Sunday, March 30, 2014

" the french and springtime "

sunday, march 30th

The french love the springtime.  If you ask them about it they will shrug and say, " Il n'y a plus de printemps. " which simply means " There are no springtime anymore."  Period. The french are pretty adamant that in the natural and  normal cycle of seasons, Winter advances directly into Summer.

Yet, if you drive through " la campagne francaise"  which is really only the french countryside, but it immediately sounds so much better in french, you can see things like this :

little tiny flowers which are called '  paquerettes "   which are tiny adorable daisies about a quarter of an inch, adorable.  And paquerettes  are a sign of Springtime.

And you can also see other interesting things like this ;

that is when you typically freshly plough the soil,  to sow your field,
and that is also a sign of Springtime,

and then you can see also this remarquable sight :

and if you really look at this splendid photo, you can see  some yellow forsythia  on the top of the hill, that the Reporter couldn't approach,  because the soil was a bit "  détrempé et trop meuble"  and that just means something like  soaked and too soft,   and that dear Reader, is another indisputable sign of Springtime.

But ask any frenchman, and he will shake his head from left to right to left and right again, and he will say " non, non, il n'y a plus de printemps." And honestly, you'd better not ask a third time.

It is because, every frenchman has his own notion of what le printemps should look like.   And since his notion of Springtime,  is not at all the notion of whomever else, and certainly not the vision of Mother Nature, then there is no more Springtime in france, whatsoever.

So the Reporter decided to say good-bye to her friend in the country, who said to her, while she was packing her small trunk,  "  C'est quand meme un drole de printemps." Which meant in fact, "Still it is a funny spring."  So suddenly it seemed like Spring had temporarily reappeared in france,  but  now it was funny.  Which shows one more time how the french are all about subtlety.

We, Americans, we say, " It is Springtime !" and our voice carries a lot of gaiety, and enthusiasm,  and we all have those idiotic smiles at how happy this time in the year is, but that is because we americans, are very rude.

Then the Reporter closed her trunk, looked around with her usual happiness and joie de vivre, and her eyes fell on something particularly cherished by her host :

because the french may  not believe that there is a Spring season any more, but the wooden toys of childhood is one season in which they will always believe because, true at heart, " Ils sont toujours des enfants."  Which is they are still children at heart.  Not to be mistaken with the emblematic french sentence, "  Les Américains sont de grands enfants." Which is " The Americans are tall children."

Which, in itself,  is such a complex subject in the mind of the french that this blog page is now too short to debate such a thing on this day.

So the Reporter reached Paris again,  and in her stroll pulling her trunk, she stopped to admire this wonderful little store, which made her think that after all Spring was in fact, here,  arrived in Paris :

and with her usual idiotic smile, she continued her stroll.

With all love,

the Frog

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

" of gates, and how the french manage land "

tuesday, march 25

Dear Reader,

so this is a fair outline of how the french manage their land.  Of course, one has to take into account that this is only one example of how they go at it,  but it is not totally random.

So the Reporter's friend, the one who had a subtle flavor of Maxime de Winter,  and who had generously invited our courageous writer, did let her into his land via his gate, and as you can see, there was a zest of Manderley already there,

view of left gate :

view of right gate :

detail of left gate :

and just before getting to the gate :

Do you sort of see the subtle relationship to Manderley ?

Then, once inside the land, the french like to ask their guest to give a small hand to their managing of it. For that purpose, the french like to wear " des bottes de caoutchouc"  or simply,  english flavored rubber boots made in china :

So, Maxime de Winter asked the Reporter if she could help with the lawn somehow, and the Reporter being of a very devoted and friendly manner helped carve out the path to the woods as in here,
So you, educated Reader, can immediately understand, that anything in pale green is where the Reporter lent a hand.
Also, she managed to not fall in the pond which, anyway, was sadly empty.

Then Maxime de Winter gently asked if the writer could give a hand in collecting  " du petit bois"  or as we vulgarly say ' some wood,'  as in here,

and you may still admire the pale green path beyond the wood pile,

wood pile which would serve to warm up the cold thick massive walls of the house as in here

Then, Maxime de Winter took the Reporter to the barn and showed her  " des outils "  or simply said ' some tools :'

which might be useful to
clean up "les mauvaises herbes et tailler les buis", or plainly clean up
"the weeds and trim the boxwood,"
as in below

Then Maxime showed some stone that might need some carving,
and there was a stone saw in the barn, see the stones on which Maxime stepped that could be carved better

and then, since the Reporter thought of herself as artistic,
Maxime showed her some work to do in "  l'escalier "  or of course,
the staircase.

And then the Reporter went to bed with her candle

and that, she decided, was about the end of her observations of how the french De Winters managed their land.

With all Love,

the Frog

Sunday, March 23, 2014

" on the train "

sunday, march 23

Well, dear Reader,
there are times where reporters have to be courageous and slam themselves into hazardous means of transportation.

So, on the day when Parisians and french went to " le bureau de vote"  which is just " the polling station"  but honestly  bureau de vote sounds more mysterious, though polls are pretty mysterious in themselves,  so on that day, the courageous Reporter decided to hop on the train to the southwest of france to meet her friend who lives there in a decrepit house.

Most trains in france are TGVs,  which are known to uncultured americans as the bullet train.

And when they tactlessly talk of the bullet train to the french, the french lift their eyebrows, which they  have in quantity due to the southern genetics, and they say, affronted,  "  Le train boulette ? Mais ca n'existe pas ! "   or " The train bullet ? But that doesn't exist ! "  and they are really upset.

You will notice the use of 'But' at the beginning of a sentence, which is a typical french use.

So for the french the bullet train, of course, doesn't exist, people on the other side of the pond just have to learn the word TGV, which is so clear in itself as in " Train a Grande Vitesse," which is of course Train with Great Speed.

And it looks like that,  just in case you never saw a Train with Great Speed.

Looks a bit like a fish, anyway the french think a lot of their Train with Great Speed.

So Reader, you would think the Reporter would embark on a beautiful TGV/TGS well "  He bien, pas du tout "   or as we simply say,
"Well, not at all "

Anyway, the Reporter's goal was to arrive in Brives, which is in the middle of france, a city built with grey stones, and fortunately quite quiet after 7 pm.  Brives is about the level of Bordeaux's latitude,
but is snugged all inside the middle of  france,  surrounded by thick woods, meadows, some cattle, wild boars and  truffles.  Few people ever go to Brives.

So the only train to get there, has to stop first in four different cities before reaching the quintessential city of Brives. And you must take a Corail train,  because  no TGV/TGS will ever go there. It takes about 4 hours and a half,  which would be roughly  about 2 hours in a TGV/TGS.

People inside that train to Brives are like real people, but from the 50s. They are older people, they have large baskets with ammunitions of food in case the train would break, they read newspapers which are a day old or two, or three,  and grand-children who are sent off with their grand-parents to the country to be  " au bon air."  [ in the fresh air ]

 It is a step in a time capsule.

This is what  the train to Brives looks like :

So the Reporter who balks at nothing,  stepped into the time capsule train,  and this is what she saw.

First, in her aristocratic caste compartment,  [ she was travelling  "premiere classe"  for a change, which is simply on a Corail train like " business class,"]   there were two grandparents who, obviously lived in the country,  and had come to pick up their grandchildren [ 6 and 8 ] from their Paris overworked devoted parents,  to take them for a few days in the  fresh air.

So the parents, just before the train departed, had stepped up there inside the train to  make sure the grand parents had all the medicine bags, and the cookies bags, and the children mini i pads, and the doting parents were looking anxiously at all the surrounding  business class travelers  to see how the next four hours would be faring for their fragile children.

Then the parents hopped off the train with a deeply worried air on them.

Then the train departed.

A few hundreds yards away from the  Gare d'Austerlitz,  the grand parents turned to the two children and said,  "  Ok,  fermez vos i pads maintenant, plus de jeux electroniques jusqu'a 6 heures du soir."
 which simply means in french, " OK, shut off your  i pads now, no more electronic games till 6 pm." It was 2 pm. Which roughly meant the 4 hours of train  were off electronics, whatsoever.

And when you think of it, considering how slow the Corail trains move,  we were  now about barely 5 miles away from the worried doting parents. And, they were worried about  us, the other travelers,   reacting surreptitiously to their fragile brood.

The thing is, the  french children closed their i pads, started to look out the window, drew lots of ugly drawings, ate the cookies the grand parents had brought, chatted eagerly but in very muted voices the rest of the four hours, and each time when told to say " merci"  [ thank you ] and " s'il vous plait "  [ please ] they immediately complied with wide eyes and contentment.

They brushed past in the aisle, whispering "  Excusez-moi"  [ " I am sorry "] going to the restroom every thirteen minutes. In one word, or more, they enjoyed themselves hugely.

The Reporter thought that the very worried Parisian parents of fragile children had no idea how well this was all faring.

So the Reporter, while ogling the grandparents with enormous absorption,  could work all she wanted on her own i pad.

And when, by the end of the day, after the 6 pm of the electronic time shut off,  she was close to the decrepit house of her dear friend in the south west, it looked like that :

And Wait,   dear Reader !
Her friend does look a little like Mr. de Winter a bit,  and the gate of the house is not without some small accent of Manderley.

To morrow the Reporter will post a pic of the gate,  and you shall see what the gate, there, looks like.

Be prepared.

With all love,

the Frog

Saturday, March 22, 2014

" a place to stay "

sunday, march 23,  2 a.m.

Being on the eve of going rusticating down in the south west of france for  a few days, looking for new adventures, the Reporter yesterday decided to have a look at possible Parisian places where she might stay on her next trip to france,  the land of the Polite.

As a matter of fact,  the Reporter has some pretty nice idea of the type of place she would like to own in, or around Paris.

Do not shiver, Reader,  some of the suburbia around Paris is in fact quite charming, and any Parisian would tell you,  "  La, il y a du bon air. "   which really simply means "  There, there is some nicer fresh air", since so much of the press lately has blatantly lied about Paris air quality talking about thin particles and unhealthy haze.  " Balderdash" would tell you any Parisian, except they don't speak that good of an english, so they will just say something like " foutaise"  which is a word you should never use, and means something like " crap " but since it is in french it is more elegant, still you should really not use that  foutaise.

So the Reporter did have something in mind like that,

a small simple house,  surrounded by a little greenery,
so she showed that to the Broker, but then looking more closely,

the Reporter noticed that there was a lot of dogs, and the inside yard of the cute house had in fact a well to pull up pails of water, and  < gasp >   dirt ground and no gravel.

So she took back her photo and threw it away,  and said to the Broker that it was a little  too much rustication for her.  Except that it was not really a photo but a seventeenth century small but rigid painting,  and try to throw that away in one of the "poubelles" [ garbage can ] of a Parisian street.

So she explained that all she wanted was just some sort of well kept back yard, like this

with some tall trees,  may be a pond  like that one,
or like this one,

a bit of columns like that, for her daily walking meditation

and a bit of french windows and a tree turning orange in the Fall
and the Broker was horrified and exclaimed " Mais c'est Versailles et ca n'est pas a vendre du tout !"
 which roughly, simply, means " But it is Versailles and it is not for sale at all."

Which the Reporter thought was a pretty rude answer, for once, coming from the french.

And also, did you notice how much the french start a sentence with " But it is..." but I digress.

Of course the Reporter didn't want to buy Versailles, which is a very windy place with fireplaces not all of them working, she just wanted a small something like that.

Then, the Reporter who shows always great equanimity in all situations invited the Broker to have a little salad of  "  lamelles tièdes de pommes de terre a l'huile de truffes et au sel de Guerande"  which only means " slices of warm potatoes with bits of truffle oil and coarse grey salt ".  And the Broker's high ventilating mood evaporated.
Then it was a return to the little favorite public garden, "  Le Jardin de Catherine Labouree "  which is right next to the nuns convents who eat religiously their " religieuses,"  

 and where you can find a small painted poster which says : "  Pelouse au repos hivernal du 15/10 au 15/04"

 That roughly means " Lawn in winter rest from the 15/10 to the 15/04"   and I know what you feel, dear Reader,  they switched dates and  got them all wrong, it should be 15/04 to 15/10,  except we do not have a 15th month, and one more time,  this is the exquisite complexity of the french who put the  day before the month.

So it does mean from the 15th of September to the 15th of April.  There is  something comforting that the winter rest for the  pelouses in france is between those dates. Winter rest is of primary importance in france. The french don't mind a little winter rest themselves from all their occupations and affairs.

Then the Reporter slipped into a dress to try to look elegant,  and she went to one of these decadent " soirees "  [ evening parties ]  that the french love. That one was overlooking  Place de la Concorde
[ The Concorde Plaza ]  and had lots of soft lights and moldings,

with people who are very polite and squeeze you a bit when you get to the "  buffet"  which is roughly and simply a "buffet dinner"  and where you can observe how delicately and elegantly the french can drink large quantities of champagne while talking enthusiastically of how the stock has dropped two points.

Then they repast to the balcony under  "  la  colonnade "   [ the colonnade ]  to talk about private life, philosophy and ski shoes.

Then they look at the view :

Then because sometimes people with the Reporter are still hungry, because they forgot to get close to  le buffet, and they know that even at midnight they can get some more food to maintain their weight, the french go to Lipp, the brasserie,

and then it is about 2 am and they go to bed.

With all Love,

the Frog

" what the french do when they sit down "

saturday, march 22

Ever courageous, hard-working and intellectually brilliant, the Reporter went to have a work breakfast with a friend yesterday morning.

So their meeting was, how surprising, at La Grande Epicerie,  where they would order " un café"
which of course is a coffee, a freshly squeezed orange juice,   " une orange pressée " [ move over tropicana ]


a croissant

and then they sat down and worked very hard.

This gave the Reporter a new vision on the way the french sit down and work.

When the french sit down for work at breakfast,  in a public place, unlike their american counterpart, they do not just get in, and sit and plunge into the menu and start conversation.

The french sit,  never look at the menu,  but first evaluate the guests around them.  Do they know anyone sitting there yet ?  Do the guests have some social affinity with them ?  If they are sitting with you, they will bend their head towards you, still looking around and say in a low voice  either , "  Le public est bien"  which  roughly means,  " audience is fine, we can sit here "   or it's a negative and they whisper even lower,
"  pas très relevée l'assistance "   which means literally "  not very refined the audience."

Considering this is coming from the french who find most people not quite up to their own standing, the negative comment prevails.  Then they look at the menu.

Then they order,  then you start to talk and work hard. Then they stand up in the middle of a sentence because Guillaume has just come in and they exchange loudly things like " Guillaume,  I didn't  think you were  here [ meaning ' in town ' ] what's up ?"  then they make Guillaume known to you,  then they will whisper about the audience, and check if they don't see anyone that the other knows  sitting there.

Then you can sit back down, all is well, Guillaume has added himself to your small table where you meant to both work, and  everyone sits  until the next person they know will come into the cafe, and join the table.  This is roughly how the french work at a business breakfast. The table becomes too small, everyone ogles the neighbor's table checking if they will leave soon, and the neighbors shoots them back a really mean look.

Cafe territory is very complex in france. In America,  you will smile a friendly smile, engage the conversation with the neighbor, apologize and ask when by chance they might leave, if you want to expand, but no pressure, everyone is happy, it's all very friendly and open.  That is why the french think the americans are very rude.

Which is why, when you walk through the Grande Epicerie, you can check a dish towel which says :


Yes the PL are hidden by the tag, [ photographer had too much coffee ] but that's really what is says, which means,


 but that applies to the person who dries the dishes, not to the people sitting in a cafe.

So let us go back to how and why the french sit down, elsewhere than in a cafe. First about cafes,  if you arrive in Paris and expect to just drop in a Starbuck, just be aware there are 3 Starbucks in Paris, and that is all. So it is not like New York or Los Angeles where Strabucks just pop out like buds in Springtime.

Now the french in fact do sit down, and stay sitting and working in public places in Paris, other than in cafes.

The standard place for a Parisian to sit down and do serious work is the public garden bench.

This is the i-pad bench :

These three gentlemen were all on their i pads and all working pretty hard for at least twenty minutes which was the range of time the Reporter was observing this.

No Guillaume or Marcel  came to interrupt them. When french are working on their e pad or i phone, it is very rude to interrupt them.

Most french work on their i phone all the time, which makes you rude anyway any time you would like to have with them a human interaction.

Then you have the bench conversation :

This one takes place near Le Grand Palais, where all those very proper french went to see the last show from Bill Viola,  and they are all deep into conversation about Bill Viola's aims and methods and points of view and private life.

This type of sitting, you do not interrupt either if you do not want to be rude :
First you will notice there's not much place left on the bench,  then you do not interfere into a conversation which is about art and private life. That is a no no.

First you do not know anything about Bill Viola's private life and they do.  Second, your view on Bill Viola's art and methods are most probably not the view of these very proper gentlemen and ladies, and they already do not  quite agree on Bill Viola's methods and aims between  themselves,  so imagine if you came into the conversation like a rude American, about something you completely ignore when they don't.

This by the way is the entrance to Bill Viola's,  just if you are interested.

The Reporter needed to buy a book so to the bookstore,  and there, they were other french sitting down,

and they were two proper persons, unknown to each other sitting down and reading in that book store, and those two also, you do not interrupt because they are reading in a public place which is not a cafe, so you do not interrupt at all,  you rude American.

That is because when a french reads in a book store this is what it means :

Then the courageous Reporter went on her way and she met Suzy,
who is an Australian and lives in London, but she is lovely, and doesn't mind being interrupted rudely by the Reporter,
Suzy is delightful, she has this basket in the shape of a beetle into which she confines her handbag from the sun rays, it's very handy.

Then the Reporter had another meeting in another cafe because the Reporter is very busy, so she sat there at this Trocadero place,

you will notice there is that young Francois standing up on the right side of the pic,  in deep conversation with young ladies who are having a late lunch [  6 pm ] and he is not about  sitting down.

This is the other way a proper french will not sit down in a cafe, as he is just having a quite small exchange, he doesn't have time to sit down, so he is in fact standing there for like about twenty minutes in deeply serious conversation, before straddling his vespa.

A french waiter should get normally aggravated by the fact that he is taking like half the width of the aisle to talk of deeply serious things for twenty minutes,  but in fact that is where the waiter will just shrug and say "  Non, c'est un bavard."  which roughly means " no, it's just a windbag."

And that was like the end of the day for observing the way the french sit down, and are all so polite while the rest of us is so rude.

With all Love,
the Frog

Friday, March 21, 2014

" l'epicerie"

thursday,  march 21

In Paris if you need to buy last minute food, you climb down the stairs and run to your local grocer,  "l'epicerie,"  or  "chez l'epicier,"  that's your local grocer.

 It is often a charming cramped store, usually titled like "  La Ferme Vaneau"  which is not a farm but just a grocer. The fake farm has an incredible assortment of products, produce, wines and waters in the tiniest square feet you can imagine. The grocer may look down on you like you are an intruder, but if you politely say, " Bonjour Monsieur,"  he will become amiable, and if you talk of the soccer game you can hear streaming on the radio in the back store, then he will be, to you, downright adorable. If more than one customer is in, people are very careful to line silently, and not touch each other in aisles that are like 1/5 of an airplane aisle.

If while you are paying, another customer comes intruding, doesn't say " Bonjour Monsieur," and starts moving products on the shelf to check the labels, the grocer will look up at you, while giving you back the change,  with the martyre air of a beaten puppy. You will smile back with the compassion  of someone who understands deep down the depth of humanity issues,  and he will give you a Carambar for free. A Carambar is a soft sort of caramel. Any child in france knows what a Carambar is.

But, if you are not looking for a last minute food at the foot of your apartment, then you treat yourself to "  La Grande Epicerie "  or the Big Grocer.  It is at the foot of the Bon Marche, and for sure the Reporter had reported on it before on this splendid blog. But, today we entered a new phase since, about a few months ago, the  Grande Epicerie ended its full remodeling  to something absolutely grand.

So the Reporter had to visit it on her first days in Paris,

So there, she could ogle at the veggie stands,  a favorite,

another stand of vegetables, so another favorite,

and the tomato stand, a favorite too,

then the fish stand of course, her favorite,  or  " La Poissonnerie "  with its awesome mosaic wall,

and then next, she went on to the sweet delicacies,
so two brands of " copeaux de chocolat"  which simply means chocolate chips really, which you buy to make your hot chocolate at home,  so you have
"  La Maison Bonnat "   a very old  french alps company,  and they get their chocolate from Trinidad, Ceylon, Hacienda Rosario [ Venezuela ], Chuao, Madagascar, so, as you see it is a very respectable house, la Maison Bonnat. So this is the can :

or the second brand, so called "  Dolfin"   pronounced < doll-feng > and honestly this is a Belgian chocolatier so, you will understand, that can is looked at with some circumspection by the french.

So move over, Nesquick.

Then the Reporter stopped at the Raviolis stand, because after a hot chocolate to warm you up, you do need some raviolis to maintain weight,

and then she stopped to check on the " patisseries " the sort of chi chi pastries that the french love to make.
So there was an assortment of eclairs and   "religieuses"  a word that  means " nuns"  and that is the name given to a pastry very much like an eclair,  except its shape is  round with a little round mound on top and some whipped cream. On the pic, the nuns are on the  left side.

lots of whipped cream as you see, not at all in the limited tastes of the Reporter,  but the Parisian will love their "religieuses," and eat them religiously as it should be done.
Then we have the inevitable little "  macarons "
 which you nimbly eat with a cup of tea from the Maison Damman named
 "  le thé Jardin du Luxembourg "  or the tea " Garden of the Luxembourg " which is located just a few blocks away from the Grande Epicerie. When you are a child, after school around 4 pm you go to the Jardin du Luxembourg to play hide and seek, and run for your life from your friends from school.

The Reporter stopped then by the "  Cremerie"  at the  Grande Epicerie, where there is a whole wall dedicated to  creme fraiche,  which is heavy cream.  This just shows how the french need to have a choice for their heavy cream.

Somewhat saturated with this display, the Reporter hopped onto some other department at the Bon Marche where they had some other exquisite delicacies,

Then from these, the Reporter left the Bon Marche, this entreating den of small iniquities to stop and  gaze pensively at her very beloved florist,

Then the Reporter went home, visually brimming with so much beauty galore.  

With all love,

the Frog