Bonne lecture!

I wanted to share some good francophile reads with you:

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France, by Caroline Moorehead, is the account of women members of the French Resistance who were caught and sent to concentration camps. Many died in the camps, but those who did survive that torment did so in no small part because of the strength they found in their friendships. The book is meticulously researched, based on both original materials, archives, and interviews with the survivors. You will be deeply moved.

Lovers at The Chameleon Club: Paris, 1932, by Francine Prose, is an intricate work of fiction that is based on many factual events. The story of Lou Villars, a cross-dressing, lesbian race car driver, turned Nazi torturer, is told through what purport to be letters, memoirs, and a biography written by people who were habitués of the Chameleon Club, a Paris night spot for all sorts of people on the fringes of society. IMG_4625The elaborate plot is even stranger for the fact that Lou Villars is based on Violette Morris, who features in a photo by Brassaï, known as “Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932.” Morris/Villars was a guest of Hitler’s at the 1932 Olympics and even disclosed where the Maginot line ended, thus leading to the rapid invasion of France by German forces.

The sense of verisimilitude is heightened by all of the other characters in the story who are based on real people (Brassaï is doubled by an Hungarian photographer, an American novelist is based on Henry Miller). Each person’s contribution to the tale is told in a distinctive “voice.” How could someone go from an Olympic hopeful and an intensely nationalistic French woman to a torturer of her fellow Parisians? Where does evil come from? What is truth and who owns it? It’s an incredibly complex novel, a bit like trying to see a clear reflection in a mirror that has been broken and glued back together. And since Lou’s story is always told be someone else, the questions remain unanswered. It’s a most unusual and cleverly written book.

Bonne lecture! (Bun lek-tuur) means “Happy reading!” Enjoy!

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Cannes de serin

IMG_4527It’s finally spring in New England. That means that the students at my school have swapped pants and coats for short shorts and shorter skirts, putting a lot of leg on display. Cannes de serin (kan duh sare-ahn) is slang for “canary legs”; the expression refers to twiggy little matchstick legs. The bird in the photo above is a sandpiper, rather than a canary, but its jambes do bear rather a strong resemblance to some of the adolescents in my world.

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IMG_4364I came across a new French word recently that applies to me – calcéophilie (kal-say-o-phil-e). This is a relatively new hybrid, derived from Latin and Greek. Calceo means “shoe” in Latin and phile is “love” in Greek. So calcéophilie is love of shoes, probably one that is a little out of control. I have always loved shoes and even though I have more than fifty pairs (all dear friends), I can’t help checking out new ones when I pass a tempting display. A few weeks ago, we saw a great exhibit about shoes at the Peabody Essex museum in Salem, MA. (It has now closed or I would heartily recommend it to you.) We were there shortly after the exhibit opened for the day and it was packed, so there must be a lot of calcéophiles out there, so I have lots of company.

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IMG_4413Trimballer (trahm-ball-ay), also spelled trimbaler, means to lug or cart about. Everywhere you go in France, someone is lugging their groceries, school books, or existential dissertation in a Longchamp Le Pliage, the origami inspired folding bag. It comes in a host of colors and sizes, in nylon or leather, and every year there are some special editions to spice things up a bit. If those options aren’t enough for you, you can also customize your own Le Pliage, down to having your name embroidered on the very preppy stripe. That should lighten the weight of any load you need to trimballe about.

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En goguette

IMG_4407I came across a new word on the Mode Personnel(le) blog that I follow.  The context was how to incorporate a classic vintage bag, like the Hermès Kelly, into a normal wardrobe. The person writing for help lamented, “…j’ai vite l’air de Bernadette Chirac en goguette.” Bernadette Chirac is the rather formidable looking wife of the former French president Jacques Chirac. I had to look up en goguette (ohn go-get). It means “making merry” or “enjoying oneself.” The origin of the word dates back to the fifteenth century and referred to a gathering of people to sing and have fun together, especially around Carnaval. It’s rather hard to find any pictures of Madame Chirac doing anything but glowering! I really can’t picture her busting lose at a karaoke night. Mais on ne sais jamais (But one never knows).

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Friday Finds 9

img_4275How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair, by Jonathan Beckman – This is a detailed historical account of the scandal over a diamond necklace that may have been one of the causes that led to the French Revolution. Trust me. Hollywood could never make up a story like this.


L’Empereur – Remember those cute little penguins that marched across our screens and into our hearts in 2005? Well, they’re back – in France at least. Filmmaker Luc Jacquet was now able to film them underwater, thanks to technological advances in equipment. There is currently no release date set for North America, but since the last film won an Oscar, I hope it’s only a matter of time.

imageSeda France candles and home fragrance – I bought some Seda France candles and diffusers as gifts at Christmas and ended up keeping one each for myself. When researching this post, I learned that the company is not actually French at all, but rather based in Texas. Nonetheless, the beautiful packaging recalls the 18th century French passion for chinoiserie and toile and the scents are rich and complex. After only fifteen years in business, Seda is a newcomer compared to such venerable companies as Cire Trudon that dates to 1643, but I must say I’m impressed. They currently have a sitewide sale if you’d like to sample a new fragrance. I’m particularly partial to Japanese Quince and Currant Pourpre.

img_4327Gad Gone Wild – French stand-up comedian Gad Elmaleh is on Netflix (USA) with a live show in Montreal. He has hysterically funny sets about immigration, taxis, cultural differences between Morocco, Paris, and New York.

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Friday Finds 8

img_4253MM. LaFleur – At this time of the winter, looking foward to spring – and spring clothes – is a popular coping mechanism. I need absolutely nothing, but I can’t help looking at the lovely clothes on the M.M. LaFleur site. Their clothes are designed for professional women and they have the added advantage that they travel well and are machine washable. Their permanent showroom is in New York, but they also have some pop-up locations in major U.S. cities. If you can’t travel to one of their shops, you can shop online, or they will also send you a “Bento box” with four to six clothing items to check out based on the preferences in your questionnaire. The only French thing about the company is the name, based on the founder Sarah LaFleur, but the esthetic is pure French, with its emphasis on quality and simplicity. I am soooo tempted.

img_4262Matisse in the Studio – The Boston Museum of Fine Arts will be welcoming an exhibit about Henri Matisse from April 9 to July 9, 2017. Matisse placed great importance on objects that he used regularly for his paintings. This is the only US stop for this exhibit that brings together 36 paintings, 26 drawings, 11 bronzes, and many other works, representing all stages of the artist’s career. Many are from private collections and have never before been exhibited outside of France.

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