Sunday, December 05, 2010

The end of strikes, but the start of cuts

So, France's current spate of strikes is largely over. The country was in chaos for a few weeks (months?), but Sarko did what he had to do and made those French retirements slightly less cushy (am I the only one that prefers to shorten it to "'Kozy"? He's just so cute and little when he stands next to that Amazon wife of his.). But, I digress.

The big French news story on this side of the pond is that US universities are cutting their European language programs in an effort to trim budgets to administratively-acceptable levels. From what I've been reading, it seems as though French was at the top of the guillotine list.

SUNY Albany has suspended its French program, and Winona State University (Minn.) won't allow any new French majors into its program. The French program at the University of Tennessee at Martin is hanging by a thread.

Whatever happened to going to college a relatively ignorant young'in and graduating a "citizen of the world"?

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Languages Association, told The New York Times that the cuts smacked of "Anglocentric perspective," meaning English somehow would be enough to understand the world. How far from reality these administrators are; it's truly laughable.

At least at SUNY Albany, the cuts are being made based on the number of students who have declared French as a primary major. Feal elaborated on this absurdity in The Chronicle of Higher Education last month.

I'll be honest here: I never realized how little I actually knew about the English language until I began learning French. Studying a foreign language opened up a whole new world to me - not just the Francophone world, but the world of grammar and style and nuance. In short, studying French made me want to be the person I am today: a writer; a wordsmith; a lover of the written and spoken word.

The level of ignorance that is being shown and perpetrated by the administration of these institutions is unconscionable. They are effectively choking their graduate programs off at the root: foreign languages are pre-requisities for many of the humanities at the graduate level. What will tomorrow's art history, vocal performance and - yes - English literature graduate students do when they can't even get into their desired program because they've been systematically prevented from learning?

To paraphrase Mr. Holland in Mr. Holland's Opus, "You'll be creating a generation of kids who don't know how to think."

And you can add "reason," "debate," and "understand" to that last one.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Apologies for the absence - let's just say I've been striking in solidarity. After all, France just wouldn't be France without its inordinately young retirement age and generous pensions. As much as the cultural inertia bothers me at times, if it means keeping some quintessentially French institutions intact, I'm all for it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

À moi, à moi la Liberté!

I have just found the most ambrosial yogurt on the planet. It's from Liberté, a company based in Québec. I've been running a yogurt experiment lately to try and find a brand I actually like and this one won the contest totally by accident.

I happened to look up above the Greek yogurt in the store to find, right at my eye level, the word "Méditerranée" and I was hooked. The company had me at their correct accent marks and the fact that they didn't Anglicize their company's name (ahem, Danone, I'm looking at YOU).

When I finally tasted the yogurt (I got wild blackberry) it was a truly orgasmic yogurt experience. Yes, it was THAT good. There are just good, old-fashioned ingredients in this stuff - milk, cream, fruit, etc. No nasty high-fructose corn syrup to speak of, unlike Yoplait's American entries. This yogurt is worth every one of its 14 grams of fat per serving. The company proclaims their product to be "a creamy sin without the guilt," and I heartily agree.

 Needless to say, I don't plan to share my Liberté - À moi la Liberté!

Photo: Copyright MLG.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Warmed-Up Leftovers, Anyone?

Hollywood, can we talk about this?

Now, I know that you've been playing catch-up with the French since they invented film and all and then went on to perfect it. But there's really no need to be so pathetic in the chase. We've come a long way from the whole Pépé le Moko/Algiers thing, where you had to change the ending because of the Hayes Code.

A spokesman for Jay Roach, who is directing Dinner For Schmucks, told The New York Times that "it's not a remake" but that it is "inspired" by the orginal 1998 French film Le dîner de cons (The English title was, oddly, The Dinner Game).

Then why does it have essentially the same title as the original and and the same premise? I'm sure they've ratcheted up the potty humor and the general jackassery (yes, that's a word - says me!), but if they're using the same plot, then it's a remake!

Variety notes that other American adaptations of Francis Veber's French farces haven't been as successful as the originals:

"American adaptations of Veber's works have been all over the map, from "The Birdcage" to "Father's Day" (when DreamWorks optioned "Dinner," it too was intended to star Robin Williams)."

So now that Hollywood has seemingly exhausted the supply of TV shows, remade movie musicals and old toys out of which to make movies, they are going back to the "original remake": the foreign language remake.

Do yourself a favor: see the original. I guarantee it'll be funnier in the end.


Friday, July 16, 2010

No Embouteillage Here!

A DIY clip from France on how to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew has been making the rounds on Facebook and other platforms lately. Pat Kiernan, a morning news anchor in New York City, posted it on his blog, Pat's Papers, and it took off like, well, a busted champagne cork.

Here's the original video, methodically demonstrated by a well-dressed Frenchman:

Once he posted, people began asking Pat if he'd tried it, and so he did, with mixed results:

Here are some pointers, Pat:
  • First of all, you must be French for this process to be quick and painless. As a Canadian, you are a British subject, so obviously the French are not going to make anything unnecessarily easy for you. You know that!
  • Second,  though you got the premier prix memo, I think the plastic cork sabotaged you.
  • Third, and most importantly, as demonstrated in the French video, you must use a shoe that would be likely to be worn by Bomb Voyage.
P.S. - Pat, I'd like to know when the World Series of Pop Culture is coming back - I think next time, it should be a showdown between the smart asses who won that show and the geeks from Beat the Geeks. That would be entertaining.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Copy Editing FAIL

The person at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who is copy editing headlines and the one who's editing article copy don't seem to be communicating too well today.

I'm not sure what's going on here, but all I know is that, for once, it's not the writer's fault. The same mistake appears not only in the headline, but also in the image caption and in the RSS feed.

All I have to say is, "tsk tsk."

Despicable Me - Moi, moche et méchant

Despicable Me is one of the few movies I've ever described as "cute" in my entire life.

Because that's what it is; it's adorable. It's the kind of movie that makes you laugh until you're suddenly tearing up and cooing at the screen.

However, my initial impression was less favorable. I had seen a scant preview prior to another film and it came across as yet another gimmicky computer-animated 3-D movie riffing off of the success of The Incredibles (one of my all-time favorite animated movies). It was also unclear what the movie was even about - the promotions I'd seen made no connection between the quirky-looking minions and the movie's odd title.

The movie tells the story of Gru (Steve Carrell), a grouchy second-rate villain whose star is falling fast next to evil nerd extraordinaire Vector. In order to steal the trade secrets of his rival, Gru commandeers three disarmingly cute orphan girls to break into Vector's defenses.

The orphans, Margo, Edith and Agnes, find their way from Gru's ulterior plot into his heart, and the result is one of the best bedtime stories ever.

Of course, it wouldn't be an animated children's movie without its share of humor, which is mainly provided by the adorable minions - yellow jellybean-type guys that speak in gibberish - and Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), a British mad scientist of a sidekick. Miraculously, somehow the filmmakers managed to incorporate the standard fart and poo jokes in a fresh way. I'm thoroughly impressed.

The reason I mention the film on this blog is because it was directed by the Francophone team of Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, who also voice most of the minions.

They do poke fun at overweight American tourists in the movie's opening scene, but are quick to poke fun back at themselves with a mime guarding the Eiffel Tower in a subsequent scene.

Overall, the filmmakers made good use of many of the tropes of both supervillain movies and computer-animated children's movies. It's one of the rare occasions on which I've disagreed with The New York Times' critics.

The film will be released in France in October under the title Moi, moche et méchant. No matter which language you decide to see it in, it's well worth it.

Photos: Courtesy

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The French Food "Crisis": Downgraded From Red to Orange

Adam Gopnik had an interesting article in The New Yorker recently.

It was yet another omen of the cataclysm in French cooking that has now been foretold so many times that it's no wonder Nostradamus was French.

Gopnik's focus was on a French culinary movement called "Le Fooding." The words, it is explained, are supposed to be an amalgamation of "food" and "feeling" but instead give the impression of one of those odd French absorptions of English, like "le shampooing" or "le smoking." So the movement gets an A- (or, should I say, a zéro) for vocabulary.

Even Gopnik seems to be weary of this so-called "crisis" in French cooking - though not weary enough to stop collecting Condé Nast paychecks from writing about it repeatedly:

"...surely, if the same crisis continues for decades and decades it is no longer a crisis but merely a condition."

So, now it's a "condition" - downgraded from natural disaster to medical ailment.

Gopnik has just placed French cuisine on an orange alert.

Le Fooding seems to be a movement of younger people who seek good food at decent prices - imagine that. They don't care about the exact quality of the ingredients (that would be the "slow food" movement). It seems they're seeking something between slow food and fast food - perhaps allegretto?

The group is apparently now storming the Chrysler Building now that they've already stormed the Bastil- er, I mean Michelin. They're staging events in New York City and their new guide has already sold out in the U.S.

I've never really believed in the so-called French food crisis. In my mind, it is one of those media-created (so says a member of the media) pre-historic labels, and by pre-historic I mean that the problem is labeled while it is happening without the benefit of an historian's educated hindsight to make sense of it all.

I'll be happy once someone finally agrees with me that, whether "crisis" or "condition," we can admit that these "sound-the-alarm"-style movements are just as much about one generation reacting to another as they are about food, the environment, cloth diapering, et cetera.

There is, and will continue to be, bad food everywhere - it's a fact of nature. The task is to seek out the good and help it sustain itself and stop sounding the alarm every fifteen seconds.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Review: Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes

I'm enjoying this book, in spite of myself.

I mean no disrespect to Elizabeth Bard with that remark; it's just that Francophile nonfiction written for an American audience tends to come in two flavors: 'look-at-the-fabulous-sophisticated-life-I-lead' and 'you-fat-stupid-American-why-can't-you-stop-gaining-weight-or-learn-the-language'.

Luckily, Elizabeth Bard's book is neither of those. It's a rather enjoyable first-person account of her life in France, starting with a one-afternoon stand and ending with a new chapter in her life (both literally and figuratively). On the way, we meet the in-laws, plan a wedding and get to laugh good-naturedly at Elizabeth and her outsider's perspective on French culture.

The book is peppered with recipes the author gleaned from her future husband and his family as well as her own American one. Her honest advice on ingredients and preparation ("Do not, I repeat, do not attempt this (or any) recipe with those baby carrots sold in the plastic bag. They are fine for dip but miserable for cooking.") is a fresh take in our Food Network-inspired culture of, ahem, "take a little help from the store."

Elizabeth is what I would call a Francophile by relation - she wasn't someone who steeped herself in French culture willingly. In fact, she seems to have been a staunch Anglophile prior to the events of the book. She became a Francophile because she loves a French person, namely her husband, Gwendal.

I really should explain my feelings a bit here. Any Francophile who has studied the language in a university will tell you that French majors are not an "all for one and one for all" kind of bunch. We're secretive, jealously guarding the insider information we've gleaned from French friends or books or independent study over the years. It isn't until we've finally made our first pilgrimmage that we want to share - and then mainly it's about bragging - by specifically NOT bragging, you understand, but that all is implied merely by the stories that are produced from such a trip. It's a syndrome that is further exacerbated by the culture of academia and its constant political jockeying for position: who has the most skill? Who has the most talent? Who is the authority? And, most importantly, who gets the recognition?

In short, we don't truly want to be happy for fellow Francophiles who have gone further in Francophilia than we have, especially if they haven't seriously studied the language or culture (staring at your future French husband's behind every weekend for a year doesn't count - though maybe as "cul-ture" which is another thing entirely).

Elizabeth went as far as marrying in France and perhaps obtaining French citizenship, further than I am likely to go, as much as I dislike admitting it. But, for some reason, I can be happy for Elizabeth. She's just that likeable and her writing style is so un-complicated by not having been a traditional Francophile. In fact, I had a hard time putting her book down long enough to write this review. I enjoyed her book so much that I intend to buy my own copy (the one I read belongs to the Carnegie Library) and make some of her recipes for my own parents and in-laws.

I find her infinitely more likeable than other semi-famous people who have married into French families (Melissa D'Arabian, for one). The tendency toward snobbery that sometimes affects other New York Times writers-turned-authors doesn't seem to have affected Elizabeth. At least she gives credit where it is due, admitting when she has adapted a recipe from another chef (she cites Christian Ecckhout and Gaston Lenôtre, among others) instead of passing each one off as an entirely new recipe.

Perhaps one of the reasons I find Elizabeth so likeable is that we seem to be kindred spirits on more than just an admiration of French food and culture. Elizabeth is a girl after my own heart where it comes to art, Victorian architecture and just general appreciation of historical places and objects:

"I like to think I was born in the wrong century. I'm sure I would have done very well with a hoop skirt, a fan, and a drawing master. (My mother likes to remind me that, more likely, I would have been a very nearsighted scullery maid.) Paris is the perfect city for my kind of mental time travel. There are very few streets that don't bear some small imprint of a grander, more gracious time - the swooping curve of a wrought-iron balcony or a fading stencil above the window of a boulangerie."

I couldn't agree more. (Though I would probably have been either the Irish parlor maid, if I'd been lucky, or, if I'd been unlucky, the Italian wench who wasn't considered trustworthy enough to wash the parlor maid's knickers.)

And, on art historians:

"I believe most art historians are just poor collectors, traveling the world making a secret inventory. I'll take that, and that, and that."

Also true - I have a trove of postcards and the occasional photograph (sans flash, of course!) documenting just what I'd like to have in my dream collection.

The book ends on a hopeful note, with the beginnings of what became its manuscript as well as a baby on the horizon. (The couple's son, Augustin, was born in August 2009 - félicitations!)

And now, I'm off to jealously guard this book and use its recipes as secret weapons at my next party.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Thinking Francophile's Tshirts

Literary Rags, an awesome company that produces apparel for bibliophiles, is currently boasting quite a library of French authors.

Of course, I'll be getting myself a Victor Hugo, but the selection spans novels, poetry, philosophy and fantasy: Proust, Rimbaud, Voltaire, Descartes, Saint-Exupéry and, somewhat depressingly, Sartre (he's also April's Shirt of the Month and is enjoying quite the discount). 

Each tee has the author's image on the front and a quote on the back.  I think it's a tie between Descartes ("The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues.") and Proust ("If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.").

So, what are you waiting for?  Hurry up and get a dead French guy on your back!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bric à brac

Frenchy flotsam of the moment:

  • The Times of London has a nifty slide show on 7 ways to wear a breton shirt.  I still think I wouldn't look good in horizontal stripes. See, if you're cubist, you can get away with that.
  • In a scene straight out of classic French farce, a group of robbers tried to tunnel into a Paris bank on Easter Sunday.  They didn't succeed, but they sure did garner the admiration of Bomb Voyage in the process (and I totally just created a Wikia account for the sole purpose of editing the atrociously transcribed quote at the top of that page!).
  • Elisabeth Badinter, a French philosopher clinging to the days when French feminism meant abhorring motherhood, has written a book that is raising tempers with everyone from La Leche League to The New York Times.  I'm not quite sure what exactly riled them - was it calling motherhood a form of oppression, or calling babies tyrants?  Or maybe it was attacking breastfeeding and cloth diapering.  In any case, the mommy bloggers are not pleased.
  • In 1895 news, a French explorer is attempting to navigate the North Pole in a hot-air balloon.  Am I the only one who got mental images of Georges Seurat paintings, unicycles and World's Fairs when reading that story?  That's kind of like claiming you'll be the first female to ride the Orient Express alone.  Gasp!
  • I've been wondering lately why French yogurt companies cannot seem to market their product in the U.S. without adulterating it with a ton of artificial sweeteners.  I was eating some Dannon yogurt the other day and noticed that the label had three different sweeteners, none of which was actually sugar.  It was so sickeningly sweet, I think I'll either switch to non fat to see if it makes s difference, or go to another brand entirely.  I heard that Yoplait has introduced a Greek-style yogurt that doesn't include their usual HCFS, so I'll have to give it a try and see if it's an improvement.
  • I think I've found another alter-ego to add to the list.

Photo: Pablo Picasso, by Robert Doisneau.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Rapper Defends Proper Speech

In reading about the French government's Francomot competition this week, I came across this gem:

"On the jury were a dozen French personalities including the rapper MC Solaar (praised as “a dextrous handler of words” by Joyandet)."

The Francomot competition is about preserving French as a homogeneous language and resisting the intrusion of words from other languages, primarily English.  Why on earth would the organization choose a rapper, of all people, to defend the language?  Yes, he's got rhyme and rhythm, but rap relies on abbreviations, mispronunciations and malapropisms to create satisfying rhymes. 

I guess this is the French version of Pres. Nixon making Elvis Presley his agent-at-large against "dangerous drugs and narcotics".

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Poisson d'avril

Happy April Fool's Day!  Do yourself a favor: check the back of your shirt before you go out in public today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why, yes, I would! Thanks!

Even Facebook has figured out that I'm a francophile...this is what awaited me when I logged in over the weekend:

Not only did they figure out that I sometimes type in French, but I type in "French French", not Canadian French or Belgian French.  Some pretty smart folks, they are!  I think I will take them up on their offer and poke around a bit and see how things translate.  (Yes, this is the kind of thing I do for fun.)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Random Thoughts

Some random Frenchy-type thoughts that are floating around my brain:

  • Rillettes de Tours now have a specialized designation! The Indication Géographique Protégée means that this yummy pork product will be as protected as Champagne, Vouvray and Ste. Maure de Touraine. Seriously, this stuff is like crack...I could eat tubs and tubs of it (after scraping the fat, of course).
  • Speaking of Champagne, have you signed the petition urging American producers of sparkling wines to stop calling them Champagne if they weren't produced in France? An ad on the back cover of my latest issue of The New Yorker urged me to do so, and of course I couldn't resist. The ad is correct: "Champagne only comes from Champagne, France."
  • In confessional news, I generally dislike Melissa D'Arabian, the winner of the latest season of The Next Food Network Star (I was a huge Jeffrey fan), but I admit to having made "her" potato tarte recipe. It doesn't really count as her recipe, since she used her French mother-in-law's crust recipe, and that's half the dish! It was pretty delicious. I plan to try her chicken à l'orange at some point this winter.
  • In a family game of Apples to Apples over the holiday, I was the judge and the word was "timeless". One family member submitted "the Eiffel Tower", which almost won, until my hubby trumped them all with "Joan of Arc". I knew I married that man for a reason! Way to play to the judge, honey. Je t'aime.
  • Also notable over the holiday, my first attempt at choucroute garnie was a great success! I didn't take a photo (sadly), but it looked, smelled and tasted wonderful. The flavor profile was a new one to all of my assembled family, but everyone enjoyed it. For dessert, I made my famous tarte aux pommes à l'Alsacienne.
  • I finally gave in and actually used Twitter for once, but only because Francophilia was running a contest for free French music. See the annoyances I will put up with just for Frenchiness?
  • Lady Gaga wins the prize for best French lyrics in an English-language song for 2009. Je veux ton amour et je veux ta revanche, indeed. (Nevermind that half those lyrics make no sense in neither French nor English.)
  • As of next week, it will officially be 6 years since I left for my extended say in Touraine. I miss it immensely. I bought myself a primrose at the grocery store the other day just because it reminded me of the flower market in the center of town, the only spot of color in an otherwise dreary winter landscape.

Photo: tarte aux pommes de terres et lardons. Copyright MLG.