Monday, February 28, 2011

The Perfect Restroom

This comes as near to perfection for a French public toilet as it gets... a spotless seat (heck, there IS a seat!), there's not one, but two dispensers of toilet paper (full!), a scrub brush with bristels I can't see, a trash can with a liner, and... bonus... a paper seat cover dispenser that's full.  This was from the Clos Lucé castle in Amboise. The sinks were clean and they had soap and hand dryers. Parfait!

I could say a lot about French public toilets, but I'll spare you. I'll just tell you one of my oldest traumatic memories of public toilets here... There were four of us driving from France back to Switzerland in a snowstorm. My brother-in-law stopped at a rest stop. I took one look at the toilet situation and went straight back to the car. It was a Turkish toilet. A hole in the floor. I was six months pregnant. I just couldn't take the risk of tumbling don't want to know. In fact, non-pregnant, I've never been able to master those toilets, and I was in gymnastics as a kid!

<shiver, shiver, bad memories>

Happy Monday!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eglise de St. Pierre

This is St. Peter's Church in Avon, just outside Fontainebleau, an hour south of Paris.

Christine, Queen of Sweden, had the Marquis de Monaldeschi murdered for "betrayal" in 1657 in Avon. There is a tombstone for him here.

According to Viamichelin, the bell tower is from the 13th century, and its Gothic chancel was built in 1555.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Da Vinci Abode

This is Clos Lucé (Cloh Loo'-say) a castle in Amboise, a small touristic town along the Loire River. Leonardo Da Vinci spent his last three years here (1516-1519) as a guest of King François the First. The chateau includes 40 models of Da Vinci's visionary inventions, including flying machines and other futuristic modes of transport that were centuries ahead of their time. And of course, there is a replica of the Mona Lisa, whom the French call, "La Jaconde." It was among three paintings he brought with him from Italy.

Clos Lucé's also got a gorgeous seven-hectare park that includes 16 giant interactive models and 32 translucent paintings of Da Vinci's most noted artistic works hanging from the trees. There's even a playground for the kids, so it's really a great family place. Not to mention the cool bridges throughout. There's lots to explore, even for the very youngest visitors.

It's hard to define Da Vinci. Was he first considered as a painter? An engineer? A philosopher? In the site's gift boutique, I bought a book  that focuses on his intellectual thoughts. It contains dozens of his best quotes, including, "Seek help from the one who corrects himself," "Only love can stop hate," "There is nothing that deceives us more than our own judgment," and the sage advice, "Reprove your friend in secret and praise him openly."

A wise man indeed.

tags: château, châteaux, roi, Francis

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Spy with My Little Eye...

a chat on a windowsill... I love old timbered buildings from this style. There are many in my town.

This one is from the main touristic street in Amboise, a small town along the Loire River that was once the home to the French royal court...

If you go, be aware that there are two main castles... the first is much larger and more easily visible from the Loire, but the second, Clos Lucé, is the one that is famous for being the place where Da Vinci spent his last three years.

More on that tomorrow...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Good Year

This is my favorite (ma préfère) French candy bar.

It was supposed to be waiting on the bed for a relative's recent arrival, sitting there among some other chocolates, but somehow, it got swept away from the rest and made its way downstairs with me. It's history. In fact, this is just the box.

It's got 200 grams of serious milk chocolate (I go for the dark stuff too, but when pressed for a choice, milk is it) and hazelnuts with crunchy layers in between. Dee'-lish-uss.

For more info on the company that makes the 1848, search for Poulain on this site, or click here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Can't Handle the Truth!

...especially when we've had guests for a few days and I've been taste-testing way too many goodies...

Translation: "lie detector."

Watch for more photos of treats and sweets --and some fabulous castles-- in the coming days...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Deux Chocolats

Unfortunately, I didn't have any bread for my lunch one day at work, and I decided it was my turn to offer some up to my colleagues.

Fortunately, there is a bakery that's just around the corner from our office.

Unfortunately, this was also at said bakery. "Two Chocolates" is its name, according to the lady at the counter. I don't think it's a classic French cake, not having been able to find a reference for one that looked like this on the web.

But it's got white chocolate mousse, dark chocolate mousse and biscuit génoise (a bottom and middle layer crust from the town of Gien, about an hour from here). Oh, and a dark chocolate designy thing on the top that looked like broken trees.

All of this was classic enough for me. I wolfed down this Deux Chocolats in about deux secondes.

tags: French patisserie, dessert, delicious

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cheese Maker

Mondays are for complaining, so why not whine with a new expression?

I like one of my husband's sayings, "Don't make a cheese out of it," which means, "Don't make a mountain out of a molehill, or "Don't make a big deal of it."

Well, this gadget is for making big deals, apparently. It's a cheese maker. You can make fromage blanc (white cheese for dessert) and your own yogurt. It comes with a strainer (faisselle).

All for just 24.90€.

Side note: I prefer my raspberry-flavored fromage blanc. But I won't make a cheese out of it if they've only got plain. I can add jelly myself.

In French, the expression is, "En faire tout un fromage."

tag: French expressions, idioms

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's Obvious!

As I was entering a large supermarket one day this past week, I began chatting with one of the store employees and just lost my French. I was speaking, but making little sense. I told him, "I'm tired. It's obvious." "Je suis fatiguée. C'est évident." But I pronounced the "t" in evident. So he told me, no évident with no "t." I started thinking yes, there's a "t" in evidenT. So I asked did he just mean the pronunciation, which led to some rapidfire explanation about there being no "e," after the "t, "so no need to pronounce the "t."

I got it, but he still felt the need (kindly) to write it down for me to be sure I understood. See above.

Then he checked my bags and I was ready to enter the store.

Whew! Security checks are getting tougher all over.... LOL!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Not So Merry

When we first moved to the Orléans area, I took the kids on this beautiful carousel every time we visited the city. This 90-year-old  manège is a classic attraction in Place du Martroi, in the middle of town.

In the beginning, I had to help them choose an appropriate ride for their size, help them climb up, ride alongside them... Oh, the choices! The airplane with The Little Prince? The Jules Verne Submarine? Something on the second level? Way up high?

Later, when they were bigger, they just grabbed their tickets from me and off they went. Then on a recent trip, Alex decided it wasn't for him anymore. "I'm too old, mom."

And now, this morning, ugh. From Ellie, "I'm not riding that anymore. It's for babies." Sniff, sniff, sigh....

We'll see. They've got a young cousin coming soon. We're planning a trip to the city. Alex or Ellie might need to help the little guy choose an appropriate ride, help him climb up, and stand by his side while he rides. And I'm sure they wont mind the ride.

And so it goes...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eggscellent Advice

On the road, we're all fragile! Breathe, smile, slow down...

Today begins two weeks of school holidays for Zone B, which includes Orléans-Tours, Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Besançon, Dijon, Lille, Limoges, Nice, Poitiers, Reims, Rouen, and Strasbourg. France has three geographical zones to ensure less traffic on the roads.

Even so, certain areas will be declared "black" when the beginnings or ends of the three holiday periods converge, black denoting that traffic is at its worst level. Other levels include green, orange, and red in ascending order.

February 26 will be one of those "black" days in the Alps area as everyone heads to and from the slopes.

You can check out the country's traffic calendar here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Undiz Undies

Underwear always gets people's attention, right? So why not name a store "Undies," even if you also sell tee-shirts and bathing suits? And spell it a little creatively... Drop the e and use a z at the end...

But wait, in French underwear would be slips. I guess that didn't have the same catchy ring to it. And this is a French chain based in Clichy, northwest of Paris. What if they expanded to English speaking markets and people just read it as "slips?" Like short slips or long slips for those really long skirts? And when they explained the name to their English speaking counterparts, they'd pronounce it like a French person, right?

So it would sound like "sleeps."

Okay, so maybe Undiz is better. Because they do sell a lot of undies. And I didn't see any slips.

tags: lingerie, France

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Can Haz Fromage Burgers?

In fact, for a limited time, you can have them with three oh-so-French cheeses... goat cheese, Cantal (named for the Cantal Mountains in the middle of France), and blue cheese.

The sign says these are available in Orléans, but they've been launched all across France as well.

Note that underneath the burgers, it says "For your health, practice a physical activity regularly." The web site listed,, refers to eat/move.

I think you'd have to bouger a lot after chowing down any of these...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bag This!

I'm not well known for being a la mode... (This means in fashion here, not with ice cream.)

But I'm pretty sure I don't want to be a Fashion Mustgoon.

To my readers who are learning English: a goon is a stupid, foolish, or awkward person...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gift Ideas...

Just in case you haven't yet found just the right thing for your chérie, here are some offerings from one of our large French grocery store chains...

Note the mini baking pans at the bottom as well...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

An Electrifying Match-up

I wasn't sure what to expect when I learned we had tickets to the Women's Saber (fencing) World Championships. My husband and son are fencers, so we decided to go as a family. Ellie was quite reluctant; I wondered how much I'd understand.

What a night! When we arrived there was a lively band playing, with a 40-something male lead who could rival Michel Sardou. (Just stop reading now, Bernard... It'll be better for you.) We'd all been given inflatable plastic whacking sticks and glow bands along with programs on our seats. We blew them up and began tapping to the beat. The crowds sang enthusiastically in the stands, which soon filled to capacity. Moments after I'd reflected on how I didn't know many of these particular songs (were they from a certain region?) they offered me a bit of a surreal moment: "If it hadn't been for Cotton-Eyed Joe..." ♪♫♫ I joined in the singing. This was not to be a somber event.

Then the competitors arrived... by rappelling from the ceiling.

They included three Russians, a Hungarian, an Italian, a Pole, a French woman (from Orléans) and the American Olympic champion from Oregon. I mentioned to Bernard how interesting it'd be if it ended up with the latter two in the final.

Well, guess what...

I asked Ellie who she was rooting for. "The French girl. I'm French." Swept up in the moment, with the crowds wildly cheering on "Cecelia" at her previous two matches, the home field advantage had certainly struck my daughter. Enough to make her forget half her heritage. I yelled the same question to Alex, and he said, "The U.S." Good answer, boy. Good answer.

The moment arrived. Silence with each successful touch by the American. Cecelia was already losing badly, thanks in part, we deduced, to a tough fall in her second match when a mat slipped from underneath her. Then there were gasps and dead silence in the crowd when Cecelia went down with a hand injury. A doctor was called in urgently. She was wincing and wringing her hand. Continued silence from five thousand people...

...and then wild eruptions when she got back up and bravely finished the match, falling to the American, Mariel Zagunis, 15-4.

I couldn't help but cheer for them both. A win from either would have been fine by me. But I must admit -- it felt great to be standing among thousands once again while hearing, "The Star Spangled Banner." Even if I was one of the few spectators singing.

And at the end, after the plaques and chocolate sabers had been presented, and when all the confetti strips had fallen, we gathered with a few dozen other loyal fans and got our programs autographed...

...from both winners...

Mariel Zagunis (left) and Cecelia Berder (at left in the photo on right)

Ellie and I both admitted the evening far exceeded our expectations. We'll be ready to go next year when the event returns to Orléans for its 14th year!

tags: Coupe du Monde Sabre Dames Orléans février 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mon Quotidien

This newspaper is just the coolest thing. Mon Quotidien, or My Daily, comes five days a week in the mail (excluding Mondays) and is well written for the level of a ten- to 14-year-old. This has greatly helped those of us who don't speak French as a first language and want to know what their kids are reading. Alex and I have had many interesting, in-depth conversations about current events thanks to this publication... everything from the U.S. oil spill to the French elections.

In addition to the high cost (currently 92 € for ten months) there's just one problem: Did I mention it comes five times a week? And therefore, copies of this newspaper have graced the dining room table, the living room table, Alex's bedroom floor, the bathroom, etc... You get the picture. My Daily was lingering for weeks until we'd gather them up and unload them on some other willing parent.

His most recent subscription just expired a few weeks ago. I haven't yet gone into withdrawals. I soon will... My little reporter was keeping me well informed on news from the French perspective!

But first I need to find a home for the last few editions that are still hanging around...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Adding to My Collection...

Of odd wine names...

This is from a vineyard that's a few kilometers from Aix-en-Provence.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Good French Grammar

This is among the posters on the wall in my French class...

Translation: If you can't find a condom in your size, you're an elephant.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mark Your Calendar!

There's apparently a lot of excitement for this farewell tour... especially in La Source near Orléans, where these billboards popped up this week on several street corners. Yes, after 45 years, the members of Scorpions are calling it quits, and the city of Tours, an hour and a half from here, is among nine French cities chosen for their tournée adieu.

I haven't been to a rock concert since I saw Foreigner in the mid-eighties in the U.S. (anyone see the irony here?) but I might just be tempted to ask Bernard to look into tickets... And hopefully all the lyrics won't be translated into French...

For a long time, I didn't know Scorpions was a German band... I think their English is sehr gut... Even if I weren't already a fan, I'd be curious to go to this merely for the people watching... What do French hard rockers wear? Will they be belting all out the lyrics in their best English? How old would the average concert-goer be? I mean, 45 years... that's a long time in the music business... Their songs are still all over the radio in France...

Take me... to the magic of the moment... ♪♫♫♪

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sign of the Time

This was on a board at a junior high (called a collège) /high school in the Paris area...

It says, "REMEMBER, cell phones, I-pods, MP3s, MP4s and other Blackberry(s) are not allowed.


("And underneath all that,  Plan to arrive a quarter of an hour BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF EACH EXAMINATION.")

Personally, I think looking at our wrists to show that we want to know the time is a gesture that'll soon disappear as we more and more often look at some other electronic device to check the time...

I think these items were only disallowed specifically during testing. I know of other junior highs and high schools in France where all of the above are allowed.

P.S. Did you catch the double meaning in my headline?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Inching Upward

The sun may be setting, but the prices are rising...

When translated into dollars and gallons:

Premium unleaded costs 1.47€/liter or $7.61/gallon...
Regular unleaded costs 1.43€/liter or $7.38/gallon... (for my car)

and the cheap one, that Bernard's car takes:
Gazole (diesel) costs 1.28€/liter or $6.60/gallon.

Yikes. It's effrayant (scary)... This is the highest I've seen in awhile...

Note that for euro to dollar conversions, I use, a handy site...

tags: gas prices, cost of living France

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Quelle Horreur!

To my French husband, it's absolutely appalling to start the day this way...

A croissant, covered in yes, peanut butter... Miam!

Vive les FrancoAmericans!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rock Fort

Here's a very French joke for you, from my kids:

What's rock singer Johnny Hallyday's favorite cheese?

"Rock fort" (literally, rock hard) ....a.k.a. Roquefort....

I know, I know, cheesy...

Roquefort, which does really include mold, has an interesting history... Legend has it that a young boy left some cheese in a cave when he saw a pretty girl. Months later, the ewes' milk cheese had turned moldy. And he found it good... Ewww.

Or should I write, ewe?

(Sorry. Yet another cheesy joke.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wine to Cry Over

This all looks pretty good, doesn't it? Mmmm, I'm gonna have a chilled glass of Pelure d'Oignon. It sounds just as rosy as its color when you let that name, peh' lurr dun' yun, roll off your tongue...

That is, until you check out the translation: onion peel.

With a name like that and at 1.17€ a bottle, I couldn't resist knowing what this tastes like*.  But I don't drink alone or at 8 a.m., so I'll have to post results tonight when mon mari gets home from work and I dazzle him with my latest selection....

*That's a whopping $1.62 today.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Press on the Mushroom

No, this isn't advice for choosing the perfect fungi...

One day while driving with my kids, one of them said urgently to me, "Press on the mushroom!" I'd never heard this one, but I immediately got it that I was supposed to "step on the gas."  In French, they say, "Appuyer sur le champignon." Years ago, accelerator pedals here resembled mushrooms.

These mushrooms are champignons de Paris, but they come from Holland.

Now, if you do want my advice on picking perfect fungi, I'd say pick this variety. They're big (one and a half to two-inches across) and especially tasty when sautéed in butter and fresh garlic.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Un Jour Sans Fin

 Happy Groundhog Day, everyone!

As with many imported American films, the title Groundhog Day must not have worked well for French audiences, so they renamed it all together: A Day Without End.

The date February second is celebrated for many reasons, in many countries... In the US, of course, we've got Groundhog Day, where Punxsutawney Phil, a Pennsylvania groundhog, will emerge from his burrow before a large crowd. If he sees his shadow --bam-- six more weeks of winter. No shadow? Yay, an early spring. (Given the wild weather, I'm betting he sees his shadow, but I may eat these words in a few hours.)

In France, February second is La Fête de la Chandeleur, Fête de la Lumière, or le jour des crêpes. Beginning a few weeks ago, we started seeing all the crepe-making materials out in one of the grocery aisles. Don't forget the Nutella.

Chandeleur originally marked the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Later we saw the evolution of Candlemas, or Candle Mass. In this ceremony, a priest blessed beeswax candles on February second that were placed in windows to ward off bad weather.

Oddly enough, all of this has evolved over the years to waiting for a furry animal to emerge, eating crêpes and watching a comedy.

Although here, I'll be making pancakes for the kids. I haven't yet perfected crepes... Plus, waiting for edible crêpes from mom could turn into A Day Without End...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Yummmmm, Mmmmacaroons

I always thought that macaroons contained coconut and were quite sticky, so I'd never given these a second glance. I hadn't paid attention to the fact that the exteriors, being completely smooth, surely had nothing to do with coconut. That is, until a visiting friend brought unmercilessly home a big box last year. I was hooked. (You know who you are!) Then he brought more, and more, and more. In all fairness, I should give the bakery advance warning of his next visit...

French macarons are light and airy, bursting with flavor. Melt in your mouth stuff. But you might as well just paste them right onto your thighs... Pictured here, you've got caramel, raspberry, vanilla, pistachio and coquelicot (poppy) which are the blue ones, of course... That's because they add blue coloring to distinguish them from the other reds...

The ones I'd been thinking of are the North American coconut macaroon. Not at all the same.

These are from that all-too-close bakery too.