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.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Looks like Paris

I'm a huge fan of the blue doors in Paris.

Some days, when I was living in Paris, when I didn't quite know what to do with myself, I would just wander the streets for hours snapping photo upon photo of variations on blue doors.  I posted them here. And here.

And now, looking back, I wonder if that need to see the same image repeated in various forms was in fact a comforting, Le-Petit-Prince kind of activity.  As in, the Little Prince who one day watched 43 sunsets.

“One day,' you said, 'I watched the sunset forty-three times!'

And a little later you added:
'You know, when one is that sad, one can get to love the sunset.'

'Were you that sad, then, on the day of the forty-three sunsets?'

But the prince made no answer.”

― Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Little Prince

I never really thought about it at the time.  I just looked at more blue doors.

But yesterday I was jostling down the street and -- ta-dah! -- found a fabulous set of blue doors, complete with the Parisian enameled street number sign above.  The door handle in the middle of the door.  The whole enchilada.  So French!

Except that one quick look gives away the telltale sign ("Driveway NO Parking") that we are not in Paris, but in fact in Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Maybe I should offer the owners a little round sign with "Défense de stationner - jour et nuit" sign?

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Lessons from Mrs. Goodfellow

When I was in college, I spent summers waitressing in a perfect, perfectly charming historic inn in Maine.

One of the delights was to be assigned to a table of summer "residents" -- guests who came to stay at the hotel for a month or so, who had been coming to the inn for decades.  One of these was Mrs. Goodfellow.

True to her name, she was a delight to be around.  Just taking her order for breakfast or dinner was a lesson in grace, old-school courtesy, and a pinch of old-girl mischief.  A spry octagenarian, she was my lifetime role model.

Her birthday was August 3, and somehow, I always remembered it.  The dining room in those days was low-key and tables were covered in ancient white damask, and the atmosphere was genteel and calm, with the most beautiful view of Somes Sound and Acadia National Park. Men in jacket and tie, ladies in dresses. Mrs. Goodfellow shared her table with another widow and a spinster, all from Philadelphia.  They were a jolly trio.  If you could look forward to serving breakfast (and I did) it was for those three ladies.

On my morning walk to work, I strolled past all the most beautiful Maine wildflowers.  So, for Mrs. Goodfellow's 83rd birthday, I picked her a bunch of lupine and Queen Anne's lace, black-eyed susans, added to a mass of of fragrant phlox and roses from our family's garden.  I arranged them artfully in a vase and set it at her place before she arrived for breakfast.

She exclaimed over the thoughtful gesture even more than was necessary, her luminous blue eyes shining, lighting up my day.

Sometimes being the giver of a gift is happier than being the on the receiving end.  That's certainly how I felt giving that simple bouquet to Mrs. Goodfellow.

The next week, after the flowers had faded, she returned the vase to me.  With a box of chocolates inside.  "Mother always said to repay a kindness with a kindness."

That was lesson #1.  A life lesson, and I have never forgotten it.

A few weeks later, I was about to depart Maine for France to begin my junior year abroad.  At tea time on the porch, as we sat chatting, Mrs. Goodfellow quietly slipped an envelope into my waitress pocket. Patting my arm, she said, with a twinkle in her eyes,  "Mother always said, 'When travelling abroad, take twice the funds and half the clothes that you think you'll need.'"

The wisest travel advice ever.

Thank you again, Mrs. Goodfellow.  And Happy Birthday.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

High-flying Sunday on the Seine

Denis Josselin  photo © Caroline HENNEL
If you are in Paris this Sunday, April 6, do yourself a favor and hightail it over to the 12e arrondissement to the Quai de la Rapée to see acclaimed tightrope-walker Denis Josselin cross the Seine 100 feet up in the air. "Between the Seine and the Sky" is how he describes it.

In what promises to be a spellbinding and entertaining event, M. Josselin will make the traversée at exactly 3:30 p.m, going from Port de la Rapée to the Port d'Austerlitz, near the Pont Charles de Gaulle.  You'll want to get there early.  And definitely not late!  The 575-foot trek will take about 20-30 minutes -- plenty of time for photo ops and frissons.

Tight-rope walking (le funambulisme) has a great tradition in France -- and Denis Josselin has been part of that tradition:  the last time the Seine was crossed by a funambulist, 10 years ago, it was M. Josselin himself.  Trained in mime, dance and circus arts, he first "stumbled" into the profession of tightrope walking in 1988 and hasn't looked back.

There is a whole afternoon of activities on the banks of the Seine this Sunday, all designed to get you to see this incredible highwire performance, and much of it FREE.

Bateaux Parisiens and Batobus are offering free 25- minute rides between the Musée d'Orsay and the Jardin des Plantes.  First departure from Musée d'Orsay at 1:30 p.m., last departure from Jardin des Plantes at 6 p.m., every 45 minutes.

The cabaret boat Mistinguett will stay docked at the quai (Port d'Austerlitz) but will offer free can-can demonstrations, and you can visit the interior for a look-see.  Beverages will be offered.

Marina de Paris is offering  four free boat rides, between Quai de Bercy and Quai d'Austerlitz, leaving Bercy at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. and returning from Austerlitz at 4:15 and 5:00.

Vedettes de Paris has limited space for a free one-hour Seine ride from their dock at Suffren (near the Eiffel Tower) to the Quai d'Austerlitz, leaving at 2 p.m., arriving in time to see the tightrope event, and returning to Suffren at 5 p.m.  Includes a selfie contest and free cotton candy.

Seine Avenue (which has smaller  elegant ChrisCraft-style boats in gleaming mahogany that will make you feel like you are a wealthy yachtsman!)  is offering free mini-trips on board.

Let's see -- tightrope walking, barbe à papa, can-can, peniches, cruises on the Seine on a Sunday afternoon.  How Parisian is that?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Boulevard Clichy, 1950s

This painting of Paris, entitled “Boulevard Clichy, Paris,” hung in our house all of my childhood. To me, it was Paris – everything that Paris could and should be. The café –its servers and clients – the gendarme, the sailor, the Morris column (Colonne Morris) advertising the next Maurice Chevalier show, the flaneurs, the street signs. My parents acquired it, I think, during a trip through Europe in 1959 or 1960.  Hmm. Is it real or mythologized Paris of that era?

But it was always a bit in the background; that is, I never really studied it too closely, but rather soaked up its total Parisian-ness. Did this influence my Francophilia? No doubt. But mostly I remember wondering, at a tender age, why the words “Café- Billard-Chocolat” were backwards. And the epiphany: because we’re looking at the back side of the awning.  Brilliant young moi.

When I moved to my first apartment after college, my father gave me this painting to hang in the living room. It was an instant inspiration. I loved the frame, which is a distinctly French style that I can only liken to a mansard roof perhaps seen in some Madeline books?): the edges curve up toward the center. I loved the bustling street life of Paris. The Modiste, the Cinema, the Société Générale, everything.

By the time I moved to Paris for three years, I had carefully placed the painting in storage. It wasn't until after my return that I studied it anew. Wow. Some revelations.

1. First, it really is a kind of “Where’s Waldo?” (Ou est Charlie?) of Paris café/street life in the late 1950s. So many details to discover.

French sailor with red pompom hat
2. Second, the artist got a number of details wrong. I count at least three, and that’s without spending too much time on it. Can you spot them? (I don’t include sloppy painting details -- such as the man’s umbrella impaling that poor woman -- in this tally.) It makes me wonder if it was painted en plein air or from memory.  Zoom in and check them out and tel me what you think.

3. I have figured out (I think) that this was painted from under the canopy at the famous Wepler. It certainly had a café and billiards at the time.  Any thoughts?

4. The cocher (coachman) and horse were about to become extinct. The last horse-drawn carriage in Paris (from the original fiacres) was in 1965.  There have been some attempts at tourist-y revivals since then.

5. The man in sunglasses reading a newspaper entitled La Bourse Parisienne may have indeed been reading about the stock market, but there was no such newspaper, so maybe he was using that as a cover? On the other hand, the guy hawking Le Rire is valid; it was a satirical journal published in Paris through the late 1950s.

But some things never change.  I love this lady feeding her dog at the table.

I think I might make this the new banner for Polly-Vous Francais? Just because. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Valérie Trierweiler’s Brother Recounts the Break-Up with François Hollande

[Vanity Fair France has a great article about the Hollande-Trierweiler split, explained by a family member, which hasn't been published in the anglophone press. Since I am a professional translator, I whipped up a verbatim translation  (and sent it to Vanity Fair France, gratis, but didn't hear back from them.    The orginal is here.   So here you have it.]

“What François Hollande did was brutal;  it goes beyond mere betrayal,” he says in the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair, revealing new details about the break-up less than a month after the official announcement of the Hollande-Trierweiler split.

The oldest brother of Valérie Trierweiler, William Massonneau, has discussed the break-up of his sister and French President François Hollande, for the first time, in the February 20 issue of the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair.  The monthly’s cover story, The Secrets of the Valérie Affair, cites as sources a number of those close to the President’s former companion.  “What François Hollande did was brutal;  it goes beyond mere betrayal,” says Massonneau.

William Massonneau, a 50-year-old computer engineer, continues:  “The relationship between my sister and François Hollande was altered by political events.  They weren’t Valérie and François.  They were the President and the First Lady.”

On January 25, François Hollande announced to Agence France Presse that he was ending his eight-year relationship with Valérie Trierweiler.  Two weeks before, the magazine Closer had broken a story about the relationship between Hollande and actress Julie Gayet.

Massonneau  gives a harsh assessment of François Hollande’s behavior towards his sister.  “I have never behaved in such a way, and hope I would never do so,” he confides to Vanity Fair. “Hollande is a man with a lot of empathy.  But his capacity to lead parallel lives is unbelievable.  His powers of seduction are immense.”

Hollande « pleasant and congenial »
The article published by the Spanish magazine recounts the last few weeks of their life as a couple, including spending Christmas Eve with Valérie Trierweiler’s family.
“We had dinner at my house.  My mother, my brothers, some nephews, Valerie and François. We are a large and close-knit family,” he explains.  “The unemployment statistics were about to be published, and the news wasn’t good.  Hollande knew that it would affect his image, which was already very weak.   Despite all that, he was pleasant and congenial with everyone.”

Admission to hospital on advice of the Élysée
The article in Spanish Vanity Fair also supplies some new details about Trierweiler’s hospitalization following the break-up.  Relying on a source who claims to be a close friend of Valérie’s, the magazine explains that her admission to the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris was “advised by the doctor of the Élysée.”

According to this anonymous source, “Valérie Trierweiler was sedated for 48 hours…  When she woke up, she thought she had been asleep for a few hours, whereas it was actually almost two days.  She was under the effect of the tranquilizers.  She was feeling nauseated and had difficulty remembering what had just happened to her.  Her two cell phones had been taken away and no one could contact her.”

Valérie Trierweiler’s brother said he too visited her in the hospital, despite doctors’ orders.  “I realized that she could hardly put two words together.  She needed to get out of there as soon as possible to start to take charge of her life. » 

“Willing to forgive the infidelity.”
The two Spanish journalists who wrote the story explain that they obtained the information during a secret meeting in Paris with a close male friend of Valérie Trierweiler’s.  Hollande visited Trierweiler only once in the hospital, said the friend, and that the doctors wanted the visit to be brief, a maximum of six minutes, but that it lasted more than half an hour.

« Valérie was willing to forgive the infidelity, that’s certain.  But Hollande didn’t refer to the affair a single time.  He asked only about her health.  It was then that she fully understood that their eight-year relationship was over,” explains the anonymous friend, who says he was present at the pavillon de la Lanterne the day that François Hollande issued his statement to the press.

Tense exchange of text messages
The Spanish edition of Vanity Fair also published an exchange of text messages between Valérie Trierweiler and François Hollande, giving the timing  of January 25, a few hours prior to AFP’s 6:50 p.m. publication of the official press statement by Hollande.

François Hollande: “We should send a joint press statement.”
Valérie Trierweiler: “Out of the question.  It’s your responsibility.  You are the one who got into this mess and it’s up to you to set it straight.  I won’t sign any press statement.”

A 3 million euro settlement?
Frédéric Gerschel, a journalist for Le Parisien and another a close friend of Valérie Trierweiler’s,  also spoke with Vanity Fair Spain. “François was prepared to listen to her and reassure her.  He knew that he needed to compensate her somehow for their eight years together.”  A contractual agreement in effect stipulates that the President give her financial support until the end of his term in office that would allow her to continue to live in apartment in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, which they rented together up to the time of the break-up, as well as a monthly allowance to pay for the education of her three children (the total was rumored to be close to 3 million euros, for which Vanity Fair did not cite the sources.)

“Hollande is sad”
The article also quotes Julien Dray, regional counselor for the Île-de-France and a close friend of François Hollande’s. “For the President, it was very difficult to leave someone whom he had loved.  Hollande is sad.”
In the January 31st Parisien Magazine Valérie Trierweiler was quoted as saying that she “hasn’t ruled out writing a book” after the break-up with Hollande.
Her brother does not deny that possibility.  “Until now, all the First Ladies who had been cheated on just accepted the situation.  They never spoke out… It is not normal that women remain silent.”

And, the magazine writes, based on confidential information from a friend of Valérie Trierweiler’s, that she warned Hollande “I’ll destroy you just as you have destroyed me!”

Jérémie Maire, Laure Cometti et Philippe Mathon
Translated from the French by Polly Lyman

Friday, February 14, 2014

10 Little French Words to know for Valentine's Day

Ah, the language of love. It's just so... fundamental!
So I bring you some of the basics, in French.

A is for aimer

A is also for affection and affectueux or affectueuse

B is for baiser.  The noun, people!!

C is for chéri or chérie  

C is also for cher.

E is for embrasser

F is for fevrier

F is also for fleur.  Love the French names!

And what is Valentine's Day if not toi et moi?

Illustrations from Mon Premier Larousse en couleurs, 1953

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