Provence Blooms Thursday, Feb 26 2015 

Move over lavender, poppies and sunflowers, it’s mimosa season in Provence. Walk by a bucket of mimosa flowers (pronounced ‘mee-moh-zah’) at a Provençal market right now, and you would swear it was the height of summer. The sprays of bright yellow blooms and heady, honey-like scent seem to advertise sunny days and warm nights. The sun part is a given – Provence boasts approximately 300 days of sunshine a year – but warm nights are a ways off yet. The French mimosa tree flowers in February and March, bringing a riot of jaune (yellow) and printemps (spring) to an otherwise wintry southern France landscape.

Mimosa1

This past week, the cheerful yellow pompoms were on display in Mandelieu-La Napoule, la capitale du mimosa – the mimosa capital of France. Situated on la Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera) just west of Cannes, Mandelieu hosts a yearly festival celebrating the mimosa tree complete with a reine du mimosa (Mimosa Queen), parades, processions, mimosa walks, dancing and a carnival.

mim

I am a fan of the scheduled “Walks Around Mimosa Country” which are organized as part of the festival. They take you on the trails of the Tanneron massif, home to the largest mimosa forest in Europe. Though they are guided and commented only in French, the two-hour randonnées in the Provence hills among the fragrant mimosa trees under the azure blue sky of the Mediterranean winter are not to be missed. During mimosa season, you can also drive la route du mimosa (the mimosa road), a winding route that begins in Bormes-les-Mimosas east of Toulon, wends its way through Mandelieu-la Napoule, and ends in the perfume town of Grasse.

Originally from Australia, the mimosa was brought back to Europe by Captain Cook and eventually found its way to the gardens of English aristrocrats wintering at their sumptuous villas along the French Riviera. The welcoming climate facilitated the spread of the mimosa which is part of the acacia family. Today, the Cavatore nursery near Bormes-les-Mimosas specializes in the plants. And note to plant lovers, they welcome visits to their garden center!

Just driving around anywhere in Provence right now, you can have your own route du mimosa. The brilliant sun highlights the yellow splashes of color covering the hillsides. One mimosa season, I captured the pretty flowers at the St. Paul de Mausole monastery near St. Rémy where Van Gogh spent a year before his untimely death. The blooming mimosas contrasted starkly with the solemn chapel and neighboring dormant trees.

Mimosa3

Mimosa2

Fortunately for everyone in France needing a mid-winter pick-me-up, mimosa bouquets are not just available in Provence. They are also sold all around the country in season. Here is a flower vendor at a market in Normandy with the perfumed yellow flowers for sale. Also as part of the Mandelieu festival, one can order four bouquets sent directly to one’s home in France for only 26 euros, shipping included. So next time you are in France in February or March, be sure and pick up a bouquet or order some for your hotel room or apartment. It’s a breath of spring perfect for chasing away those winter blues!

P2130143

For more information on the 2015 French Mimosa festival, click here. This year’s festivities ran from February 18 to 25. Flower and garden lovers may want to make plans to attend next year’s festival that will be held about the same time!

Provence Comfort Food Monday, Feb 16 2015 

Those who have spent time out and about in France know that French food is not all super fancy. Some of the best eats in the country are rustic, home-cooked, traditional dishes – no artistic plate arrangements, mod foam concoctions or colorful sauce squiggles in sight. Every French region has its signature ‘comfort food’ such as Burgundy with its hearty boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin, Southwest France with its robust cassoulet and also Provence with its rich bouillabaisse and daube (the southern France version of beef bourguignon), to name a few.

Another favorite comfort food in Provence – and all around the Mediterranean really – is les petits farcis. Literally meaning “little stuffed things,” les petits farcis de Provence is a wonderful dish of roasted, stuffed vegetables.

P7231000crop

This easy and satisfying meal makes the most of the abundance of colorful vegetables that grow so well in France’s garden of Eden – tomates, courgettes, oignons, artichauts, poivrons, choux, et aubergines (tomatoes, zucchini, onions, artichokes, peppers, cabbage and eggplant). Some ground beef and/or pork sausage, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, an egg or two, garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper compose the stuffing that is placed in the hollowed out vegetables. Traditionally, this dish also allowed thrifty home cooks to maximize their larder by incorporating leftovers such as stale bread, various herbs, bits of meat and so on.

A few months ago, some of our Provence immersion trip group and I took a dinner cooking class from a local chef in Aix-en-Provence. I was happy to see the Provençal menu included les farcis so our group got to experience this robust dish up close. We scooped out the vegetables, mixed the fragrant stuffing, roasted tomatoes for the sauce and then put it all together in large casserole pans. Good tips included par-boiling the thicker vegetables prior to stuffing them. Also recommended was using medium-sized tomatoes so that the meat filling would cook all the way through without overcooking the tomato shell. And we made a point to keep the little courgette caps for a nice touch on the finished plate.

P5160327comp

P5160329comp

P5160331comp

In France, home cooks will make their own petits farcis or if short on time, they can pick up some at the local open-air market. Sometimes even the neighborhood butcher shop will have them. Here in Carpentras, this market vendor had a variety of stuffed vegetables already prepared – along with some corn on the cob, a rarity in France!

Farci

PA090560comp

You’ll also see les petits farcis occasionally on menus at Provence restaurants. The now-closed, very gourmet restaurant Le Clos de la Violette in Aix-en-Provence was well known for its gorgeously-presented, high-end dish of les farcis. So note to the home chef, this recipe can be dressed up or dressed down as you wish.

Which wine to have with this delicious Provence comfort food? If you’re having the meat version of the dish (alternative versions come stuffed with fish or vegetables), a spicy local red wine such as a Côte du Rhône Villages, Rasteau or Vacqueyras would make a great pairing. Or even a hearty Provençal rosé for a more summery touch.

Finally, where to find a good recette (recipe)? Whenever I make les petits farcis, I go straight to a good Provence source – a French cookbook called “Tians et petits farcis” by Andrée Maureau and published by Edisud. Sure enough, it’s an entire cookbook filled with marvelous recipes for Provence-styled gratins and stuffed dishes! She also did an English-version cookbook of Provence recipes, “Recipes from Provence,”  which has all the star southern French dishes including roasted, stuffed vegetables. I also adore another Edisud treasure I found at a French flea market called “La Tomate au Menu.” It has some great variations on the petits farcis theme.

TPF    RFP    TAM

Despite its sometimes homely appearance, les farcis is one of my favorite French dishes winter or summer. It’s easy and reassuring from kitchen to table. And it brings a touch of Provence chez moi, wherever I am.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

In Provence kitchens, gratins and farcis are often cooked in colorful French pottery or stoneware casseroles for a festive touch. This vendor at the Aix-en-Provence outdoor market regularly has all sizes and colors for sale. The fluted, wavy edges are a signature feature of these fun earthenware pieces.

P5240495crop

To pick up a fluted Provence-style casserole closer to home for U.S. based French Affaires’ readers, BIA Cordon Bleu has these great red bakers on offer. The large rectangle version or the pair of smaller squares would make for good roasting and good presenting of les petits farcis. And for good gifts as well. Bon appétit!

 

Insider Paris Trip This October! Friday, Feb 6 2015 

“Paris Then & Now: An Insider Tour of the City of Light”

October 3 to 10, 2015

Join Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz of French Affaires for a stunning insider week in Paris. We’ll experience the City of Light as you’ve never done it before – taking in both old and new Paris with the help of several top experts, engaging local guides and charming Paris residents. We’ll enjoy special private tours and deeper visits to museums and cultural icons including the Louvre, the Orsay, the Marmottan, the Carnavalet, the Quai Branly, Versailles and more. We’ll see the spectacular new Fondation Louis Vuitton with its signature modern architecture by Frank Gehry. Noted Paris gardens and walks are part of our rich itinerary. And we’ll taste and dine our way around Paris with a special Marais food tour, great restaurants and expert presentation on current French culinary trends. Afternoon tea and a champagne cocktail party at private Paris homes will top off our fabulous French Affaires’ Paris sojourn. All in all, it will be an unforgettable week of French life, culture, history, art, architecture, cuisine, people and fun in Paris!

P2120109

A few highlights from our Paris Then & Now” trip…

Six nights at our beautiful Left Bank hotel including breakfast

Special guided tour of ancient and modern Paris with local expert

Deeper visits into key cultural icons including the Louvre, Orsay, Marmottan, Carnavalet & Quai Branly Museums

Versailles-Like-You’ve-Never-Seen-It with our amazing expert

Tour of the brand-new, ultra-contemporary Fondation Louis Vuitton

Afternoon tea and art talk with a current Parisian artist at her Paris home

Wonderful French lunches and dinners with wine at noted Paris restaurants

Special foodie tour of the Marais and French food trends talk by Paris culinary experts

Champagne cocktail party at the private home of Paris residents

Personal hosting and guiding by France expert Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz

P6280324comp

 A special note from Elizabeth: “Our wonderful week in Paris will be completely authentic and personal, as if we’re visiting French friends and family rather than making the typical tourist visit. This insider trip is so unique that it’s perfect for seasoned Paris visitors as well as first-timers to the City of Light. We have so many incredible activities lined up – and our group will be small (just 12 participants) to make the most of this marvelous opportunity to experience Paris in a whole new way!”

P2140381

Orsay2comp

P2130318comp

P2160675comp

PA120848comp

PA140020comp

P2160710comp

Part of our trip includes a visit to the spectacular new Fondation Louis Vuitton which is the talk of Paris. We’ll see famous architect Frank Gehry’s fantastic architecture up close and get a feel for the best of very modern Paris…A big merci to French Affaires’ friend and reader Bill Carr for these fabulous Louis Vuitton Foundation photos!

IMG_4513comp

IMG_4459comp

IMG_1004comp

For the complete ”Paris Then & Now” itinerary and details, please email us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com.  We have a few signed up for this wonderful trip already and there are a few spots remaining. Merci et à bientôt!

PA140933comp

 

French Website of the Year ~ Castle vs. Palace in France Wednesday, Jan 21 2015 

Not long ago, we featured our choice for the ‘French Coffee Table Book of the Decade.’ Click here for a refresh of that post and our interview with the book’s French photographer. Well, now we’ve got a front-runner for the French website of the year. And this is no easy feat given all the French-related content out there. Have you come across the Château de Gudanes? If not, you’re in for a BIG French treat.

 CG1

Built in the 1700’s on the site of a former fortress, the Château de Gudanes was designed by the noted French architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, known for his pure lines and neoclassical symmetry. Some of his high-profile works include the Petit Trianon at Versailles, the Ecole Militaire near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Palais de Compiègne outside Paris, the Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux and the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The château is located in a remote valley in the Midi-Pyrénées region close to the Spanish border. An Australian family purchased the property in 2013 and has begun a massive restoration project to bring the château back to life.

 CG6

CG5

Over the centuries, the Château de Gudanes had been severely neglected. While the exterior walls were still standing, the interior was une horreur, as the French would say. The roof had collapsed in four places resulting in extensive water damage, mould and decay. Most of the inside was rubble and had become completely inaccessible.

CG13

But the building’s bones were fantastic and the property’s history fascinant, so despite the daunting challenges the family has pressed on. Their plans for the château continue to evolve but a restaurant, hotel and faciltities for weddings and events are part of the picture. Most importantly, the family’s incredible commitment and devotion are slowly bringing the château back to its former glory…

CG14

CG15

CG7

What makes this website so fabulous is not only the fairytale rescue of the ’beautiful maiden’ but also the almost daily discovery of marvelous decorative and architectural elements everywhere. These amazing finds are recorded in the website’s blog called the Captain’s Log.”

CG8

CG10

CG12

CG19

Readers of these pages know our love for beautiful French things and also la patine du temps – the patina of age – so it’s no surprise that the Château de Gudanes and its gorgeous, well-done website caught our eye. So take a moment to browse more photos of the property’s restoration project and see if it doesn’t get your vote for the ‘French Website of the Year.’ As for us, we’ll be following the renovations – we can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

CG4

~ Photos courtesy of the Château de Gudanes ~

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

Closer to home – i.e. Paris – there are numerous spectacular French châteaux and palaces which have been wonderfully restored and are well worth visiting. Just a day or half day trip from the city center, these magnificent estates combine exquisite architecture, art, decor and gardens for a matchless French cultural experience.

VV

To make visiting these French jewels really worth your while, French Affaires and SMU Continuing Studies are partnering to offer the upcoming seminar Magnificent Châteaux Near Paris: Day Excursions in the Ile de France on January 26th and February 2nd in Dallas. This visually illustrated course will also cover the difference between a château (castle) and a palais (palace) in France as well as the architectural history of French castles through the centuries. There are still a few spots open – come join us for a fascinating class and a bit of armchair travel to France!

“Magnificent Chateaux Near Paris: Day Excursions in the Ile De France”: In this rich two-part seminar, Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz will explore the history, architecture, art and gardens of gorgeous French châteaux and estates just outside Paris such as Vaux-le-Vicomte, Versailles, Fontainebleau, Chantilly, Vincennes, Compiègne and many more. You’ll also be fascinated by the famous personages who built and lived in these glorious castles and palaces. Included in this illustrated lecture series are inclusive handouts complete with details on how to visit these stars of French architecture and culture, plus a reading and film list for further exploration. After this class, you’ll want to put each of these châteaux on your France travel list! 

Date: Two Mondays – January 26 & February 2, 2015
Time: 7 to 9pm
Cost: $79 per person early registration. Advance sign-up through SMU Continuing Studies program – please click here to register.
Location: SMU main campus – Dallas, TX 75205. Classroom & parking information provided by SMU upon registration.

PA140933

~ Le Petit Trianon at Versailles ~

Vive la France ~ Your Opinion Please Wednesday, Jan 14 2015 

Our heart goes out to Paris and to the families of those whose lives were lost in last week’s terror attacks. But the City of Light will rebound. It will renew itself. And Paris’s beauty and spirit will shine through. Prayers for all involved.

A recent, very Paris photo from French Affaires’ friend and reader Kathy Boyett captures the enduring spirit of the city…

Parisimage

Mindful of this tragedy but hopeful for the return of the regular rhythms of daily French life, we kick off 2015 here at French Affaires. We are excited for another year full of French events, classes, culinary offerings, insider trips, personalized travel planning, and more. We’ll also continue to share a variety of articles and insights about France and French culture via French Affaires Weekly. A propos, we’d love your input on French topics you like and what you’d like to see more of. Is it French food and wine? Is it fashion? History? Art? Museums? Films? Gardens? Antiques? People profiles? Holidays and festivals? Open-air markets? Daily life and culture? Or are you interested in travel tips? Language tips? Other?

Please take a quick moment to send us your thoughts. You can use the comment section below or feel free to email us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com . We have some great topics already in the works and would like to add your ideas to the mix. As always, feel free to peruse the French Affaires Weekly archive for previous postings that might interest you.

We also are working on some fun French giveaways to go along with French Affaires Weekly postings this year. Stay tuned for your chance to receive special France-related treats.

Do drop a line. We look forward to hearing from you. And vive la France!

King’s Cakes in Paris Tuesday, Jan 6 2015 

Move over les bûches de Noël (yule log cakes), it’s time for les galettes des rois (king’s cakes). In France, the holiday sweets keep coming even after Christmas with Epiphanie, also known as la Fête des rois (Three Kings Day, or Feast of the Epiphany), and its signature galette des rois. You can’t miss Epiphany in Paris as just about every Parisian pâtisserie sports loads of these round, golden disks in its windows from December until January.

Rois2

Rois3

It’s proof that the sacred continues to infuse French life and cuisine even if fewer people actually observe this holy day. According to the Bible, three kings or Magi came to pay homage to the baby Jesus and brought him gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are” recounts this journey. Today, the arrival of the Magi and the news of the birth of Jesus to the Gentiles is celebrated by Christians twelve days after Christmas on January 6. This beautiful panel of stained glass from the Basilica of St. Denis just north of Paris illustrates the Epiphany events…

Rm2

Rm

So what exactly is a galette des rois? In most parts of France, the galette is made of puff pastry filled with a delicious almond pastry cream called frangipane. The Provence version, however, is more like brioche, a rich egg bread, and is studded with candied fruits. What makes the cake and the religious feast eternally festive in France is the tradition of hiding a lucky charm, or fève (literally a “bean”) inside the cake. Even though many pastry chefs today use small porcelain figurines instead of a bean, family and friends still gather around the table as the cake is cut. And whoever receives the piece with the fève inside is king or queen for the day (or year) and wears the gold paper crown that accompanies the galette.

A few years ago, a friend and I went on a girls’ shopping trip to Paris in January. We decided to prepare our own Sunday-night dinner and so shopped at the nearby Boulevard Raspail morning market for provisions. As it was a casual supper, we bought soup that was prête à manger (ready to eat), une quiche aux poireaux (leek quiche), de la salade (lettuce) for a beautiful green salad with homemade vinaigrette, and some stunning brie au lait cru (raw milk brie) for our cheese course. And since it was fête des rois time, we noticed the bread and pastry vendor was selling les galettes des rois, both whole cakes and quarter portions. Perfect! We bought a quarter and took our market loot back to the Paris apartment where I was staying. After a thoroughly simple and satisfying meal, we cut the kings’ cake and in my one-eighth piece was an adorable porcelain magi kneeling with his gift for the infant Christ. What are the odds, I thought. And I was reine (queen) for the day in Paris!

Interestingly, les fèves have become quite collectible in recent years. I keep seeing flea market vendors all over France with huge tables of the porcelain charms for sale. Here are selections from some marchands de fèves (lucky charm vendors – what a job!) at the Aix-en-Provence and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue antique markets.

P5110009comp

Rois4

If you’ve shopped around lately in Paris for a king’s cake, you have probably come across ‘mod’ versions at some hip Paris pastry shops. Ultra-cool French pastry chefs always like to put their particular take on traditional pastry offerings and galettes des rois are no exception. Citrus, pistachio, chocolate, pineapple, coconut and other exotic flavors are showing up in king’s cakes at fancy pâtisseries such as Fauchon, Pierre Hermé and others. Click here for a quick article from the French newspaper Le Figaro on this phenomenon.

Many of the big pastry shop names also offer a special collection or coffret de fèves each year that fans can collect. This year’s set from from Hugo & Victor features four monuments of Paris for 30 euros. And Fauchon has a limited edition of seven fèves 2015 for 60 euros – only 250 sets will be sold. (Be sure and click on the links for photos.) While these shiny new sets are tempting, it might be more fun – and memorable – to put together one’s own set by rummaging through the colorful piles of figures at the French flea markets.

P5110009close

Bonne fête!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

On the other hand, you can go fève-less for the fète des rois in America. If you’re looking to buy a French-style king’s cake in the U.S. this year, be aware that many pastry shops now are making the king’s cakes without the prize – see this article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. It seems that some American pastry shops are leaving out the fève or giving it to customers on the side in order to avoid any potential lawsuit due to choking on the charm. Sans blague (no joke). All the more reason then to celebrate Epiphanie in France!

French New Year’s Wishes Sunday, Dec 28 2014 

In France, the holidays, or les fêtes de fin d’année and also known as la période des fêtes (note that the expression “le temps des fêtes” is used in French-speaking Canada), are about family, friends and feasting – especially the feasting. This applies to le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre (New Year’s Eve) in particular. French revelers commonly celebrate with un dîner de réveillon (New Year’s Eve dinner) complete with oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras, chestnuts, truffles, mushrooms, duck, capon and all manner of other French delicacies. (Click here for a previous posting on wonderful French holiday tastes.)

 PC240165

PC240166

A beautiful French table set for “un dîner de réveillon”

Of course, no dîner de réveillon would be complete without toasts and good wishes for le Nouvel An (the New Year). The most basic is “Bonne année!” (pronounced buh nah-nay), i.e. “Happy New Year!” Or one can get more elaborate with the following: “Que cette nouvelle année vous apporte bonheur, santé et réussite,” meaning “May this new year bring you happiness, health and success.” Quite nice, don’t you think? And with these good wishes comes lots of bisous – air-kissing family and friends on the cheek.

If you are in Paris for New Year’s, you could follow your dinner and toasts by going out on the town. You could join the crowds thronging the Champs-Elysées. Or you could head to the Eiffel Tower to watch the light show going off at midnight. Or you could enjoy a more laid-back street celebration up by Sacré Coeur in Montmartre. If you are out and about in Paris on New Year’s Eve, you’ll love that Paris transport – Métro, buses, RER – are free to the public again this year from 5pm on December 31st until noon on January 1st, with most of the transport network running full force until 2:15am. Or you could stay home and watch the French President François Hollande on television sending his meilleurs voeux 2015 (best wishes for 2015) to the citizens of France.

On the subject of French New Year’s wishes, it is interesting to note that the French typically send New Year’s cards rather than Christmas cards to their loved ones. Greetings for the New Year in this format are often a little more formal. Here are a few examples:

- Meilleurs voeux pour l’année 2015! (Best wishes for 2015!)

- Nous vous souhaitons une très bonne année 2015! (We wish you a very happy 2015!)

- Nous vous souhaitons une bonne et heureuse nouvelle année. (We wish you a good and happy new year.)

- Recevez nos meilleurs vœux de bonheur pour la nouvelle année. (Please accept our best wishes for a happy new year.)

- Je vous présente mes meilleurs vœux pour 2015. (I send you my best wishes for 2015.)

- Nous vous adressons nos meilleurs vœux pour 2015. (We send you our best wishes for 2015.)

- Que la nouvelle année vous apporte paix, santé et bonheur. (May the New Year bring you peace, health and happiness.)

- Paix, santé et bonheur pour vous et les vôtres! (Peace, health and happiness to you and yours!)

- Paix, amour, joie, prospérité, santé, bonheur… Que cette nouvelle année soit exceptionnelle! (Peace, love, joy, prosperity, health, happiness…May this New Year be exceptional!)

And then there is this lovely New Year’s wish I once received from a good French friend:

“Que cette nouvelle année déborde de bonheur, de paix et de prosperité.” (May this New Year overflow with happiness, peace and prosperity.)

On that note, I’d like to thank you for your support of French Affaires and wish you a wonderful 2015 full of all good things—and mais oui, full of things French!

Bonne année à toutes et à tous! (Happy New Year to all!)

PC250386

A previous version of this article appeared in December, 2011.

First French Words ~ Upcoming French Classes & Events Friday, Dec 5 2014 

The first French words I remember learning were la fleur. ‘The flower.’ Our Montessori school teacher held up flashcards with colorful images and instructed us to repeat the French names after her. I was five years old and with those few phrases in our kindergarten curriculum, something French in me must have clicked.

flower

After a sprinkling of Spanish in elementary school, I started taking French in earnest in sixth grade and never stopped. Monsieur Ross taught us the building blocks of the French language in seventh and eighth grades. In high school, Mademoiselle Steensen reinforced grammar with the command, “Scamper to the blackboard, Mademoiselle Nouvelle, and conjugate your French verbs!” (My maiden name was “New” so I earned the name Mademoiselle Nouvelle or Nouveau depending on my teacher’s mood.) She had an eagle eye for mistakes so you definitely had to keep up on les verbes.

We graduated from French verbs to French literature by the end of my high school years. And then I continued my French language adventure in college, really taking the plunge by spending my sophomore spring in Aix-en-Provence. I still remember our vivacious and energetic Provence culture professor who kept us spellbound for hours with tales and legends of southern France–all in French, of course.

By this time, I was hooked on the language and the culture of la belle France, and it was only a matter of time before I ended up in graduate school getting a doctorate in the subject, going to the Sorbonne in Paris and finally becoming a professor of French myself. Even though I now do a variety of ‘French things’ in addition to teaching the language, I still love to work with people to help them learn their ‘first French words’ and more.

A propos, I am often asked what advice I would have for making learning French easier and not so intimidating. Here are a few astuces (tips) for saving time, learning more quickly and sounding more French fast:

- Have a positive attitude. Learning French IS possible.

- Decide why you want to learn the language. Do you want to get around on an upcoming trip to France? Do you want to come across as a ‘nice American’? Or do you think French is poetic and you’ve ‘always wanted to learn it’? Or?? Once you identify your motivation, you can choose a French course or program that best meets your needs.

- Learn the language ‘in chunks.’ In other words, don’t try to overanalyze and figure out what every little word or syllable is doing in the French sentence. That can come later if you spend more time in the language. At the beginning, it’s fatiguing and prevents one from communicating–which is the point of language in the first place. So just practice ‘je vous en prie’ and simply equate it with ‘you’re welcome.’

- Make French part of your ‘muscle memory’ with lots of practice and drills. It sounds boring but it really works. Only after a lot of tennis practice can one walk on the court and serve an ace. It’s the same with language – you have to drill the same words and structures over and over to serve up that just right French expression with that just right accent in the moment.

- Find a part of the language that really motivates you and start from there. If you adore French food and cooking, then build your communication skills and vocabulary around this topic. Maybe your love is gardens, or art, or history, or Paris. Whatever it is, make that your French language learning focus. You’ll be more motivated and much more successful.

- Get tons of French ‘input.’ The more you’re exposed to French language and culture, the quicker you’ll be able to speak and communicate. Read French magazines and newspapers (online or paper), watch French TV and movies (see if your cable company offers TV5 Monde), attend French events, dine at French restaurants, cook French food, and of course, spend time traveling in France. Your confidence will go way up – and you’ll find you can say things you didn’t even know you knew!

- Recognize that the French value good pronunciation more than good grammar or good vocabulary. It pays to make an effort to shed that American accent and ’sound more French.’ So be sure to take a French course that includes pronunciation as part of its curriculum. Or take a very focused French pronunciation or phonetics class at some point in your language journey.

Speaking of journeys, a final thought is that learning another language and another culture is always a process. It doesn’t happen overnight (too bad!), and I am not sure it’s ever possible to say one has ‘arrived’ as a language is wonderfully rich and the kaleidoscope of a culture is always changing. But with a little focus and effort, anyone can learn some French…and have wonderful cultural experiences along the way.

Flowers

Paris fleurs

A previous version of this article was published in November, 2011.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

The next round of French Affaires’ language classes will begin in January, 2015. If you have been thinking about learning your first French words or want to exercise your French conversation skills, then check out our upcoming offerings. We’ll also have our special “French for Travelers” class at SMU to make your next visit to France easy and rewarding. For more details, please click on the course titles below:

Beginning French Part 1

Advanced French Conversation

French for Travelers

Our culture seminars this spring include “Magnificent Châteaux Near Paris: Day Excursions in the Ile de France” and “French Kings & Queens: A History of the Monarchy of France.” And there are always ongoing cultural events – the French Cookbook Club, French Cuisine & Culture Workshops and more – designed to bring even more of France to the U.S.! Check out the Events page at www.frenchaffaires.com for details and updates.

NB: If you’d like to see one of these classes or events offered in your city, please contact us for more details at info.french@frenchaffaires.com.

French Flowers in the Fall Tuesday, Nov 18 2014 

It’s always a bit triste (sad) when late fall’s cool temperatures finally decimate flower gardens in France. Due to the country’s generally mild climate, French flowers are obviously glorious from spring until early fall – click here for previous posts on splendid gardens in France. And while my take is that French winter gardens have their own special magic, there is still something qui manque (lacking) when all the bright colors disappear due to frosty weather.

However, this fall and winter France lovers in the U.S. can enjoy vibrantly hued French flowers in Dallas all cold season long – and no jackets or coats required. From now through February 8, 2015, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is hosting “Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse,” a breathtaking exhibit devoted to French floral still-life painting from the 18th century to early 20th century. Developed in cooperation with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, this special show explores the evolution of flower painting through works of such famous artists as Van Gogh, Delacroix, Fantin-Latour, Manet, Courbet, Matisse and many others.

B1

“Bouquets” fills seven stunningly colored galleries with each one painted a different hue to set off the art. With all the works so superficially pretty, it would be easy to breeze through the variously themed rooms and miss the real richness of the exhibition. But as DMA curator and show co-organizer Heather MacDonald pointed out in a recent preview I attended, “Bouquets” is not merely a nice collection of decorative flower paintings. The exhibition is meant to dig deep into the floral still-life genre to showcase both the artists’ creativity in documenting the natural world and also the historical and cultural contexts that led to the works’ development.

B1comp

Image courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art

Anne Vallayer-Coster_Bouquet of Flowers in a Blue Porcelain Vasecomp

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Bouquet of Flowers in a Blue Porcelain Vase, 1776, DMA

As I walked through the galleries, I found myself fascinated by the depictions of flowers in every format – casual to polished, natural to stylized, grand scale to petit tableau. I wanted to spend time in front of each of the more than 60 paintings from museum and private collections around the world and get to know these colorful works by heart. Had I done that, I would have been there all day. Still I plan to see the show several times to take in all the fabulous French bouquets gathered here. 

051comp

092comp

A special feature in the center of the exhibition is the aptly named “Atelier des Fleurs.” The “Flower Workshop” offers visitors a chance to sit down and create their own bouquet image using the art supplies and fresh flower arrangement provided. You can post your artwork on the cloth boards for others to enjoy or take it with you.

087comp

121comp

124comp

I happened to see the ‘changing of the bouquets’ on the day I was there. Every week throughout the exhibition, the Dallas Museum League volunteers bring a new colorful bouquet inspired by the paintings in the show. What a fabulous touch!

056comp

After Dallas, “Bouquets” will travel to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond and then on to the Denver Art Museum. The fully illustrated exhibition catalogue entitled Working Among Flowers: Floral Still-Life Painting in 19th Century France is terrific and a great way to keep the flower show going after you’ve seen it or to enjoy the floral still-lifes chez vous if one of these cities is not on your upcoming travel list. It also makes a superb Christmas present for any French art lover or French garden lover or Francophile on your gift list.

Speaking of gifts, I learned in the show that many of these artists painted floral still-lifes with the intention of giving them away as presents. It reminded me of a small, rustic bouquet painting I picked up at a Paris flea market earlier this year. While it won’t win any art prizes, the French flower painting is old and charming and cheerful – and sure enough, it was painted as a gift. A barely legible “Bonne année,” or ‘Happy new year’ is inscribed near the artist’s signature.

Dallas Museum of Art

1717 N. Harwood

Dallas, TX 75201

Tickets are $8 each (free for DMA Partners & children under 11)

• Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (March 21, 2015–June 21, 2015)

• Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO (July 19, 2015–October 11, 2015)

 

 

137comp

PS: If you go, don’t miss the two ”brioche paintings.” Manet painted fluffy brioche bread with flowers – they look real enough to eat!

066comp

Deep France Wednesday, Oct 15 2014 

To my mind, one of the best things about France is the French countryside. These are just some of the images that come to mind: Driving down a rural lane past centuries-old farms in Normandy or Burgundy. Taking a long walk in the once-royal forest of Fontainebleau. Picking my way through moss-laden trees in the Dordogne woods. Smelling the pines and sea air in the hinterlands of the Médoc or in the hills behind the Côte d’Azur. Getting stopped by a rowdy herd of goats on a remote road in Corsica or Provence. Biking around the scenic Ile de Ré. Tracing the outline of bare trees against open fields in winter. Seeing thousands of yellow sunflowers swaying in the wind. Watching the sun slowly set over rolling green vineyards. The possibilities of French landscapes are almost endless – and so easily obtainable. All you have to do is get out of the city and voilà, the French countryside is there.

Thinking about the non-city experience in France reminds me of the wonderful French expression ‘la France profonde’ – deep France. As one of my French friends puts it, ”la France profonde signifie la France des campagnes. Sans urbanisation et progrès, et ancrée dans les traditions.” In other words, deep France is the French countryside untouched by urbanization or development and anchored in tradition. In this view, French rural life is simple and idyllic in a positive sense. To another French friend, however, la France profonde is rather pejorative. It reminds her of a remote backwater, its inhabitants out of touch with modern life. Perhaps the American expression the ‘deep South’ is similar, both positive and negative depending on whom you talk to.

6cc

Recently, I had a very deep France encounter in its best sense. You know when you’re really in the mood for something and then it happens that the more than the perfect thing comes along to satisfy that wish? For me, it was just that with the extraordinary French documentary film “Le Cousin Jules.” Originally released in 1973 and despite receiving critical acclaim, Cousin Jules languished in relative film obscurity until it was digitized and re-released this past year.  

cj3

Watching Le Cousin Jules is to step back in time to real, deep France – and I was totally mesmerized. Filming over a five-year period starting in the late 60’s, director Dominique Benicheti records the rhythms and rituals of the lives of his cousin Jules Guiteaux and his wife Félicie on their farm in Burgundy. Each day, Jules dons wooden clogs and leather apron to begin work in his shop, while Félicie tends the vegetable garden and prepares their meals.

1cc

4cc

From the music of Jules’ hammer hitting the anvil to the sweetness of Félicie’s gnarled hands peeling potatoes to their simple lunch taken together in near silence, every scene is rich in the details of daily life. My favorite scene is when Félicie joins her husband in his blacksmith shop after lunch and carefully prepares their coffee on the wood-burning stove. You can tell it’s something that she’s done hundreds of times throughout their lives but somehow the action manages to be fresh and alive in that moment.

3cc

Before sitting down to watch this jewel of French cinema, however, you have to know that the film really is a documentary. There is no storyline and almost no dialogue. The drama is simply everyday life in the French countryside. (There is a big shift midway through the film, however. I won’t give it away here, and try not to read about it on the internet before seeing the movie!) To enjoy the film is to completely slow down and take in the details, the sounds and the rhythms of a time that no longer exists in France or elsewhere for that matter. But Benicheti makes the watching very worthwhile – he filmed Le Cousin Jules in lush CinemaScope and recorded it in stereo for a ravishing visual and auditory experience.

So if you’re game for a completely different type of film, pick up the Cousin Jules DVD at your local art flick rental store or buy a copy for your French film library. Then sit back with a nice glass of French wine and let yourself be immersed in la France profonde. Warmly poetic but unsentimental, Le Cousin Jules palpably captures the beauty of rural France, the simplicity of daily peasant life, and the nearly wordless intimacy of a lifelong relationship.  

2cc   

French Take-Out ~ La France  à emporter

To enjoy more French film viewing in the U.S., be sure and check out the swell website frenchflicks.com. Every week, French Flicks lists all the French movies being shown in America including special film festivals and events. For an added bonus, it also cross-references French film offerings on Netflix and TV5 Monde.

FFcom

Next Page »