Neuf et nouveau

7DC45A0B-9268-438F-8D1E-DA3D5E1ADC13I recently had a French mystery explained for me, the difference between neuf and nouveau, both of which mean “new.” I’ve been reading Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, where all was explained. Apparently, in the 18th century, only the very wealthiest people, like the king and queen, could afford completely new clothes. Everyone else wore hand-me-downs. The queen gave her old gowns to her ladies-in-waiting, they gave their gowns to their servants, and the servants sold their old gowns in the market. The queen’s new gown was neuf , but once she passed it on, it was nouveau to the lady-in-waiting, new to her, but not brand-spanking new, if you see what I mean. It’s also where we get the words novel and novelty, something that’s new to us, but not objectifiably new. Mystery solved. It all makes so much sense. These days, the distinction is not observed: nouveau is far more frequently used than neuf.

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Ce que j’ai lu

I’ve enjoyed some good reads lately that were either in French or that had a francophile angle. Each was a book that I’ve owned for a while. I’m commited to finishing  all my backlog of books before I buy any new ones. So far I’m ahead of schedule on my goal of reading one book a momth.

405E9F55-08CC-4C57-9900-B15104BC50EBMeurtre à Blackness Road, by Minette Walters: I picked this novella up in France because I have enjoyed many of this British writer’s psychological thrillers over the years. This fascinating story was based on an actual crime from 1924.

C5006899-368D-48E6-A310-987E0CD3B1EEVigée Le Brun: This beautiful book was published to accompany an exhibit in Paris, New York and Ottawa about one  of my favorite artists, one of the first professional female portraitists. I saw the show in New York, but some of the paintings from Le Brun’s years in Russia were not included due to diplomatic concerns. This book dedicated a full page to a color reproduction of each painting, including the missing Russian ones, as well as information about the subject and the circumstances surrounding it.

6FD76852-DE3C-43BC-BE4C-BA0D0436469EEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.:  When my husband read this book when it was first released, he kept reading me snippets. This drives me nuts. I promised to read it myself to get him to stop. Admittedly, it took me several years to keep my promise. While I read it, I returned the favor, reading him snippets of the incredible story of Huguette Clark, born in Paris, raised in luxury, who willingly spent the last twenty years of her long life in a dreary hospital room. Fortunately, my husband is more patient with snippet sharing than I am. It’s quite a story.

4B7FCE98-1179-4D1E-ABCB-B1684BB11599.jpegFashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell : This is a scholarly, yet fascinating read, that featured a number of the same people represented in the Vigée Le Brun book. The thesis is that, contrary to the received wusdom that Marie-Antoinette’s excesses led to the French Revolution, it was actually her decision to embrace simplicity that hastened the end of the Bourbon monarchy.

Ce que j’ai lu (suh kuh shjay loo) means “what I read.” What have you read lately that  you have enjoyed?

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Un Filet

DA2FAD77-0916-4666-96DD-FC136ADE8397I got a new handbag when I was in Paris. What kind, you ask. Hermès? Chanel? No, I am now the proud carrier of un filet Filt in the patriotic tricolor bleu, blanc, rouge.

The Filt company has been making nets for all sorts of purposes, from fishing nets to baby slings, since 1860 in Normandy in the north-east of France. Their factory in Caen was completely destroyed in Workd War II, but they rebuilt and came back strongly. Since 2010, they have won several prizes for innovation.

0F53CC38-6023-49BD-A48B-6A4DC4BA367EMy Filt bag is so light that I can slip it inside a larger bag in case I go shopping, but it’s surprisingly roomy. I can fit everything I need for the day inside, including my full-size camera! While Filt bags do come in classic natural cotton, they are also available in a wide variety of colors, in solids as well as stripes.

706FAB6C-647B-420B-A78C-04E0A699E426They also have large bags, fit for a load of groceries, so you can be stylish while you save the environment, one plastic bag at a time. Filt does ship all over the world from their website, but the shipping costs can be pretty steep. Since I came home, I’ve seen them in a few shops in the States and I found them online at a reasonable price here.

Un filet (uhn feel-ay) means “a net” or “a string bag” so the filet Filt is perfectly named. And everytime I use my string bag, I’m reminded of summertime in Paris.

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Poudre des Bulgares

47F65B38-A332-4CB3-9EE5-2A6152665533Between visits to Paris, I keep a running list of places I want to go or products I want to try. Sometimes I can’t remember the original source of the notation. This year, I had a particularly ambiguous note: Poudre des Bulgares – sprinkle on top of yogurt.

Being a fan of yogurt as part of my breakfast, I decided to look for this product at the grocery store, but I wasn’t sure where to find it. What was “Poudre des Bulgares”? Was it a spice? Would I find it stocked near the yogurt for convenience? Was it like granola since it was a good topper? I wandered fruitlessly up and down aisles. I asked grocery store employees, but they just gave me gallic shrugs.  I asked my French friends, but they had never heard of such a product. More gallic shrugs.

EE572DF5-394C-478C-B927-3AEA826D1E4ANow I had a bee in my bonnet. I had to find Poudre des Bulgares. The next step was one that I might have taken first, the internet. I searched for “Poudre des Bulgares” and found it listed as a product by a company called Épices Rœllinger. I discovered that the owner, Olivier Rœllinger, is a chef from Brittany, with a group of restaurants, who also purveys the highest quality spices.

Now that I had the bit between my teeth, to add another metaphor, the next step was to head off to the shop at 51 bis rue Sainte-Anne in the 2nd Arrondissement. Armed with a bubble tea, I ventured forth. I found far more than Poudre des Bulgares. I found Ali Babba’s cave. Épices Rœllinger is dark, fragrant, and stocked to the rafters with exotic herbs and spices. There were about fifteen different types of vanilla beans alone. And there it was – Poudre des Bulgares, with the added subtext “Pour parfumer votre yaourt,” which means “To flavor your yogurt.”In addition, Ali Babba’s assistant recommended it as a topper for ice cream.

C04E0B9F-84B0-46F6-909B-52C96CB29F66I bought a jar of Poudre des Bulgares as yet untried and sprinkled some on my fromage blanc the next morning. And the verdict? Delicious and unlike any other taste. Its primary ingredients are palm sap (who knew that was a thing?), toasted sesame seeds., roasted flax-seed, a little sugar from the French island of Maurice, a blend of vanillas from Madagascar and French Polynesia, and a touch of cardamom, saffron, ginger, orange peel and one perfect dried rose bud. Now that I’ve found it, I’ll definitely be back for more. My quest was both successful and memorable.

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115E39F2-CE55-4947-B9AA-24025002F19CI just saw the film Colette, about the prolific French woman writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. She was born in the French countryside in 1873, but moved to Paris after her marriage to the worldly-wise Henry Gauthier Villars, better known by his nom de plume of “Willy.” Colette became one of the ghost-writers who produced the works that bolstered Willy’s ego and paid for his extravagances.

I won’t go into details, but Colette is non-traditional in every way that you can imagine and eventually wrests her freedom from everything and everyone that tried to limit her. The main roles are played by Keira Knightley and Dominic West and they both should be looking at award nominations for this one. The director, Wash Westmoreland, included lots of true little details about Colette, such as her passion for collecting paper weights.  It’s in fairly limited release, but I’d recommend it if you get a chance to see it.

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Où manger à San Francisco

ED96F88F-5F4D-4140-96CF-FC1CB27BF571In my last post, I wrote about where to go in San Francisco. This time I’m going to recommend some lovely places to go for a nibble or a full meal. Où manger à San Francisco (ooh man-shay ah san fran-sis-ko) means “Where to eat in San Francisco.”  Some, but by no means all, were francophile finds, but all were delicious.

A1E0D51D-4F5F-4F86-8725-CD6AC274C1C2San Francisco Ferry Building: The merchants in the vast Gallery can provide you with a tasty snack, your groceries for the week or gifts for just about any occasion that may present itself. We bought some yummy pastries at the Acme Bread Company and complimented them with spicy hot chocolate from Dandelion Chocolate.

B8309B6B-C7FD-46EF-B416-D694D980E2EFTartine: This casual restaurant uses the exceptional bread that they bake before your eyes for delicious meals. I had a tartine with strawberries that was sublime! Remember to grab a bag of their excellent cookies on the way out the door.

15926ECB-D56F-450B-AE91-C5645EEC0E4BPresidio Social Club: This is a charming place that seems to be from another age. We had some nibbles for an afternoon pick-me-up and enjoyed both the food and the ambiance of the former army barracks.

4FFC07D8-913F-4FA7-A233-0343616FEBBASamovar Teahouse: This place served some of the best scones I have ever had. We also shared some savory small plates. It’s a sun-filled place with seating inside or out, next to the Yerba Buena Gardens.

86C4DB0D-AC71-4C2D-A7CE-CFE9D63C7888Beacon Coffee and Pantry: The Hobbits had the right idea: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. We went here for a second breakfast of coffee and pastries. Both were hot and delicious.

86BA3462-1CFC-4E72-B6E3-190350AE4A94Ragazza: This gem of a casual Italian restaurant charmed us through three courses: deep fried zuccini blossoms, super-thin crust pizza, and a delightful pannacotta. We were seated in their gazebo in the backyard, the prefect setting to a delicious meal.

0C42D9E9-0CE1-4048-8D38-382B198E8770Frascati: For our final dinner in San Francisco, we went to Frascati, a beautiful Italian restaurant a couple of blocks from our daughter’s home. Everything was lovely, from furst course to last. It was a great place to talk over all the wonderful events – and meals – of our wonderful week together.

B81EB572-45B8-45B4-96F5-2406435153BDCity Walks Deck: San Francisco




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Que voir à San Francisco

B6B664B3-59F2-4315-8300-47DB69654D54After I returned from France in August, my husband and I went to San Francisco to visit our daughter who has just moved there. (Quelle chanceuse!) It’s a truly fabulous city. I was struck by how many French-speaking visitors were there – after English, I think it was the language we heard the most often. And there was lots of francophile inspiration to enjoy as well. Here are some of my recommendations (francophile or not):

E136F469-394E-44A5-82E8-803F7F38A674The Pier 39 Sea Lions: I could have watched their antics all day! They jostle for position and bark non-stop. It’s the best free entertainment ever!

Street Art: The whole Mission neighborhood is full of inventive murals, especially Cypress Street, right off of Mission. They give such dynamic energy.

Legion of Honor: The setting, overlooking the Golden Gate bridge, and the Euro-centric collection are two great reasons to visit this art museum. From Rodin’s Thinker in the Court of Honor to the Impressionists, there are about 4,000 works to admire. We were there for a great pre-Raphaelite exhibit. Don’t miss their café where we enjoyed a delicious chocolate-raspberry tart.

Palace of Fine Arts: This beautiful Greco-Roman rotunda with colonnades was originally built for the Panama-Pacific expo of 1915. It’s so beautiful to stroll around the grounds, admiring the swans and the radiant brides getting their wedding pictures taken.

Lyon Street steps and Broadway Street: First the steep steps will take your breath and then the mansions of Broadway will. This is where you can gape at some seriously marvelous real estate.


Painted Ladies: While the most famous painted Victorian and Edwardian houses are opposite Alamo park, there are photo-worthy colorful homes all over the cities established neighborhoods, such as Haight Ashbury, Pacific Heights and Mission. The architectural richness of San Francisco is utterly delightful.

Que voir à San Francisco (kuh vwar a San Fran-cis-koh) means “What to see in San Francisco.” I’ll definitely be back. One trip won’t be enough to suit me. What are your favorite spots in San Francisco so I can check them out next time?

B81EB572-45B8-45B4-96F5-2406435153BDCity Walks Deck: San Francisco




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