Monday, November 23, 2015

RAZZLE-DAZZLE

Bling-bling, clinquant(e), these are the French words that describe the razzle-dazzle gold-leafing at the Château de Versailles.

©2015 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

TRIANGULATION

Deux c'est bien, trois c'est trop.
Two's company, three's a crowd.

A French Education is admittedly taking liberties in interpreting this vintage street artwork, circa 2009, of Versailles artist Emmanuel Braudeau...


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

RESILIENCE

Sous le ciel de Paris
In a light rain, last night became the first of three evenings that the Eiffel Tower will be illuminated in the highly symbolic colors of blue, white, and red. Blazons of Paris featuring the emblem of Paris, a schooner, flank the city's Latin devise,  Fluctuat nec mergitur.  Rallying resilience, and today resistance, the motto translates into French: "Il est battue par les flots mais ne sombre pas." Battered by the waves, but not sunk. Since the late 12th century the choice of a boat with sails as an emblem for the city has underscored  the importance of the Seine as a source of food, transport, and commerce to Parisians.



Vocabulary
les flots:  waves, flood tides


To listen to Edith Piaf sing Sous le Ciel de Paris click here.


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, November 15, 2015

KEEPING HEART

Ce qui fait du bien dans le malheur, c'est un coeur plein de courage. -- Plautus
What does one well in moments of tragedy is a heart full of courage.
Well-weathered shutters with one of the most common of decorative cut-outs are a reminder that the geometric heart-shape has a long history from first simply depicting foliage, to eventually being associated with the human heart and courage, to later being used as a symbol for romantic love.
The above citation, translated into French, is from the ancient Roman dramatist, Plautus, who evolved from working as a theatre stagehand to being one of antique Rome's favorite playwrights. 
Photo taken in Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme


Vocabulary
le malheur:  adversity, misfortune, tragedy
un volet:  a shutter


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, November 14, 2015

COURAGE


From the Forêt de Fausses-Reposes


©2015 P.B.Lecron

Friday, November 13, 2015

AS THE WORLD TURNS

Rien sans nous
Here's one of the hundred or so sundials to be seen in Paris. Look for this late 17th-century lyre-shaped cadran solaire on the tower of the Musée de Cluny. Its Latin inscription, "nil sine nobis" means nothing without us.


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, November 12, 2015

IN THE SAME BOAT

Nous ramons tous sur le même bateau.
We're all rowing the same boat. This is a neglected one along the bay walk at Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme, a charming port town on the Baie de Somme. 


Vocabulary
ramer:  to row


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

AM I CORNFLOWER BLUE?

Les Bleuets--Fleurs de France
Le Bleuet  or cornflower is the French symbol of remembrance of young soldiers who gave their lives for France during WWI.  During that war, new recruits were issued light blue uniforms after the realization that the bright red trousers worn at the beginning of WWI made the French soldiers easy targets. Since 1916 cloth and paper cornflowers have been sold, just like the Remembrance Day poppies in England and America, to benefit veterans and their widows and orphans.  The above photo featuring delicate cornflowers and stylized goldfinches, or German distelfinks, is of recent wallpaper in a small ante-room of the Château de la Roche-Guyon.


Remembering on Armistice Day

©2015 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

PLUS BELLE, LA POUBELLE

Hygiene with Eugène
It was a préfet by the name of Eugène Poubelle who in 1883 first ordered that property owners of apartment buildings in Paris provide their tenants with regimented, closed receptacles in which to dispose of their household trash, so that there could be an organized trash collection by the city. It didn't take long for Parisians to begin referring to the receptacles as "poubelles." A fortuitous happenstance considering that the indispensable hygiene measure was indeed a step in rendering the city more beautiful. The above trash bin or poubelle, although not  intended for household trash, is a model selected by the medieval port city of Saint-Valèry-sur-Somme and shows how discretely and nicely such urban amenities can fit into the landscape.


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Monday, November 9, 2015

SEASIDE SUNSET

Don't miss seaside sunsets when in Cayeux-sur-Mer!
Ne loupez pas les couchers de soleil au bord de la mer à Cayeux-sur-Mer!

Vocabulary
louper:  slang for miss

©2015 P.B. Lecron

Monday, November 2, 2015

WHAT'S UP?

On en est où?
Urban street art on ventilation ducts of the Centre Pompidou "pop" up  a building adjacent to the glass and steel art center. Through the decades the art center's pioneering 1970's architecture has become something that we simply have had to put up with, then have grown accustomed to.

Expressions
Qu'est-ce qui se passe? Que se passe-t-il? Quoi de neuf? On en est où? :  What's up?

©2015 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, October 31, 2015

YIKES!

Argh!
Argh--that's a rough equivalent in French for "yikes."
From the vitrine of the famous wax museum, the Musée Grevin, in Paris.


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, October 29, 2015

CHERCHEZ LA FEMME

"Châtaigne:  femelle du marron" -- Gustave Flaubert, Dictionnaire des Idées Reçues

An unfinished work that Gustave Flaubert began in 1850 and continued til the end of his life in 1880 was a collection of sometimes silly French aphorisms, Dictionniare des Idées Reçus. A must.

Know that in France when the edible sweet chestnut, la chataigne, is transformed into culinary delights, it is most often called "un marron." The common, non-edible horse chestnut, is also called un marron. 

Expressions
une idée reçue:  a preconceived notion
cherchez la femme:  literally, look for the woman; the idea being that if a man's behavior is out of character or strange it is because he is either trying to hide an extra-marital affair, or trying to impress a woman. The term was coined by Alexandre Dumas.


©2015 P.B. Lecron



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

LE BOUQUET FINAL

"Les champignons ressemblent aux péchés: pour les déguster, il faut prendre des risques."-- Hervé Bazin (1911-1996)
Mushrooms are like sins; to taste them you have to take risks. 

Expression
Le bouquet final:  the grand finale; literally, the final bouquet and often used as a term for the last and best part of a fireworks display or an achievement
C'est le bouquet:  this really takes the cake


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

L'AMÉRIQUE


Representing one of the "four parts of the world" and a masterpiece in Louis XIV's large order of marble sculptures commanded in 1674 for the park of the Château de Versailles, the allegorical and stylized female American Indian personifies the new French colony of Louisiana. Entitled l'Amérique, the sculpture, complete with a decapitated head and alligator at her feet, underscore the 17th-century European perception of the New World's dangerousness. The sculpture has been replaced by a copy, the original having been removed to the lower gallery of the Château for safekeeping. 


Vocabulary
un pagne:  a loincloth
un carquois:  a quiver
une flèche:  an arrow
la dangerosité:  dangerousness


Expression
Vider son carquois: to lance short, clever or paradoxical sayings, not to be confused with "vider son sac" which means to get something off one's chest

©2015 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, October 25, 2015

EGOISM

A well-placed metaphor from an important 19th-century French man of letters and dandy. . .
"L'égoïsme, ce gros ventru, cette citrouille qui prend toute la plate-bande." -- Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly
Egoism, this bulging potbelly, this pumpkin which takes up all the garden bed.



Vocabulary
un ventru:  one that is potbellied
ventru, -e:  potbellied
une plate-bande:  garden bed

©2015 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, October 4, 2015

CATCHING FORTY WINKS

Famous French cat and Sacré de Birmanie, Pompon, catches forty winks, or as one would say, "Il pique un roupillon."

Vocabulary & Expression
un roupillon:  a nap
piquer un petit roupillon:  to have a little nap



©2015 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, August 15, 2015

SOMETHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT


What we adore about France is that every city and town has something to write home about. This 19th-century two-tiered iron fountain on the Place St.-Jean in Melun is just one example. We were simply passing through the town on our way to visit the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte when we came upon this lovely Renaissance-inspired surprise. The three statues represent the Seine, the Marne, and the Yonne rivers. 
Expression
quoi écrire:  something to write home about

©2015 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A SPRING CURE

As we ambled through Monet's gardens at Giverny the other day, I overheard a gardener explain to a visitor that eight full-time gardeners were employed to maintain the gardens, plus volunteers. What a wonderful spot to benevolently pull weeds and dead-head tulips! Above, a gardener is removing fallen wisteria petals and excess algae from the water lily pond with a net, a mesmerizing and even enviable task.

Vocabulary
curer:  to clean out
un étang:  a pond
le bénévolat:  voluntary work; volunteerism
un bénévolat:  an unpaid voluntary worker

©2015 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

IDYLLIC

Idyllique rime avec bucolique.
Idyllic rhymes with bucolic.
A view of the Japanese foot bridge on the water lily pond of Monet's gardens at Giverny.

Vocabulary
la glycine:  wisteria


©2015 P.B. Lecron


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

FROGGIE WENT A-COURTIN'

Calling all females...
Mating season has kicked off with a cacophonous and entertaining concert of lusty croaking male frogs at the water lily pond of Claude Monet's gardens in Giverny. Incredible as it may seem, the sounds emanating from the frogs' inflated vocal sacs make a noisier-than-ducks commotion. A couple of participants in yesterday's early morning comical chorus are pictured above and featured in the brief video below.

Vocabulary
coasser, croasser:  to croak  (croasser means to caw or croak with a rough voice)

video
Video courtesy of Jordan Helton

2015 © P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

FRENCH BLUE

Around town in Versailles
Above is one of the four entrances to the underground parking garage beneath the famous Place du Marché in Versailles; and this is how they're fitted out. The portrayal of a young Louis XIV (1638-1715), mounted on the agile baroque horse of choice, a Lusitano, was evidently printed on adhesive covering film and then applied to a panel on the small building.  A majestic bleu de France sky frames this reminder that Versailles is commemorating the 300th anniversary of Louis XIV's death.

Vocabulary
tricentenaire:  tricentennial



©2015 P.B. Lecron

Monday, March 30, 2015

MAD FRENCH CAT


Les chats, c'est comme le papier, ça se froisse très vite. 
-- Guy de Maupassant

Cats are like paper, they are quickly rumpled.


French Birman, Pompon, throws his ears back to illustrate the word froissé, which can either mean crumpled, or as here, vexed. Pompon is posing in front of an antique Japanese katagami stencil made of mulberry bark paper. Such stencils were used to print patterns on silk for kimonos.


© 2015 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, March 28, 2015

FORWARD AND BACK

It's time in France--and the entire European Union for that matter,  to set the clocks to daylight saving time, or l'heure d'été. The annual change takes place the last weekend of March in the night between Saturday and Sunday, at two o'clock in the morning. How to remember whether to set the clock forward or back? Anglophones use the reminder "spring forward, fall back." But is there an equivalent mnemonic device in French? 

Yes! Here it is: because the change is usually around the first of April, associate the av of the month avril with avance, the French word for advance. For the passage back to l'heure d'hiver which takes place at the end of October, associate the re ending of octobre with the word recule, or move back. 

The above clock face featuring a representation of one of the two Chevaux de Marly sculptures is mounted on a wall along the road between Marly-le-Roi and Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Vocabulary
une astuce:  a tip or trick


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Friday, March 20, 2015

PAS MAL

Not bad, not bad at all. Pas mal, pas mal de tout. 

As in English, the French familiar expression pas mal is elastic and can be stretched from meaning a simple "so-so" to a resounding exclamation of approval. Much depends on the intonation and punctuation. It can also be wielded to say that there is a significant number or quantity of something. For example: "Il y a pas mal d'armoires urbaines peintes en trompe l'oeil à Versailles." There are a lot of utility boxes painted in trompe l'oeil in Versailles. In the one pictured above, the stream of water and drain are particularly well-done.  Utterly.

Vocabulary
tout à fait:  utterly


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, March 15, 2015

IF THE SHOE FITS...

A giant sculpture of a stiletto high-heel shoe sits atop simulated hatboxes in the atrium of the biggest luxury and fashion outlet mall in France, One Nation Paris.  

The closet French equivalent of the expression, "if the shoe fits, wear it," is "si le chapeau te fait, mets-le donc!"  This expression is not to be confused with "porter le chapeau" which means to wear the hat, an idiom for taking the blame.

©2015 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, February 15, 2015

WATER & ILLUSION

Consommée avec modération, l'eau ne peut pas faire de mal. -- Mark Twain
Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody. 

More of the same; another example of an unattractive utility box in Versailles transformed into a trompe l'oeil  attraction. Tourists who have the time and sensibility, track these works of the École de l'Art Mural de Versailles with the same assiduity of a hunter on safari. If only the technicians who tend to the mass of wires and cables in the boxes would sweep up the clippings they leave on the sidewalk after each intervention...

More:


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, February 12, 2015

ELSEWHERE

L'herbe est toujours plus verte ailleurs.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.


Vocabulary
ailleurs:  elsewhere


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

BIRDING ON THE BALCONY

Bricoler is one of the most useful words that you could possibly have in your French vocabulary. I've done some bricolage here, having fixed a bird feeder  onto the balcony railing with plastic-coated gardening wire for this darling and daring blue titmouse. A number of bases are covered with the verb bricoler, which can mean: to tinker, to do it yourself, to jerry-rig, to do odd jobs, to cobble together, to dabble, to muck about, to patch together, to fix, to potter about, to knock together, to tamper with, to badly repair, and etc., etc... Used as a noun, une bricole, however, is a knick-knack.

Vocabulary
une mésange bleue:  a blue titmouse, which is a European cousin to the North American chickadee
une mangeoire:  a feeding trough or dish, here, a bird feeder
l'ornithologie pratiquée en amateur:  birding, bird-watching



©2015 P.B. Lecron

Monday, February 9, 2015

TAKE A LONG WEEKEND

Pompon, the popular Sacré de Birmanie, bridges the gap to illustrate the meaning of the French term, "faire le pont."  The expression is frequently used when a holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday and one decides to take an extra day off work, to make a four-day weekend. 

Vocabulary
un jour férié:  a public or statutory holiday
un jour ouvrable:  a working day
un pont:  a bridge


©2015 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, February 8, 2015

HIGH-MIDDLE AGES MERRIMENT

From now on
Don't mistake this young Bordeaux-Clairet wine for a rosé, it truly is a red wine--but because both maceration and fermentation times are short, it has a limpid color. It also has a lighter, fruitier taste than does a typical red. What makes this uncommon and supple wine fun are the few measures of musical notes on its label (a reflection, too, on my whimsical method of wine selection). The tune dates to the 16th-century song, "Quand Je Bois du Vin Clairet."  When  I drink a Claret wine, friend, my head turns, turns, turns. The song goes on, "Aussi désormais je bois Anjou où Arbois," so from now on I'm drinking wine from Anjou or Arbois. You can hear a decent rendition of the traditional drinking song by clicking here.

A word about Claret, an anglicizing of Clairet. The English have historically had a fondness for red Bordeaux wines and over the centuries, especially those leading up to the One Hundred Years' War, have been given to calling red wines in general from Bordeaux "Claret." This came about because when the Aquitaine was an English province, the wine from Bordeaux was rapidly produced and shipped to England. The result was the clear, red wine, or clairet, which was popular during the 12th through 15th centuries. 

In 1950, the Clairet was reinvented, so to speak, by the Cave de Quinsac in Gironde, and is an agreable composition of Cabernet, Merlot, and Malbec grape varieties. To be served lightly chilled.


Vocabulary
désormais:  from now on
un cépage:  a grape variety


©2014 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, January 11, 2015

L'HEURE VOLTAIRE

Plus l'être humain sera éclairé, plus il sera libre. -- Voltaire


Photo by Thierry Bezecourt.
Hôtel de Ville de Paris.

The more man will be enlightened, the more he will be free.




Advocate of freedom of expression, French Enlightenment writer, philosopher, and satirist, Voltaire could have almost heard his name echoing in the streets of Paris during today's historic unity march honoring the victims of this past week's terrorist attacks.







©2015 P.B. Lecron