploded.  All I could see metaphorically were a lot of doors closing, slamming, or gently clicking shut.

Quite honestly, 2005 had been a personal annis horibilis to beat the band. (And, trust me, some of the others had been doozies.)

December 14, 2005.  I rattled around in the quirky lovable shingled Victorian cottage by the sea, a place where I'd been living for months while I readied my own house for  sale.  I had planned to buy this charming vintage cottage;  it was a house that I had instantly fallen in love with, to the point of envisioning it filled with grandchildren in a few decades, a home to come home to.  However, I'd recently gotten word that the deal to purchase the house wouldn't work.  I was crushed.  Drained.  A zombie.

That evening I sank into the sofa, surrounded by darkness, staring into the orange flames of the wood-fire in the immense stone fireplace, contemplating nothing and everything.

Outside, the ink-blue night was still, dark, and clear.  Eventually I climbed the creaking stairs and crawled under my down comforter, ready to be lulled to sleep by the distant sound of waves washing over Singing Beach.

I awoke a few hours later with a brilliant full moon shining through the window to the right.  It was gazing straight at me, the beams falling on my pillow, poking me awake.  I sat bolt upright and rubbed my eyes and took a good look up at the moon.  A perfect orb, incandescent white, glowing high in the blue-black sky. I was spellbound.

Out of the corner of my left eye, through the window that looked out over the ocean, I caught a slight motion.  A small speck of light had just fallen down over the Atlantic.  Did I just see a satellite fall to the sea? A plane crash? I jumped out of bed and ran to the window.  In that dark glassy sky, I saw another chip of light, sizzling like a spent firecracker down toward the horizon.

Shooting stars!

I was awestruck.  A full moon beckoning in the south window, a meteor shower in the east window.  Surely this had to be a sign!  Well, okay, at least an inspiration.  I watched the extravaganza for about a half hour, rapt. As that long unhappy year was drawing to a close, I finally was looking outward, beyond my own house, to elements bigger, brighter, higher.

I finally settled back to sleep with a smile, refreshed and peaceful.

And in the morning when I got up to fix my coffee, for once I didn't ruminate about my gloomy present or past. They seemed not to exist.  I simply knew what my next step was, and that was to go to Paris.

Three months later, there I was, living in Paris.  Invariably, people would ask, "What brought you to Paris?"

I couldn't exactly say, "It was a full moon and a falling star," now, could I?

Most often I would quip, "I think it was a 747, ha-ha."

But in some ways it was the moon and the stars, and a lifelong desire. 

Sometimes looking out the window is all it takes.

photo credit:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Polly Goes to San Francisco

In my never-ending quest in search of francophile life in the universe, this week Polly-Vous Francais is heading west, to San Francisco.  I'm so accustomed to transatlantic jet-lag, it'll be fun (well, so to speak), to experience the transcontinental variety.

Mostly I'm looking forward to discovering the charms of the Bay Area and its many French cultural and culinary delights.

Suggestions?  Favorites?

Oh, and if this is one of your suggestions -- sorry, I'm not biting.

Image via

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dear Abby: Should I go to France?

There's always a first time for everything.  Today I wrote to Dear Abby. 

No, no, no.  I didn't ask her how to solve any of my dilemmas (what? me worry?) but to commend her for a spot-on response to a college student's quandary.

Dear Abby:
I'm a college freshman, majoring in French but taking other languages as well. I don't know what I want to do with my life, but I know that I love learning languages.  My friend, "Lacey," has offered me the chance to stay with her family in France during our next summer break...
You can read the rest here (after the grandma's grooming query). 

I'd been out of the Dear Abby habit for a long time, until recently when I subscribed to our local daily as an implusive gesture of solidarity for the print industry.  (The recycling bin is taking a hit, though, as is my green-er social conscience.)

I whip through the news section (I've already read most of it online), and settle in on local events, comics, Eugenia Last's eerily accurate horoscopes, and then dear Dear Abby.  Cover to cover, about four minutes.  It takes me longer to walk down the hill to fetch it than to actually read the thing.  So I do have a quandary:

Dear Abby:

Should I cancel my newspaper subscription?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Save the Polly Waffle

Sometimes a news item comes across ye radar screene that has little to do with the general thrust of this blog.  And such was the case today.  I learned, to my utter dismay, that an Australian chocolate bar with the delicious name of  "Polly Waffle" is about to be given the axe by the Nestle chocolate company.

Really.  How dare they?  Just in time for the holidays, and Polly gets a pink slip.  So heartless. Honestly, corporate HQ, what were you thinking?

Polly Waffle has been around for 62 years, way longer than yours truly.  Surely it's not age discrimination?  In any case, the name is so... catchy!  There is even a Facebook group to save the Polly Waffle.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm compiling my next post about the top ten things I still haven't adjusted to one year after my departure from Paris.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Inky, Dinky Polly Vous

In honor of Armistice Day -- Veterans' Day in the U.S. -- I've been thinking about Dough Boys, anciens combattants and old soldiers' drinking songs.  Mademoiselle from Armentieres specifically.  I'm sure I heard it while watching any number of old black and white movies about World War I, but never really retained much of the lyrics except the refrain, "Hinky-dinky parlez-vous."  Which of course I used to think was... by George you've got it! 

Now that I have found out what some of the lyrics really are, I think it best if the bulk of the bawdy lyrics remain mumbled, kind of beer-sloshed as in this clip.

Related posts:

Chez les Rougier

In Flanders Fields

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Buy a Piece of Paris

Only 46 shopping days until Christmas, mes amis!  If you've been fretting over what tender je ne sais quoi to put under the tree for that special francophile on your list, I have an idea for you.

How about a piece of Paris?

On Monday, December 14, famed Parisian auction house Drouot will auction off over 300 iconic pieces of Paris.  Entitled "Paris Mon Amour," the sale will feature classic Parisian elements:  a Belle Epoque newspaper kiosque, a metro ticket-punch machine, a Second Empire vespasienne (the street urinals of yore and lore).  Old city benches (so romantic!).  Ancient photos. 

But the pièce de résistance will be the sale of a 26-foot tall section of a wrought-iron spiral staircase from the Eiffel Tower.  The 40-step staircase, one of the largest items ever on the block at Drouot, is expected to fetch between 60,000 and 80,000 euros.

As you might imagine, Paris nostalgia buffs are expected to turn out in droves for the event.

Bidding starts at 2 pm on December 14, Drouot Richelieu, 9 rue Drouot in the 9th arrondissement.  Preview is Saturday December 12 from 11 am to 6 pm.

Oh... thank you for asking.  Yes, I'd like the kiosque, not the vespasienne.

Images from wikipeda and Drouot.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mutual Admiration Society Film Festival?

Let's face it, folks.  We really do love each other, the U.S. and France.  Or at least we are endlessly fascinated with each other.  And there's no sign of this mutual admiration's waning.  Au contraire.

Here's a bit of culture news that caught my eye.  Opening this week  in New York is American filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's documentary of the ballet at the Palais Garnier. La Danse: the Paris Opera Ballet promises to be a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes at that elegant institution.

So why did I laugh when I read the review?  It had nothing to do with Wiseman's film per se.  There was just a bit of ironic timing.  A cultural juxtaposition, the kind that always hits my funny bone.

This week at the Virginia Film Festival, French cineaste Claude Miller will be screening the American debut of Marching Band.

Both of these documentaries are appealing.  I can't wait to see them.  But it tickled me to realize that this week in film news, France sees American culture through the lens of two southern university marching bands, whereas America views French culture as quintessentially elegant ballet.

Anyway, I was thinking how fun it would be to screen those two movies together. Because, really, we do love each other, we French and Americans. Are we drawn to what we find most exotic in the other culture?

So my morning java-inspired idea began evolving.  There are already a host of excellent French Film festivals in the US each year.  And of course the Deauville American Film Festival in France.  But how about creating an annual French/American film festival, to be held on both sides of the Atlantic?  It would feature, side by side, French documentaries about the US and American documentaries about France.  In France the screenings would no doubt be accompanied by débats philosophiques sprinkled with the phrase regards croisés. Maybe a flute of champagne.  In America they would probably be accompanied by hot dogs and apple pie, plus brie and baguettes. Right?

Just an idea.

image from Virginia Film Festival

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shopping for American Groceries in France

When I first moved to Paris, I scoffed at the notion of even being within sniffing distance of American food.  Bah!  Truth be told, it took a long while before I even deigned to go out for sushi or Italian food.  I was in PARIS, for cripe's sake. I was there for the cuisine.   I couldn't believe the tales of Americans flocking to McDo's for a Big Mac fix, or heading to The Real McCoy on rue de Grenelle in Paris to buy a bottle of maple syrup. 

But then, after a year or so, life kind of... normalized. I disovered the occasional joys of hamburgers in Paradise:  Paris.  The best I've ever had.

I travelled to the States often enough to bring back suitcases filled with Red Rose tea, Clif bars,  and various and sundry American food-craving fare for those cold autumn evenings when nothing else would do.  Unlike some of my ex-pat friends, there were some food items that I never missed, though.  Peanut butter, for example.  Toll house cookies.

Recently I discovered a site which is a boon to residents of France who, in between feasting on foie gras or poulet fermier, simply have to have their PB&J or Tex-Mex chili or pumpkin pie:  My American Market, an online grocery store for American food in France.  So important this time of year, too, when you just gotta have that candy corn or cranberry sauce!

When I first heard about it, I assumed it was a start-up by some enterprising American expats in France.  Mais non!  It was launched a few months ago by Anne-Claire Bocage, a French woman who had spent a few years in the U.S.  Upon returning to France, she had a few cravings of her own, and  --voila! -- a business was born.

Intrigued, I contacted Anne-Claire to ask a few questions. 

(Full disclosure: no goods, services or funds were paid for this article.  I'm now living in the land of  Kroger and Food Lion, so I've got all the American food I can handle...)
1. How did you come up with the idea? Was it just inspiration? Frustration?

My American Market’s adventure all started because of a ranch dressing craving (big things can happen because of cravings, so don’t rebuff them!).

Back living in France after several years in the States, I was dealing with a lot of cravings. Besides, I wanted to share with my entourage some American recipes with the right ingredients. I tried different options to get my favorite American treats and none were completely satisfying to me. Therefore I came up with this idea of a service that could satisfy most common US food cravings at anytime of the day or night.

2. Where do you get your ideas for products to offer? Do you have a suggestion box for Americans who are craving certain products?

I did an extensive market study before launching;  I looked at what other European stores were offering. I also polled potential customers through an online survey. I am very grateful over 300 people took the time to respond. Now that the website is up and running, I am getting a better feel of what is popular. I also get a lot of product suggestions that I take into account for expanding my selection.

3.  What are your most popular items?

Here are my top 10 bestsellers after operating for three months:

1. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
2. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
3. Pepperidge Farm Cheddar Goldfish
4. A&W Root Beer
5. Little Becky’s Marshmallows
6. Aunt Jemima’s Cornbread Mix
7. Dr Pepper
8. Reese’s Pieces
9. Aunt Jemima Pancake Syrup
10. Jif Peanut Butter

4.  Do you have many French customers, or are they mostly American? Other nationalities?

Well, I don’t check IDs when customers are placing an order! But I am getting a sense that I am mostly serving Americans, or French people who have lived in the States for several years. Sometimes when promoting my service, it has been a challenge to deal with negative stereotypes French people carry about American food and cuisine. But I consider this is one of my missions as an “épicerie américaine!” Read more about it on my blog.

5.  What is the reaction of French people when you tell them about your business?

I often hear "Why on earth would you want to sell unhealthy American food when you live in a country with such sophisticated and savory cuisine?"

Well, don’t get me wrong: I love living in France and I am not complaining about the eating part either! Yet, I really enjoy American food for several main reasons:

- It reminds me of my “American home”
- I like the taste of it! Nothing can beat beef jerky as a snack to me. I know some of you would travel very far for a peanut butter cup. There are no substitutes here in grocery stores for cooking a decent pumpkin pie or spicing up your homemade chili.
- I love spreading American tastes. It makes me feel like I am contributing to fighting stereotypes or short-mindedness.

6.  Are there any other services like yours in France?

Yes. There are a couple of stores in Paris that carry an equivalent selection of American food products. Yet, My American Market’s way of doing business is dramatically different.

First, it’s an online store. Not everyone in France lives in Paris!  And even in Paris, it can be a hassle to get stuck in traffic, fight for a parking spot, carry heavy grocery bags around. It was important to me to offer a fast and convenient service for anyone to shop whenever the cravings get them and to have the products be delivered right to their door, wherever that front door might be located!

Second, I am building a business that is more than just a regular “Epicerie Américaine.”  It is a place with a sense of community, the American way! I use Web 2.0 tools and create a platform with many possibilities to communicate, exchange, network, cooperate, play and have fun with other members of the American community and friends. I’d like everyone to take part in the process if they wish, so My American Market becomes everyone’s contribution. If anyone would like to get a better feel of what I am doing, please become fan of My American Market on Facebook.

7. Do you have an estimate of how many American expat households there are in France? [I know there are official numbers, and some unofficial numbers.] Or semi-American, i.e. an American/French couple.

It is very hard to know how many Americans are currently living in France. I estimate there are 100,000+ citizens: 50% in Paris and its suburb, 50% in the rest of France.

8. Any good customer quotes?

Here is a small selection of client testimonials that I have received:

"I just love My American Market! Since I can't go to the States that often, I now have a super solution for getting my Reese’s candies, non-Canadian pancake syrup, Pam cooking spray and whatever else I feel like at the moment. American airport customs love to tear apart suitcases for pancake syrup, so now I don't have to worry about whether they can get my suitcase closed again or not. So when I do go to the States, I can just concentrate on leaving room in my suitcases for things that won't melt, leak or get smashed. With such excellent service and fast delivery, I'm thrilled!" Jenny from Merville (31)

"I am an American (originally from the Colorado area) currently living in Marseille with my (French) wife and our 4 year old son. We moved here last summer. I am often in search of products here and have to keep asking my mom to send them, so this is great!" Sean from Nice (06)

"I am married to a French man and have been living in the French culture for 25 years. But it is still important for me to celebrate American holidays. Now I know where to shop for next Thanksgiving." Susan from Neuilly sur Seine (92)

9.  Of course, this time of year is big for Americans and their food cravings. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Do you stock special seasonal items for the American holidays?
I'm thinking candy corn, cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin pie, mint jelly, candy canes, etc.

Of course, we do carry seasonal products and the Holiday season should be our busiest time of the year. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas products can be found in the seasonal products category.

Friday, October 23, 2009

In a parka do bun do?

"In a parka do bun do, in a parka do bun doooo...."

Well, at least that's how I first understood the lyrics to "Dominique," the wildly popular song in the early 1960s.  You remember, Dominique-nique-nique?  Sung by the Singing Nun, aka Soeur Sourire, it was already a hit when she made her debut on the Ed Sullivan show.

My family owned the LP back in those school-girl days before I knew any French.  So I used to spend hours curled up on the sofa listening to "Dominique" over and over, trying to decipher "onto shemay altude you, in a parka do bun do."

Then I found the lyrics printed on the album cover.

Dominique -nique -nique s'en allait tout simplement,
Routier, pauvre et chantant.
En tous chemins, en tous lieux,'
Il ne parle que du Bon Dieu,
Il ne parle que du Bon Dieu.

I must have worn a groove in the vinyl as I repeated the torture until not only could I match each written word to the sung French but  --  at long last  -- was actually able to repeat it.

It's still incredible to me to think that a French song about a saint could have topped the charts on American pop radio.  Soeur Sourire eventually disappeared from view, and I despised the saccharin Debbie Reynolds film version of her.

I'd forgotten about her over the years.

Then on last Sunday's episode of Mad Men, what comes filtering out of Miss Farrell's apartment when she opens the door?  Yup.  Domnique -nique -nique.

And now in a parka do bun do is stuck in my brain.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Opinel Knives in the U.S.

Opinel.  For those who know it, the very name conjures up impromptu picnics in the French countryside.  Relaxed on a blanket in the shade, using your folding Opinel knife to cut a slender wedge of brie or saucisson, slicing a piece of crisp apple or juicy pear.  To me, anyway, an Opinel knife equals quintessential, classic France. Simple and perfect.

An Opinel was always a perfect inexpensive gift to bring home from France (tucked securely in checked luggage!) because, after all, Opinel knives aren't available in the U.S.  Right?

Wrong!  Opinel knives are now sold online through  Every kind of Opinel imaginable, it seems, from the blunter Opinel Jr. to more serious stainless steel folding knives to last a lifetime.

I spoke with Frederic, the owner/distributor of Opinel USA. "I had my first knife when I was about ten," he said.  "It seems most Americans don't give their kids knives to learn how to use them any more."  We agreed that this was a shame:  the joys of whittling and proper knife usage seem to be largely ignored.  On the other hand, maybe I just haven't met the right American kids.  Maybe they do still teach proper knife usage in the Boy Scouts?

But here's the extra-cool part, and the reason that I discovered Opinel in America in the first place.  Opinel France has made limited edition Lafayette-Hermione folding knives from the excess wood of the reconstruction of Lafayette's boat l'Hermione.  And the handle is stamped with the name.  Opinel is donating a percentage of the proceeds to helping l'Hermione make her voyage to the east coast of the U.S. in 2012.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009

Today is Global Blog Action Day.  When I was first asked to participate, I knew immediately what I wanted to write about.

If you have an hour and a half to spare for the planet, I highly recommend French photographer and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand's exquisite 90-minute documentary Home, produced by Luc Besson.  The photography is breathtaking and the message is compelling.  Earth is our fragile island home -- the only home we have.  Our challenges in taking care of our home today and in the future are complex.

Arthus-Bertrand, perhaps best known for his documentary and book Earth from Above (La Terre vue du ciel) has given up author's rights to Home so that all may see it on the web.  You'll be glad you did.

For more information check out his website GoodPlanet.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Inside the Embassies of Paris

Paris, as a capital city, is host to hundreds of embassies, many in sumptuous palaces. But the grand architecture we now associate with the missions of the foreign countries wasn't always the case.

During the Ancien Regime, most foreign emissaries to Paris were housed wherever appropriate lodging could be found -- and often according to the value of their good graces to the Court and a complex hierarchy of precedence.

But in the 19th century, with increased international relations, came the necessity of finding permanent dwellings for these foreign ministries. The opportunity for housing befitting a nation presented itself in the wake of the French Revolution. Many grand mansions of the aristocracy, now vacant, were acquired for the diplomatic missions.

Each of these beautiful hôtels in the "noble faubourgs" of Saint Germain and Saint-Honoré, and the rococo palaces near the Parc Monceau, is now a small island of homeland of the country it represents. As such, they are not normally open to the general public (although a few might fling open their doors briefly on les Journees du Patrimoine.)

We thus too seldom have a chance to view their lush, gilt interiors, their art treasures and ornate carved panelling. These chancelleries and embassies remain as mysterious to us as the intricate codes of diplomacy.

Now we have the good fortune -- at least in book form -- to peek inside for the first time.  In Ambassades à Paris, author and historian Elisabeth Martin de Clausonne and photographer Hermine Cleret take us inside for a tour of these magnificent buildings. Text is in French, but the photos speak for themselves.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

"French Taxes" Phishing Scam

I'm such a sucker when it comes to authority.  Especially when the authority is French and I'm not sure if I've done something wrong. I wilt with guilt, while hastily trying to figure out how to excuse/charm my way out of it.

But today, in my email inbox was a new challenge.  A notice from informing me that I was eligible for a tax rebate.

Après les derniers calculs annuels de l'exercice de votre activité, nous avons déterminé que vous êtes admissible à recevoir un remboursement d'impôt de € 178,80.

 S'il vous plaît soumettre la demande de remboursement d'impôt et nous permettre de 10 jours ouvrables pour le traitement.

Pour accéder au formulaire pour votre remboursement d'impôt, cliquez ici

Un remboursement peut être retardé pour diverses raisons. Par exemple la soumission des dossiers non valides ou inscrivez après la date limite.
I ran through my mental rolodex of taxes duly paid. Taxe d'habitation? Check.  Redevance audiovisuelle?   Check.   Taxe... well, check, check, and check.  But something didn't ring right -- ca ne clochait pas.  I had never given the Fisc my blog email address.

So I google-checked it, and sure enough, on the Fisc website there is a current  warning of a phishing scam.

Just so you know.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Polly Goes to Paris

Fabric is so cool.  Have I mentioned my love affair with fabric?  Oh, yes I have.

So I was naturally ,er, ego-pleased to see this sweet Paris-icon fabric called "Polly Goes to Paris."  Zee poodles!  Zee Eiffel Tower!  Zee bicyclettes! Zee cafes!


Friday, September 25, 2009

Paris Notes

It is with great sadness that I learned today that Paris Notes, a venerable insider's guide to the BEST of everything Paris, is ceasing publication.   For so many years before I lived in Paris, it was my umbilical cord to France when I was longing to live there; and it was a source of irreplaceable information and tips even when I was a denizen of the City of Light.

Editor Mark Eversman reports:

During the past 17 years it has been our distinct privilege to provide you with passionate, reliable, quality Paris information. We've visited every corner of the city, dined in hundreds of restaurants, checked out countless hotel rooms, had more than a few coffees in a multitude of cafés, ogled art and artifacts in every single museum in the city, walked hundreds of blister-prone miles of Paris sidewalks, interviewed luminaries and lightweights alike, endured weather of all extremes, and kept a daily vigil for even the smallest shred of information that would be of interest to you, the Paris Notes reader.
Good news for those who love Paris is that the last 50 issues of Paris Notes are now available for free to read and save -- and savor.  Should be bound -- enshrined --  in book form, in my estimation.

When a door is shut, a window is opened, I guess,  So fabulous France Today magazine has agreed to meet the needs of current Paris Notes subscribers for the remainder of their subscriptions.

Happy reading to all, and best wishes for future endeavors to all who contributed to almost two decades of such a wonderful publication.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Curious (non) connections?

This photo just appeared in the Huffington Post's "Funniest Protest Signs of 2009," which admittedly has some real doozies.  Check 'em out.

But curiously, the HuffPo caption for the photo was "Polly Vous Francais?"

Trust me, HuffPo, I didn't submit that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Here, have some Chocolate

"Tell us that chocolate story, Mommy!" my kids would beg when they were little. "Pleeez?!"

So I would once again tell them about visiting my friend Isa in France. At about 5 pm, when we were in initial preparation for dinner, her kids were hanging out in the kitchen. They started pulling grapes from the fruit basket and popping them in their mouths. Isa reprimanded them. "Stop eating all that fruit. You'll ruin your appetite. Here, have some chocolate instead." She handed them a tablette of dark chocolate. They each took a square or two.

At each telling, my kids would giggle anew with delight; and that anecdote became a staple in the family repertoire of Why We Like France: chocolate instead of fruit before dinner??!!

When I lived in Paris, I lost any sweet tooth I may have had. Lunches or dinners were rarely followed by dessert, but I almost always had a little espresso and a square of dark chocolate. I'm not much of a chocolate connoisseur, but I found that even the thin Nestle or Cote d'Or square were silky and had just enough bite to make them interesting.

Here in the US, it's been a challenge to find the proper chocolate replacement. Lindt hasn't done the trick. I can't remember all the varieties I've tried, but I have thrown out many big bars of unacceptable chocolate. It's as if the manufacturers think that it has to be bitter or sweet. Besides, the bars are all too thick for my taste.

Yesterday at the local gourmet foods grocery store, at long last I found Ghiradelli chocolate in individually-wrapped thin squares. Yesss! I was thinking. The perfect dessert. I was recapturing, I hoped, a bit of Parisian life.

Then, at the check-out. The courteous cashier rang up the salmon, the cous-cous, the wine, the grapes. She held the chocolate out to me. "Did you want to keep the candy in your handbag, ma'am?"

Update:  this photo (via Nestle)  is of the chocolate that kept me happy in Paris.  Chocolate with bits of cocoa bean.  That's not candy, it's cuisine!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What French Women Know, Part 2

What do you get when you cross a francophile and a bibliophile? 

A lot of great books have been written by women attempting to explain the French mystique.  These are just the ones that I own, that I could find quickly. They are piled up in no particular order.  All but one written by non-French women.  All worth a read.  (Yes, that is Olivia deHavilland's book you see in the middle.  Written in the 1950s and still timely!)

It's not an exhaustive collection; and feel free to suggest your favorites if not included in the photo.  Off the top of my head, most notably missing are books I've lent to friends, such as Petite Anglaise, Paris Hangover, and everything by Diane Johnson.

Making any list is terrible because there will be unforgivable omissions.  I humbly apologize in advance (like fraulein Maria kissing the ground before the nuns walk by). 

Please go out to your local bookstore or library or favorite online book source, and enjoy these.

As I said, I'm a francophile and a bibliophile.  I wanted to pay tribute to an incredible posse of writers describing what French women know. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

All that glitters isn't goldfish. Or is it?

It's time for a break in the action. Definitely.

And as long as I'm living my life in a fishbowl these days, I figured it was about time to have a Special Someone in my life to share it with. My last Special Someone, alas, is still in Paris, hanging out with a woman named Sofia.

And since companionship-seeking is not the kind of activity I feel comfortable doing on line, I'm heading to town for some action.

Yup, I'm a-goin' to the pet store to buy me a goldfish.

You may remember my tales of Lou-Lou in Paris. I sadly bid her adieu when she was adopted during my final days in Paris by some lovely people. Afterward they emailed me periodic updates as to her health and general happiness. We've lost touch a bit, though. I don't know how Lou-Lou is these days. Or if Lou-Lou is these days.

But to paraphrase Camus, il faut imaginer Lou-Lou heureux.

Poisson rouge# 1 was Matisse. Poisson rouge #2 was Lou-Lou (named for Louise de Vilmorin).

Poisson rouge # 3 is yet to be named, and I am taking suggestions.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What French Women Know: Part One

Wow. French epistolary literature is beginning a new era. I bring you the first chapter: What French Women Know.

August 14, 2009

Dear Polly,

I finally found you! I'm an author with a new book coming out next month about French women ("What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind"). A few years ago, while I was writing the book and talking to countless French women, someone sent me a copy of a blog post about flirting in France. It was a personal anecdote. The post didn't have a source. I thought it was a perfect representation of a fleeting moment of French flirtation (experienced by an American), and I quoted it in my manuscript. When it got time for serious copy-editing, no one (not me, not my editor) could find the source of the anecdote, and it was deemed officially off-line. (This is a windy road getting to my point...bear w/me!) Then just last month I was in Paris, met [
name of Parisian blogger], she sent me a post she'd written about lingerie, which had a reference to a piece you'd written, which lead me to your blog, which led me to... the anecdote above.

All this to say, first, bonjour. Am very glad to have finally "met/found" you. I'd love to send you a galley of my new book, and also tip my hat to you in my blog. I finally got a new web site up ( which will soon have a blog, though -- full disclosure -- I'm not much of a blogger. It will probably be more random/impressionistic than journal-ish. Still, I'll find a place to salute you.

If you sent me your snail mail address, I'll make sure you get a galley asap. In the meantime, hope you're doing well wherever you are. Perhaps one day our paths will cross in France.


Debra (Ollivier)

Same day, reply. Blogger fawning over published author:

Hi Debra!

So good to hear from you. Your first book was kind of a bible of mine, so I may be a little biased when I read the next one. I think you won't mind... Sorry I never wrote you any fan mail -- I may have mentioned it in the blog.

I would love to read a galley proof of your book. So happy you have another one soon to be published
. [here I inserted my snail mail address].

And let me know if you need any help with your blog. They're not obvious, and I spent my first two years in Paris going from zero to sixty on the blog learning-curve. At least I now have an extra transferable skill.

Keep in touch.


A full two weeks later. Too late to correct galleys? Bound book (not galleys) received chez moi August 27, with concomitant outraged What?! You Forgot to Credit my Blog!? post published. After twenty-four hours attempting to calm my rattled nerves, I wrote this:

August 28, 2009:

Dear Victoria [publicist at G.P. Putnam; cc'd to Debra Ollivier]

Yesterday I received an advance copy of "What French Women Know," published by G.P. Putnam and with an anticipated sale date of September 3, 2009.

And while I was pleased to start reading it and found the book had great merit, I was startled and upset to find that a long passage of my original work was printed therein without permission or attribution. I am the proprietor of all copyright in a literary/artistic work entitled "Polly-Vous Francais?", which I began writing in May 2006.

The text on pages 25-26 of "What French Women Know" is identical to my copyrighted work. Since permission to use my work was not granted it therefore legally constitutes infringement of my rights.

In normal circumstances, an infringement of copyrighted material would bring demand that you immediately do one or more of the following.
1. remove all infringing content and notify me in writing that you have done so;
2. credit all infringing content to myself in a manner to be deemed appropriate;
3. immediately cease the use and distribution of copyrighted material;
4. undertake in writing to desist from using any of my copyrighted Work in future without prior written authority from me.

Not being litigious by nature, however, I would prefer as a first step to discuss with you and the editorial department at G.P. Putnam some positive and appropriate way to correct this ethical and legal wrong.

I await to hear from you at your earliest convenience, but by no later than close of business on Tuesday September 1, 2009.

Yours truly,

[Polly etc.]

Received Tuesday evening, September 1

Dear [Polly-Vous Francais]

I received your e-mail last Friday, August 28. It was my intention from the start to fully credit the passage that I used from your blog; as you know, I was unsuccessful at locating your blog in order to specifically attribute the passage at the time I was writing the book. I am pleased that I now have the opportunity to do so.

I have spoken with my publisher and they will include the name of your blog in future reprints of my book as well as in the paperback edition. So please let me know how you would like your blog credited; I will then pass that information on to my publisher. Thanks very much.


Debra Ollivier


Hmm. Of course, reprints and paperback rights are an interesting offer, assuming the book gets to that point. But what about the current audio-book versions, e-book versions, and foreign rights, such as China? Methinks we need to reconsider.

I've been so touched that friends, colleagues, and peers -- including my wonderful readers -- have sent kind words of support. Some have sent reviews to Amazon mentioning the copyright flap. Curiously, all of those reviews seem to have been yanked by unknown powers. Keep trying!

Meanwhile I find myself in a bizarre David vs. Goliath pseudo-battle that I never wanted or anticipated.

My question is now: am I sabotaging my own efforts to some day get my own book published if I make a stink out of this? If so, that's my loss, I guess. But I believe it's the right thing to do.

I'm no Donna Quixote, but I just call it as I see it.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Top Ten Expat Blogs about Paris

This brightened my day! This week Polly-Vous Francais was named one of the top ten expat blogs about Paris in Arthur Frommer's online Budget Travel.

Budget Travel has always been one of my favorite resources. Now it is my number one!

Obsessed about Paris? Um, actually, I guess I am.

Un grand merci to Budget Travel -- and kudos to all on the list. There are so many great Paris blogs.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Please don't pick the flowers

In my recent peregrinations on the East Coast of the U.S., I came across this sign.

It struck me as funny. Because in the multitudes of delightful flowering gardens both public and private in Paris, I never saw signs admonishing passersby not to pick flowers. I guess it's simply understood: if the beauty of the landscape is there for all to admire, you just don't snap off a blossom to take home for your personal use.

Which brings me to a delicate confession. Perhaps an analogy? Or just a story.

A few years ago a Certain College Student Who Shall Remain Nameless had come home to Paris on summer break, with one of his pals from school. One morning, after the gents had spent the previous evening acquainting themselves with Parisian nightlife, I found near their sleeping quarters an exquisite, huge rose. Pale salmon, petals edged with deep pink. A prizewinning bloom.

When they finally awoke, I asked about the rose.

"Um, I don't remember exactly where we got it," said my darling miscreant. "I think it was some garden near the Eiffel Tower."

Aghast. I was aghast. But I held my composure. "Sweetie, I said, "there are so many gorgeous flowers growing all over Paris. No one picks the flowers. It's just not done."

"But it was in a spot where no one would really notice," he said. "I didn't think anyone would mind. It was just one flower, and it smelled great!"

"I know," I replied. "But that's not the point. I don't even need to say the classic 'if everyone did this' what the consequences would be. The point is that someone else -- whether a professional gardener or some little old lady -- spent a lot of time cultivating that rose. It belongs to that person, who lovingly grew that flower so that the the rest of the world could enjoy it."

"So," I concluded my sermon, "I know you won't ever EVER do this again. But if some time you lose your senses and commit such an egregious mistake again, please do me one favor."

"Okay," he said. He seemed genuinely contrite.

"Please promise me that if someone ever catches you in the unforgivable act of snatching a flower from a garden, you'll make up a really convincing Parisian-style story. Fabricate a clever story and tell them you simply had to have it to win the heart of a beautiful girl you were in love with. Anything. Just don't try to defend your right to take a flower because you thought no one would notice or care."

I turned and walked away to fix some coffee, shaking my head at how much I'd learned in Paris.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What!? You Forgot to Credit My Blog!?

Dearest, darlingest, G.P. Putnam,

Right now I am so upset that my hands are shaking. My mind is racing, my heart is pounding. I can hardly type.

On the one hand, I am flattered, G.P.! Flattered that Debra Ollivier chose to excerpt my blog in her soon-to-be published-by-you book What French Women Know. On the other hand I am having a heck of a time calming myself down. Pacing. Rattled. Why? You may have guessed. She didn't attribute a full page of well-crafted prose to me.

Nope, she instead simply said "Take this typical blog posted by an American woman in a Parisian grocery store," then proceeded to quote one of my most popular blog posts on French Flirting.

How popular is that post, you ask? Excellent question, G.P. Putnam. It is very, very popular. You know how to Google, don't you, G.P.? Try googling the phrase "French Flirting" and see what pops up first. Not merely on the first page of Google hits, but THE number one. Why, goodness me, that's the very post she used in her book. Look, look, G.P.!

A bit of history. A few weeks ago I was flattered to receive an email from Debra Ollivier, asking me to review a galley proof of her book, and to apologize for inadvertently failing to attribute a quote from my blog. "At last I found you!" she said, with a drawn-out story about how it had been too difficult to track down and credit the source. Neither she nor her editor (your editor) had been able to find me! Pourtant, G.P. Putnam, I am no shrinking violet. No Writing Wallflower! Polly-Vous Francais is anything but anonymous.

At the time I assumed that she had perhaps made a vague reference to one of many insightful posts on my blog. Debra promised to "make up for it" by mentioning me in her blog. (Naive moi, I even responded by offering to HELP her with her blog. You know, we writers lending a hand to each other and all. Ha!)

O excuse me, G.P. Putnam, but Debra's blog gets how many hits? And tell me, G.P., is that how publishers and authors make amends these days for failing to give proper credit to a source? By a follow-up mention in their blog? (FWIW, G.P. Putnam, my blog gets a quarter of a million page pageloads annually.)

And here is my quandary, G. P. Putnam. As soon as FedEx delivered the book today, I kicked off my shoes, got my reading glasses, and guiltily ignored the pressing need to send out more job applications. I wanted to dive right into the book; I knew it would be a tour de force. I had actually forgotten about the pesky attribution issue Debra had mentioned weeks earlier. "Hmm, this book is really, really good," I was thinking to myself as I read. "So intelligent. So well written." Then I reached page 25, and saw the quoted text. "Oh goodie, this is me!" was my first reaction. Yes, she had quoted it properly, precisely. The section of my blog post (the original is here) continued on page 26, taking up a full page of her book. "Wee! She likes me!" I first thought, glowing with pride. I continued reading for a bit, but a nasty feeling started creeping over me. Wait a sec. Wait a sec. This isn't RIGHT!

And that, G.P. Putnam, is when I started shaking in anger. This wasn't just a little blurb. It was a full page! Dear, dear, G. P., I think you must have copy editors who know how to check quoted text by inserting it into a Google search and seeing what pops up. And then to give FULL CREDIT to the writer. Don't you?

Alors, now what, G.P. Putnam? Do I keep blogging away, unpaid, my work unattributed in your book? Do I jump up and down and scream and say "How about me? How about MY writing?" for a while? Do I point out the little copyright sign at the bottom of my blog and start calling dial-a-lawyer?

I don't know.

But I'm not going to take this lying down.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Liberation of Paris

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris.

All around Paris there are daily reminders of the Liberation, such as this plaque. Read more here.

Starting at 4:45 pm today there will be an official ceremony at the Hotel de Ville in Paris, including une Evocation Historique en 5 Actes.

Additionally, a smaller ceremony at the Mairie of the 7e arrondissement will take place at noon. Rachida Dati, other elected officials, and Anciens combattants will commemorate the anniversary. 116 rue de Grenelle.

If you are not in Paris, but have a half hour to spare, do yourself a favor and watch this documentary, filmed in secret during those weeks in August -- from the first insurrections in mid-August to the victory parade with the 2nd French Armored and 4th US Division. It includes General De Gaulle's famous "Paris brisé! Paris martyrisé! Mais Paris libéré!" speech. It's all in French, but you'll understand.

Click here to watch the film.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Paris in August is ...

Paris in August. Paris au mois d'août.

It is decidedly not like the other eleven months.

What do you think of Paris in August?

Charles Aznavour had his opinion.

There are juillettistes who prefer to take vacation in July. And aoûtiens who prefer to be away in August. I've offered a few reflections of my own from time to time. Peacefulness. Parking. Men. In no particular order. And don't get me started on the OO vs. OOT pronunciation.

But being ever so open-minded, I value others' opinions. So, the Polly-Vous Francais Homegrown INSEE/Gallup Poll is asking you to fill in the blank.

Paris in August is _________________________.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Paris Trees

I pine for Paris all the time. But nothing makes me miss Paris more than a nice long chat with Mary Blake on Skype. We gossip, we laugh, we share secrets (heh heh). We critique and compliment. She's in her atelier in Montmartre, her cat Lucie climbing across the computer keyboard. Her cobblestone courtyard outside the door. Sacre Coeur just up the hill. I'm in Virginia. Well, I'm in Virginia. Trees, hills, deer, fireflies: verdant bucolic splendor.

After an hour or so of talking at each other's screen faces (wearing the same reading glasses from Pylones, it turns out), when we hang up I'm always good for a 15-minute self-pity sobfest. I love my life here, but I want to be in Paris!

Yes, I have lush greenery, but Mary Blake also has trees. Her most recent works focus on the trees of Paris. Check out her entire blog, Painting Paris. Her trees are sheer poetry.

Image: copyright Mary Blake 2009.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Polly's Summer Vacation

Alors, it's almost August 1, and you know what that means. Time for a petit break in the action. Not that I'm departing to loll around the Riviera reading Gala and Paris Match. Vacation is a relative term.

I'll be back in the saddle posting again in a week or so. But so that no one goes into Polly-Vous Francais withdrawal (how I delude myself!) here are a few oldies from the past year that you might enjoy re-reading. Or not.

1. Why did the chicken cross the road?

2. Have you ever eaten anything so disgusting-looking but delicious?

4. Because it really did change my life.

5. Getting my teeth cleaned in Paris. No sedation necessary!

6. The shrieks from my apartment were innocent... really.

7. Classic French footwear: espadrilles!

9. An incredible place to stay on the Loire Valley... and the most incredible coincidence of my life, so far.

10. Fun times at the Marche aux Puces. My stats tell me that there's a, um, um, community out there that really digs these gals. Who knew?

11. We're still working on the book. Sorta.

12. I am kind about all other varieties of birds. Not pigeons.

14. Do you remember Fractured French?

15. Will anyone ever stop speculating about bidets?

16. I'm still hoping for French movies subtitled in English in Paris.

17. As you read this blog you're reading the results of what I did with my French major.

18. And despite the French major and an M.A., I still goof up, royally.

19. I think that's enough, don't you? If you haven't yet, you can read the "best of" from 2006-2007.

20. Or simply look at views of Paris.

Bonnes vacances!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Skip the Louvre, My Darlin'

Don't get me wrong.

I love the Louvre. When I was in Paris, I joined Les Amis du Louvre, which is a must for anyone who spends time in the great city. And such a bargain, because for a 60-euro annual membership, it gives you unlimited access to the museum (through the Richelieu entrance away from the tourist entrance at the Pyramide) , regular bulletins, other discounts. And that opens the door for so much more.

But, horror of horrors -- how did I use it most? Well, when the weather was bad and I wanted to get my morning constitutional in, I simply slipped into the hallowed halls and walked for an hour. Boy, I caught a lot of grief from art lovers when I told them this. Mall-walking in the Louvre? How crass! But I still contend that it's a lot better than mall-walking in a mall. Hey, I got cultural edification. I was always fashionably attired, and didn't power-walk or elbow unsuspecting camera-toting tourists out of the way or anything. Just cruised through as many galleries as I could, absorbing the magnificence of it all, got 100% lost every time, eventually found my way out. Good old Yankee efficiency. Heck, lots of my U.S. pals pound the treadmill while watching CNN for their exercise, and I challenge any of them to say they are better off than I was scrambling along the echoing halls of the Louvre.

Besides (okay, this is really my little secret) if you have unlimited admission to the Louvre and you happened to be in the neighborhood and need a leetle pipibreak, well, you breeze right on in and use the facilities. Not many other places in the quartier where you have such nice powder rooms. So if you are an Ami of the Louvre, it's like having your own private club to pop in to.

Call me a cultural heretic -- go ahead -- but I paid my dues. For three years. I encourage all to do the same.


On the other hand, when I had friends visiting me in Paris who had only 4-5 days to see as much of the city as possible, I beggggged them to not spend it at the Louvre. Others agree with me.

Why? Well, there is so much of Paris to see, and we all know what those hours-long snaking lines are like to enter into the Louvre. And shuffling through to see La Joconde, the Plymouth Rock of Paree. No, when I had company in Paris I let them stop outside for exterior photo ops of the Louvre, then we breezed on our way for a fabulous walking tour of the rest of the city.

The Louvre is too brilliant a place to be reduced to a cultural sound-bite if you're in Paris for only a short stay. If you have really deep pockets you can join the American Friends of the Louvre and get invited to some extravagant behind-the-scenes visits. Or join Les Amis du Louvre and have the museum be your home away from home. But no point in doing the Six-Minute Louvre when you have limited time in the most beautiful city in the world.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Julia Child and the Purple Coat

Many of us mere mortals have a story to tell about meeting Julia Child. No doubt the much-anticipated August release of the film Julie & Julia is prompting even more reminiscences. The memory of my Julia moment, however, was sparked last month when I unearthed a purple coat. Here's why.

After graduating from college in the 1970s, I lived and worked in Harvard Square. It was urban enough, hip, and had sufficient international flair to placate a French major like me with no foreign place to go (Paris was out of the question, financially).

One wintry day at lunch break I was combing the aisles of Sage's, the local gourmet store. In the corner of my eye I spotted an apparition -- a 3/4 length grape-purple mohair coat with elbow-length sleeves, seeming to float in midair. I squinted and looked again. There She was. Familiar and unmistakable. A tall, imposing woman tilting her head over the Camemberts and Saint Andrés. I was in awe. It was ... Julia.

Rapt (and shy), I simply stared, mouth agape. I knew Julia lived in Cambridge, and even knew people who knew her. But here stood the real Julia, larger than life, ogling the Tome de Savoie.

Julia Child! Her name to me was like the name of a goddess who represented everything a francophile like me could love about France and the French: joie de vivre, good cuisine and happiness at table, a hearty "Bon appétit!" She understood the French from the inside out.

I wanted to say something, utter a sliver of a phrase to express my ardent admiration and shared francophile life. But no. I remained mute, slyly trailing her sideways as she maneuvered among the leeks and shallots and filet mignons. I kept enough of a distance to not be too obvious -- but close enough, I hoped, for osmosis.

I savored that moment, and rued it too, wishing I'd had the courage to spout a clever bon mot. In retrospect I justified my silence by convincing myself that surely the hallowed Julia needed to be able to venture on home turf without being approached by French Chef groupies every day. Ah, I felt noble in protecting her from intrusion of fans like me. And if she noticed my semi-stalking, she never let on.

Besides, how cool was she? A purple coat? I absorbed her brilliant inspiration: if you're a nationally famous 6'2" redheaded woman, there's no point trying to disguise yourself in a somber brown cloak when in public. So why not do it with purple panache? Ah, a Julia moment.

A few years later I was working in the public affairs office of the Quebec Government's New England office. One spring, our project was to promote lobsters from the Magdalen Islands, purported to be the tastiest crustaceans in North America because of the extreme cold of the water where they grew. "Why not take some to Julia Child?" I ventured at a brainstorming session. "Who better to appreciate the quality of excellent lobster than America's favorite French Chef?"

Pourqoui pas? With a few phone calls, I had arranged to deliver two dozen lobsters to Julia and her staff, who were taping a video at her home in Cambridge. At 10 a.m. on the appointed day I pulled up to her rambling house in my dilapidated Mercedes.

Toting two large cases of wriggling lobsters, I crossed the wide porch and elbowed the doorbell. I was greeted by one of multiple public TV assistants buzzing around the ground floor. Cables snaked all over the floors, taped in place. Lights beamed in the kitchen and big black control boxes hid in the shadows. I was ushered in the foyer to meet Julia, to hold up my cold blue live offerings to the high priestess of Food and France. She approached with a smile and a hearty greeting, and I felt as though I'd just stopped by to visit Aunt Ruthie, not a celebrity. Not a hint of diva-persona: just genuine warmth and charm. Hundred percent grande dame with zero percent attitude. And that lilting voice. "Thank you so much. Isn't this super? We'll cook them for lunch! I'm sure we'll eat them with gusto."

I would have lingered forever, but I backed discreetly out the door with an I'll-never-wash that-hand-again glow. A few days later her assistant called to pronounce the lobsters indeed tasty and to thank us for the gift. Lesson from Julia moment number 2: always be yourself while being generous with kindness, no matter what your VIP status.

After these Julia moments, I often wondered how I might pattern my life after hers. From watching her on The French Chef and glimpsing her twice, I knew this much. She recognized her life's passion and pursued it with unbridled enthusiasm. And she won the hearts of millions by just being herself. I never dreamed of winning the hearts of millions, but I knew that her approach to life was one I hoped to mirror.

A decade later, woe was me: I had hit the big Four-Oh. As I pondered about Life on that miserable January birthday I still wasn't sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. Agony & angst, ready for a pity-party. Shopping therapy was definitely in order. At the dreaded mall, I stumbled into a store that catered to the WASPy mother's crowd. "Finest ladies' togs," was their motto. I was doomed anyway; at 40, my now-matronly fate was sealed, I figured, so I might as well start dressing the part, right? I cringed and entered. There on the sale rack was a floating apparition. A periwinkle-purple full-length mohair coat. I knew at once this was a harbinger, a sign. What Would Julia Do?

I bought it. Haven't looked back.
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